Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.
By Alison Green / Ask a Manager
February 24, 2016

Q: My interviewer told me I need a better answer to what I’ve been doing while I’m unemployed. What should I say?

I had an interview this week. It went very well overall, but at one point the hiring manager asked me how I’ve spent the nine months since earning my masters last spring.

The truth is that I’ve been job hunting without much luck. I didn’t want to say directly that no other employers have expressed interest in me, so I said this: “I’ve been job hunting a lot, but I haven’t found the right fit yet. I’ve also been building my technical skills by reading papers on teapot heat transfer and practicing with teapot design tools.” Both are true.

This manager said, “That’s it? You’re going to need to come up with an answer to that.” Are there other good ways to frame extended job searches so that hiring managers don’t assume there’s something wrong with me?

Read More: How to answer the interview question “how does this job fit with your career path?”

A: Your interviewer sounds like a bit of a jerk, so I wouldn’t get too thrown off by what he said.

That said, I’d rather you remove the “job hunting a lot” from your answer, since it can make hiring managers worry that there’s a reason no one has hired you (to be clear, this is silly, but it can be human nature). Instead, how about this: “I’ve been taking my time looking around because I want to make sure I find the right fit. Meanwhile, I’ve also been studying teapot heat transfer, which I’m fascinated by because of X, and playing around with teapot design tools like Y and Z.”

Q: Should I lie to my boss about how committed I am?

I’m currently in a leadership position within a small, growing company where I report directly to the CEO/founder. Lately my boss has been talking to me a lot about elevating my role to a more executive level, and about my taking on some new and interesting initiatives which, frankly, are very much in line with my career history and vision for my own growth.

It all sounds great, right? There’s one problem though. In these discussions about my future role, my boss asks me where my heart is in terms of committing to the company and seeing his vision through into the next phase of our growth and beyond. While this is flattering, the reality is that I’m not happy at this company and have begun a job search.

Read More: My interviewer fell asleep during our interview

When he basically asks me point-blank if I’m committed to staying, am I wrong to tell him that I absolutely am, even though I know it’s not true? I have a family to support and am not in a position to lose this job or to walk away before I have something else lined up. So is lying really my best option here? I don’t feel great about it, but I can’t think of any viable alternatives.

A: This depends totally on what you know of your manager and how he’d handle hearing the truth. How has he handled other employees who resign or are job searching? Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? Or have people talked openly with him when they’re ready to leave and he’s been supportive of that? If he has a track record of being reasonable in this area, and you have a strong relationship with him, you might be able to tell him that you don’t think you’ll be there long-term. But if he doesn’t — or if you’re just not sure or have any doubts — it’s reasonable to act accordingly.

Read More: Is it possible to prepare too much for an interview?

One possible middle ground, though, would be to say, “I want to pause our discussions about this for a while, to give myself some time to think over what you’ve suggested. If I commit, I want you to really be able to count on my word, and I want to ensure I have enough time to be thoughtful about making sure it’s the right path for me.” This may or may not work, depending on what he’s like, but it’s a reasonable thing to say.

These questions are adapted from ones that originally appeared on Ask a Manager. Some have been edited for length.

 

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