How do I respond to the question(s) Are you currently employed? Why did you leave your last job?
December 18, 2008 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Are you currently employed? Why did you leave your last job?

I am always working, busy with something but it may not be 9-5 with a corporate seal. When asked "are you working now?" by a potential employer do I deliver the script about consulting and assisting with projects, do I just say "yes" (and risk the violation of improper definition), or do I just say "no." If I have the ear of the nerds in my skill I can be more specific and say "...on a (part-time / consulting) project involving compilers" and turn it into a conversation.

Over time I've gathered the impression that one is at a severe disadvantage if they are looking without a current job. To avoid my resume getting filed under LEPERS - DO NOT CALL I leave the 2004-present on my resume until the year I left is over. If they ask directly I clarify. Unethical? Dangerous?

Why did you leave your last job? Because I was fired? I wanted to spend more time working on my vrschikasana? More time with family seems to work but for those of us single this is amongst our many disadvantages --it isn't entirely true or it violates the mainstream definition.
posted by ezekieldas to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is always easier to find a job if you have a job. Always. It doesn't even matter if the job is stupidity itself.

It is not good to lie, but it does not sound like saying "Yes, I'm doing some consulting" is a lie. Part time, full time, one monday every other week - you're still doing something for someone. If they ask more specifics, then you can say "it's a project regarding compilers, the problem they're trying to solve is X" or "i was brought in because of my expertise regarding Y". Whether or not you have the ear of the nerds, it doesn't matter, just say it and be matter of fact about it and it will sound believable and reasonable. There's no reason it shouldn't because it is something you are legitimately doing.

Yes, "why did you leave" is a tough one. Even if the answer is "reduction in force" some people will then ask "why" (I got LAID OFF, moron, not FIRED, and sorry I didn't stop to ask why my position specifically was being eliminated while you were walking 25 of us out the door). You aren't saying why you did leave so it's tougher to help you here. Why isn't the truth okay? To some people (see the moron above) nothing you say will be okay because they suspect that you're lying. To other people, the truth is just fine - provided of course that the truth doesn't mean that you're badmouthing your previous employer. \

If you were fired then it's tougher because you can't say that and luckily it hasn't happened to me so I cannot be helpful there. It is good to come up with a position that you can articulate with equanimity. You were there for four years if I'm reading you correctly so it's not like you're a serial job hopper. "You know, I was working 60+ hour weeks for the last four years, and I was tired of missing my kid's school pageants. I wanted to take some time off, do some consulting and figure out next steps" will be a fine answer for many people. for the people for whom it's not, there's likely nothing you can say to convince them otherwise, so write 'em off.
posted by micawber at 10:30 AM on December 18, 2008

If you're consulting, you're employed. Maybe self-employed or as a contractor, but employed. It would be helpful to show some of your work products to prove this.
posted by electroboy at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2008

You could always push the "I'm just finishing up some contracts right now, which is why I'm looking" angle, which you could follow up with "how would you feel if I continued doing some contracts on the side for some non-competitors of your company? It'd be outside the hours I'd be working for you" which deflects questions about current employment status. You can leave yourself open if they allow it, and if they don't, you can just respond with "that's fine".

I've always worked for smaller tech companies (between 100-300 people) and we've always based our interviews on the person and not their current employment status. I guess a lot of people assume that even if you were laid off why you and not other people you were working with. Still, I've noticed that most people who are currently unemployed tend to be significantly weaker on average. This gets even more evident if the unemployment has been ongoing.
posted by hylaride at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2008

Freelancing is work too. If you have shown the capability to support a freelance life for a period of time, that could even be seen as positive. The most important thing is not to cough and hum when you're talking about your 'consulting' and 'assisting with projects'. Being specific about the important stuff of your work is the key here (the term 'projects' is on the edge. Anything can be called a project).

That said, it's always good to show some nice statement from your last job as well.
posted by Namlit at 10:53 AM on December 18, 2008

I'd agree with the general consensus that saying you're just finishing off some freelance work is a good bet.

I think most employers in IT (which I presume you're in) understand that a lot of people work this way, perhaps working full-time for an employer for a couple of years, then leaving to work on personal projects or freelance work, then returning to a 9-5 for a while... it's a pattern followed by most of the people I've worked with in the programming and web development fields. Wanting a little more flexibility in your life won't necessarily count against you, and the fact that you have the self-dicipline to work independently can definitely be made to count in your favour.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2008

I've been a freelance writer and editor since December of 2004 when I was fired from a magazine job. I don't mention the firing and have never been asked about it. I pitch myself as a self-starter with great organizational skills as well as being able to market myself. I think those qualities as well as my writing and editing skills make me a fabulous candidate for many jobs. It doesn't matter that I haven't been punching a clock or writing 9-5 from my home office. Sometimes I work 40 hours, sometimes 20, sometimes 50, sometimes 10. The point is I've been my own accountant, boss, motivator and secretary for years and I've done at least as well as I did when working for someone else. I'm just trying to find a job now because I'm alone too often and it's not so good for my psyche. Good luck with your search. Even for those of us who have a lot to offer, it's a tough market -- even tougher if we can command higher compensation.
posted by xenophile at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2008

Why not just be honest? "I didn't feel sufficiently challenged so I left to do freelance work. I'm looking forward to a new position that will test my abilities." In the other case, if you are getting a job that won't be that challenging, then you can say you left because you felt the position wasn't a good fit to your skills and you aspired to do something different, which this new employer can fulfill.

It's not about giving the "right" answer, it's about giving an answer that tells why you left employment, what you've been doing that is job-related, and why you're a good fit to the new position. They likely just want to know that you're not going to immediately bail out of a new job in the same way, and that you're employable because you didn't leave work due to poor performance or being unable to deal with a working environment.
posted by mikeh at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2008

Nthing all the above advice re consulting.

To avoid my resume getting filed under LEPERS - DO NOT CALL I leave the 2004-present on my resume until the year I left is over. If they ask directly I clarify. Unethical? Dangerous?

However, since no one has addressed this, I'll just say unethical and dangerous. If you were laid off in February and your resume shows "-present" right now, you're lying and I might not believe anything you say about consulting or freelance work now.

If instead your resume says "-Feb 2008" and current work is consulting and freelance work, I'd accept that as fact.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2008

To avoid my resume getting filed under LEPERS - DO NOT CALL I leave the 2004-present on my resume until the year I left is over.

"Present" doesn't mean "some unspecified date in 2008." It means "December 18, 2008." Tomorrow it will mean "December 19, 2008." And so on.

Or, what peanut_m. said.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2008

"Yes, I'm doing some consulting." is the perfect answer.

(1) It's true.
(2) It's qualified.
(3) It implies "...but I'm looking for something more."
posted by rokusan at 4:34 PM on December 18, 2008

Put on your resume, Such-a-month 2008 - present: Self-employed consultant

- or something which is truthful and sounds better than "Unemployed".

If there are aspects to your consulting that are relevant to the new job, then put them down.

There's no reason you have to put down "part time" or even "unpaid" if that's the case.
posted by emilyw at 4:30 AM on December 19, 2008

Here is my story and I need some suggestions.

I quited my job for a different job in a company. Unfortunately, I was fired at will after three weeks. I feel very shameful. My ealiear employer has frozen the hiring due to the down turned economic situation. I can go back if the hiring is resumed months later but I would like to look for a different opportunity.

I am going to have an interview soon. I will prepare the answers suggested in the discussion. However, I need to fill application form including my employment history. What should I do? If I put the short history of hiring, there will be a big risk of losing this job opportunity.

Welcome all kind of suggestion.
posted by pingli at 6:50 PM on March 14, 2009

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