Hiring managers know that long periods of unemployment can happen for a variety of reasons, including positive reasons like continuing schooling and pursuing service in non-compensating vocational roles. This question is less about your long period without employment, and more about learning what you did with the time you had. That lets them know about your ability to self-start, your skills at invention and innovation, and a variety of other useful traits, if you answer with the right emphasis.
Points to Emphasize
Projects with measurable results are key here, along with skills that you developed.
Any activities or projects that you might have references from, especially if those references are on your resume.
Specific certifications, skills, or other professional development you engaged in. Especially emphasize any conferences or professional organizations you remained active with.
Leadership activities and volunteer service, especially if you were on an organization’s advisory or executive board. Even local community activities can work here, as long as you’re efficient about highlighting how it fits the job you’re seeking
Retraining and educational activities, especially if you are changing career fields. Did you decide to earn a formal business degree, to supplement your management experience Talk about it.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
Beware of these pitfalls as you put your answer together.
Don’t speak negatively about your job hunting experience, even if you have been on the market the entire time. Hiring managers are looking for employees who are truly interested in the position, not people who might be applying for anything they can find.
Avoid discussing personal activities or hobbies that are off-topic for the job you are seeking. If you can’t tie a relevant skill to it, you don’t want to mention it.
Remember that hiring managers are looking for skills, so don’t get bogged down in project details in your examples.
Beware of making your extra-vocational activities too important, because the interviewer is looking for someone who will focus on the job.
You’ll need the examples to fit your own story, but try for something like this:
After leaving my next position, I decided to survey the available opportunities and spend some time enhancing my skills. During that time, I pursued an educational certification in project management at the local community college and worked on my professional networking by remaining active with organizations in the field. Now I’m ready to move into a position that uses my new skills.
Keep it concise and keep it focused on what your time away added to your professional development.