Job seekers who are currently employed carry a little extra leverage when they sit down at the negotiating table. If you’re looking for work and you have a job already (no matter how terrible your position may be), employers often assume your skills have a high market value.
Some employers stubbornly place greater confidence in a candidate if someone else (no matter who) wants to keep them onboard. There’s not much logic to this assumption, but there it is.
So where does that leave you if you’re unemployed?
And, even more importantly, how should you approach interviews if you’ve been out of work for a long time?
If you’ve been on the market for six months or longer, get ready for skeptical employers to present you with any of these five questions. Understand what the interviewer is asking and practice your answers prior to the interview so you won’t be caught off guard. (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Why did you leave your last position? And why did you leave the one before that?
Translation: If she’s out on her own and she’d rather not be, then what is she doing wrong? Maybe the clues lie in her departure from past positions. I’ll ask her about past employers, then I’ll read between the lines and try to determine if she’s a dedicated worker and good performer who’s easy to get along with.
How to answer: Keep your responses positive and focus on what you learned from your positions.
2. Have you been interviewing much?
Translation: Have you been actively looking for work? And if so, how are other employers responding to your resume?
How to answer: Be honest, but recognize that your potential employers will want reassurance that you’ve been aggressively searching.
3. What else have you been doing while searching for a job?
Translation: The employer wants to make sure you’ve been working hard to develop your skills and pursue goals, whether you have a job or not.
Now is a great time to talk about your volunteering gig, the fund drive you organized, the open source community you joined or the family member you’ve been taking care of.
How to answer: Make sure you come off as a busy and ambitious person, not a couch potato.
4. How has your time off affected you as a worker? Will you be ready to jump back in and be a leader?
Translation: The employer is trying to find weak points in your self-description. She’s also trying to get a sense of how you approach challenges, how you might fit in with the company culture and how you would handle the responsibilities of this specific position.
How to answer: Keep your answer as honest as possible. Pause for a few seconds to organize your thoughts before you speak.
5. What can you tell us that might allay concerns about your lack of employment?
Translation: We like you, but we see a red flag. Why aren’t you already employed? What’s wrong?
How to answer: This question may seem upsetting, but it’s actually a brilliant opportunity in disguise. This is your chance to deliver your elevator pitch, the 30-second speech that tells employers about the talents, skills and contributions you can bring to this position that no other candidate can.
Jenny Treanor is a career advisor and job search expert who provides consultation for staffing firms, hiring managers and job seekers across every industry. Her blogs and articles appear regularly on LiveCareer, home of America’s #1 Resume Builder.