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The Dreaded Question: How Long Have You Been Out of Work?

You may get this question.  The longer you’ve been out the greater the dread to answer it, because we all know there can be a stigma to being in transition.

Fear not, here are two approaches to this question and help get past any stigma of being in transition.  The first is before the interview and the second is for use during the interview.


Recommendations will show that you did good work in prior roles, getting these in the hands of the interviewer in advance is a great way to get them focused on your work.

Having recommendations from former colleagues publicly displayed on your LinkedIn profile, personal blog or as files on your account is a powerful tool.   Saying that you have relationships is good; having immediate proof for an interviewer makes it stick.

Quick tip: When you make the request include the key points you want your contact to highlight.  This will make it easier for them to write a recommendation.

When reaching out to the HR contact or hiring manager, you can send them a link to your references in advance.  Mention the references in the body of your e-mail and beneath your signature include the following format to describe your references that provide 4 points of information for each one: Name, Title, relationship, and length of relationship.

YYY Corporation:

John Smith, CEO, I reported to him for 5 years.

Jane Smith, Project manager, member of my team for 6 years.

Dave Smith, Field manager, primary contact for on working on new construction for 3 years.

ZZZ Corporation:

Bill Smith, COO, I reported to him for 4 years.


This is not an economic lesson, but simply sharing your potential opportunity to get reemployed.  If the opportunity has been low, then you again deflect the concern from your performance. The person asking the question may not understand the situation at your prior firm and the industry, the size of the pool of individuals competing for roles you seek, and number of openings available.  You will not use all these points, but getting the facts will help craft a good answer.

  1. Explain the business you were in and situation that required layoffs
  2. The state of business’s recovery and if there has been an opportunity to be rehired
  3. Was the decline across your industry and were other firms laying off people?  If so, then there was a limited ability to move to a competing firm.
  4. What is the fate of people in similar roles from both your prior firm and others? If loads of people in similar positions are still in transition, it’s not just you.
  5. Where does your role fall in the ‘rehire’ cycle.  For example, my own role is in finance and we are often the last to get rehired – simply because we are in overhead.  Despite a company doing better, there is a lag effect before people in my position get rehired.


Having the facts will help you state the situation without emotion.

Hope this helps.


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