If you are in a situation where you’ve been out of work for an extended period of time, you may naturally be both expecting and fearing the dreaded question, “Can you explain this employment gap on your resume?” or, “Why have you been out of work for two years?”, or even, “So what have you been doing while unemployed?”
All these questions address your unemployment period that’s true, but in addition to asking about the lack of work, they also ask you to talk about what you HAVE been doing and why. So many people don’t have a good answer to this question because they’ve done very little if anything at all.
Now of course the reason you have been out of work might be part of the answer such as in the case of a health issue. In this respect, you could indicate that, but you’d also need to make it absolutely clear that you are fit now and prepared to work without complaint or recurring problems affecting your performance and attendance.
The real concern employers have in hiring people who have been out of work for long periods is the loss of routine, work ethic and stamina that many jobs require. You may have slid into a pattern where you don’t rise until 9:45 a.m. in the morning, shuffle around the house in pyjamas and watch reruns of shows from the 1980’s, then get dressed just before noon and by 4:30p.m. you’ve read the paper, done some laundry and feel exhausted.
Don’t get me wrong here folks, I’m not saying you personally aren’t doing things you shouldn’t, but the employer has no idea what you’ve been up to let alone know you much at all. It falls to you to tell them what over those past two years you’ve been doing productively with your time which would give them cause to truly believe you are mentally and physically up to the rigors of a full-time job that comes with responsibility and accountability.
It could be that you’ve taken some courses, kept up with your computer skills, got your First Aid / CPR validated, even took an on-line WHMIS or SMARTSERVE course if those are relevant to your field. It’s also plausible that you have really done some soul-searching to find out exactly what career you want instead of falling into the habit of just taking a job and hoping it’s the one that will ignite some kind of passion in you like you’ve done in the past.
Maybe too your time has been spent networking with professionals in the field you are now committed to. You know, asking questions, initiating interviews yourself to determine the pros and cons of jobs from people currently in those roles. You might have been doing personal research to determine the education you needed and lacked, then went back to school to upgrade and be competitive, all of which have resulted in you sitting in this interview today.
But then again, you might have been literally doing nothing of note that the employer finds impressive, or that you yourself find noteworthy and relevant to talk about. In this case, the employer has grave concerns over your value and thinks hiring you is more of a gamble than they are prepared to take. You seem very nice, but you’re at your best right now for this interview, and your recent past doesn’t give them much to base a hiring decision on.
Without having done much in the recent past, the employer has no one to verify if you are who you say you are, if you can do the things you claim you can do, and if your performance is up to current industry standards. As for your skills, a year or two outside of a profession can also mean your knowledge of practices is outdated and you’ll need to be brought up to speed with procedures best practices, and this means additional training and less productivity not only from you but from the person training you.
So my advice if you are currently unemployed is to stay relevant. Now is the time to pick yourself up and upgrade your skills in your field. At the bare minimum, keep your keyboarding skills up. There are a number of free resources on the internet where you can learn about using the computer, improve your literacy, math and writing skills. Community Colleges and Universities often have classes you can sign up for. Get the listing on what’s available from visiting their websites, calling them to send you the calendar, or walk in and meet a school counsellor.
Yes unemployment is frustrating; and I agree that prolonged unemployment can easily zap your energy, create the right atmosphere for bad habits and make you want to just give up. I get that. However, you need to know and hopefully agree that the only person who can turn this unemployment thing around is you. You and you alone have to find the necessary drive and stamina to put yourself in a position to be competitive. It starts with your attitude.
Give yourself permission to get ticked off and annoyed, but don’t stop there. Hold yourself accountable for also doing what is in your control. You do have control over what you do with your time and if you use it wisely now, you’ll have a better answer to this question at a future job interview.