Ask A Progeek: When You Have No Job

This week’s question is one a lot of us face:

If the interviewer asks why you don’t currently have a job, what’s the best way to answer?  (assuming there is no legitimate reason other than, no one has hired you since your last job ended)

See, first of all I’m not going to tell you to lie – and you shouldn’t, both for ethical reasons and because people will probably figure out you’re lying.  You need to tell the truth – it’s just going to depend on the size of the truth.

If the truth is simple, use it.  Don’t embellish it or go over it in detail.  You can overdo it and in a few cases dig your own grave by getting to wordy.  If a truth is simple, keep it simple, “I was laid off as the economy tanked,” “I’m on a search,” “I just left school.”

But maybe the truth needs some context.  Maybe you have to explain a layoff, or a move, or that you took a break.  Maybe you need a larger truth to put things in context – and to make sure you communicate the story, the narrative, about you and your career.  You can mention the fact you’re taking time to look at specific jobs, or you relocated for opportunities.

You have to call out the size of the truth you want to use.

However – and there’s always a however with me, isn’t there – you also need to think ahead about what you say after the truths, big or small.

See no one wants to just hear you’re unemployed.  Wether it takes a sentence or a paragraph to describe things, they want to know what you’re doing.  Don’t just say you’re unemployed and why, let them know how you’re doing nonprofit work, or studying, or something else.  Don’t let them wonder, don’t leave it to them to ask – show that in your unemployment you are staying busy.

For pro geeks like us, it should be damn easy to show how active and self-educating we are – our usual hobbies are often like min-careers.  You probably have done and are doing more than you realize even recreationally.  Anaylze those hobby/geek interests to see if you’re truly developing professionally (and if not then maybe it is time for some charity and other work)

Thus parked with the right-sized truth, you already answered the question doubtlessly in their mind, “what are they doing now?”  You answered their current question and their next one, giving you control of the narrative – all by being honest.

Stick with the truth  – in the right size, and with the right followup.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at