Time off before starting work - a plus or minus mark?

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&quotIt is harder for students who are not in the academic system, as our recruitment is campus based between September to December, and January to March. It is a logistical issue rather than one of performance,&quot says Kate Aitken, manager of European graduate recruitment at Goldman Sachs.

Frances McEwan, a careers advisor at Imperial College, London, goes further, suggesting that time spent away may send out the wrong signals to prospective employees.

She says: &quotBanks generally expect graduate trainees to enter straight from university, as they are expected to be highly motivated and making a clear and informed decision.

&quotGraduates applying for a traineeship would tend to put themselves at a disadvantage if they have too much time off.&quot

JP Morgan Chase is generally supportive of schemes for graduates such as Operation Raleigh, which runs community projects in developing countries. However graduates are not encouraged to spend longer than 18 months away, either for work or travel.

Helen Bostock, of the bank's graduate recruitment team, says that although there is no upper age limit for applicants, the success of the graduate programme relies upon early entrance.

&quotThe programme is a broad-based scheme designed to develop core skills needed for a career in banking and is intended to ensure that all new graduates start with roughly the same levels of experience.

&quotA break of longer than 18 months is not seen as conducive to the success of this training,&quot she says.

However, if you have your heart set on a few months teaching English in Nepal or building a school in Africa, do not despair.

While a long break is not encouraged, many banks are open to graduates spending a few months away.

Carl Gilleard, of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, says that banks often

look favourably on time off, if it seems to have been spent productively.

Rob Skinner, media relations manager at HSBC, says that a few months spent away, rather than a whole year, can contribute to personal growth: &quotGraduates can benefit from time spent doing voluntary work, building upon skills learned at university.&quot

Both Aitken of Goldman Sachs and Bostock of JP Morgan Chase recognise that time out can add to an individual's experience and maturity.

Bostock says: &quotJP Morgan Chase welcomes candidates with a broad range of experiences - a short time away can often make a positive contribution to an individual's overall development.&quot

A sense of purpose is crucial. Tony Banks, Director of Oxford University Careers Service, says: &quotProspective employees look at people as individuals, so a strong sense of personal achievement gained during a few months away can be valuable.

&quotJust be sure that you have a clear plan and certain goals. A year of doing nothing would look very bad indeed.&quot

Case studies

Kate Ebbage, ABN AMRO

Kate Ebbage graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1998 with a 2:1 in Law. From July 1998 until September 1999 she travelled extensively throughout southeast Asia and Australia before starting work in the graduate recruitment scheme at ABN Amro.

Ebbage says: &quotA healthy maturing process from overseas travel and work was viewed as advantageous by the bank.

&quotI changed considerably during my travels: my confidence and rating of my own potential increased and these traits must have shown at interview.

&quotMy post-university travelling was no hindrance to gaining a place on the rotation scheme. Time out spurred me to keep up the fast pace and momentum of achievement I had shown then.

&quotA resurgence of energy and ambition was spawned while away. I saw what other people had done with job choices and had time to reflect on their rushed approach into careers that were not necessarily apt for them.

&quotA more responsible approach to tasks and a positive attitude were developed from having to cope on my own 11,000 miles away from home.

&quotPractical experience working at Sydney Airport also helped in dealing with the job I am currently doing - multi-tasking was already part of my skill set.

Andrew Cormack, HSBC

Andrew Cormack graduated from McGill University in Canada in 1999 with a double major in economics and East Asian studies.

He simultaneously received an offer from HSBC as Systems Executive within Corporate & Institutional banking, and was accepted for a Masters programme at the London School of Economics.

Cormack spent three and a half months studying Mandarin in China before completing his Masters at the LSE. He started work at HSBC immediately after graduating from the LSE in June 2000.

&quotHSBC were accommodating in holding my place while I did my Masters. My time spent in China was looked on favourably and the fact that I am now proficient in Mandarin is useful in relation to the Group's global activities, especially those in Hong Kong and China,&quot Cormack says.

&quotIf time is spent constructively, I would recommend it before starting a career in banking.

&quotMy experiences in China gave me a renewed enthusiasm and energy for my job, plus a greater sense of independence and maturity.&quot