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Answering Interview Questions Like “Why Are You Currently Unemployed?”

Answering Interview Questions Like

When you’re currently out of work and job hunting, you might feel like your unemployment status is a red flag for recruiters and hiring managers. Certainly, some employers are going to look at your lack of employment as a problem, but others will see it as an opportunity to snag a diamond in the rough.

For instance, Sheila Hoover of HR partner ASE talks about why some companies see hiring unemployed personnel as a boon. Specifically, they are able to start immediately, have fewer compensation requirements, are more flexible with the type of position they’ll accept, and are enthusiastically willing to develop themselves. 

What’s more, more companies recognize that there are plenty of reasons someone might be unemployed other than that they simply weren’t good enough at their jobs. 

“Many unemployed people simply were caught up in a corporate reorganization, laid off because of a duplication following a merger, or were rightsized/downsized amid some other initiative that had nothing to do with their individual performance. It is this talent that often gets overlooked,” Sheila says. 

When you do apply for a position and land an interview, you can expect to discuss why you are currently unemployed. So, use the following tips to explain effectively.

 

☑️ Telling the truth is always important.

Rather than trying to gloss over the issue, you should be honest about why you no longer work at your former place of employment. But you should always frame whatever happened at your last job as positively as possible. 

Specifically, you never want to badmouth your former employer. Rather, frame your reason for leaving in a way that conveys a culture/personality mismatch or a simple clash of personalities. 

John Lees, the author of The Success Codementions that you should never say anything against your former employer or boss. Instead, he says, try something like, “We saw the world differently. We had different views about how the organization should move forward. And one of us had to go.” 

What if you quit the job on your own terms? In that case, you want to frame your resignation as your quest to find a position that better fits your career goals. 

For instance, you could say, “I worked at the company for three years, and while I learned so much to advance my skills in _____ and _____, I found that the work-life balance wasn’t what I was looking for. So, I took some time off to re-assess my priorities and discovered a career pivot that would be a better fit.”

 

☑️ Discuss why the company you’re interviewing for would be a better fit.

Be sure to do your research about the company and the position before your interview. Ideally, you’ll have conducted informational interviews with people who already work there, so you can have a clearer sense of the company culture. This is important because you want to be able to speak to how your personality or work style – whatever it was that made you a poor fit at your last job – would better match the company’s. 

For instance, you can segue from the last question into talking about how you think the company you’re interviewing at would appreciate something about you that your last employer didn’t value. 

“If you’re aggressive and competitive, you may not fit in at an organization that takes a more collaborative approach. But there are plenty of places where you’d be considered an asset,” said Rebecca Knight for HBR. 

For instance, when asked, “why are you currently unemployed?” you could start off by talking about why you no longer work at your previous company before stating how you know you’d be a better fit for the role you’re interviewing for. 

Try an answer that’s something like this: 

“I know that [your organization] prizes collaboration and teamwork, both aspects I’ve been seeking in my next career move. So, I’m confident that this role is just what I’ve been looking for and will fulfill what I was lacking in my last position.” 

 

☑️ Prepare to discuss what you learned in your previous role and in your time in between jobs.

Whether you quit or were laid off, or downsized, you don’t want to speak as if your previous position was simply a wash in your career. If you speak bitterly about your last role, as if it didn’t learn or grow in any way from it, you’re not making a strong impression. 

Instead, mention at least a few of the skills that you were able to develop in that role and the experiences in which you improved them. 

If you’ve been unemployed for a while, too, you likely want to mention what you’ve done in the meantime, including contract work, further training, or volunteer roles.

 

The Right Answer to Why You Are Currently Unemployed

Many companies are willing to consider currently unemployed workers just as seriously as they would other candidates. What’s important is making sure that you explain what happened that left you without a job. Then, you can discuss the steps you’ve been taking to make yourself more employable the next time around. 

The key here is to not spend too much time talking about your employment status. Briefly explain what severed your ties with the company, then mention what you’ve been doing since you were laid off. Ultimately, the goal is to move on from the question without leaving any lingering red flags in the recruiter’s mind. 

Still nervous about how to address your unemployment status in an interview? One of Ivy Exec’s executive career coaches can help you prep the best possible answer you could offer when asked a question like this one. 

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