Q&A: Explaining Your Long Unemployment Period

Question: I have been unemployed for over nine months. How do I explain my long unemployment period at an upcoming job interview?

Answer: The interviewer may or may not have an unfavourable impression of your gaping unemployment period. But it can be typical for some employers to link this to something negative – perhaps a bad work ethnic or undesirable personality. The last thing you want to do is to shrug your shoulders nonchalantly and give an awkward smile. So how do you weave your way through this dreaded question?

Hold yourself accountable

Don’t be defensive. The last thing you should say is, “What can I say man? Just look at the economy!” Employers will not be impressed if you play the helpless victim. Instead, acknowledge that the economy has been difficult but always make it a point to emphasise that although the economy may be a factor, you are also on the lookout for a job that’s a good fit because you value the longevity of a job instead of just monetary benefits. You can even add that you are hoping the position you are interviewing for may be the one.

Keep in touch with the industry

Industries change and trends come and go, so staying abreast of what’s happening in the industry is important. It shows you haven’t been bumming around at home during this time. If you have taken up volunteer work, freelance jobs or courses during this unemployment period, be sure to highlight them at the interview. This reflects well on your willingness to explore interests and stay relevant – just make sure that you’re telling the truth!

For instance, if you’re applying for a writing position, you can say “I notice that many writers or journalists nowadays have to be good at multitasking and performing tasks outside of their job scope, such as taking photographs or designing on Photoshop. So a writer would be of greater value to a company, especially a small-scale publication, if he or she has design or photography skills. This realisation led me to acquire basic Photoshop skills at a local design school.”

Show your value

During the interview, avoid dwelling on how long you have been unemployed. Instead, reinforce how your experience and skill sets are perfect for the job scope or demonstrate your desire to achieve. Always make it a point to highlight how your strengths can benefit the company. For example, if you are interviewing for a sales position, explain how your wide set of contacts can be an asset in helping to develop the business. You can even highlight how your strong communication and leadership skills will help you to manage a team.

Be enthusiastic

Being on the sidelines for some time may have put a dent in your confidence but don’t let it get you down. After all, the company took notice of your resume and invited you for a face-to-face interview. In other words, they see potential in your job application and abilities. So be confident and enthusiastic to show how ready you are to join the workforce again. Remember, positivity is a valuable trait that all employers like to see in potential employees.

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