Deflecting questions about career goals without feeling like an asshole
September 25, 2016 11:07 PM   Subscribe

My friends/classmates and I are going on the job market in the coming months. I don't want to really discuss this whole process with them and what my top choices are, where I've gotten interviews, and so on. But, I also feel like a competitive, secretive asshole for not openly telling them what I'm doing and what my goals are.

Truth is, of course I have an idea of what my top choices are, but I just don't have an interest in talking about it with my friends/peers who are in the running for basically the same few opportunities. I don't like lying, so I hate playing dumb and saying, "I don't know," because that eats away at my soul. How do I deflect inquiries about this graciously? I have multiple people telling me "we should meet up!" and I know that this is going to come up when we finally get around to doing so.

It seems like everyone else is pretty open about where they are applying and interviewing, but all I want to do is put blinders on, not worry about what other people are doing, focus on myself, and not share too much about my own process, either. My program is small, people talk, and not always kindly, either.

Is this a common feeling to have, or is there something immature/wrong about the way I'm going about this? I suspect this is another manifestation of how I struggle with maintaining good boundaries, because it shouldn't be that difficult to smile and say, "I'll have to see where I end up!" and change topics, but argghhh this whole interaction is so grating and stressful for me. I almost want to just be a hermit these coming months, but that's not exactly healthy, either.

Any strategies for me to keep my friend-acquaintances, hang out with my friends, while not discussing my job applications and aspirations?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just say "I'd tell you, but I don't want to jinx it" and deflect any further questioning. Or say "We can talk about it if they hire me, I don't even want to think about it right now."
posted by ananci at 11:14 PM on September 25, 2016 [20 favorites]

Jinx is good. you could try to get a little squinty into the distance, and be vague. like youre thinking about it (which is true) like say something like, ah, its in the works, possibly researching crack squirrels (or field/job x) - that sort of thing. and a quick switch to the person asking -> but dood. How about you?? Weren't you looking into cryptozoology?? Thats fascinating! I have a cousin who used to be all into bigfoot..

i feel its hella normal not to want to have especially that same convo dozens of times, but ultimately you will probably end up having it at least a few. its one way to check in on people you care about. Dont go into hermit mode though, its hella hard to come out of.
posted by speakeasy at 11:54 PM on September 25, 2016

Just tell them it stresses you out to talk about it, and redirect them to another topic of conversation. This makes it so you don't have to disclose and--bonus!--you don't have to hear about them. Ask what hobbies or activities they're excited to do more of now that they're out of school, or where they'd like to travel once they have vacation time, or anything else. People get being stressed out about these very stressful conversations.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 12:02 AM on September 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

Maybe I had unusually laid back classmates, but I always found that people understood when I was like, "ugggh I don't wanna think about it, let's talk about something else" and then change the subject to something more fun (on preview: yes, things like their other plans after school!). If someone tries to press the subject more after that, then they risk coming across as over-competitive and a little obnoxious - like those people who always wanted to compare grades after a test in school (but only if they did well!) - which is their problem, not yours. Chances are, a lot of your classmates are sick of these discussions, too.
posted by btfreek at 12:13 AM on September 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Jinx works, but maybe sounds superstitious. If you're not the superstitious type it might not ring true. Go for more detail on stress. Such as (and maybe possibly true?) is something along the lines of, "If I talk about this a lot, I'm going to overthink it, and I don't want to get too wound up before (the / any possible) interview(s).") That's pretty much much verbatim what a friend told me in a small-world hiring situation recently. So, I just wished him good luck, we chatted about a few mutual friends, travel, etc. and gave him a call again a couple days after the interview to see how it went.

