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Career-Life Times, Issue #47--Answering "Why Have You Been Out of Work for So Long?"
April 08, 2008

Issue 47, April 8, 2008

In This Issue:

  • Answering "Why Have You Been Out of Work for So Long?"
  • How to Explain Bad Grades
  • How to Answer the Salary Question in a Job Interview
  • Resources
  • Worth Quoting
  • Just for Laughs
  • Random Rants & Ramblings

    Answering "Why Have You Been Out of Work for So Long?"

    Job candidates who have been unemployed for a while are likely to be asked at the interview, “Why have you been out of work for so long?”

    It’s a legitimate question if you think about it from the employer’s point of view. What they’re really wondering is, “Why didn’t anyone else hire you?”

    They may be worried that you have drawbacks discovered by other companies during previous interviews or reference checks. They may be thinking, “If you’re really as good as your resume, you wouldn’t still be looking for a job after six months.”

    So you need to convince them that there’s nothing to worry about. Briefly answer their question, then shift the focus back to your qualifications and strengths.

    There are many acceptable reasons for having a gap in your employment history. Be honest, but try to frame your situation in a positive light. Also, mention any experiences you had while unemployed that were beneficial (for example, taking courses or finishing your degree, volunteering for community programs, etc.).

    Sample answers:

    1. “I chose to spend time evaluating my options before deciding on my next career move. I have been offered jobs since leaving my last position, but I wanted to wait until I found a job that fulfilled my career goals. I am very excited about this position with your company, and feel my qualifications will allow me to contribute to your goals while achieving my own. For example…” [then talk about a particular qualification or strength that’s related to the job].

    2. “I decided to be a stay-at-home mom for my children until they were in school. I’ve kept my skills current by doing freelance work. Now I’m ready and eager to re-enter the corporate world. I chose your company because…” [then say something about the company to show you’ve done your research, and make a connection to one of your qualifications or strengths].

    3. “I was injured in a car accident and unable to work for several months. Unfortunately, my employer was unable to save my position for me while I recuperated. I’m fully recovered now and eager to get back to work. I’m excited about this opportunity with your company because it involves a lot of marketing, which is one of my strengths. In my last job, I created a marketing plan that resulted in a 25 percent increase in sales within six months. I’d love to be able to help your company boost the sales of your [key product] …”

    4. “As I’m sure you know, the job market is pretty tight in this field. There aren’t many openings in this area and I don’t want to relocate or change career paths. Plus, to be honest, I’m a bit picky about who I want to work for. I’ve admired your company for a long time because of your [environmental awareness -- or whatever] reputation, and to finally get the opportunity to interview with you is a dream come true. Like you, I feel that [environmental awareness, or whatever] is essential. That’s why I’ve volunteered a lot of my time while unemployed to [environmental clean-up events – or whatever]. I’m very excited about this position with your company, and feel my qualifications will enable me to contribute to your goals. For example…” [then talk about a qualification or strength that’s related to the job].

    Of course your answer will depend on your actual circumstances, but the point is to satisfy their concern and shift the focus back to why you’d be an asset to their company.

    (Note: This article is based on an excerpt from an element of my Job Interview Success System called “45 of the Easiest, Toughest, Silliest and Most Common Job Interview Questions—and How to Answer Them!”)

    How to Explain Bad Grades

    A visitor to my website recently sent me this message:

    Dear Bonnie: I have a below-average academic record. What do I tell employers when they ask about my grades?

    Here’s my answer:

    This is usually only an issue for recent graduates. Chances are good that you won’t be asked about your grade point average (GPA). Most employers just want to know if you graduated. So don’t bring up your GPA; don’t include it on your resume.

    But be prepared in case you ARE asked about it during a job interview. Here’s how:

    First rule: don’t lie about your grades.

    Second rule: give a brief explanation (not an excuse), and then shift the focus to your strengths.

    Sample answers:

    1. “I wasn’t focused on my classes during my first two years, and even though I improved later, those early grades pulled down my overall average. I feel that what I’ve learned since then has enabled me to become an ideal candidate for your position. For example…” [talk about a noteworthy accomplishment that’s relevant to the job].

    2. “I wish I could give you a good reason for my low academic scores from four years ago, because they don’t reflect my current work ethic. I’m a different person now, and I’m sure my references will back that up. For example…“ [talk about a noteworthy accomplishment that’s relevant to the job].

    3. “My overall grades suffered because I got bored with theory. I scored higher marks for the practical courses and hands-on lab work, which I feel is more relevant when it comes to doing the type of work required in this position. For example, I excelled in…” [talk about courses that are relevant to the position].

