How to Answer: "What Have You Been Doing While Unemployed?"

A plan for making yourself as marketable as possible, despite a period of unemployment.

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According to the latest reports from the U.S. Labor Department, unemployment statistics are creeping downward. This offers job hunters both good and bad news.

Economists attribute the decreasing unemployment rate to three main factors:

1. Employers are hiring, at least to a degree. While the pace of hiring isn't what we would like, it is still moderately good news.

2. The first wave of the baby boomer generation is cycling out of the workforce. This is great news for those who have saved and invested enough over the years to jettison the workplace and begin to fulfill their retirement vision. As more baby boomers retire, they make way for younger generations to climb to the next rung on the corporate ladder. This is also good news.

3. Many people want to work, but have just given up hope of ever being employed again in frustration. People in this category aren't counted in the unemployment rolls. They have come to understand first-hand that the longer you are out of work, the harder it is to find work. Re-entry into the workforce for these individuals will be challenging. This is just terrible news for them and their families.

If you are out of work, whether it is for the short or long term, there is one interview question you can bet you'll encounter, and if you are smart you'll begin planning for it and building a solid answer without delay. It can be phrased multiple ways, but the essential question is: What have you been doing with your time since you've been out of work?

Because there is a natural inclination on the part of hiring managers to believe that people who have been out of work for any period of time have withered on the vine, it is critical to actively show that you have maintained a high energy level, continued to learn and contributed to others.

Here are some things that should be on your agenda:

Continue your professional growth. You are still a professional, even if you're not working, and you should act that way.

• Play an active role in your professional organizations

• Attend meetings, symposiums and conventions. This is a prime avenue for ongoing networking. Moreover, it demonstrates your intellectual curiosity.

• Keep up to date with your professional journals and other materials relevant to your skill set and field. Be prepared to cite current relevant research.

• Keep learning by taking courses online or at local educational institutions. Obtain relevant certifications to demonstrate that you are totally up to date.

Give back. The last thing you want perspective employers to conclude is that you are self-absorbed and self-centered. Put some of the hours you would otherwise devote to a job to others.

• Share you knowledge with others to become known as a thought leader. Contribute information on relevant topics of interest in LinkedIn Groups.

• Write an article or two and submit to a professional journal.

• Volunteer your time to local non-profit organizations whose missions resonate with your values. Employers value people who give to their communities, because they are seen as team players.

• Mentor someone, whether it is a student in school or someone more junior than yourself in the workplace.

When you continue to act like a professional, it will be easier for you and perspective employers, to see yourself as one. By keeping your knowledge current and continuing to contribute to your peers and colleagues you will be putting yourself out there, and making yourself more findable by those who need your talents. By contributing to others in your community you will put your time to good use, improve the world and add to your brand as a giver.

Happy hunting!

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careers
employment
job searching
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