With the average length of unemployment sitting at 38 weeks, it is inevitable that an unemployed individual is going to be interviewed for many job openings. And in that interview, it is inevitable that they will be asked this question. “What have you been doing all this time?”
I get that recruiters feel they need to ask it to weed out those job seekers who have just been sitting on their behinds for nine months, collecting unemployment and eat bon-bons (sense the sarcasm). But seriously, most people have been using this time to find a job. That really should be answer enough, but time and time again I hear recruiters wanting more. So here are a few of the best ways I’ve hard this question answered when I’ve sat in and (cringed) heard someone asked.
“Outside of searching for a job, which as I’m sure you know can be a full time job, I’ve kept extremely busy. I have been fortunate enough to pick up some side consulting projects, any of which would be happy to serve as a reference for me.” (this answer is brilliant because other than politely smacking the interviewer with the “duh I’ve been looking for a job” answer it provides a source of reference should the interviewer want it.
“The timing of my layoff, while devastating at the time, could not have been better personally. It has given me the opportunity to go back to school and finish my degree. While in school, Dave Smith, the president of ABC corporation came and spoke about careers in our field. I took the opportunity to connect with him further and he is now serving as a mentor to me. He and I have been working over the past few months to assess where my career was before the layoff and how I can improve upon that in my next role.” (this answer is brilliant because Dave Smith was a very well known leader in this particular industry and he mentoring this individual spoke volumes about their credentials.)
“I will admit that I was not ready for a job search when I was first laid off. It did take me a few weeks to organize myself, create my resume, online profile and personal brand and actually start the job search. Shortly after starting my job search I heard about a volunteer opportunity that would really let me tap into my philanthropic side. When else in my life was I going to have time to devote to a cause greater than myself? So I have divided my time between this volunteer opportunity and my job search. The volunteer opportunity is wrapping up now so I have placed 100% of my attention back on my job search.” (this answer is brilliant because most people would like the opportunity to say they gave themselves to something bigger than them and an interviewer will relate with that desire. It also closes the loop and leaves no doubt that while the volunteer opportunity took a lot of time, it is over now and you can focus on your new job)
These are the best three I’ve heard and I think everyone can use some variation of this to answer the question. Most people who are unemployed do one of these three things – they volunteer, they take on side projects or they go back to school. The key is to be honest and share what you have done in a manner that lets them know you’ve been busy, you’ve kept your skills current and you would be able to step in and make an immediate impact in this new role.
Hope this helps! Happy Job Searching.