What Not to Say in an Unemployment Interview

An unemployment interview can be an intimidating and stressful experience for any jobless candidate.

According to experts, these are some things that people should avoid saying if they want the best chance of success:

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

Kirk Hazlett

Adjunct Professor of Communication, University of Tampa

Unemployment, sadly, is becoming a more and more common experience for all of us. Fortunately, when it happens, we have a financial buffer of sorts in states’ unemployment assistance.

But it’s not just there for the taking. You have to apply, answer a bunch of questions, and “follow the rules.” That being said, here are some cautions as you wander into the bureaucratic maze.

Do not use the term “fired”

You’re going to be asked a lot of questions about your work history and your most recent activity. For most of us, our current state of unemployment is simply a matter of the company running into its own financial difficulties and having had to “make adjustments” as they so often term it—also known as “staff reduction.”

But occasionally—and I, for one, had this experience—your vision of your responsibilities and that of your employer just don’t match, and you are terminated/fired/canned (pick your word).

Do not, in any discussions with unemployment folks, use the term “fired.”

Although that is, in fact, what happened, it implies some truly seriously bad act on your part. Rather, say, “We agreed that our respective visions of the job’s responsibilities differed and that a change had to be made.”

Don’t say “I’ve been sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring”

You’ll be asked what you’ve been doing to find a new job. The expectation is that you are serious about your employment status. Yes, we all need a little time to “lick our wounds” and get back into the game. But that’s not a permanent status.

Don’t mutter something to the effect of “I’ve been sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.” Be prepared to describe proactive efforts—job applications, informational interviews—that you’ve been making a serious effort to find a new opportunity.

Don’t badmouth your previous employer

I understand that your feelings are hurt and your professional pride seriously dented, but the past is the past. Again, you’re a professional.

Find at least one or two things about your previous job that was, in fact, “not too bad” and talk about them. As mentioned above (as much as it makes your skin crawl), find some way to point to a positive from your experience with the company.

Don’t accidentally insult the unemployment folks

This happens, usually unconsciously, but it happens. The representative with whom you are interviewing is (hopefully) proud of his/her job. Don’t imply this is a step down on the social ladder for you to be actually talking to an unemployment person.

Express your appreciation for their assistance; a little kindness goes a long way.

Applying for unemployment assistance is a humbling experience. It reminds us all, regardless of where we are/were on the corporate ladder, that life is unpredictable, and we need to be prepared for any and all contingencies.

The key to success here is being mindful of what you say or don’t say.

Irene McConnell

Irene McConnell

Career Coach | Managing Director, Arielle Executive

There is extreme competition in acquiring unemployment benefits, and often in desperation, people make mistakes that cost them their benefits.

Here are a couple of things you should not do:

Do not assign emotions or opinions to your answer

When you are interviewing, make sure you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Many problems arise when you start giving irrelevant information or repeating what you already said. It is advisable if you calm yourself and answer logically.

For example: When the interviewer asks about the cause of your unemployment, answer with facts and do not assign emotions or opinions to your answer.

The interviewer looks for signs of hostility towards your previous employer or for answers that don’t add up. Reasons that meet the unemployment standards vary across several states; intolerable work conditions and taking care of a sick family member are some of the accepted ones, but you have to provide proper documentation to be accepted.

It is advisable that you only give such details when the interviewer asks you. Answer short and to the point, so you come off as confident and show that you have nothing to hide.

Do not say negative things about previous employer

Expressing hostility towards your previous employer is the biggest mistake you can make during an unemployment interview. Even if you left due to toxic work conditions or because you didn’t see eye to eye with your previous manager, it is never okay to say negative things about your old workplace.

It is quite unprofessional and doesn’t give a good impression to your interviewer. After all, if you are saying negative things about your old employer, you could easily say the same about your current employer if things don’t go your way.

It’s not recommended that you share overly personal information

The only information required by your interviewer is that which is directly related to your professional experience. It’s not recommended that you share overly personal information.

Even if some personal reasons led you to perform poorly in your previous jobs, such as a divorce or family illness, it is better not to mention them.

Interviewers tend to think that candidates are seeking sympathy if they share personal anecdotes with them. If you are capable enough, you’ll not need to share personal information and will be able to get the job simply based on your skills and capabilities.

Chris Muktar

Chris Muktar

Founder, WikiJob UK

Do not tell lies

The government offers help to individuals who have unexpectedly got unemployed in the form of unemployment insurance. The requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits differ for every state or country. But, most conduct an unemployment interview to verify the eligibility of an applicant.

There are some things you should avoid saying or doing during your unemployment interview to help you increase your chances of qualifying for unemployment benefits.

As a business owner, here are some of them:

  • Do not share irrelevant details. Avoid sharing too much information, especially irrelevant information. Make sure to keep your answers brief and specific.
  • Do not tell lies. If you are not sure of something, it is okay to say so. Being untruthful will hurt your chances of qualifying for unemployment insurance. So, do not misrepresent or exaggerate anything.

Ian Sells

Ian Sells

CEO & Founder, RebateKey

Do not exaggerate or put your previous employer in a bad light

The most important thing in any unemployment interview is to be honest. The agency called you to verify the information and to connect discrepancies between the employer’s side and the employee.

However, there are times that employers may exaggerate their claims to avoid having their unemployment insurance accounts deducted. This is why the call is made in the first place.

You do not have to put your previous employer in a bad light. Stating your version of the events is enough.

