THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Fired up: How to explain your unemployment

Let's say you get fired, or laid off, or you quit because after two weeks you know you're at the worst company on the planet. In all of those cases, you will face the interview question: What happened at your last job?

Here's the answer you should always give: "I left to do x." And you fill in for x.

Which brings me to what you should be really doing when you are unemployed: Learning and growing. Because this is what you are going to talk about in job interviews.

Most people require about six months to get another job. So spend some of that time creating projects for yourself and executing on them. This is good for you mentally – because you are doing something meaningful with your time, and that will keep your spirits up.

But this is also good for you in your job hunt. Because when you talk about why you left the last company, you spin it in a positive light by talking about how you are excited about doing what you are doing. Your interview should include telling a good story about focused personal growth, and no one will get stuck on why you left your last job.

Here are five ways to set that story up:

1. Create a job for yourself

During one stint of unemployment, I worked for free for a boyfriend's company a couple of hours a day. That way I didn't actually have a gap in my resume. So volunteering at my boyfriend's company for a couple of hours a day ended up looking like a full-time job on my resume.

2. Focus on ambition and execution and not so much on work per se

Another time I got laid off I spent my days learning to swing dance. I took one or two lessons a day and practiced at night, and after my six months of job hunting, I was good enough to teach dancing just off Broadway. I didn't put that on my resume, but when people asked me why I left my job, I told them about how I gave myself time to fulfill lofty goals as a swing dancer.

3. Start a blog about the industry you want to go into

Blogging is a great way to keep up in your industry, network without looking desperate, and leverage the fact that you have more time on your hands that people who have jobs. This is why you want to be hired, right? For your ideas. So show them.

4. Start a company.

Do you have a company idea? Try it now during unemployment. Whether or not your company does well, you'll be able to talk about it in an interview as a huge learning moment that will deflect from any problems at your last job. The company that never got out of your parent's basement can sit on your resume as professionally as a stint in the Fortune 500. It's all about how you write the bullet points: talk about accomplishments and learning.

5. Practice talking about yourself with everyone

At parties, at the gym, on the phone with friends. When people ask how you're doing, talk about what you're doing as if you are in the job interview. The better you get at talking like that, the more you will actually believe your story, the story that being unemployed is lucky because you have learning opportunities.


The bottom line is you don't need a job in order to learn cool stuff and join cool projects. You control what you do with your time, and you can make it useful.

So talk about that. There is no reason to talk about why the last job didn't work when you can talk about the great things that leaving opened up for you.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.