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How to Talk about Being Unemployed (& Still Get a Job)

When you’re in between jobs, it’s important how you talk about being unemployed when the subject comes up job interviews, in networking or social situations.

Your responses will influence other people’s perceptions of you and your readiness for leads, introductions or even a new job. So if you want to get back to work, talk about your unemployment in these ways: 

Briefly, positively, with a focus on the future.  An answer that’s brief, positive and forward-looking will make the best impression and show people that you’re ready for business. For example, if asked in an interview why you left your last company, you might respond with something like this:

“A decision was made to eliminate 85 positions, and mine was one of them. The bright side is that I’ve been wanting to move to a larger company where I could focus more on (special area of expertise), so this is an opportunity to explore that interest.”

See how short that is? The part about not having a job is only a few seconds. The rest is all about goals and interests for the future. Let’s say the interviewer then says, “So that was seven months ago. And you haven’t been working since then?” If you haven’t, your answer might be along these lines:

“I took some time off to (care for a family member, take a long-postponed vacation in Asia, complete a major personal project, or whatever is true and reflects well on you),” and/or, “I haven’t hurried into a new role; I’m grateful to have the resources to search for not just any job, but the right one. The job we’re talking about today could be exactly what I’m looking for.”

You may also want to read my post on what to say if you were fired.

Without TMI (Too Much Information). Avoid going off on a long explanation of your company’s woes or your own. I get it, major life challenges and transitions can really hurt. But an interview or networking situation is absolutely not the time to look for sympathy! If you give the impression that you’re still licking your wounds, people may be reluctant to get involved or to introduce you to well-connected contacts.

While letting potential networking partners know about your interests. If a friend asks what happened with your job give your brief, positive answer as above, then add “Right now I’m researching companies like X, Y and Z and looking for people to talk in those.” This may lead to a useful suggestion or introduction.

Without MSU (Making Sh– Up). Marc Miller, who hosts the Repurpose Your Career podcast program, refers to it more politely as Making Stuff Up. He says it’s like a sickness: MSU Disorder, the unhealthy tendency we all have to imagine negative stuff that’s not real. For example, if I mention being unemployed and the other person’s smile fades to a frown, I’m likely to imagine they’re immediately thinking less of me. The reality may be that their frown is be an expression of concern and sympathy–or of anxiety, as they imagine themselves being in my shoes and Make Stuff Up about themselves!

Optimistically. If you find it difficult to talk about the future in an optimistic tone, process that privately. Try reading self-help books, journaling, visualizing what you want, and/or talking it over with someone who can help you process your feelings, like a counselor or an encouraging friend.

Knowing how to talk (and think) about unemployment is crucial. Spend a little time planning and practicing authentic yet strategic answers to questions about your unemployment. And get past this gap in your career and into a great new job.

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