I know that many of our members are faced with the unpleasant truth that they have been out of work for a significant period of time. Having been out of work myself for almost two years, I know that this unpleasant question of “Why have you been out so long?” gets asked. Like anything else in life, if you don’t prepare a “proper” answer, you will begin to stammer. (Or, sweat!)
The natural tendency of financial folks that you need to avoid is the very detailed answer. The good old “primarily due to, partially offset by” approach that we take to providing information is not only a bad idea, it is also unnecessary. As the defense attorney on TV would say, “Question asked, question answered.” A brief response is all that is needed, but it has to be framed correctly.
Another tip is that if you have indeed been out of work for a long period of time, you may want to bring it up so that you can respond with your answer and not have to make one up or modify your pat answer because the question was asked “incorrectly.”
As I have pointed out to members at meetings I have attended, if you had a cast on your arm or leg, you would “explain.” The same principle applies here. It is an obvious question and one you will have to answer, so why not answer it on YOUR terms. Trust me, no communication will take place with the person doing the interview until the delicate and obvious questions that they are afraid to bring up have been answered in some manner.
Although silly responses just naturally pop into my brain when silly questions are asked, you may not want to go with my flip “No one has offered me a job.” answer when asked why you have been out of work so long.
Instead, your assigned task is to package the truth in the best possible wrapping paper. (In advertising there is hype and then there is pure hype, but I digress.)
Key to the response you develop is a clear message that you have taken full responsibility for the strategy and progress of your search efforts. Any attempt to portray yourself as a victim of a downsizing, politics or the bad economy will only backfire on you. If you were on the other side of the desk making a hiring decision, you wouldn’t even think of extending an offer to someone who came across as beaten up.
In a very few colorful brush strokes you need to explain your plan, how you have implemented it and how you have measured your progress. (And PLEASE don’t add, “But, of course, it hasn’t worked yet.”) If it had worked you wouldn’t be sitting in that chair being interviewed.
By structuring your response in a positive light, you can use it as yet another example of how you think. This insight into your inner self needs to strengthen your candidacy just as all of the other “conversation” you have in an interview needs to do.
Remember, every story you tell is a story about you and how you are going to perform on the job. Don’t let the minor inconvenience of being unemployed make you feel or act as anything other than the senior financial executive that we all know you are.
If you weren’t a terrific person you wouldn’t have been admitted as a member of The FENG.
Keep that in mind any time you (or anyone else) question(s) your abilities.