Your Guide to Answering Difficult Interview Questions If You’re Currently Unemployed

You’ve been out of work for a while, but finally you got that long awaited interview.  You’re probably nervous and excited and wondering what interview questions you should be preparing for.  Whether it’s a phone interview with a recruiter or a Hiring Manager, there are a few questions that you may get asked b y both that you want to be prepared for.

The best thing you can do when you’re in an interview is to not think about how long it’s been since your last interview and let your nerves get into your head.  You want to treat it as a conversation and not that you’re being interrogated or else you’ll come across as tense or even worse, standoffish.

positive black woman talking to radio host

So, while I would never recommend memorizing your answers for common questions, you should be prepared and know how to answer some of these questions when you’re asked on the interview:

#1 What Have You Been Doing Since Your Last Role Ended?

This question will almost always naturally come up at the beginning of an interview the longer you’ve been out of your previous role.  If it’s only a month or two, the interviewer may not ask because it’s not a long period in between jobs, but if it’s six months or a year, you should be ready for this question. 

How You SHOULDN’T respond: If you’ve been out of work for a year, don’t tell the interviewer that you’ve been using the time to relax or give them a breakdown of your daily routine….that’s something you can tell your wife or your mom or  dad, because those are probably the only people who care what you’re doing on a daily basis.  If you used the time to take care of a child or a relative that’s a different story, but the interviewer doesn’t want to hear that you’ve been sitting home watching Jerry Springer (which I can confirm is still actually on the air for some reason) or The Price Is Right (which I’d rather watch being hosted by the corpse of Bob Barker than Drew Carey).

cheerful diverse women sitting at desk with microphones during interview

How You Should Answer: A good answer would be if you were using the time to take some certifications or build relevant skills in some way.  If you haven’t done that, the don’t lie or else it could come back to haunt you.  Volunteering is also another good answer (that also shouldn’t be said if you haven’t). 

So, what happens if you’ve been out of work for a year and have just been home eating Cheetos and job searching?  Tell the interviewer something along the lines of “I’ve been really focusing on my career path and goals and looking at opportunities where I can use my skills and background to help improve a company and that’s how I landed on this role.  Use something along those lines and that should get you through that tough question.

#2 Why Did Your Last Position End?

This is another difficult question because there can be several different factors.  You either lost your job due to downsizing, you got fired for performance, or you decided to quit.  Depending on the scenario, you should make sure you properly navigate the question.

What to Say If You’re Job Laid You Off: This is probably the easiest one to deal with because it most likely wasn’t your fault that you got laid off.  In this case, you can answer honestly.  Maybe the company couldn’t afford to pay your department, or they got rid of your department for some reason.  Whatever the case is, you can be honest and not worry about screwing up an answer.

multiethnic women discussing news during interview

What to Say If You Were Fired: This is a case where you don’t’ really want to get into the specifics of why you left your previous role.  You obviously must answer the question because by telling them you don’t want to get into it or saying next question like a politician being asked about raising taxes is not a good look either.  What you can say here is that the role wasn’t the right fit and there were some changes in your department, so you decided to get out and look for different opportunities.  T

There’s no law that says you must tell them you got fired, so unless they find out and contact your previous employer then I would dance around that question like Michael Jackson in the Thriller music video.

What to Say If You Quit: This is a little easier than the last one, because you can basically give the same answer without having to worry that the interviewer will do a background check.  Just don’t make the last company you worked for look bad or trash talk a boss because it won’t benefit you in an interview.

#3 Why Are You the Right Person for the Job Over Someone Who Is Currently Working in the Industry?

This is another tough question that could catch even the best interviewee off guard.  The key to this answer is that you need to have confidence.  Confidence is the key to everything in an interview.

What Not to Say: Well the first wrong thing to say is to say nothing.  Silence on this one is not a good look.  You can take a couple seconds to gather your thoughts, but you must give an answer more than, come back to that one.  Another bad answer is, I’m not sure.  Believe it or not those answers have been given so if you’re reading this thinking that’s ridiculous, then good, you won’t give those answers.

female journalist having interview with black woman

What to Say: Say anything that will talk up your skills and experiences and what makes you the best fit for the job.  This is your time to brag about yourself and make them want to hire you on the spot.  You should talk about all the things you’ve done for your previous company and what you’ll do for the company interviewing you.  Just because you’ve been out of work for six months or a year it doesn’t mean you’re a broken down 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara (Rip Suzuki) being dumped for parts.  The time you spent out of work should have rejuvenated you and given you a fresh perspective on things.

So, don’t let these questions derail your interview.  Being out of work is hard and can make you feel low on confidence but going into an interview for a job you want should make you feel like the NBA players in Space Jam who got their powers back from the aliens…..excited and ready to go.  So, get out there and be like Michael Jordan and take it to the hole and dominate.

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