Oh job interviews. Some people hate them while others, like myself, thrive in them. After getting back from our long-term trip, Angie and I began looking for jobs in our respective fields and we knew that accounting for our career break was something that we were going to have to talk about with just about everyone we spoke with. But what we didn't anticipate was just how wide the question types would be. From the standard and predictable to the down right weird and off the wall, we quickly realized that we had to be prepared for just about anything.
The following are eight of the favorites that we have encountered.
1) The Gap Explanation
“I see you were last with [company X] two years ago, what have you been doing since then?”
This question will be asked from just about every single person who looks at your resume- guaranteed. Depending on your situation, there are many ways you can go about talking through this one. As I have work experience, I often tell interviewers that I took a sabbatical to travel. For Angie, who doesn't have conventional industry experience, she will tend to say that she took time off to travel after finishing graduate school.
The back story to this one is that Angie finished her PhD and we thought it was a great time to travel for a while before settling down, buying a house, and putting our careers as a priority. Generally speaking, most people understood that we were at a transition point in life and took our trip at the best time and that is that with no further questions.
2) The Hoping for the Best
“I see you were last with [company X] two years ago, did you go back to graduate school then?”
This question was an interesting one as it came from someone who was, quite literally, just reading my resume for the first time as I sat across from them in the interview. They saw the gap, looked at my education and saw that I had an advanced degree, and tried to make a logical conclusion.
I suppose this one was my fault because I don't typically list my education years on my resume. A two-year gap is roughly what most people go into for a Master's degree, so it could make sense. This is just a more awkward way to bring it up so be prepared to discuss what you did and why in even the most unusual circumstances. Much like the previous question, it'll probably end up fine if you know what your reasons are and aren't caught off guard by how it is brought up.
3) The Didn't Read the Resume At All
“Are you still with [company X]?”
My resume has my dates of employment highlighted for all jobs, so this one was a bit of a shock. Rather than connecting the dots with areas that aren't highlighted as much, this one simply did not read enough into my resume. Much like the previous examples, the conversation moved towards explaining our travels and ended with them agreeing that we took our trip at the best time in our life. But knowing they had a preconceived idea about me that I had to correct (not necessarily for the better, either) was slightly unsettling.
4) The Incredibly Jealous Response
“Woah, that is amazing, where all did you go?”
This is my favorite response, and for me happens all the time. For Angie, on the other hand, it rarely happens at all. I think the response that we receive to explanations of our travels tells a lot of the people we'd be working with, so the more excitement we can get the better.
I'll tend to go into the details of where we went- a two or three sentence summary of the regions and durations, following up with what we liked the best (often a basic “it was great to see the world and meet new cultures” with more specific info if asked), and then end it with a statement that we returned recently and are starting to look into getting back into our fields.
To me the latter part is key, because although you are excited to share stories about your travels, that should only be a minimal topic of discussion in an interview. Show that you want to get back to business and wrap up with how you are now seeking to get back into the field rather than leave it open ended. The traveling may seem like a perk to your skills and character, but odds are it isn't going to be the selling point, so try and get the conversation back to the topic at hand sooner rather than later.
5) The Doesn't Understand It Response
“Okay… [hesitates]… [next question]”
Awkward. Some people just don't get travel, and that is okay. You will have to do your best to shake it off and move on. They may think of it as a negative, but more often then not you will probably be the first person they've ever heard of doing such a thing and they quite frankly don't know where to go from there.
While I do think that a response like this would give some red flags (do you really want to work with people who don't travel, ever?) there isn't much you can do at that point so follow their lead and move along if needed. The worst you can do here is let it phase you and alter the flow and tone of the conversation. You are a professional after all.
6) The Suspect of If You'll Do It Again
“Are you planning on taking another trip in the future?”
I am a horrible example of this because this is exactly what I did- although my first trip was much shorter such that it never came up in the interviews I had for the job I worked before my second long-term trip.
I hate lying, and never recommend that you do so in an interview because any hiring manager worth their job title will be able to tell when you're making something up. I always try and give an example about how we're looking for something more permanent in our lives at this time, and often use Tamale- the dog we adopted in Mexico at the end of our trip, as an example. We now have a dog- a living creature that depends on us, and we're not going to let her down. In addition, we also want to buy a house, we are looking to pick a city and live there for several years (possibly forever), and we want another dog because Tamale needs a friend.
That doesn't mean I don't want to travel. I always want to travel. But I will not be leaving to travel past agreed upon vacation times anytime soon. The only question for you is are you in the same stage in your life where you can say that without bending the truth?
7) The Are You Dumb Question
“So did you forget everything you learned?”
This is one that I simply never want to hear as the interviewer has a preconceived idea before talking to you, and I'm not sure which direction is worse when it comes to this question:
a) to someone who has six years of experience along with six years of school,
b) to someone who has nine years of school with five years of dedicated research, or
c) to an engineer who went to school to learn how to learn (a common explanation for the skills you pick up in engineering programs).
This question really bothers me because they assume that you forget your training when you take time off, and I often find myself biting my tongue as I restrain myself from asking “did you forget everything you learned in college since you've been working, too?” If you're in a career where you only use one or two classes out of a four, six, or nine year degree program, the answer most often is going to be yes no matter what. Unfortunately, it is too rude to say that one so I don't recommend it.
Here it is likely best to talk about how you've been keeping up with the industry while on the road and picking up new skills that would be able to help you in the industry. Odds are if you want to continue in the field, you're going to be doing this on the road regardless (and if you aren't, please consider doing it). Depending on your field, referencing your experience and how you have a great memory may help (I still remember complex product formulations from 10 years ago, something I bet most companies probably would rather I have forgotten) but it is a fine line to cross on sharing too much or too little, and is an uphill battle if you get asked this one no matter how good of answer you have ready to go.
8) The Unimaginative Question
“Was your spouse in the military?”
Yes, this one really happened because it was the only explanation they could come up with for why we would travel for so long. Don't laugh and explain it with a straight face- if you can.
Items that I Include On My Resume From Traveling
When it comes down to it, I view long-term travel as a strength and not a weakness for most fields out there. You get experience being self-sufficient, meet other cultures, learn new languages, and tackle other personal challenges like money management and various planning skills.
Unfortunately, how much you decide to share on your resume truly depends on how your travels will improve your performance in your field. Some may benefit greatly, others not so much. For me, my resume inclusion is simply the following:
ACTIVITIES & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
- Owner of a travel website with X page views per month.
- Familiar with customs and destinations in X countries around the world.
- Basic knowledge of French and Spanish. Willing to improve language skills as necessary.
- Able to travel up to 15% of the time.
For what it is worth, I could add a significant amount of information onto my resume about my skills learned while traveling and running this website, but at the same time I like to use my resume as a tool to control the conversation as best I can. Putting on more pushes the conversation to talk about traveling more, and when it comes to my proper training and experience, my skills from traveling are a natural extension- not the primary focus.
For these bullet points I'm only giving the basic information: I own a business and am entrepreneurial, I can work with people from all cultures both internally and externally, I can learn languages, and I'm willing to travel a bit. It is a good place to start, and often is all I need to say.
For those who are working after long-term travel, comment below to share your experience on getting a job. Was it difficult, easy, or somewhere in between?
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