If you have a gap in employment since your last job, employers will want to know how you've spent your time since you last worked. During your interview, you can expect to be asked, "What have you been doing since your last job?"
The best way to answer this question is to be honest. Preparing in advance helps: You will want to let the interviewer know you were busy and active, regardless of whether you were out of work by choice, or otherwise.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
For one, interviewers and hiring managers genuinely want to know how you used that time. Your answer, whether it's saying you raised a child or looked for employment while taking classes, gives a window into your current situation.
Plus, the way you answer this question can be revealing. Your tone and the words you use in your response can make you sound like a go-getter or someone who's worn down and discouraged by a job hunt.
How to Answer "What Have You Been Doing Since Your Last Job"
In your response, you'll want to be honest. But choose your words—and your tone—carefully, as mentioned above. It's OK and reasonable to say that you've been looking for employment.
Try to frame your response in terms of your desire to find a role that's a good fit for your experience and abilities, as opposed to an answer that mentions getting a lot of rejections after interviews.
Look for ways to show that you're a go-getter, if possible. Mention things you've done that go beyond job hunting, and that might contribute to your talents and abilities as an employee.
Examples of the Best Answers
Example Answer #1
I worked on several freelance projects, while actively job seeking.
Why It Works: In this response, the candidate shows that they engaged in other work while looking for a new role. It makes them seem like a go-getter—and also creates an opportunity for the interviewer to ask a follow-up question about the freelance work.
Example Answer #2
My aging parents needed a temporary caregiver, and I spent time looking after them.
Why It Works: It's very common for people to need to step away from the workforce for personal or family-related reasons. This person gives a clear-cut reason for being out of work. Bonus points for noting that it's a temporary situation.
Example Answer #3
I took some continuing education classes and seminars.
Why It Works: In this answer, the candidate shows they committed to learning more and gaining skills during the break. This desire to continue learning and growing is something employers like to see!
More strong sample answers for this question include:
- I volunteered for a literacy program that assists disadvantaged children.
- I spent time being a stay-at-home parent and volunteering at my daughter's school.
- I spent a year traveling abroad after I graduated from college.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
It's important to be able to provide information on what you have done during the time you weren't working—especially if you've been out of work for an extended period. Here are strategies to keep in mind:
- Share skill-building activities. If you've taken courses to upgrade your knowledge or workshops to enhance your skills, share that information with the interviewer. It will also be worth mentioning if you have volunteered with a community agency or worked as an intern to gain additional experience or exposure to a new field. If you have recently lost your job, it's a good idea to sign up for experiences like these so you can showcase to employers your interest in professional development.
- Show off job-related growth. For candidates who are changing their career focus, it makes sense to emphasize you have been exploring alternative career directions that would better suit your skills and interests. Be ready to share the types of activities involved with your exploration like career research, informational interviews, and job shadowing, and to share some of what you learned about how the new field is a good fit.
- Don't shy away from sharing your personal situation. If you left a job to care for an ill spouse, child, or parent, it can be appropriate to share this information if the situation has been resolved and you are now able to devote your full time and attention to work. Divulging a personal health issue can be tricky and is only advisable if it has clearly been resolved and is not likely to reoccur. If you have moved to a new area for family reasons like a partner's job or being closer to a child or parent, you could say you have focused on finding the right position in a challenging market. If you have taken time off to pursue a personal goal like hiking the Appalachian Trail, climbing in the Himalayas, traveling through India, making the PGA Tour, or touring as a musician, for example, mention it. Presenting this sort of rationale can be appropriate as long as you can articulate how the need has been satisfied, and you can convincingly emphasize your current enthusiasm for the job opening.
- Keep it positive. As is true when answering any interview question, it's important to focus on the positive and be able to convince the interviewer that you sincerely want the job and are the right fit.
What Not to Say
- Don't lie.Your interviewer may ask a follow-up question that reveals you've been fibbing. For instance, if you say you've taken a class, but haven't, that'll be easily uncovered. It's just not worth it to fib.
- Don't say "nothing." This kind of response will make you seem lazy or aimless. A one-sentence response is preferable. Remember, it's OK to talk about personal reasons that may have made you step away from the workplace.
- Don't be negative. When you're six months into a fruitless job search, it can be hard to stay positive. Still, in your response to this question, be sure to stay positive. Instead of saying, "Looking for work without any success" you can say, "I've been looking for jobs that are a good fit for my skills and interests." And of course, if you can tack on any job-related activities you've been engaged in, do so!
Possible Follow-Up Questions
Some responses to "What have you been doing since your last job?" may naturally lead to follow-up questions. For instance, if you say you've been taking classes, your interviewer may ask for more information on the classes. Or, if you mentioned you moved and have been getting used to a new city, the interviewer may ask where you've explored so far. Other follow-up questions might include the following:
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What's your dream job?
- What do you hope to learn in this job?
PREPARATION IS HELPFUL. As with just about every interview question, thinking through your answer in advance will help you give a strong response.
SHORT AND SIMPLE IS FINE. You don't need to go into a ton of detail; just a sentence or two in response will do with this particular interview question.
LOOK TO HIGHLIGHT HOW YOU GO BEYOND THE MINIMUM. If you've engaged in relevant, job-related activities, go ahead and share details.
STAY POSITIVE. Don't focus on how long you've been out of work, or how discouraging the experience has been.