Ways to Handle the Gap Between Completing Your Education and Starting Your New Job

 Photo by  Denys Argyriou  on  Unsplash

A university career counselor emailed me some time back with a question for one of her Ph.D. candidates.

For anyone who might be facing the lull between finishing their education and beginning a new job, here's an edited version of our email exchange. Names and several details have been edited.

The Inquiry:

Hi Jared,

I hope you've been well since the training. Can you help me advise a student in an unusual situation? He graduated in June and is starting a government job in D.C. that he’s very excited about. He's awaiting final clearance. His Ph.D. is in [Study Area] and he also has an MA in [Degree Focus]. He is also fluent in [Language]. He needs something temporary and probably part-time to help make it through financially until he’s called to D.C.

He’s getting a bit stressed. Afraid he’s going to have to work at Starbucks. I suggested looking for [omitted] work or contract-style consulting but he’s been unable to find anything along those lines. In other words, he needs something that will be worthwhile to do but short-term/part-time.

Many thanks,


My Reply:

Hi Jane,

You've already given him sound advice. The fact that nothing is materializing isn't surprising, though. Here's a run-down of what immediately comes to mind based on what I've observed over the years. I'll leave international travel off the table since it sounds like he needs to work.

He needs a survival job.

He should find a job with that in mind. He's working toward—and shouldn't lose sight of—an end goal that is already in hand. That said, he's not the first to have that lag between hire and approval when it comes to a government role, so he just needs to find something that flexible that will pay the bills between now and then. And that's not necessarily easy to do unless he takes a step back a bit from his internal expectations. 

He needs something he can easily leave when D.C. calls.

Actors and performers face this challenge all the time—how to pay the bills while being able to respond immediately to an audition or a role.

The solution can be temping. Yep, temping. As unglamorous as temping sounds, it's there for a reason. Yes, he may have to cloak himself with a bit of humility, but while he's there, perhaps he can look at it as research for some future area of interest. There may come a time when he references his "time as a temp" for a publication or article or some other "real world impact" piece.

Maybe he could approach it like the guy who ate McDonald's hamburgers for 31 days, or the writer who goes undercover as a homeless person for a year. You get my drift. If he can think of the experience as something larger, which might be interesting to "report on" later, it may make the time less frustrating. 

He'll probably never want to highlight it, but it will stand in the gap between now and D.C. Who knows, it might inform his government work, now or later, depending on where he ultimately focuses. 

The best way to approach temping is to submit materials to at least three agencies. One will never use him, one might use him occasionally, and the third will likely use him regularly. It may be that the companies (who are hiring through the temp agency) might need a bilingual [job title], which could turn into a part-time gig or maybe a long-term relationship that bears fruit twenty years from now. He won't know until he goes that route.

He doesn't have to include it on his resume. 

As for the resume, it isn't essential to include anything he does between now and D.C., except perhaps in the short-term resumes that he'll use with the temp agencies. For this reason, he shouldn't add any of that "work experience" to LinkedIn. 

Temping can be akin to contracting, but the work will likely fall outside of his areas of interest. On the resume—in the unlikely event he ever has to include this gap period—he can still frame it as "contracting" and isolate the parts of the assignments that relate to the bigger picture of his career. Less is more in that case. In that case, he can truncate the time period under the temp agency's name, treating it as a single job with multiple assignments.

He will likely still need to include those temp jobs when filling out a formal application, which he may have to do as a government employee. In that case, it won't likely ding him because many have some sort of gap between college and career. (Travel, gap year, etc.)

His should be financially prudent

The alternative would be taking a loan to live (I've heard the long-term effects and it's generally a less-than-ideal approach), borrowing from friends or family (possible in some instances, also not a great idea), or couch surfing with friends (but that still doesn't pay the bills).

He might look into deferring student loans, or at the very least income-adjusted repayment plans until he gets on his feet in D.C. Check with the loan provider, however, because interest can mount up quickly, so he should make an educated decision rather than simply putting loans into deferment without understanding the ramifications. 

He should look at his expenses and cut every non-essential purchase. He might have already done this, but even a cup of coffee a day can range $90 to $120 per month, which would be $450-$600 between now and January.

He needs to be his own advocate.

Sometimes that means facing reality, knuckling down, knowing that something better is just around the corner. As a recent student, this is probably not unfamiliar territory for him. Just knuckle down a little longer.

He should celebrate the achievement of this new role.

And while waiting, he may want to find and commiserate with others who have endured the gap between graduation and the start of a new job. How did they do it? What are their stories? 

He should be purposeful, not entertaining thoughts of stagnation.

This is temporary and he'll look back on this one day and laugh/be grateful/who really knows. Bottom line, it will be a blip in his overall career. He should avoid being defensive of anyone asks about what he's doing. Make light of it in some sort of fun way and move on.

Hope that helps!