Q: I was laid off nine months ago. I have had great success with landing interviews. However, I seem to be a finalist but never receive an offer. I am getting frustrated and discouraged.
During a recent interview, I had a hiring manager ask me why I have been unemployed for so long. His tone of voice and body language made me feel horrible. I felt very defensive and know I did not respond in the appropriate way. I babbled some answer that I can’t even accurately recall. I thought I knew all the toughest interview questions but this one really stumped me. What is the best way to answer this question? I felt like screaming a response like “This has been the worst recession in 30 years…. Have you read a newspaper lately?”
A: Let me begin on a positive note. Your resume and professional work history must be impressive. Why do I believe this? You are being interviewed and rising to the top of a probably very large pool of talent. There are many (sometimes hundreds!) talented candidates who are vying for every available position – both employed and unemployed candidates. With each and every interview, you have gained valuable experience. This can only work to your advantage.
When asked a tough or unusual question, I advise to first take a moment to think about it before formulating a response. You can even respond… “I don’t think I have been asked that question during my search. Let me give it some thought.” A short response like this can buy you a moment or two. It is best to respond in a factual, open yet positive way. One way to respond might be:
I don’t think I have been asked this question during my search. Let me think about your question for a moment.
First, I should point out that prior to this period of recent unemployment, I was gainfully employed for 22 years. I began as a marketing intern during my senior year of college and then ultimately rose to the director of marketing role. I am thankful that I can pursue a passion for a living. I really enjoy the field of marketing. I was very effective in the areas of web analytics, customer acquisition and retention metrics as well as selling sponsorships.
As we have discussed, I was laid off, along with 57 colleagues, in the summer of 2010. As you know, the economic climate has been a challenge for job seekers. There are so many strong candidates applying for every available position. Fortunately, I have picked up some contract work over the past several months. I was hoping that the contract roles would lead to a full-time role but that has not been the case.
I am searching for a full-time marketing role.
A job seeker should answer a question completely and honestly but also capitalize on the opportunity to showcase the successes and strengths. It is fine to begin with a short response that buys you a bit of thinking time. Then, highlight some of your strengths – your stable work history (before this bout of unemployment), the upward trajectory of your career, your areas of expertise in your field, etc. Additionally, if you have worked as a consultant, contractor, point this out! And consider including these contract roles in your current resume to help fill the gap. Lastly, end on a professional and encouraging note. Avoid being defensive or irritated. Being defensive, annoyed or irritated at one question can diminish your ability to advance in the process.
I am thrilled that you didn’t yell “This has been the worst recession in 30 years…. Have you read a newspaper lately?” Sure, I can understand why you would want to respond in this manner. But it doesn’t help you land a job.
Keep swinging. Don’t let an interviewer’s question get under your skin and rattle you.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.