Why Have You Been Out of Work for So Long?

Why Have You Been Out of Work for So Long?

“Why have you been out of work so long?”

No matter how this simple question is phrased, it puts you on the on the defensive. Bad enough your job search is taking longer than then norm. It’s also eaten away at your resources – yet you’re still unemployed. Now your credibility as a serious job-seeker is suspect.

This inquiry is easier to answer if you had taken a voluntary extended leave from the workforce. But if not, as your employment search lengthens a good explanation is needed. Here’s what the question really means and how to answer it.


Why An Interviewer Would Ask This

Normally an employer will have questions about your unemployment. Yet they might not bother inquiring about how long you’ve been out of work. They’d just review your resume, note the last month you worked, and calculate the time since then.

Up to three or four months out of work is usually not an issue. Once it drifts beyond that point, some concern may start to creep in (depending on your level and type of job).


What They Really Want To Know

When you’ve been out of work for an extended period, the employer probably wants to understand why. These are the key concerns they’ll want to address:


  • What have you been doing all this time?

Have you been sitting around watching TV, or were you actually hunting for work.


  • Why haven’t you found a job yet?

Are you a square peg trying to fit yourself into a round hole, or are you being ineffective in your search.


  • If other employers won’t hire you, why should I?

Do other interviewers see something in you that makes them reluctant to bring you on board?


  • How fresh are your skills?

Are you maintaining your competencies and knowledge, or drifting out of touch.


  • Are you desperate for a job?

Do you genuinely want to work for us, or is this merely a survival job you’ll leave too soon.


Possible Reasons For Your Growing Gap

Unfortunately you can’t fall back on a standard excuse for extended unemployment. Because if you had been studying, volunteering, travelling, or taking care of someone, you would have already stated this on your resume (and in your cover letter).

So what’s left? Saying that you spent the first while decompressing after your last job is acceptable. Or maybe you worked on personal accomplishments, such as getting fit, or fixing up your home.

Is your industry or occupation experiencing turbulence? That could explain to some extent why you haven’t been hired quickly.

Another reasonable reply is that you were recovering from an illness or injury. However make certain to emphasize, if possible, that it’s in the past and won’t affect your performance.


Preferred Response

Whichever way you reply, be credible and focus on the positive. For instance it’s fine to state that you took a few months to sort things out and strategically look at your life. If you worked with a career coach during that period, mention it. Otherwise comment that you’ve independently reviewed your skills, goals, values and experience.

Since then you’ve been searching deliberately. You’re being careful not to settle on just any job or any employer. A longer-term fit where both parties benefit is your goal. If you have turned down any job offers, quickly explain why. Tie it in to wanting to fully contribute your abilities to the right opportunity.


Other Positives To Include

Anything you can add that alleviates an employer’s doubts will help. Are you keeping your skills current? Attending professional association events?

Finish this part of the interview by citing personal growth. Declare that this extended search is teaching you resilience and resourcefulness. You’ve honed your budgeting and stress management skills.

In the meantime, go back and review your job hunting approach. Consider adopting plan B if necessary. Sometimes you just can’t hold out and it is ok to do what’s necessary in the interim.