Why have you been out of work so long?

‘Why have you been out of work so long?’ or 'Why have you been unemployed for so long?' is question you should be prepared for, especially if you have in fact been out of a job recently. It doesn’t matter if that was for a day or for a year. The worst thing here is if you don’t have an answer for this question.

Alternately, this question may in fact tell you quite a bit about the interviewer and possibly about the company as well. Depending on the manner this question is asked, the interviewer might just be curious about it or may have in fact have already made up their mind about you. If it is the latter, then no matter what you say, the chances of you getting the job are quite low. However, if it is the former, then the hope is still alive.

The question itself is quite straightforward, however it has deep implications. Basically, the interviewer wants to know why have you don’t have a job. Was this because you didn’t want one or because you couldn’t get one? And you couldn’t get one because the market is bad or because you are in fact not that good an employee?

Under any circumstance, you cannot give an answer that indicates the latter.  Hence, you can’t say that you have been looking for a job but can’t find one. Even if it true, you shouldn’t say it. It may indicate that you are unemployable, either because you don’t have the necessary skills or because you don’t play well with others.

So what should you say? If you voluntarily took a year off then say so. It could be something of a sabbatical, i.e. you needed a break, or perhaps it was something related to your health, or your family needed you. The ideal situation would be if you took the time to go back to school or to take classes and develop a skill, preferably a skill that will help you in this new job. Perhaps you started your own business; even if it failed, you are bound to have learned something new.

Even if it was none of the above, highlight anything and everything that you did that can help you in this job. Perhaps you took a trip; this increases your knowledge of the world, and also helps your people skills as you probably had to deal with various people on the trip. Perhaps, you picked up some words of a new language, which may always come in handy.

Don’t lie, but it is okay to exaggerate a little. It does not matter what you did, just try to put a positive spin on it and if possible lead it back to how it will help you in this job.  

Sample Answer:

I took some time off to go back to school. While I was consulting on the side, my primary focus was to take some classes to stay up to date in this field. I also spend some time volunteering at a local shelter which was a very humbling experience. I have been rejuvenated by these experiences and am now ready to rejoin the workforce.

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