How to Answer Questions From Interviewers About Your Unemployment

Interviewers are typically interested in learning when, why, and how you left your prior places of employment.

Explain Your Employment Gap

The interview process often starts with a brief review of the resume you submitted to the recruiter. This step gives you the chance to provide more context for the experience listed within the document. Interviewers often prefer if you lead the conversation, so it’s best to prepare questions and notes in advance. 

One of the primary points of concern for most interviewers will be resumes gaps. If you don’t bring them up, definitely expect the interviewer to ask.

Rather than waiting for them to ask you, beat them to the jump. Use the following tips to explain your employment gaps.

Why Do Interviewers Ask About Employment Gaps

Interviewers are typically interested in learning when, why, and how you left your prior places of employment. They will also want to hear more about any periods of time that are listed on your resume wherein you were not covered by paid employment. 

For example, employers will likely want to know your motivations if you leave employment to spend time outside of the workplace voluntarily. If you were fired or left, they will ask about that too. 

The way you talk about your employment gaps can be important too. For example, if you bad-mouth your former supervisor, the interviewer may see that as a red flag. By hearing what you have to say about your past positions, interviewers can learn a lot about how you work and how you’ve fit into previous organizations that you’ve worked with. 

When Asked About Short Employment Gaps

The worst thing you can do if asked about employment gaps is to try to hide the truth. If you do this, there is a chance you will mix up details, or provide too long of an answer. This could confuse the interviewer. Similarly, it’s possible that trying to deceive your interviewer could lead to you presenting yourself as dishonest. All things considered, its best to just be honest when talking about your employment gaps. 

Though, just because we suggest honesty, that doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward. If you experienced an employment gap due to a merger or layoff, explain that clearly. Most recruiters are understanding the fact that the job market is volatile. They may ask for more details, but if you weren’t fired due to performance or misconduct, there shouldn’t be much issue. 

To be clear, we do think it is necessary to have a valid reason for leaving every job you’ve left. While you don’t have to mention all of the details related to firings, it is important to identify some reason for why you were terminated. In many cases, an upfront answer can go a long way. 

When Asked About Long Employment Gaps

Longer employment gaps demand a greater explanation than short ones. With gaps approaching a year or longer, you should ideally have been doing something during the time. Temp work is a good way to fill in an employment gap. Volunteer work counts too. If you are a freelancer who engages in occasional consulting gigs, mention those too. As long as you were staying busy, recruiters should be understanding of your longer employment gaps. 

How To Answer Questions About Employment Gaps

Now that you know what to expect when asked about employment gaps, we will provide you with answers you can use. 

For example, if you’ve suffered a layoff you could say something along the lines of:

  • I’m normally not unemployed for long, but I struggled to land a new job after getting laid off. It took me several months to realize how much the job searching process has changed. Another few months were spent educating myself on the new job market and get up to speed on applying for work. After gaining the skills I needed to search and apply effectively, my job hunt was much easier and I found this company. I feel this showcases my determination and persistence, which can be a valuable asset in this workforce from what I’ve learned about your company.

Through this example, you can see that we’ve highlighted the struggle of finding work, making it fair to assume that you were at least trying hard to find employment. You may want to use a question that ties things back into the conversation to follow up the explanation. 

Maybe you could ask, “what skills and characteristics do you value in candidates”?  

Through a question like this, you can create an opportunity wherein you can explain some key job skills that you’ve developed over time. This will distract from your employment gap, and highlight your skills and expertise. 

Don’t Mention Personal Reasons Too Much

If you were unemployed due to personal reasons, such as life changes or a medical issue, it may be best not to mention them. Personal reasons are often alarming to recruiters because they see it as a risk. If there is a chance the same personal affairs will come up again in the future and take you out of the workforce, that could be a problem. 

Though, if you’ve fully resolved the issue that led to your unemployment, it may make for a good opportunity to share an insight into your character. For example, if you took time off to help an elderly family member recover from an injury, that would show that you are a caring and compassionate individual who is willing to sacrifice. There also isn’t any risk of you missing work in the future due to the same injury, because you’ve already helped your family member recover. 

Focus On Your Accomplishments

Your employment gaps shouldn’t be the focus of the conversation for long. Focus on your accomplishments, as well as your skills and achievements. If you can showcase yourself as an effective candidate using concrete evidence of your success, you are sure to win the position you are applying for.

Don’t let employment gaps hold you down — learn how to show them in the best light possible. Then, your job hunt is sure to go more smoothly.

Katy Boyles |
Categories: Career Advice
Katy is our Social Media Manager at Snagajob, where she loves talking to hourly workers and employers all day long. Her first hourly job was as a hostess.