“Now you’ve gone and done it!”
That’s what I imagined my mother saying when I quit my well-paying, secure job to go around the world on a bicycle. My mother passed away several years ago so she wasn’t actually there to say this to me but if she had been alive, I’m sure I would have been in for an earful.
Fast forward 3 years and the last week has been spent trying to make riding a bike look good on a resume so I can re-launch myself back into the workforce. Is it possible to take months or years in the saddle and pull some valuable work skills out of the experience? I think so and here’s what I’ve learned over the past few days.
1. I’m not a cyclist, I’m a project manager.
I haven’t just been riding my bike from A to B. I’ve been living on pennies a day, finding my way through a constantly changing landscape, across a string of foreign borders, often adjusting my route to account for unexpected developments. In other words, this is much more than simply a sport or leisure activity. It’s a major undertaking that involves the same things as managing any other big event: budgeting, planning and troubleshooting – to name just three.
2. A big bike trip makes for a killer cover letter.
What would you rather read if a job application landed on your desk? Something along the lines of “I am applying for the advertised position in Saturday’s paper…” or “Few people can say they have ridden a bicycle around the world. Not only have I completed such a journey – 48,000km of pedalling through 30 different countries – but now I am ready to put my energy and skills to work for your clients…”? It’s clear which one is more memorable.
3. The skills learned from cycling are endless.
Cyclists routinely get pulled into people’s homes for an evening, often without a shared language. That’s hospitality that requires expert communication skills. Think back to all the times you took a wrong turn on your bike and had to find the correct road. That’s called problem solving through self-reliance and independence. How about haggling in the market over the price of bananas? Negotiation. Rode through a raging rainstorm to reach your destination? Goal-setting and determination. I think you see what I’m getting at.
4. A good story means a memorable interview.
Every cyclist has a tale to tell so think up a few to use when your prospective employer asks you to explain how you would communicate with the team or deal with a particular challenge. If you can tell a funny story and make the interviewer laugh, even better. Don’t get carried away. Keep your answers short and relevant but take advantage of the fact that a big bike trip is quite a unique event that can make you stand out from the crowd.
5. Travel is cool.
The attitude to travel seems to have changed in the past few years, especially in North America where a gap year was once seen a definite career no-no. It’s even better if you’ve done something less conventional than the standard backpacker tour. A big trip is a sign of someone who is open-minded, willing to explore and probably returning with their batteries fully charged, ready to take on fresh challenges.
Of course not everything about a bike trip is good for your job hunt. You might want to spruce up your wardrobe and don’t forget to shave off the beard you spent months growing to perfection on the road. But most of all, when you walk in the door for that interview be proud of what you’ve achieved and learned, then convince others how good you’d be doing the same thing for them.
*5 weeks after writing this article, I arrived for my first day of work in a new job. Proof that a bike tour doesn’t have to be a career-killer.