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How to Explain 2 Years of Unemployment

by Anonymous

I've been unemployed for over two years. I lost my job due to department wide lay-offs.

I work in the construction industry (mid level architect), where job prospects have been limited and at times non-existent.

However, employers always ask me what I've been doing over the past 2 years, as if it is surprising that I can't find work in this economy.

I should also note that after a few months of job searching, I decided to have a child since there was no job prospects. So in actuality, I've really only been looking for a little less than a year.

Thinking it was a good excuse, I told an interviewer once that I chose to use my layoff as an opportunity to start a family (thinking it would be better than sounding as if I couldn't find work).

I was promptly told that although I was the best candidate, a male would be chose as I'd probably prefer to be a stay-at-home-mom, and he already had too many mothers on staff who were unmotivated and might ultimately quit.

As wrong as that employer's reaction was, I learned my lesson and no longer mention my pregnancy as the reason for the 2 year unemployment lapse.

My question is, how should I answer the question of "what have I been up to?"

Everyone asks it.

My husband also lost his job - and is currently extremely underemployed - so going back to school or earning certifications is not financially possible.

Staying current with the industry by attending networking events, etc., has also been difficult as I stay at home with my daughter up to 14 hours a day. But I can't get into my personal situation during an interview.

How do I sound motivated and like I'm worth taking a chance on?

Before my layoff, I was a model employee, with a lot of accomplishments. I feel though that none of that matters anymore.

Mike Petras comments:

Thanks for your email. So sorry to hear of your unemployment struggles. BTW--you express yourself well in writing and come across as a good communicator. This is a gift.

Lots of job seekers are in the same boat as you are...millions in fact. So you're in good company.

I know that doesn't soothe the pain of your job search or put food on your table, but the headwinds in the construction industry continue to be fierce. It was one of the industries that took a direct hit from the Great Recession.

So your lack of success in finding a job has more to do with your floundering industry than your two years of unemployment; however, despite the recession, there continues to be a negative bias today towards the long term unemployed (12-24 months).

Here are a few things you can do.

First off, the employer who told you he wasn't going to hire you because you are a mom is an idiot. There are tons of working mothers in the workplace today and this stereotype is almost a non-issue anymore.

Your explanation for being out work for two years is perfect. Keep using it. Besides, it's the honest truth...right?

Even so, make sure you convey to any prospective employer that you are excited about returning to work and you will do whatever it takes to meet or exceed their expectations. Then make sure you are well prepared for your job interview.

FACT: Fifty percent of the reason job seekers are rejected is because they perform poorly in their job interview. Companies want to hire people who stand out and have a proven track record of accomplishments. If you can effectively convey this in an interview, employers will be less concerned about your stretch of unemployment.

Based on the quality of your writing, I'm fairly certain you interview well.

If you are asked what you've been up to while unemployed, use your "started a family" reason. It's personal, warm, and the honest truth.

Interviewers are people too. Good people will relate to your situation and view it as a positive, not a negative.

While you are preparing for a job interview, ask yourself this question:

In the employer's mind, what do they most fear about me being unemployed for 2 years?

Here are 3 possible fears (myths, misconceptions, unfair prejudgments) going through the minds of your interviewers, and some interviewing strategies you can use to disarm them.

Try and come up with a couple more on your own.

  1. You were laid off because you are below average or a problem child.

    • Come to your interview with 3-4 well rehersed accomplishments. Shows you know how to get things done and solve problems.

    • Make sure you can confidently answer the top 10 interview questions. Makes a lasting first impression and showcases your communication skills. Shows you can think on your feet.

  2. You've been interviewing for 2 years and no one has hired you; therefore, there must be something wrong with you.

    • Share with prospective employers that you recently started your job search and are chomping at the bit to get back to work. In other words, for the past 2 years you had a full time job...a stay-at-home mom. Now you've made a career decision to return to your profession. What on earth is wrong with that?

    • Bring a copy of one of your written performance reviews...assuming, of course, it's glowing. Use it as a trump card if their interview questions are more defensive in nature. When you share something positive about yourself, it's taken with a grain of salt. But when your ex-boss said something positive about you in's gospel. If you don't have a written review, see if you can get a character reference letter from him/her.

  3. You've been living off unemployment compensation for 2 years while you painted your toenails, ate bon-bons, and watched reruns of American Idol. In other words, they suspect you're lazy and won't work hard or make sacrifices.

    • Convey to your interviewers that you are willing to work long hours and do whatever it takes to meet or exceed their goals. The more flexible, hard working, and enthusiastic you come across, the more Brownie points you score. One of the main reasons employers reject job seekers is because candidates appear too laid back.

    • Tell them you like to stay busy and miss the challenges of your projects and routine.

From what you shared with me in your email, it sounds like you're doing a lot of things right. The fundamentals of a job search still work, but in this economy it may take longer.

