If you've been unemployed—whether for six days, six months, or even longer—there's a good chance some stranger will soon catch you off guard with that oft-used icebreaker at a holiday party:
"What do you do?"
Then, if you're like most unemployed people, you'll hesitate before answering, take a sip of eggnog, or think a bit before you find the right combination of words to describe your current situation.
Being unemployed sucks. Being unemployed during the holidays sucks even more. I can say this from personal experience. There's little to no fun when you're putting so much effort into finding work amid the most festive time of the year. There are days you'd rather stay holed up in your house and draw inspiration from Ebenezer Scrooge or The Grinch.
But if you're a brave sort and want to be around people, good for you! Socializing can blunt some of the sting of joblessness, and you might meet someone who knows someone who can lead you to a new job.
But if you're asked the "What do you do?" question, here are three ways you can respond:
- The Vague Approach: "I'm a (fill in the blank), but I'm looking for something new in that area." You're not saying in so many words you're unemployed, but you're making it clear you're actively seeking new opportunities. So, smile and keep the conversation going.
- The Factual Approach: "I'm in between jobs right now and I'm using the time to figure out which opportunities to pursue." This is a positive message that indicates you're trying to be productive and see yourself as employable. It may not elicit sympathy, but maybe a little empathy.
- The Brutally Honest Approach: "I'm unemployed. It happens. (shrug here) What do you do?" This can disarm the questioner, who may feel a bit embarrassed by having asked the question. By turning the question in the other direction, you can avoid a potentially awkward pause in the conversation. At the least, it can shift the focus from your situation to someone else's.
When you're unemployed, the next-best thing to getting a job is knowing you're making progress toward getting a job. That alone can be a comfort during the holiday season. If you at least see the positive in that, try to sustain that mood into your holiday socializing.
Have you ever had to answer the "What do you do?" question while you were unemployed? Or, if you're facing it this holiday season, do you have a planned response? Please share it with us.
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