Get To Work: With Suzy Welch

Suzy Welch: Here's how to talk about being unemployed in a job interview

Job hunting while unemployed is uniquely stressful. No matter why you aren't currently working, proving your worth to hiring managers can feel impossible without a current role and achievements to point to.

"It's frustrating, but it's true," bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch says. "Getting a job is almost always easier when you already have a job."

Welch tells CNBC Make It that an unemployed candidate can make hiring managers nervous about their ability to deliver on the job. But she says with a candid explanation of your situation — along with a strong interview and relevant skills — you can still prove that you're the right fit for the position.

CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch.
CNBC Contributor Suzy Welch.

Below, Welch explains how to confidently address the most common unemployment situations in your next job interview.

1. Being fired

If you were fired from a job due to a mistake you made, Welch says the best way to address it is to confess your wrongdoing.

"Be candid and be concise," she says. "You can say, 'I lost my job after I missed an important deadline and we lost a client because of it.'"

It may be painful to say out loud, but hiring managers will appreciate your honesty. If you do take this approach when talking about an employment gap, Welch says you want to immediately follow up by explaining what you learned from that experience.

"Adding, 'I can assure you it'll never happen again,' also won't hurt," she says.

2. Being laid off

Although layoffs happen often and may be due to company budget cuts or restructuring, Welch warns that this doesn't automatically mean you're in the clear with potential employers.

"A manager," she says, "will wonder, 'Why was this person selected for the cut? Was it under-performance?'"

As always, you'll want to be transparent with an interviewer and openly address the situation. Welch recommends saying something like, "About 20 percent of us were let go in the downsizing. You might wonder why I was among them, I wondered that myself."

If your performance did play a role in your elimination, Welch says you should detail how you've worked to gain the skills you lacked by taking an online course or earning a certification.

"You must make certain the hiring manager understands that while you have been unemployed, you haven't been inactive," she says.

Welch adds that you should portray your downtime as a period where you worked on becoming a better you, whether it was through an online program, a consulting gig or a volunteer activity. If you haven't done any of these things during your employment gap, then she says you should get to work on building your skills immediately.

"You want to frame your resume gap as a time of self-improvement," she explains.

3. A major life event

If you've gone through a divorce, suffered the sudden loss of a family member or had to take care of a sick parent or child, Welch says you'll want to disclose that without going into too many details.

"Make sure that you clarify that the situation has been resolved and you're eager to return to work at full steam," she says.

Searching for a new job while unemployed can be doubly stressful — there's nothing to distract you when a new lead doesn't work out. But Welch says feeling embarrassed or frustrated is normal. Don't beat yourself up — but don't succumb to self-pity, either.

"Your best defense is an offense of candor, self-awareness and positivity," she says. "With those, eventually you'll find that new job."

Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker.

Video by Richard Washington

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