    4. “I flunked some classes during my sophomore year because of some temporary personal circumstances. Those have long since been resolved and I’m eager to use my knowledge and skills with graphic design [name a strength that’s related to the position] to help your company create the best marketing materials in the industry…” [name a goal the company is likely to have].

    5. “I had some difficulties juggling my studies with…” [give the reason, such as: working a full-time job to pay my way through school, or to support my family; dealing with a personal or family illness; etc.]. “That’s not an excuse. It actually helped me to learn the importance of time management and multitasking. These came in handy during my work at XYZ Company, where I …” [talk about a relevant accomplishment].

    In Summary

    Only talk about bad grades if you are asked about them. Don’t shift the blame, don’t make excuses. Just briefly explain the situation that negatively affected your grades, and then focus on your skills and abilities as they relate to the position for which you're applying.

    Be confident and enthusiastic. After all, if you made it to the interview, you are already ahead of most other applicants! The selection will be based on how well you sell yourself during the interview, not on how well you studied in school. Tell them how you can help their company, and they’ll forget all about your grades.

    How to Answer the Salary Question in a Job Interview

    (This is a guest article by Rick Saia)

    The job interview is progressing just great. You've established a good rapport with your interviewers and you feel really positive about the opportunity. But then that 800-pound gorilla of a question is tossed at you: "What kind of salary are you looking for?" You want to be cooperative, but you're torn. Do you answer the question and move forward? Or do you play the "you-tell-me-first" game?

    Sometimes, a well thought out "non-answer" will earn the employer's respect; other times it will simply annoy. The experts can lean either way, so you need to understand the different schools of thought, then decide how to answer.

    Before the salary question comes up, you need to find out the appropriate salary range for someone with your experience in the kind of position you're seeking within your market. There are a handful of web sites that can provide this information. You should research salaries as well as information about the company as part of your pre-interview preparation.

    The idea behind trying to postpone an answer to the salary question is that if you state a salary too early in the hiring process, you lose two big opportunities. The first is to get them to love you before they know the price. Until they want you, you have no negotiating leverage. The other opportunity is to demonstrate your ability to handle an uncomfortable situation (i.e., being asked this tough question) confidently and respectfully, without caving - a prized skill in most jobs.

    If you feel it's in your best interests to avoid the question, your reply should respectfully and professionally communicate three general principles:

    * Your interest in the opportunity;

    * Your expectation to be paid in line with market conditions and your experience level; and

    * Your willingness to discuss salary history once you and the company decide you're the right person for the position.

    To Answer or Not to Answer?

    If you're applying for a sales-oriented job, where negotiation skills are critical to success, then by all means, demonstrate your negotiating finesse and your ability to diplomatically sidestep the question. If you're applying for an administrative assistant's position in a huge company with a rigid salary structure, there's not much point in negotiating.

    When you should answer depends on when in the hiring process the question comes up. Some companies demand salary history with your application. Others will ask the salary question in an initial phone screen. The trouble is, at these early stages, they're most likely trying to screen you out, not in. Even at these early stages of the selection process you have a choice whether or not to provide a compensation number.

    Whether you want to answer the question directly or indirectly, immediately or later, here are four principles to help you craft a professional answer to this inevitable question.

    What to Say, When You Say It

    Use the following examples as a guide. Modify them to suit your style and personality, and practice until you can say any one of them with a smile.

    1. "I was paid well in my last (or current) position. The number was in line with market conditions and the results I delivered. I'm very interested in this opportunity, and I'll be happy to discuss my compensation history when we determine that I'm the right person for the job."

    2. "I realize you need to be sure my expectations are consistent with the salary range for this position. To ensure that we're aligned, please tell me your range for this position."

    3. "I'm reluctant to focus on just one factor at this stage, when other factors affect what makes an opportunity a great fit. What's more important to me are the position, the company, the people I'd be working with, and growth potential. So far, I'm impressed with what I have learned about this opportunity and I remain very interested in learning more!"

    4. "The actual figure will depend heavily on a number of important variables, but my experience and research tell me that fair compensation for this position falls in the range of __________." [Note: Name a wide salary range toward the higher end of your expectations. For example, "$45,000 to $65,000 per year" or "$14 to $19 per hour."]

    Remember, your negotiating leverage goes way up once they're convinced they can't live without you. But some employers will insist on a number up front, so be ready to give one. If you don't give one, chances are the employer won't toss your resume in the wastebasket, says Michael Neece, chief strategy officer at PongoResume. "Your resume has already proven that they want to talk to you. I've never known of a situation in which a prospective employee was eliminated from consideration after an interview because he or she refused to answer the question."

