Explaining unemployment in the job interview

Two women interviewing

Regardless of your situation, these strategies will help you address this tough question like a pro.

Though the unemployment rate has slowly been decreasing over the past year—finally settling at 4.1 percent in October 2017 and holding steady since—there are still 6.6 million people in the U.S. who want to work, but don’t currently have jobs.

Regardless of the reason, if you currently find yourself among that 4.1 percent, you may feel nervous about addressing your employment gap in an upcoming interview. But don’t worry! While the circumstances of your unemployment are sure to come up, these strategies will help you handle that tough question like a pro.

Be honest

While your instinct may be to fudge the truth—especially if your termination of employment was involuntary—it is vital that you’re honest. Doing so will demonstrate your values to your potential employer and help you distinguish yourself from the pack. Honesty and integrity carry a lot of weight when it comes time to make an employment decision.

Be concise

No employer wants to sit through a one-man show about why you were unemployed. So keep it short and sweet. You want to convince your interviewer that your time away from the workforce has not impacted your ability to perform the job, so address the employment gap with a one-to-two sentence response and then transition into how you have been preparing yourself for this job opportunity.

Have you recently been certified in an industry skill or are you working temporarily for a family friend? Keep the conversation on these achievements and the responsibilities you've had during your unemployment. Hiring managers are primarily interested in being assured that you're ready to work and that there aren't any red flags, such as bad employer reviews.

Stay positive

Never bash your previous employer, even if there was cause to be angry. Whether you were fired or laid off, you can be frank about it and explain yourself — with tact. Underline the lesson you learned and how you benefitted from the experience. If you were fired for repeatedly being late, speak to how you mastered time management. For personnel issues, explain that your values and work ethic are important to you, and that they align with those of the company.

Highlighting your passion for this type of work and the enthusiasm you have for this opportunity will also help to reassure the hiring manager. From their perspective, they have a vacant role and need to fill it with someone dependable. Showing your positive personality and creating a relationship with the hiring manager will help hiring managers see you as a potential fit.

Emphasize readiness

Before the interview, do your research. Know what the company does, what your role there would be and investigate the organization's values and recent news and achievements. That way, you'll be able to align your ambitions and values with those of the company.

Focus on what you’ve learned from the experience of being unemployed, how you’ve grown as a professional and how you intend to apply these learnings to a new position.

Addressing your unemployment in a job interview doesn’t have to be as uncomfortable as you might think. In reality, hiring managers are familiar with every aspect of hiring and firing, and your story probably isn't the strangest they've ever heard. And the important fact is that you're here now. So take advantage of the opportunity and do your best.

Interviews are a two-way street. Check out what questions you should be asking.