You've been a stay-at-home parent. Consider applying for jobs where your homemaking skills would be useful: budgeting, coping with the full range of children's issues, having to be a self-starter. Of course, those skills are useful in child-related jobs: in schools, child care, pediatrician's offices, and children's stores. But they're also applicable, for example, to careers as a manager, coordinator, administrative assistant, and event planner. Cite those transferable skills in your applications, interviews, and networking. Also tout the transferable skills you used in any volunteer work.
You've been playing around. For the last year or four, you've decided to, say, travel around the world or just goof off. How do you explain that to an employer you're trying to convince to pay you to work? You might try something like, "I figured that while I was young and unencumbered, I'd do those things that many older people regret not having done: travel, build a boat, do volunteer work. But now, I'm truly ready to get serious about my career. Here is what I bring to the table (insert.) Might I be possibly be of help to you?" The wrong employers will blow you off; a right one will at least interview you.
You've been self-employed. Employers worry that self-employed people will be unhappy having a boss. Preempt the objection. For example: "Five years of self-employment made me realize the advantages of being employed in a organization. I'm looking forward to it. Having been in charge could be a plus in working for you. I am, as they say, a self-starter and can be intrapreneurial, identifying new profit centers for your organization."
You've been ill. Let's say you've battled cancer or severe depression for the last two years and can't claim you're cured. In addition to tapping your network for leads, you might ask your doctor or nurses. They likely have particular empathy for people in your situation, have bonded with you, and know lots of people. If I had a disability that would affect my ability to do the job, along with my strengths, I'd disclose the disability to prospective employers. The wrong employers will reject me, a right one will accept me, the kind of employer I'd want to work for.
You've been unemployed a long time. If employers knew you've had a helluva time trying to find a job, they might view you as too-often-rejected merchandise. Sure, it helps to do a fill-in activity that would impress employers: training that gave you up-to-date skills in your desired field, relevant volunteer work, etc. But that may not be enough. Try radical honesty, for example:
I wasn't looking forward to having to pound the pavement so, for the first few months, I rationalized that making just a few inquiries would do the trick, but after a while, I had to face the realities of today's tough job market. Since then though, I've had a hard time because employers reject you because you've been out of work for a while--They figure you must be no good. I am good at what I do (insert evidence.) I just need someone to give me a chance to show it. Might you be willing to talk with me?
You've been in prison. Tell your story. For example:
"Five years ago, my wife divorced me right after my company sent all the jobs in my workgroup to India. I was at rock bottom. So when a friend asked if I'd help him rob a bank, I can't believe it but I went along. I got caught, went to Sing Sing, and was released early for good behavior. I can understand that you're tempted to reject me. I just want to say that my terrible mistake has made me completely committed to being honest. I just need someone to give me a chance. Perhaps someone gave you one. Might you be willing to talk with me? You'll find me hard-working, willing to start at the bottom, scrupulously honest, and most grateful."
If you were an employer, might not you interview such a candidate?Broadly applicable advice
Rely on your network. People who know you are more likely to give you a chance.
Explain how your time-off will benefit the employer: You're rejuvenated, gained, perspective, had time to upgrade your skills, etc.
Don't hide or obfuscate. Ethics aside, it will likely come out that you weren't a consultant but rather were in India seeking enlightenment. All it takes is a Google search to find your social media posts on that. Most employment applications state that even if discovered after hiring you, dishonesty in the application is grounds for termination.
Of course, there are no guarantees but even in these challenging situations and tough times, there are ways, honest ways, to give yourself a fighting chance.