The careers team here (and no doubt at other universities) never tires of telling you to use your summer wisely and to get involved in activities which will enhance your employability. That’s great advice to hear in May, but what if the summer has somehow passed and you didn’t do anything? Is that a problem?
It depends what you mean by “doing nothing”.
Were you unwell?
If so, then you were well advised to give yourself the time and space to get as fit as you could over the summer. The mature and sensible thing was to give yourself a break. I suggest that you should be prepared to make some kind of disclosure about your illness on an application form. If it was transitory and you are fully recovered then say that; we all get ill from time to time and nobody is going to hold it against you. If, however, your health condition is more long term you might be worried about telling employers about it. Disclosure in these situations is hard and you may feel that employers will be prejudiced against you if you decide to tell all. It’s an understandable concern. There are no easy answers here, but think about whether you could do a job if no allowance were to be made for your medical condition. If you think that might be difficult for you, then you may feel that you have nothing to lose by making the disclosure.
Did you have family problems?
Perhaps there was serious illness in the family, or even a bereavement, which impinged on you. Did you have to travel somewhere to be with family members? Did you perhaps have to take on caring responsibilities for young or older relations? Again I think you should be prepared to talk about this. Think about the skills you may have learnt from the experience, however hard it might have been. Did you develop your resilience or improve your communication skills? Did you offer support and comfort to others, perhaps working in a team with other members of your family to manage things which were outside your comfort zone? This wasn’t doing nothing! You may have been very sad, but you will also have grown and developed as a person and you may bring new skills to the workplace.
Did you go travelling?
Travel stereotypically “broadens the mind”. It also teaches you to deal with unexpected problems (if you managed to travel all summer without any hitches then you were very lucky indeed!) You often need to replan at short notice and to demonstrate flexibility. You might have developed your communication skills as you met and engaged with new people and learnt new skills of resilience and perseverance. Think back over your experiences and make yourself some notes before it all blurs into the distance. You’re going to have to “sell” these experiences to employers, but you should have plenty to work with!
Are you forgetting what you did?
Sometimes it’s hard to get work over the summer and time might have dragged as you felt that you were at home and life was passing you by. You probably did more than you think and now’s the time to think hard about what that might have been.
Did you do any volunteering? This doesn’t have to have been formal volunteering (although that’s great and is likely to allow you to showcase just as many – if not more- skills as working). Maybe you did things to help out friends and family? Gardening, cleaning, looking after young children, visiting the sick or elderly. All of these will have developed skills. Perhaps you hate gardening as much as I do? Any more than 5 minutes in the garden would develop my resilience! Talking to others may have allowed you to hone your communication skills and maybe at some stage you also worked in some kind of team. You need to be truthful about everything you did, but thinking positively about experiences can often allow you to tell a convincing story about your development.
Did you learn a new skill?
Perhaps you decided that the summer was time to learn or improve your language skills or develop your musicianship by learning to play an instrument. It’s hard to persuade yourself to learn independently and when you don’t have to. The skills may be useful but your ability to self motivate can be equally impressive.
I hope that something here has resonated with you and that you’re feeling more positive about your summer activity. But if not, well, maybe now is the time to make a resolution to spend next summer more productively? Perhaps it could be the time to set about applying for internships?