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It’s difficult to believe that employers are still asking this type of question. Don’t they read the newspapers or listen to the news? If they were informed, they would know the answer; i.e. jobs are very scarce and difficult to find these days, and unemployment is at an all time high since 1994 - in some areas reaching 14% - 30%. (California and Arizona)
Unfortunately, quoting these facts probably wouldn’t get you a job offer and could even result in the interview ending rather quickly. So, what is the correct answer to give an interviewer when you’re asked such a question? There is no “correct” answer. However, a technique that works well is to take the focus off the length of your job search and to place it on what you have to offer.
If you look at it from the employer’s side, you can see a different perspective. It’s a “hiring” market, and employers are receiving so many resumes that they have their choice of among many very qualified candidates. When interviewers ask a question regarding the length of your unemployment, one of their concerns may be that you are undesirable or flawed – (If no one else wanted to hire you, why would they want to hire you?)
Your task, as the candidate, is to convince them that you have valuable skills and to be able to sell yourself as the solution to their problem. Using the examples below, which of these sample answers would impress you most if you were the interviewer?
Q. “Why have you been out of work so long?”
A#1. I knew the job market was tight, and I didn’t run out and try to get just any job. I took my time thinking about finding the “right” job. I know your job would be a very good fit for my skills and background.
A#2. It’s a really tight job market out there, and it just hasn’t been easy to get interviews. My skills just didn’t seem to be in demand, and the competition is really tough.
A#3. I’m really not sure. I have an excellent background with five years experience in this industry, and I have knowledge of several software programs. I know there are other people out there with similar skills. What sets me apart from the masses are my abilities to relate and to work with a wide diversity of customers. Having the unique combination of technical skills and people skills has helped me advance in the companies I’ve worked for in the past.
If you selected A#3 as the strongest answer, you are correct. This answer offers more information about what you could bring to the organization and takes the focus off why it has taken you so long to find a job. You don’t dodge the question; you just change the focus. A key phrase in this answer is “set me apart from the masses.” It is important to point out what makes you unique, and what you have to offer that others do not.
If you are getting interviews, it means that you have valuable skills that are of interest to this employer. Now, the strategy is to focus on the qualifications you can bring to this position as the solution to their needs.
By scripting your answer in preparation for this type of difficult question before the interview, you will feel more confident and more in control. You will also be able to keep the focus off the length of your job search and more focused on why you are the best person for this job. Doing pre-interview planning about the message you want the interviewer to receive will improve your chances of being taken seriously as a candidate.
Carole Martin is a thoroughbred interview coach. Celebrated author, trainer, and mentor, Carole can give you interviewing tips like no one else can. Her workbook, "Interview Fitness Training - A Workout With the Interview Coach," has sold thousands of copies world-wide. "Boost Your Interview IQ" has been awarded one of the 10 best career books for 2004. Her most recent book, "Perfect Phrases for the Perfect Interview" and the others mentioned are all available at www.interviewfitnesstraining.com and www.interviewcoach.com