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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

How to Nail Your Interview When You’ve Been Out of Work...for a While

After being unemployed for a while, you’ve (finally) landed a job interview. In addition to feeling excited, you may also be a little nervous. Especially since being out of work likely caused your confidence and general outlook on life to take a little dip.

Good news: You’re not alone. A study of German adults published in February in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that “mean levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness,” decreased over time in unemployed participants. However, your comeback interview isn’t the time to dwell on the challenges of being unemployed. After all, this opportunity means you’re back in the game.

Yes, this could be your big chance to return to work! So, shift your focus to acing the interview. Here are three tips that will help you do just that—even if you’re out of practice or lacking your old confidence.

1. Talk it Out

If it’s been a long time since your last interview, you’ll want to practice your conversation skills. Before the interview, chat with contacts in person or on the phone—rather than connecting via email or text. Meet an old colleague for lunch, call a family member, or ask your mentor to meet for coffee. If you practice talking about your experience and career goals, you’ll feel more confident heading into your interview.

Still unsure who to reach out to? Get in touch with your (potential) references. It’s important to connect with them right away and make sure you’re both on the same page as to how you’ll be presenting your unemployment. That way, there won’t be any conflicting accounts if the hiring manager follows up. Once you’ve sorted everything out, use them as interview sounding boards, too.

2. Prepare for the Expected

You know that question is coming. The interviewer will ask about your unemployment—so there’s no reason to be unprepared.

Instead, know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Be honest and focus on the positives. Center the conversation on what you’ve learned from your unemployment, the skills you worked on during your time off, the hobbies you picked up, or the volunteer work you did. Highlighting these experiences enthusiastically will make you more desirable to employers.

Remember this throughout the process: Your unemployment does not define you—you are a complex person with multiple skills and interests. Make sure your interview reflects that accurately.

3. Keep the Conversation Moving

Now that we’ve covered how to discuss your unemployment, you know the last thing I’d recommend is glossing over that resume gap. But, at the same time, it shouldn’t be the center of attention either (that honor belongs to you!). Say what you need to say about it, and then move on to discuss your skills and the position.

If you feel the conversation is lingering on the subject, redirect it. Connect your past experience to the current opportunity by discussing skills you acquired that would be applicable to the new role. Find a way to relate the old to the new.

Or, ask the interviewer questions about the position or the company. You can say something like, “I learned a lot from that experience, but I’m really looking toward my future and the opportunity with your company. Can you tell me a little more about X?”

Another great strategy is to follow up on your personal narrative with some facts about the industry. This is an easy way to show the hiring manager that you’re still on top of the latest news and trends. It sounds like this: “When I worked for X company, Y was a big issue. But recently, Z has been a major factor in the industry. How is the company prepared to deal with that?”

Remember, even if the interviewer doesn’t ask any further questions about your familiarity with the sector, knowing that you are prepared will help you feel knowledgeable, relevant, and ready to tackle the job.

Yes, your current situation may be a challenge—but it doesn’t have to be a setback. After all, it’s led you to this interview, which may just start your next chapter. Show the interviewer that you have a positive attitude and are focused on the future by coming to your interview fully prepared.

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