EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

During the interviewing process we frequently get asked questions for which there is no good answer. I have my favorites of course, but having been out of work myself for almost 2 years back in 1991, the one I will address tonight is “Why have you been out of work so long?” (What a silly question. It’s because I haven’t found a job!)

Now back in 1991 it was generally accepted that the country was in a recession. Still, after almost two years, it was a question that came up in interviews. And, it can come across as a tough question even when it begins as it does today with “I know the job market isn’t very good, but how come you haven’t found something yet? What have you been doing for the last xx months?”

I don’t know if you recognize it, but two issues are wrapped up in what appears to be one question. The first part is that it is sort of an accusation. Hard not to take offense with that alone, but then the second part is something that strikes deep into our make up as financial executives: the need to provide a detailed explanation. I can almost see the wheels turning in someone’s mind when that kind of question is asked. Well, from October 15th at 6PM to October 18th at 8AM I was ….

You get the point. A VERY detailed, blow by blow analysis is in the making, complete with could have been’s and should have been’s. It will probably take up the entire interview.

Let’s take this apart piece by piece and see what we can do with it. First of all, it is easy for someone who is working to take pot shots, so to speak, at someone who isn’t. But the truth is that as a senior financial executive, it can take significant time to find a job that fits. Those who experience short job searches can just as easily have had long ones. They just happened to encounter a job that fit their skill set earlier than you have. It is to a degree dumb luck at work here. Agreed, not totally and not always the case, but luck and timing play important roles.

The question is also a trap, and you want to make sure you don’t fall into it. If you have been out of work for a while, understand that the question is going to come up and that you need to have a perfectly logical BUT BRIEF explanation. If you go on at length, if falls under the heading of “The maiden doth protest too much methinks.”

The first question I would ask you is whether there were any events in your life that prevented you from working full time at your job search? Have you had a crisis with your parents, spouse, children or your own health that has taken time away from your search? Without going into great detail, just say it. My father became ill at the beginning of my search and I decided he was more important than my job search. If there was only one thing I was going to be able to do well I thought that he was the most important.

Friends trust me, if anyone disagrees with this statement, you don’t want to work there anyway.

It is also possible that you set logical restrictions on your search such as an inability to move to another city because of children in high school or aging parents living nearby. Again, bring up family values and say that you decided you wouldn’t move because of good and valid reasons, and that you understood that this would add to the time required for your job search.

The point again is to be brief. If you go on at length, it doesn’t get any better or more complete. Besides, you don’t want your personal issues to take up too much of your valuable interviewing time.

If you are uncomfortable with your response it will show and your discomfort may make your explanation come across as a lie. It is my belief you are a logically consistent financial person (sort of like Mr. Spock on Star Trek) and that you are not prone to making irrational decisions.

If this is true, then the explanation you give will sound true and you will have properly answered a very tough question and be well on your way to a great job.

Regards, Matt

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