How to Answer “How Have You Been” – Interview Question

For whatever reason, there might be a gap between different employments or a long hiatus since your last job. Often, employers tend to be curious about the break, and it’s your place to play such curiosity to your advantage. Commonly, the question can be shaped like a “how have you been?” or “what have you been doing?” or “what have you been up to?”. Thus, if you get this kind of question, you can show essential skills that act as a differentiator. Ultimately, improving your chance of getting a long-awaited job or new job in a new field. If you’re a job seeker with a gap, this article is the perfect material. In this article, we will give you the information that would serve as a guide for good answers for what are you doing.

“What have you been up to” – Meaning

The question, “What have you been up to?” aims to find out from you the activities that might occur during the break or gap between jobs. You can have different reasons for the gap or break, but knowing the ideal rationale to present to your prospective employer is important. Thus, illustrating the right activities you carried out during that period will give you the right edge. Employers want from you, work-related activities regardless of your break. Activities like conferences, education, networking are good answers. But, some activities can be inevitable such as family or social events. In such cases, explaining in detail with honesty, the reason for the break helps. The goal of the question is to understand what involvement you were in that shows that you aren’t lacking in industry knowledge. Thus, whether the break is for professional or family reasons, maintaining a relationship between the activities and your professional life gives you an edge. Before we go into the practical and good answers for what are you doing, let’s discuss why employers and recruiter ask these questions.

Why do employers ask about what you’ve been doing?

Continuous employment history is often favoured by recruiters and employers, but, qualifications, experience and skill still trump over the stated. Therefore, the question of, “what have you been up to?” should just be an inquiry. You can be sure that employers don’t discriminate over pregnancy or family urgency. It is illegal to do so. Thus, if that’s the reason for the break, do let them know.

To understand the reason for this “fearsome” question, it is important to put them in a list. In this list of reasons, we will provide a brief description to better understand the stated reasons.

  • Inquire of your relationship status with industry knowledge

Recruiters need to know your level of industry knowledge. Therefore, highlighting that you pursued learning the new technologies and trends within your industry illustrate a good picture of their prospective employee.

  • Know your learning path

Probably, you had the unexpected break due to a massive layoff, but your persistence to focus on your craft can be a talking point when answering the question of “what are you doing right now?” or “what have you been up to?” Focusing on the seminars and the online courses (free and paid) and freelancing effort shows you are a go-getter.

  • Understand how you manage hard times

When asked the question, focusing on your job hunting efforts can be a great path. Also, how you optimized the process to reduce rejections and increased optimization for only companies that you are interested in can be central points.

  • Understand your personality and know your background

How you act and behave shows much about your personality and how it would play out in terms of culture for the prospective company. The description of your behaviour and actions during the gap or break or even work period can influence the recruiters’ decision.

How to Answer “How have you been” and similar questions?

“How have you been?”, “What have you been up to?”, “What are you doing right now? and”what are you doing?” are common in interviews. We shall go into different examples to answer the question to give you the proper advantage. We have a five-step template to answer these questions, and below is a description of these steps.

  • Explain what you did before unemployment.

“I worked at XYZ Inc. However, due to financial reasons, there was a massive layoff. At XYZ, I worked as a data analyst that delivered essential recommendations to their user research processes…”

Above is an example of what we understand that recruiters would love to hear before you dive into the break details. It could be a layoff or a need for a career change, or family matters. Therefore, explaining what you did in the last role before the gap is a good start to answering the question. However, remember to keep it simple.

  • Explain what happened during gap or break (skill-building, networking)

“After leaving BX, I wanted to learn the ins and outs of the finance world. So, I took an MBA degree at XYZ and focused on financial data analysis. Aside from that, I applied new knowledge at a small business firm as a volunteer. Also, I built a job search system via Notion to keep track of the applications and better understand the companies I wanted to work for…”

To be authentic, be honest about the activities you are involved in. You might not have had the time to focus on industry trends due to family issues or pregnancy. However, freelance works, community projects or job process optimization can be a talking point that can help. Here is where the bulk of the talking would be, so make use of it every time. We expect that your answer should be within the 2-minute timeframe.

  • Explain your job search process

“I made use of Excel for analysis and Notion for tracking and research to automate the job application process. As a result, I focused on how I would be useful to interesting companies like yours…”

Describing how you improved your job application process shows creativity and innovation. Also, focusing on tools and systems can be an added advantage if the company you are applying to uses such. Finally, carry out extensive research of the prospective company.

“While working on my MBA, I worked with a small firm in Kentucky to address financial leakages that reduced their profits. Though it was for a case study, the theoretical study helped the company increase profits by 37%…”

From the example, we have shown how the activity we focused on during the break helped a small business or a group of people. It is up to you to prepare for the questions and find different activities and their quantifiable impact on the world. More specifically, for the “what are you doing right now?” question, you can focus on a more current project that you are working on.