    Don't get caught off guard. Craft a response that feels comfortable for you and practice saying it. Think that sounds silly? Remember that being unprepared for the salary question can literally cost you thousands of dollars if you undersell yourself, or price yourself right out of consideration.

    By Rick Saia,


    More Articles. You can find more articles on my website by clicking on Article Index.

    Here are three new articles you might enjoy:

  • 11 Commandments For Gen Y Job Seekers

  • Over 50 and Job Searching - Cultivating Your Upper Hand

  • How to Earn $10,000 in One Hour

    Juju Job Search Engine. Juju is very simple to use, and searches the top American, British, and English- and French-Canadian employer career centers and job boards. You can search for jobs by keywords, job category, job listing currency, and location. According to the site: “Our job-search engine provides quick access to jobs found on thousands of employer websites and job boards all around the web and offers features that will help you find the jobs you're looking for more efficiently." There’s no cost for job seekers. Check it out here: Juju.

    TradeVibes. Something I’m constantly telling job seekers is “Research the company.” Doing so will give you an incredible advantage over candidates who go to interviews without a clue about the company for which they’re trying to work. So I was excited to come across this new site. TradeVibes looks like a great tool for researching private companies (including hot new startups) online. It's a no-costcommunity platform where participants share, discuss, and evaluate information about companies. You can add companies and edit information about those already listed on the site. You can do the same thing with company executive profiles. (That could get interesting!) Beyond company information, there are social news features, discussion areas, job boards, and an activity stream to see the most recent additions and changes to the site. These are all fairly sparse right now because the site is brand new, but you can get a good idea of what’s to come. Overall, the features are nicely done and well-organized. Oh, and they’re currently hiring! Check it out here:

    Not Hired. This is a fun site that collects and shares examples of real resumes, cover letters, job postings and other items that have to be seen to be believed. Here’s one: “I am experienced at several things and want a job where I can make lots of money. I have mad crazy skills yo.” Enjoy more here:

    Job Interview Success System. This is my guaranteed step-by-step system for helping you ace a job interview. See the details here: Job Interview Success System.

    Worth Quoting

    "The world cares very little about
    what a man or woman knows;
    it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.”
    (Booker T. Washington)

    Just for Laughs

    How to Wash a Toilet

    This was simply too much of a time saver not to share it with you.

    1. Put the lid and seat of the toilet up.

    2. Add 1/8 cup of pet shampoo to the water in the toilet bowl.

    3. Pick up the cat and soothe him while you carry him towards the bathroom.

    4. In one smooth movement, put the cat in the toilet and close the lid. (You may need to stand on the lid.)

    5. The cat will self-agitate and make ample suds. (Never mind the noises that come from the toilet, the cat is actually enjoying this.)

    6. Flush the toilet three or four times. This provides a 'power-wash' and rinse'.

    7. Have someone open the front door of your home. Important: Be sure there are no people between the bathroom and the front door!

    8. Stand behind the toilet as far as you can, and quickly lift the lid.

    9. The cat will rocket out of the toilet, streak through the bathroom, and run outside where he will dry himself off.

    10. Both the commode and the cat will be sparkling clean!

    The Dog

    Random Rants & Ramblings

    A new co-worker is driving me crazy. If you knew me personally, you’d realize how unusual that statement is. I can usually get along with anyone. I do “get along with” this person, but it’s quite a challenge.

    One reason is because she’s a chronic complainer who always (always!) says something negative about whatever is being discussed. We all bitch and moan from time to time (myself included), but I rarely hear her say anything without including a complaint. I’m a very positive person, so negative people tend to bring me down.

    She’s also an interrupter-blurter. She’ll ask someone a question, and as the person starts to answer, she’ll interrupt him by blurting out something totally irrelevant like, “Hey, it smells like fish in here!” She does the same thing during meeting discussions. She’ll just loudly blurt out whatever pops into her head, regardless of other people’s conversations. She even blurts when she’s alone, working on the computer: “Oh!” or “That’s stupid!” or “You idiot!” or “What the hell?” Our work areas are separated by cubicles instead of walls, so her blurting is very distracting.

    I don’t think I’ll say anything to her about it. I’m not her supervisor… and I’m not a complainer. ;-) This little vent has already made me feel better. But if it gets to the point where her quirks affect the quality of MY work, I may then say something to her, or to her supervisor.

    What would YOU do?

    So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at

    Please forward this to your friends!


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