Often, the longer you’re out of work the more self conscious you become about it. So it’s understandable that an interview question about how long you’ve been job hunting can throw you for a loop.
This week, career expert Alison Green (a.k.a. Ask A Manager) helps a job candidate figure out how to navigate this tricky situation.
I was called about a job I had applied to, and they asked me how long I had been job hunting. I’ve been job hunting for a few months, but panicked because I thought that might make it sound like there was something wrong with me and no one wanted to hire me, so I told them I started looking a few weeks ago.
Logically, I realize many that people end up job hunting for a year or more before getting an offer, so this shouldn’t be held against you, but I don’t know if this is one of those questions where the truth is sometimes a bad answer (like how you don’t badmouth your insane boss when asked why you want to leave your current company).
When asked how long you’ve been job hunting, what are they trying to figure out? Does your answer matter?
Honestly, it’s a weird question, and most interviewers don’t ask it.
Those that do are usually asking because they’re wondering whether you’re just at the very beginning of exploring options and possibly inclined to spend some time looking around, or whether you have a search well underway and might have a competing offer soon (and thus they may need to move quickly if they’re interested).
Or if you’ve been unemployed for a long time, it’s possible that they’re asking because they’re wondering if there’s something else going on—if you’ve actually been searching that whole time or whether you took a deliberate break for a while.
In any case, it’s true that you don’t want to give an answer that makes the interviewer think (even if only subconsciously) that you’ve been looking forever and no one is interested in hiring you. Good answers are:
- “I just started seriously looking recently, and I’m being choosy about what I apply to.”
- “I’ve been taking my time to make sure I find the right fit.”
- Or, if you’ve clearly been out of work for a while: “I had the ability to take some time off and now I’m eager to get back to work.”
This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.
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