I believe you and your husband would definitely benefit from reading my book: Why Don't They Call Me? ~ Job Search Wisdom to Get You Unstuck. (no pressure) I wrote the book specifically for the long term unemployed.

Go here to read the introductory chapter, the complete table of contents, and watch a short video about what makes this book different.

All the best to you and your family.

Mike Petras

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Comments for How to Explain 2 Years of Unemployment

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Jul 24, 2018
It's illegal
by: Maea

What the interviewer said was illegal-- that a man would be chosen OVER a woman because of the reason that a woman would choose to be a SAHM is not professional. It also implies that the company would discriminate on the basis of parental status.

If I had been that woman, I'd have called up the Better Business Bureau and complained about them. Or better yet, written a review on their interviewing practices at

My husband has looked for jobs before and has been asked if he's married. No employer should be asking for a person's marital or parental status unless they want to tarnish their reputation.

Dec 09, 2016
Mining slump casualty
by: Anonymous

Been 2 years
Im gonna tell them that ive been in jail.
At least inmates are offered jobs in there.

Jul 27, 2016
It's not's the Economy
by: Damien

I can relate to this lady. Been unemployed for 18 months now since being made redundant. Gone from $100k+ year to zero. At 47 I never thought I'd be in this position after a degree and 15 years working as an Engineer in the Pharma Industry but at least I have no wife or kids to support. The worst is having to deal with Recruitment agencies. My only advice to this lady is perhaps try and upskill or maybe consider retraining is a field that's in demand. Just remember, it's not you, its just the way things are at the moment.

Feb 05, 2016
advice on job situation
by: Anonymous

I've been unemployed for two years after coming out of my master's program in Asia/Australia for a MBA degree and MA degree in hotel managememt and international tourism. But, I feel as if I have some experience, but not the type they are looking for despite working for my aunt's and my sister's small businesses and working contract jobs with teaching and tutoring in the states and overseas. I realize this may be because of personal choices but I came close to getting a job many times and didn't get it in the states due to not having transportation or living in the city. I know many think these are excuses, but I've tried everything from taking buses, trains, and taxis to get to the interview from a rural area and waiting for the hr manager with walk-in interviews, going to job fairs, doing mock interviews, taking volunteer jobs, taking new classes online and networking. I feel like I've exhausted all my resources since none of my friends in the states(CA) drove except for my ex that worked a on-call job. His family wasn't supportive of me, so I'm sure they loved to see me fell despite me living with his boss. I know that isn't a good dynamic, but my family lives in Asia and not the states, so that was the best I could do on such short notice. Now, I'm back in Asia and looking into freelance, temp, contract, or part-time and full time jobs.

Lately, I've been working on my dad's self-publishing company, but that only provides commission. So, my question is do I continue the job search in Asia
when not knowing my accomplishments and moving frequently? Mainly
because if I leave in two months due to family issues that would not be good
for my employer esp. if its not an affiliate company in the states. I'm almost tempted to work from home, but I'll make no connections or impact that way. Any advice would be helpful. Thanks in advance!

Jan 10, 2016
2 years unemployed
by: Anonymous

I was laid off from a large international hotel chain i was working for in Athens,Greece. The job market in Greece is terrible i'm 36 years old and i've been unemployed for about 2 years. I'am a bit lazy but i did hold the job for 6.5 years but i'm certain that i'm suffering from mild to severe depression and that hinders my job searching abilities. How can i go to a job interview with anger? i'll probably punch out the interviewer for asking an irritating question. I have anger issues no doubt and these interviewers don't give a stuff about your personal problems. My question is how can i get back on my feet how can i put that anger behind me and get on with the rest of my life. My parents are also struggling. It just seems there is no hope anymore. I'm desperate. I know i'm worth something just want someone to give me a chance to prove myself.

Apr 03, 2013
How to resolve significant unemployment gaps
by: Anonymous

If you have a relative with a different last name than you, and that relative is a small business owner, ask if you can say that you served as a consultant at their firm and put it on your resume. Now, during an interview, if you are asked what your salary is there, tell them you consult as a volunteer and do not get paid but only say this if you are asked.

This method will fill a gap on your resume and being that you did not get paid, it will not cause an issue with a background check because there wouldn't be any pay stub or IRS issues.

Just make sure you get along well with your relative and that he or she knows your fake start date just in case they are called by a potential employer to verify you work(ed) there. Also make sure that your relative can state in a sentence or two what you did for them.

I am telling you that you absolutely must fill in large unemployment gaps on yor resume. Otherwise, hiring managers will think there is something wrong with you for being unemployed so long and you will never be hired. Believe me I have been told this over and over again by various headhunters so I did what is described above and it worked. Problem solved.

No, it may not be ethical, but sadly, it has to be done in the current eonomic environment. Otherwise, you will not be hired unless you want to flip burgers at McDonalds.

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