How to Answer: 'What Have You Been Doing Since You Were Laid Off?'
When you first lost your job, you spent your time wallowing in your sorrows -- eating ice cream in your pajamas and watching Judge Judy all afternoon. Then your determination kicked in, and you decided to find a new job. You perused job boards, polished up your résumé, searched for old co-workers on LinkedIn -- and occasionally watched Judge Judy all afternoon.
While this may be the truth about what you've been doing since your last job ended, telling this to a recruiter probably won't be all that impressive. Though looking for a job is an admirable and necessary task for those out of work, telling a recruiter about your job search won't set you apart from the pack.
So how do you answer the "What have you been doing" question in an interesting, unique and truthful manner?
Focus on activities you've been involved with
For example, if you have three kids, tell the recruiter how you've been able to serve as team parent for your child's soccer team since you have more free time. Or, if you've spent your extra time going to the gym, talk about how you've been focusing on improving your health. These things show that you're making the best out of a less-than-ideal situation.
Activities like volunteering and part-time work can also yield transferable job skills. If you've been helping out a local charity with its online marketing efforts or putting in 20 hours a week as a part-time receptionist, relate the experience to the job you're applying for.
"There are tons of transferable skills that are gained from volunteer work and unpaid projects," says Susan Fletcher, psychologist and author of "Working in the Smart Zone." "Community involvement, events you've participated in or even been in charge of, volunteer boards you've served on and organizations you've been a member of provide a network and skill set similar to a paying job."
Have you been reading up on your industry in an effort to stay current? Did you recently start a blog about your field or try your hand at consulting?
"Our chief technology officer likes to ask people what they learned last month," says Daniel Ruby, research director at Chitka, an advertising company. "[Whether it be] a new coding language or a new database structure -- keeping up on the latest emerging skill sets is a very good sign that this is someone we want to hire."
Showing an interviewer that you've been developing your skill set while unemployed demonstrates that you are motivated and interested in furthering your career and have a passion for your industry. "We've interviewed several people who were laid off and had been unemployed for a while," Ruby says. "Personally, I like to hear about entrepreneurial ventures they've tried, whether it's building an ad-powered website, starting an online store, etc. Like many tech firms, we love seeing the entrepreneurial spirit in someone. If they started a company and failed, that's great, because they started a company and were actively working to control their own destiny."
Lay the groundwork
You can't give an interesting answer to the question "What have you been doing since you were laid off?" if you haven't been doing anything interesting. Although it may be hard to concentrate on anything but finding a job, it shouldn't be your sole focus. Taking on volunteer activities, signing up for a class that will improve your skills, doing contract work or joining a job-search support group will not only help you keep your sanity while you're unemployed, but will also make you more attractive to potential employers.
Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @CBForJobSeekers on Twitter.
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