This post is part of my continueing series on being laid off.
“What have you been doing with your time off?”
I was surprised, after I was laid off earlier in the year, to get this question during an interview. And even more surprised when I it happened on almost every interview I went on. It caught me by surprise the first time, but I made sure the next time that I had an answer for them. What they want to know is that you can use your time productively when you aren’t under direct supervision. I have formulated several answers to this question, all of which seem to go over well.
My first response is always, “You mean besides looking for a job?” And then I talk about some of my job hunting strategies. I outline my goal and how I’ve been working toward that goal: revamping my resume to allow my skills to stand out, networking, reviewing ads, targetting resume and cover letter to ads, reviewing company websites to prepare for interviews and/or target cover letters. Most agree that job hunting, if done right, can be a full time job in itself. This answer helps highlight my ability to set goals and work to achieve them, as well as my organizational skills.
Learning New Skills
Your time off is a great time to brush up on your skills, and it shows that you care about your professional development. What is a skill you think you’re weak on? Work on that skill and you not only help fluff up your resume, but you also have a great answer for how you used your time off productively. “I’ve been working on improving my report writing skills in Access. I have a great deal of experience designing and setting up access databases, but wanted to improve my ability to pull data to meet specific needs.” See? I added a positive in there (my Access experience) along with the fact that I’m building on that experience.
Many companies these days encourage their employees to give back to the community. Volunteering your time at a local non-profit while you’re off not only shows that you like to keep busy, but that you care about the community around you. This is an attractive trait to many companies.
Make Sure Your Answer is Productive
Regardless of how you answer the question of how you’ve used your time off, make sure your answer is productive. Find an answer that illustrates the traits you can bring to that particular job. What does the interviewer say they’re looking for? Whatever it is, tailor your answer to their needs. Having several answers ready to go depending on circumstances can make your interview much stronger.