Why Have You Been Out of Work So Long?

Whatever you do, have an answer to the question — why have you been out of work so long? Whatever you say, don’t answer, ‘Looking for a job.’

When interviewing candidates who have been out of work for extended periods of time, a human resources manager will almost always ask this question: “Why have you been out of work so long?”

Just as often, they find the candidate on the other side of the desk baffled by the question and ill-prepared to respond. They look like they’re on trial, sitting in the witness stand during cross-examination, worried that the jury and onlookers will make the correlation that silence equals some form of guilt. At the very least, we must assume you are not prepared for the day’s events. It’s the same whether you are doing a phone screen or in-person interview with a hiring manager. Job seekers, listen up: If nothing else, please have a response to this question — “Why have you been out of work so long?” Here are some viable responses:

  • I decided to start a business
  • I am an officer of XYZ organization
  • I took some college courses to stay current in my career
  • I am currently researching XYZ subject (ensure that it has business relevance)
  • I volunteer at a local mission
  • I started a networking organization to help those out of work
  • I decided to coach a season of my child’s baseball league

Also consider something more specific such as a human resources manager who might volunteer with an organization that helps others get their resumes up to par, and assist other job seekers with interviewing skills. If you work in finance or accounting you might help folks at your local church prepare their income taxes, work out a problem with back taxes or establish a family budget.

Whatever you do, say something to demonstrate you know enough about the hiring process to have expected this question. Whatever you say, don’t answer, “Looking for a job.” That’s the wrong answer.

When asked this question if your only response is that, “I’ve been looking for a job,” and it’s been one to two years and you still have not found one although your only focus has been on finding a job, this leaves the hiring manager wondering, well, what is wrong with this candidate? Armed with this type of response, you can be almost certain that they will not select you as their new employee.

Wherever you are in your career, there’s an opportunity to utilize your skills regardless of whether or not you are getting paid. Hiring managers look on such activity as creative, innovative, philanthropic and energetic. If you can answer that you have taken your expertise and applied it to the betterment of others who might be in a rough predicament, it not only humanizes you to the hiring manager but shows that you are not solely focused on yourself or money. Now, who doesn’t want this type of employee on their team?