  • Discuss lessons that you learned that could be applicable

“Doing my MBA and working with small-time clients gave me insight into how external factors can be manipulated to improve a company’s growth, profit and outlook, especially in the long-term. These lessons I believe would help me to achieve your company’s set objectives and goals of doing…”

These lessons create a unique delivery that gives the recruiters understanding of how you learn from every situation and find ways to improve systems, processes and businesses.

In the end, how to answer how have you been or what are you doing right now are informed on your own experience. Therefore, good answers for what are you doing is more personal while being professional. A natural answer for how have you been question would have been, I’m fine. However, we are in interview, and a good answer for how have you been should entail a more professional tone using the structure above.

Good Answers for “How have you been?”

To give you a more practical guide to understanding how to answer these questions, here are two examples of how have you been?

  • Focusing on Academics for Industry Application

“I have been great. As an academic, I focused my area of application in Mechanical Engineering on practical strategies for improving manufacturing for the new generation. I worked with various startups on research and development via internship roles to help them understand better manufacturing processes. I have a solid amount of understanding of the industry from a business viewpoint. I look forward to using my skills and knowledge to improve and give your business the edge to beat competitors for manufacturing contracts.”

  • Graduate starting out

“After graduating from college, I searched for jobs fitted for my literary skills, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find one. So, I had an introspection, and decided to work in technology but with languages. That’s where my love for NLP came to life. As a machine learning engineer, I focused on building my skill in NLP and translation via building custom projects. After perfecting my skills, I took out to the job market with a better job searching process via the use of Python for automation, and that lead me to your company. I know I can deliver exceptional NLP algorithms for your clientele and their customers.”

With these two examples, we have shown you how to answer how have you been questions during interviews.

Good answers for “What have you been up to?”

To give you a more practical guide to understanding how to answer these questions, here are two examples of What have you been up to?

  • Getting Laid-Off

“I was laid off from my previous work due to low performance, and I got the reality check to know that I lacked the skills to maintain productivity and better manage myself and my relationship with colleagues. Therefore, I focused on seminars and programmes that focused on productivity and skill upgrades for about six months. After which, I looked for roles that matched my skill set and values. I believe in your company’s vision in delivering better customer service using the latest technologies, and I understand that my newly acquired skills would be useful.”

  • A Software Engineer levelling up

“I started a self-taught front-end developer, and though, I have worked in the IT industry for three years successfully, I needed a change. Therefore, I decided to pursue and further my studies by obtaining a B.Sc. Computer Science Degree with a focus on systems architecture. I focused on working with startups during the summer to solidify my knowledge within the industry. I also worked with small businesses in a freelance capacity to improve my skills. With my previous work experience and new degree, I know I will be a great addition to your business in developing better cloud architecture for big data.”

Good answers for “What are you doing?”

  • From Chef to Data Analyst

“I worked at Devil’s Kitchen as the In-House Chef for over 8 years of which I received stellar recommendations, reviews and promotions. However, with more familiarity with the food industry, I realized I wanted something new, and that’s where I found data. I left Devil’s Kitchen with the goal of learning the ropes of data analysis. I took top courses from Coursera and worked with my previous place of employment to analyze their reservation trends and prep up their services for high influxes of people. I made use of Excel and Python to understand the patterns and provide recommendations that were helpful to the business. I worked on other projects which you can find on my resume. I believe my skills can help your firm find a clear path to improved growth and customer retention.

  • Taking a break due to pregnancy

“Before taking a break for maternal functions, I worked at Global Enterprise as their Mid-Level Insurance Recovery Expert. Though I have been out of the industry for two years, I have maintained my networks and contacts to monitor the trends. In addition, I worked with small-time clients to maintain my skillsets. I optimized my LinkedIn using SEO strategies which I learned throughout the break to help reduce the stress of applying for various jobs. Working with different clients gave me continuous knowledge flow about the industry, and I believe I can deliver a high recovery rate for your business via ethical means.”

Dos and Don’ts for “what have you been up to”

The Do’s of answering such questions involves stating activities and events that showcase your talent and skill for the job regardless of the workless situation. Internships, volunteer work, seminars, classes, travelling are good talking points. You can;

  • Speak from a place of honesty
  • Show confidence
  • Focus on your skill and talents

The Don’ts of answering the questions related to “What have you been up to?” includes

  • Answering with Nothing
  • Not Lying
  • Being Negative

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Conclusion

As a job seeker with gaps or just lacking work experiences, it can be challenging to answer the question of what you have been up to during such periods especially when it might not necessarily be related to work.

As we have seen, it doesn’t have to be directly related to work, but rather a learning process or experience should be existent. We hope that this article has helped you to understand the ways to answer such questions and frame good answers for what are you doing.

You must illustrate yourself as a go-getter, hard worker and a dedicated person to your industry to give recruiters a good impression of you. Different recruiters are different, and that’s where you research the company. If you follow the five-step template in this article, we believe you will give answers that give you the right edge over other candidates. Good luck in your search for a new job.

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Kalpataru Biswas

Kalpataru Biswas is a writer with a focus on business and career-related subjects. He has been writing for various websites since 2018 and has more than ten years of experience in driving revenue through data-driven Sales & Marketing.

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