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10 tips for answering pesky ‘What do you do’ questions while jobless

Unemployment can be a nightmare, particularly in a difficult economy. What happens when a jobless individual attends a social gathering, only to find himself or herself faced with the dreaded question: “What do you do?”


Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Maybe it’s not so awkward after all.

How can you transform a casual, but probably uncomfortable, question into a personal positive? Try these 10 tips for answering such imposing inquiries to your own advantage.

1. Don’t start with “I’m unemployed.”

Often, social queries are not resume requests, but simple attempts to uncover possible common interests. A party guest who asks about your career may be quite innocently trying to start a conversation.

It’s OK to mention you are jobless, but it is a good idea to include a positive statement that identifies your professional milieu. “I’m an accountant,” “I’m a manicurist” or “I’m a research biologist” is helpful information. Follow up with the fact that you are presently seeking new employment.

2. Avoid bad-mouthing previous employers.

Lambasting of bad bosses and slashing supervisors is inappropriate at lighthearted social festivities. Even if your old employer did you wrong, you will gain no points by barking about it at a party. What's more, such behavior might cause others to tag you as a bad apple.

3. Describe your target job.

If a fellow guest exhibits genuine interest, why not talk about the career you would like to have? Discuss your plans to pursue additional education, training or opportunities in your field of interest. Perhaps you will gain helpful ideas or leads.

4. Outline your expertise.

Social gatherings are not job interviews. It pays to be brief. If you are job-hunting, or even if you are a smart manager of your career, you will have a one- or two-sentence summary of your most employable assets in your head all the time. You never know who might ask.

5. Tell the truth.

Lies always backfire. Even little fibs can be perilous to careers. Why issue mistruths that may come back to bite you after a social gathering? Honesty is simplest and best, instead of exaggerating job titles or elaborating falsely on career downturns.

6. Avoid oversharing.

If someone asks about your profession in a social situation, you can be truthful and direct without pouring out gory details of employment woes.  Try to keep conversations upbeat, if possible.

7. Never whine about joblessness.

It’s OK to complain to close confidants, although wallowing may wear out even the best listeners. Fellow party guests, however, don’t fit this category.

8. Look for opportunities to network.

Why not look at social gatherings as chances to mingle with potential colleagues and expand your circle of influence? That new acquaintance across the picnic table or banquet booth may be able to point you in a helpful direction for your ongoing job search.

Savvy job hunters print and carry business cards in a pocket or purse, just in case an appropriate opportunity arises. In a pinch, you can write down names, along with email addresses or phone numbers, after significant social conversations.

It is considered somewhat tacky, however, to pass out resumes at a party. Following up later is a much smarter strategy, as it allows you an additional contact with influential individuals.

9. Turn the tables on the inquirer.

Most people enjoy talking about themselves. Many relish revealing their own professional achievements and backgrounds. Ask a few open-ended questions, and you may be surprised to find folks are willing to share experience and career connections.

10. Try to receive the question as an opportunity, not an affront.

Who knows? A simple question at a party or picnic may become a bridge-building opportunity, leading to a possible job.

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