How to Answer: “Why Haven’t You Been Working?”

Feel like a deer in the headlights?

Like you’re wearing a scarlet letter?

Like you have broccoli in your teeth?

If you’re looking for a job and have a sizeable gap in your employment history, you might.

And it’s perfectly natural. While you may have a valid professional or personal reason for being out of the workforce for awhile, a gap in work history is a big red flag to a recruiter. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for a job, the recruiter may wonder about your commitment, reliability and work ethic – and may ultimately remove you from consideration.

At the end of the day, there’s no good way to hide a gap in employment. So don’t try to. If you’re dreading the “why haven’t you been working” question, do this instead:


Briefly describe the reason for your period of unemployment.  You can get into more detail during the interview.


  • Downplay chronology and bold the things you want to highlight.
  • Switch the focus of your resume to your skills and accomplishments – and away from your dates of employment.
  • Consider using a functional or hybrid resume format, as opposed to a chronological one.
  • Obscure short employment gaps by listing the years, not months, you were employed.
  • Whatever changes you make, be sure they’re accurate. If you lie about dates, it may come back to haunt you.


  • Have your answer to the “dreaded question” prepared, so you don’t look like a deer in the headlights. And be proactive. By broaching the subject of your employment gap up-front, you can control the recruiter’s first impression of you.
  • Don’t be apologetic. If you’re a responsible, diligent worker, hold your head high. Remember, recruiters understand that unemployment happens for a variety of legitimate reasons – not all of which are under your control.
  • Accentuate the positives. If they exist, point out the upsides of your time away from work. Explain what you did to build your skills and maintain your employability – including freelancing, volunteering, traveling or taking courses. These endeavors might make you an even better candidate for the job you want.


Tell the truth.  If you do nothing else, be honest about why the gap exists.  Merely having a resume gap is not a good reason to reject you; lying about it, however, is.  Prepare a direct, positive response that explains why you are/were out of work.

Out of Work? 

Get back in the game with PrideStaff. With offices nationwide, we offer a wide range of temporary, temp-to-hire and other transitional opportunities that can keep you working while you search for your next full-time job.  Contact the PrideStaff office in your area to find out more about great local job opportunities.