Dear Evil HR Lady:

I have a question. I am currently looking for work and have been on a handful of interviews. I have been asked a couple of times if I am currently working which I am not. What is the purpose of this question? I can speculate, but I am just wondering from an hr perspective what is behind it.

Love the site btw.


Dear Chris,

I can only speculate and tell you why I ask the question and what I am looking for. If the answer to, “Are you currently employed?” is no, I’ll follow up with, “Why did you leave your last job?” If the answer is yes, I’ll follow up with, “Why are you looking to leave your current job?”

Essentially, I’m looking to see what your issues are and what your motivation is to be looking for a job. I personally am very cautious about hiring someone who voluntarily left a job without another one lined up–unless there is a good reason. Was it to increase your education? Great. Was it to stay home with your young children? Great. Was it to travel Europe for a summer? I am so jealous, but I wonder how long you are going to stay with me before taking off again. I recommend the “once in a life time” response in conjunction with that trip.

But, if it’s “my manager was a jerk” I’m very nervous. This may be true, but I will not be inclined to offer you employment. And keep in mind this is a very small world and your jerk manager could be my college roommate. (Not likely, by the way, as my college roomates don’t live anywhere near me, but you understand the principle involved here.)

For the record, I’ve had so much experience laying people off that someone who was laid off from their last job doesn’t even make me bat an eyelash.

People who have quit multiple jobs without new ones make me very nervous. People who currently have jobs but have been in them for less than 2 years make me nervous. People who were fired for cause make me very nervous.

It’s not a secret code question. It tells me a lot about you. So, out of curiousity, why aren’t you currently working?


Evil HR Lady

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3 thoughts on “Are You Working?

  1. I want to piggy back on Evil’s comments, all of which I agree with. I work primarily with small to mid-sized businesses on consulting issues. A single hire in one of those companies makes up a significant portion of the company so we may look closer at some things than a Fortune 500 company might.

    In addition to what Evil said, for me leaving a job before you have another raises a red flag that you will have to burn for me. In some cases that’s easy. If you were laid off, we understand. If you’re the “trailing spouse” in a move, we understand. But if you left or were let go, I’ll want to dig deeper to find out why. I’m worried that you might be a problem child or, on the other side, that you might make decisions without fulling considering the consequences. We’ll want to dig deeper. Almost certainly we’ll do a team interview.

  2. I like to ask that question so I can see when you may be able to start. Theorhetically, if this is the first interview, and the interview process takes approx. 2 weeks, plus you have to give an additional 2 weeks notice to your current employer, then I know that I need to make contingency plans for at least a month.

    Plus it’s a great lead in for me to ask “why are you looking to make a change?”

  3. “People who currently have jobs but have been in them for less than 2 years make me nervous.”

    I certainly understand that, not a problem, but I also think the type of business needs to be considered. I have worked for a few start-ups and the last two I worked for, I noticed them falling apart as I was working there. In both cases, I left voluntarily – before the paychecks starting bouncing, basically – with less than a year with the company. Since start-ups are tricky, it can be hard for the company to survive 2+ years, let alone for an employee to be there for all of it.

    Also, I’m 25, so 2 years with one company still feels like a lot! I’ve been working full-time for only a little over two years!

    I’ve never worked at a company that has had an HR department though.

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