Ask Alexandra: Taking a Gap Year

Ask Alexandra is my advice column. Have a question you want to ask me? Fill out the form here.

Bill Blass, fall winter 2012

These images are totally off topic, but I am loving the American sportswear-ish-ness of this Bill Blass FW12 collection.

Hi Alexandra,

I studied fashion design at university and after having worked at a design studio as an assistant for a year in one company, I am now working as a buyer in order to experience a more in depth approach towards the fashion business (such as costs, deliveries and gross margins, etc).

I am now thinking of getting back into the creative side of fashion, but before I do that I would like to have some sort of ‘gap year’ taking the time in building my portfolio and getting back to grips with pattern cutting, etc…

As the economy doesn’t seem to be getting better and jobs are scarce, I am worried that I will be losing my chances in getting back on the career ladder if I have this prolonged gap on my CV. I don’t plan to do absolutely nothing, I just want to spend my own time at my own pace in strengthening my creative skills.

What are your thoughts on prospective employees taking a year out between jobs?

Bill Blass, fall winter 2012

More chic, simple Bill Blass FW12.

Dear Emilia,

My initial thoughts are: don’t do it! The fashion industry moves so quickly, and many employers will be confused as to why you took a gap year. They will wonder how you could afford it (and if you can, they might presume you don’t need work that badly and won’t be a hard worker), why you needed to much time to rekindle your “creative skills,” and they will also question how you left your last job (they might think you got fired.) They might also think you weren’t emotionally stable (which is often a reason why someone would choose not to work for a whole year) and that is not an impression you want to leave.

My suggestion is to move into a creative job without taking too much time off. Work on your pattern cutting, etc… in your spare time. You are usually more valuable if you currently have a job, and you’ll be able to be pickier. What happens if you job hunt for a year and don’t find anything? Then you’ll have been off for two years, and you’ll be very out of the loop.

Employers usually respect taking gap years to travel, other “acceptable” reasons might be raising kids or recovering from illness, but I wouldn’t do it just to practice design. You’ll be at risk of being less employable, and if it takes a while to get a job (which is quite likely given the current economic climate) you may be out of work for several years.

On that note, if you really, really, really think you need the time off, then take it. Even if it makes the return to the work force more difficult, if you will be a much better state to do so, you’ll be more successful in your next job.

Anyone have any experience taking a professional gap year? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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  • Erin Harder

    For all the reasons you mentioned above Alexandra, I agree. As someone who hires on occasion, all these things go through the mind of an employer and they travel very quickly – meaning that if your excuse is less-than-rock-solid, they will dump you from their mind without a second thought.

  • Emilia

    Thank you for your advice and comments. It has really helped put things in perspective.