Our resume does never tell the entire story of our professional career, yet alone of our life. Because we can be unemployed for a variety of reasons. Maybe you simply lost the job and could not get another one with your qualification, in the current economic climate. Or you decided to improve your qualification, get some certification, and a chance to apply for better jobs. Perhaps you experienced a burnout–quite a common thing nowadays, when corporations often overwhelm their employees with heavy workload, and simply had to take a break to stay sane. You just couldn’t continue without losing your sanity for good. Or you gave a shot to running your own business, took a loan and worked 100 hours/week, just to see your dreams collide with a reality, and your bank account balance slowly dwindle to nothingness.

To sum it up, there are many reasons why one can be unemployed, and a single line on your resume, or an employment gap hiring managers see there, can hardly explain the bigger picture. But what do they want to hear from you? Actually they want to hear the truth, They do not care about the reason, they care about the explanation. Any reason is good enough, and no employment gap is too wide, as long as you can explain it properly in the interviews.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. Most of the answers on my list concern situations when a person was without a job for six months or longer, because such are the cases that need longer explanation. I also tried to include answers for a variety of reasons why someone was unemployed for a longer time. Do not forget to check also my notes below the sample answers, for a couple of additional hints.


7 sample answers to “How long have you been unemployed?” interview question

  1. I have been unemployed for eight months. But it doesn’t mean I’ve been doing nothing during the time. On the contrary, I was working on my language skills, and also tried to get into a better shape physically, in order to improve my chances of getting a job of a flight attendant–ideally with your airlines. In my opinion, when we go to work daily and have to take care of other obligations of life, we can barely afford to devote any time to personal development. There’s just no free time. So when you can afford it–and I could, it isn’t a bad idea to stop working for a while, make yourself a better professional in this or that area, and in that way improve your chances of getting a job which you really want to have.
  2. As you can see on my resume, I have been unemployed for almost a year. It seems like a long time, I know, but you should understand that I experienced a completer burnout in my last job. The workload was just out of this world, and the relationships in the workplace were anything but authentic. It came to a point when I didn’t even have a power, or a desire, to get up  in the morning. I just needed a break, recharge my batteries, reassess my priorities. Here I am now, with a clear perspective on what I want to do with my life and for a living, and ready to start working somewhere again.
  3. It’s been long three years as you can see. But that’s just a part of the story. I tried my luck with my own business, opening a small restaurant in the city. Just the preparations took over a year, and when I finally started, I immediately realized how naive I was about running my own business. Things were ten times more difficult as I thought they would be, and even when we had customers, we were still losing money. So I had to let some employees go and then I worked for a hundred hours each week, which was just crazy. I was basically digging my own grave, because such a workload would necessarily take a big toll on my health. Anyway, three months ago I finally decided to quit, accept my defeat, and move on. Here I am–no entrepreneur any longer, ready to rejoin the corporate hustle and bustle.
  4. It’s been almost nine months now. But it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been trying to get the job. On the contrary, I submitted my application to many places, but bearing the situation in the economy, got just a few interview invitations, and eventually didn’t make it. And that’s because I was a bit picky in my job search. I applied only with the places I liked, because, in my opinion, we should at least somehow enjoy our work. We shouldn’t work just to earn money. And your place is no different in this sense: I like what you do here, and can imagine taking care of the duties from the job description. So it is another interview and another chance to finally start working again.
  5. I am actually still employed. Haven’t been unemployed for years, because I just cannot afford it financially. So while looking for a new job, a career progression–just like I do now with you, I try to keep the job I have at a time. Of course, I have informed my present employer that I am searching a new job, explaining my reasons. They understand, and they support me in my efforts.
  6. I have been unemployed for an unbelievably long time–over 15 years now. The reason? I decided to stay at home and take care of my autistic son. You get some money from the government each month, and with the salary of my husband, we had enough for a modest lifestyle. But things do change in life. Me and my husband have separated, I remained alone with my son. The funds from the government still help, but they just cannot cover our monthly expenses. Hence I decided to look for a part-time job. The position you offer is an excellent fit, with no experience required and ideal shift patterns, so I can still take care of my child, while earning some extra money on the side.
  7. As you can see on my resume, I’ve been unemployed for a year, after having worked constantly for over seven years. I decided to take a gap year, a break, travel the world and experience new cultures while I was still relatively young, and had a courage for such a trip. And it was a blast, I’ve learned a lot, and returned home a different person. But each trip has its end, and now, with a newly formed balance and a loads of motivation, I am looking to return to the work again…


The key is to always elaborate on your answer

If you let the hiring managers take guesses, you can be sure they will almost always guess the wrong thing. That’s why it is important–with this question or any other similar, to explain why you did this or that, why you have been unemployed for a month, year or ten years.

What’s more, talking openly about some issues you’ve experienced (a burnout, an identity crisis, health issues, etc), you clearly demonstrate that you are ready to talk in a genuine and open way in your interview, which is always a huge plus. Do not be afraid to share something sensitive with the interviewers. They are people from flesh and bones, just like you and me, and each of them have had their share of problems in life.

Of course, you should never get emotional in a job interview, because it would indicate that you had not yet managed to get over your struggles. Talk in a matter of fact way, explain what happened, and make sue that they do not have to guess why you were unemployed for a longer time than a few months.

Failing to get hired? Give yourself some cushion with a good explanation

Situation in the world isn’t easy, and many people are unemployed simply because they cannot get a job--though they are trying, sending application, interviewing with companies. You should not be ashamed to admit that you have struggled to get hired, but do it in a right way.

Do not say that you’ve been sending job applications left and right, in dozens literally, and bombed every interview you went to. On the contrary, since you are no job hopper you picked the offers carefully, and from the few you applied for, you just didn’t manage to turn any to an eventual employment agreement. Maybe you finished 2nd best, or something similar.

Now it’s another chance, you handpicked their offer because you really like the duties, and their corporate values, and hope that finally this time over you will be the one who signs a coveted employment agreement at the end…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! But do not forget to check also answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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