How do I explain my long-term unemployment?

How do I explain my long-term unemployment?

“What did you do during your unemployment?” and “Why did you leave your last employer?” These are two big questions that both your friends and the hiring managers will ask you. To answer them, you need a simple, honest answer for each question. Here are some suggestions—

“What did you do during your months of unemployment?”

Ideally, you volunteered a few days a week at a hospital, you tool some night classes and learned a new job skill, you ran the Boston Marathon, and your biography appeared in Who’s Who. But you didn’t—nobody does that stuff.

So, just tell the truth. Hiring managers want to know that you didn’t sit on your couch for six months watching movies.

Keep your explanation simple and honest. Think of a few events where you helped someone or the times when you learned something useful. Then string them together in a four-point answer. Something upbeat and positive, like—

  1. “I took my elderly neighbor to her doctor’s appointments. It was nice to spend some time with her again.
  2. “I learned to cook with Martha Stewart on TV. I can make a wonderful chicken fricassee!
  3. “I also helped my cousin demo her kitchen. The physical labor was a stress reliever and I learned a little about construction… or should I say de-construction?
  4. “But mostly, I spent time applying to hundreds of online job postings. It wasn’t until my friend Horace Handover gave my resume to you, and you called me, that I realized I’d been doing my job hunt the hard way. I should have put more time into networking. But then, if I did, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to talk with you today.”

Note: Most job interviews last about 55 minutes and the hiring managers ask about 50 questions. There are two types of questions the manager will ask you, simple and behavioral. Simple questions call for a simple answer—“Can you work weekends?” Behavioral questions help the manager see how you might behave in certain situations—“Tell me about a time when you broke the rules.” Don’t go into your job interviews unprepared. The Job Hunting Handbook not only gives you the 50 important questions—it explains how to answer them.

Take a look—The Job Hunting Handbook, 2018-2019 edition, $6.99.

“Why did you leave your last employer?” 

If you were laid off—there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t your fault. Hiring managers know that a reduction-in-force is the number-one reason why people lose their jobs. So, when asked why you left, you might say—

“I was laid off in a reduction-of-force. I loved that job and I was good at it. I want to feel productive again.”

If you were fired—well sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we make really bad mistakes—fighting, arguing, bullying, stealing, drugs. When you’re fired for any of these reasons, don’t expect a good recommendation from your former boss. But without a reference, how do you get your next job?

Tell the truth. If you lie to get a job, you can be fired again. So don’t leave the job off your job application or your resume. Include it. 

Under “Reason for leaving,” just write, “Please speak with me.” You don’t have to write out the details in your resume or job application. Instead, it’s better to tell your story, in person, during your interview.

Don’t play the blame game. Maybe your boss was impossible to work with. But he’s not applying for a job. This is about you. The hiring manager wants to know what kind of employee you will be? Will you make the effort to get along with everyone—even the people you don’t like? Will you be reliable? Will you follow company policies?

And don’t make excuses. “I was going to return the money after the weekend.” “That guy was trying to get me fired for months.” “You know, those drug tests aren’t perfect.”

I promise you that your interviewer won’t be interested. Instead of giving excuses, take responsibility—“I did it and wish I hadn’t, because look where I am. I would never do anything like that again.”

DO show what you’ve learned from your mistakes. Show that you know how to be responsible for your behavior and how to act in the workplace. You might say something like this…

“I didn’t think it was that big a deal until I lost my job. It’s the toughest lesson I ever had to learn. If you hire me, I promise you this—I won’t make that mistake again and I’ll work hard to earn your trust every day.


Harry Dahlstrom is the author of three, million-copy best sellers—The Job Hunting Handbook, Surviving a Layoff, and Out of Debt. His new book, Let the Job Work for You—How to start and build your career from scratch, comes out in the summer of 2018.


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