How to Explain 2 Years of Unemployment
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.
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.
- You were laid off because you are below average or a problem child.
You've been interviewing for 2 years and no one has hired you; therefore, there must be something wrong with you.
- 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.
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.
- 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 writing...it's gospel. If you don't have a written review, see if you can get a character reference letter from him/her.
- 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.
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