Job-Hunting After an Employment Gap

How to Answer Interview Questions If You've Been Out of Work

Man and woman talking at desk during job interview

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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. Expect to be asked, "What have you been doing since your last job?"

The best way to answer this question is to be honest, but do have an answer prepared. 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. 

When Interviewers Ask What You've Been Doing

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. Prepare a response in advance that emphasizes any constructive activities in which you have been engaged.

Types of Activities to Share

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.

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.

When You're Out of the Workforce

In some cases, candidates may have 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.

Examples of Answers

Here are some suggestions on how to explain what you did while you were out of the workforce:

  • I worked on several freelance projects, while actively job seeking.
  • I volunteered for a literacy program that assists disadvantaged children.
  • My aging parents needed a temporary caregiver, and I spent time looking after them.
  • I spent time being a stay-at-home mom and volunteering at my daughter's school.
  • I took some continuing education classes and seminars.
  • I spent a year traveling abroad after I graduated from college.

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.