“Why has it taken you so long to find a job?” Or,
“What have you been doing since you left your last job – 6 months, or more ago?”

It’s amazing that employers are still asking this type of question. Don’t they read what’s going on in the job market? If they were informed, they would know the answer to that question is: “Jobs are very scarce right now and unemployment is at an all time high.”
Let’s look at it from the interviewer/employer’s point of view – they want to know if you are “dead wood,” or if you have been “incarcerated,” or have you been taking advantage of the time off to take classes. Or, maybe you’ve been doing volunteer work, or have started your own business or become involved in a consulting situation. Basically, “what have you been doing lately?”
If your primary focus has been on finding a job and you’ve been doing a great deal of networking and informational interviewing, you should talk about how you organized your job search and what your efforts have achieved.
If you have been watching “Oprah” everyday at 4:00pm and not much of anything else – waiting for the right opportunity to come your way, you may have a bigger challenge with this question.
There is really no “correct” answer to this type of question. However, a technique that may work is to take the focus off the length of your job search and to move the focus to what you have to offer.
Using the examples below, which of these sample answers would impress you most if you were the interviewer? Remember, there are no “right” or “wrong answers – just answers that are stronger than others.

Q. “Why have you been out of work so long?” - “Why are you seeking new employment?” (if you are currently employed)

Answer #1.
“I knew the job market was tight, and I didn’t run out and try to get just any job. I took my time thinking about finding the ‘right’ job. I know your job would be a very good fit for my skills and background. I’m looking for a new challenge where I can grow and learn, and develop new skills.”

Answer #2.
“It’s a really tight job market out there, and it just hasn’t been easy to get interviews. My skills just don’t seem to be in demand, and the competition is really tough. I took some time off for a while because there just weren’t any opportunities for me. I do online job search every day and found your ad and thought it would be interesting.”

Answer #3.
“Actually, I had a couple of opportunities and have been second in a few situations, but nothing fit quite right. I am looking for the best fit for me and for the company. I know that I have an excellent background with five years experience in this industry and have a lot to offer. What sets me apart from the others are my combination of technical skills and people skills that has helped me advance in the companies where I’ve worked.”

If you selected Answer #3 as the strongest answer, you are correct. This answer takes the focus off why it has taken you so long. A key phrase is: “sets me apart from the others.” It’s important to point out what makes you unique, and what you have to offer that others do not.
There are many things that you cannot control in the interview, but if you focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t, you will be more natural and in return will be more likely to impress the interviewer.

Author's Bio: 

The Interview Coach, Carole Martin, is a celebrated author, job coach, and speaker on the subject of interviewing and recruiting. Contributing writer at Monster.com and featured on talk radio. Carole is using her proven methods for coaching job seekers on competitive interviewing skills in technical and non-technical industries. www.interviewcoach.com

Follow The Interview Coach on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin – visit her blog at www.interviewcoach.com/blog to learn about current workshops and seminars Carole is offering.