Do not state your opinion on things if they are not asked

You may find that your termination is not fair or that there was discrimination in the workplace. Unless asked, be sure to answer only the questions asked of you.

Ben Reynolds

Ben Reynolds

CEO & Founder, Sure Dividend

Never say you’re not actively applying to jobs

One of the most critical things to never say during an unemployment interview is that you don’t plan to return to work right away. This could get you denied since being eligible for unemployment means actively trying to find a position.

However, this doesn’t mean you should lie either and say you’ve applied to positions when you haven’t or exaggerating the number of jobs you’ve applied to.

Never over inform them

You should always answer their questions without delving into unnecessary details or excuses. This means you don’t have to over inform them about why you think you weren’t being paid enough or other instances that resulted in you losing your job.

Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder

Co-Founder, Digital Vaults

In an unemployment interview, here are the things to keep in mind:

  • Keep your composure, and don’t get too emotional. Although there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion, don’t go overboard. An unemployment interview is meant to be professional, so keep it professional.
  • Answer the questions only. An unemployment interview is not the place to talk about anything that’s not being asked of you. You should only answer questions that are asked and then move on. Don’t talk about any other irrelevant details that have nothing to do with the questions provided for you. If it’s too personal and has nothing to do with the question, it’s best not to go there.
  • Don’t express hostility towards your previous employer. Never talk about your employer (or anyone in general) negatively. It will show more about your image than your previous employer’s.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do I prepare for an unemployment interview?

Preparing for an unemployment interview can be a daunting task. However, with the right attitude and knowledge, you can be sure to provide the most accurate information for the eligibility review.

Below are some tips that can help ensure a successful outcome:

Do your research. Familiarize yourself with relevant state laws and regulations, so you know what is required of applicants to qualify for benefits. In addition, facts about past salaries or wages earned and evidence of hours worked each week are invaluable during the exchange.

Know what to expect. Before your interview, familiarize yourself with the questions you are likely to be asked. This will help you better prepare your answers and reduce your anxiety.

Practice answering the questions. Ask a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview with you so you can practice answering the most common questions you might be asked. This will also allow you to get feedback on your answers.

Review your resume and cover letter. Ensure you are clear on the work experience and skills listed on your resume and cover letter. Be prepared to explain any gaps in your work history and how you spent your time.

What are the most common reasons for exclusion from unemployment benefits?

Failure to meet eligibility requirements: To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as having worked a certain number of hours or earned minimum wage during a certain period. You may be ineligible for benefits if you don’t meet these requirements.

You quit your job without good cause: If you voluntarily quit without good cause, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Good cause includes unsafe working conditions, discrimination, harassment, or other legitimate reasons that make continued employment unreasonable.

Discharge for misconduct: If you were fired for misconduct, such as stealing from your employer or violating company policies, you might not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Rejection of suitable work: If you reject a job offer suitable for your skills and experience, you may also be considered ineligible for benefits.

Failure to actively seek work: To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must actively seek work and provide proof of your job search.

Receiving other types of income: If you receive other types of income, such as workers’ compensation benefits or disability benefits, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

It’s important to know that eligibility for unemployment benefits varies from state to state and may change. If you’re unsure if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits or have questions about your benefits, it’s best to contact your state’s unemployment office or legal counsel.

What should I do if I do not know how to answer a certain question at an unemployment interview?

If you are unsure about a particular question, it is perfectly fine to explain why you do not know the answer or need more time to think of one. Explain your doubts honestly and directly.

If you are unsure, it is always best to ask for clarification and express your uncertainty honestly. Do not try to guess the answer or give false information, which could lead to an unfavorable result.

If you feel the exchange is becoming too overwhelming or uncomfortable, politely excuse yourself and leave the room or ask for a break to collect yourself and come back better prepared.

What should I do if I made a mistake at the unemployment interview?

Admit the mistake: If you realize you made a mistake during the interview, it’s important to admit it. You can say, “I just realized I made a mistake earlier. Can I correct it now?

Correct the mistake: Once you have admitted the error, take the opportunity to correct it. Make sure you give the correct information or clarify misunderstandings.

Be honest: If the mistake was due to misinformation or a misunderstanding, be honest. Explain what happened and provide any additional information that may be relevant.

Remain calm and professional: It’s natural to feel embarrassed or anxious when you realize you have made a mistake during an interview. However, it’s essential to remain calm and professional. Don’t let the mistake ruin your interview or your confidence.

Follow up after the interview: If you’re still concerned about the mistake, follow up with your interviewer after the interview. You can email or call them to clarify any questions or provide additional information.

Remember, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handle the situation that matters. By admitting and correcting your mistake, you show the interviewer that you’re honest, professional, and committed to doing your best.

What documents should I bring to an unemployment interview?

Identification: You should bring a form of identification, such as a driver’s license, state ID, or passport.

Social Security card: Bring your Social Security card or a copy of it to verify your Social Security number.

Employment history: Bring a list of your previous employers and their contact information, including dates of employment and job title.

Proof of income: Bring pay stubs or other proof of income from your previous employment that can be used to determine your eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Proof of termination or layoff: If you were terminated or laid off from your previous job, bring any documentation related to your separation from that job, such as a termination letter or notice of layoff.

Job search documentation: If you were actively looking for work, bring any documentation related to your job search, such as a record of the jobs you applied for or correspondence with potential employers.

It’s always a good idea to check with your state’s employment office to see if you should bring any other documents to the interview.

By bringing these documents, you’ll be well prepared to answer any questions the interviewer may have and ensure that your unemployment benefits eligibility can be properly assessed.

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