Difficult Interview Question – Why Have You Been Out Of Work?


It’s ironic – the longer you are unable to get a job, the harder finding a job becomes. Employers are hesitant to hire applicants that have a long history of unemployment, no matter how great their qualifications. This seems like it would lead to a lot of awkward scenarios.

Interviewer: “Why weren’t you able to find a job?”

Applicant: “Because I was unable to find a job.”

Interviewer and Applicant: “…”

Still, the corporate environment tends to frown upon applicants that have been out of work for too long. So it is very likely that if you have not been able to find work for a year or more, the hiring manager is going to ask you about this extended absence  during your job interview.

Why Have You Been Out Of Work?

There are a number of different reasons that you did not have a job. Perhaps you needed a break from the corporate world and could survive off unemployment or your family’s income. Perhaps you simply messed up your job interviews since we had not yet created Everyday Interview Tips (wink wink, nudge nudge). Maybe you tried out a few side projects that didn’t bring you the income that you wanted. There are a lot of reasons, but your answer shouldn’t contain most of them.

Bad Answer

“After I was laid off from my last job I found it hard to find companies that were looking for my skills and experience.”

This answer isn’t “bad” in the sense that it may not ruin your interview, but why admit to the interviewer that other companies found you unappealing? Usually you want to make your skills sound rare, not unwanted.

Good Answer

“After I was left XXXXX I realized I had a great opportunity. I decided to pursue a few side projects and business ventures that had been putting off, and I wanted an opportunity to spend more time with my family before I re-dedicated myself to the corporate lifestyle. When I start working I put my heart and soul into it, and I realized that the time spent away from work might be my best opportunity to bond with my family and pursue some of my outside goals. Now I am ready to get back to earning a living and growing in a great company.”

This answer makes it sound like not working was your own choice. You may need to make up a few side projects if you don’t have any (just in case they ask), and they should always be related to some type of entrepreneurship, but overall this answer makes it sound like not working was entirely in your control, and that you are gracing the corporate world with your presence once again.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Never make yourself seem undesirable.
  • Make it sound as though you accomplished a lot in your time away from work.

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