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Interview Questions (and Answers) for the Unemployed

Explaining Why You Are Out Of Work Makes All The Difference

By the Monster Career Coach

In this day and age, being out of a job is something that most employees will experience not just once, but possibly several times during their career span. Cycles of the economy, your employer’s financial circumstances, if you quit for personal reasons, all of these contribute to the likelihood that at some point you will find yourself temporarily unemployed.

Since almost everyone will experience this at one point or another, employers no longer view unemployment the same way they many years ago. There may be no stigma at all attached to not having a job when you apply for a new one – if you can convincingly explain why you left your previous position.

Below you will find some of the typical question an employer might ask a job seeker who is “in transition” (that is, between jobs). A few potential responses for each query are listed in bullet-point style. See which answers best apply to you personally. If you choose to use one of the suggested replies, be sure to customize it to your own specific situation, and try sticking to the truth.

Here are a few easier questions you might encounter.

Question: Why did you leave your last job?

Possible Answers:
  • I was downsized, because my previous employer experienced…
  • financial difficulties
  • a merger
  • brand new management
…and they had to let go a number of people, myself included.

Question: What have you been doing since your last job?

Possible Answers:
I have been…
  • networking with people in my field to stay informed
  • taking a relevant course to upgrade my skills and knowledge
  • doing volunteer work that applies to my role
  • reading appropriate trade publications, attending conferences
…while looking for precisely the kind of job that you are to hiring for here.

Here are a few more challenging questions you might be asked.

Question: Why were you the only one downsized from your previous employer?

Possible Answers:
  • My position was eliminated and they had to let me go.
  • After several years of solid performance, I started working for a brand new boss who had a very different way of doing things and our styles were not a fit.
  • The needs of my employer changed and my particular skill sets were no longer required.

Question: Why did you quit your last job?

Possible Answers:
  • I would prefer not to go into a great deal of detail, as I respect my former employer’s need for confidentiality, however conditions there for me changed to the point where it was no longer possible for me to continue working there and retain my integrity.
  • My role there just wasn’t appropriate for me any longer and I chose to leave by giving advanced notice, such that we were able to complete important outstanding projects. This has freed me up to devote myself to my job search so I can find a great fit, just like the job you are hiring for here.

Question: What’s your opinion of your most recent employer?

Possible Answers:
  • They were great to work for and it’s too bad they had to let so many people go, but I understand why it made sense.
  • Although they eliminated my job even though I was enjoying it thoroughly, there are no hard feelings. I know it was purely a business decision, nothing personal.
  • Even though I did resign, I did so in a way that didn’t leave them high and dry, because overall I really respect the people I worked with and wish them all the best.

Keep It Positive

Employers you are interviewing with for a new job want to feel comfortable that you are not a “problem employee” (if you were fired or downsized from your last job for performance issues or for not getting along with your boss and colleagues). They also want to know that you aren’t someone who will quit just because you want to, without caring about the effect it will have on those you left behind (if you quit your last job). Furthermore they don’t want to hire someone who shows anger toward their former employer and who badmouths them.

Getting a new job when you are in transition from your previous one is more common than ever. You can make it even easier for an employer to hire you by being able to explain in simple, truthful terms why you left your previous job. Help them to bridge the divide and you’ll be helping yourself into a brand new job.

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