On the other hand, it might be worth picking one person you trust to talk with. In a situation similar to yours it was kind of too big of an elephant in the room. I didn't want to talk with everyone, but one friend and co-worker and I both knew that our contracts were up at the same time, and we would both be applying for the same next jobs. So, we decided to make a deal just the two of us to swap info and talk over jobs. There are so many variables in hiring, and as much as we were in competition with each other we were both in competition with a bunch of other people and some ideal that people wanted to hire. We traded leads and even went over each other's CVs and letters. In the end, we both got hired at places where we are happy (him first, me a while later) and we're both still friends.
posted by Gotanda at 12:28 AM on September 26, 2016

Geographically mobile jr academic, this has been my life since college. "What are you going to do next?" "Oh (name of friend or family member), I've put a moratorium on discussing my career plans. It does nothing but stress me out and turns out worrying doesn't actually help me writing applications (hahahaha)! Can we talk about something else? I can't wait for the second season of Stranger Things..."
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:31 AM on September 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

The same holds, I think, if it's just a competitive colleague who wants to talk shop: "Are you applying for the job at West Texas Christian Women's University?" "Yeah, I probably will, you know how it is. But I've actually put a moratorium on..."
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:34 AM on September 26, 2016

"Thanks for asking, but I never talk about my plans with someone who might be a strong competitor." It gives your interlocutor a boost and doesn't reveal anything.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:23 AM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Thanks for asking, but I never talk about my plans with someone who might be a strong competitor."

This actally feels like it may feed more into the competitiveness. I'd go with the straightforward "bleh this stresses me out let's talk about something else," because anyone who insists about talking about it after getting that response is a jerk.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:53 AM on September 26, 2016

If you can't discuss it with them, why are they your friends?

Deflecting the question makes you look like the competitive, secretive asshole you're trying hard not to appear to be.

Unfriend them.
posted by Kwadeng at 8:12 AM on September 26, 2016

Some people like to vent, commiserate, and endlessly nitpick every detail of the job search; some people are more "uuughh, I can't give this any more mental real estate than it's already occupying." Just make it clear that you're the latter kind of person. One caveat--if someone is angsting or really getting their hopes up about a particular job that you've applied for and think you have a reasonable chance of getting, don't lie or obfuscate, because if you do get the job they will feel terribly self-conscious about having run their mouth off to you. A simple "yeah, that job looks interesting, I applied to it too, we'll see what happens" should do the trick. One other thing you can do that will make it seem more like you're not hoarding information is to let people know about opportunities you see that you think they might be a good fit for (this only applies to good friends, of course).
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:59 AM on September 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Geographically mobile jr academic, this has been my life since college

Ha, me too.

Firstly, I don't think there's anything wrong with your not wanting to discuss this stuff. Applying for jobs sucks, it's cringe-making in many ways (that whole self-promotion thing), it's unsettling not knowing where to go next, and you're so busy trying to do your best while also not getting your hopes up. It's totally fair to not want to talk about that with your competitors or, frankly, anyone else.

Personally I'm just really open about not wanting to talk about it. "I hate applying for jobs and find it difficult and painful enough as it is, I really don't want to discuss it with anyone" sometimes followed by helpings of "it's not you, it's everyone, I just don't want to think about it". Then I change the subject. Only an arsehole will push it from there and you have my permission to walk away from those conversations when people won't respect your shutting it down (because, sadly, they still happen sometimes). I know that if I spend time talking about the whole horrible thing that's that much less time and energy I'm able to put into actually doing it, and the latter is more important.

Some people like to vent, commiserate, and endlessly nitpick every detail of the job search; some people are more "uuughh, I can't give this any more mental real estate than it's already occupying."

Yes, this. Because according to Kwandeng's analysis I should drop all my friends, my close family, and probably my husband since I won't discuss my endless job search churn with any of them so must not like them. Which is clearly not correct.

I have friends in the first camp and we have even been applying for jobs at the same time, but they were still able to understand that the whole thing stressed me out and found other people to have those conversations with instead. I also have friends in the second camp, it really is a thing and it's OK. I just congratulate them when they announce the new job and hide any surprise at not knowing they were applying.
posted by shelleycat at 9:28 AM on September 26, 2016

Nothing wrong with not wanting to give a big stressful thing more space in your life than it needs.

When I graduated from college I was going into 'big dream but small likelihood in reality' profession. I didn't want to deal with people being proud of me for taking a risk or deal with folks who wanted to talk sense into me. I just didn't need any more input at that point.

This wasn't always strictly true, but it was also a super competitive field. Film/entertainment design. And I didn't feel like playing the game were everyone acts passive aggressive about not being competitive whilst humble-bragging about how they were probably the best.

I answered pretty much all questions with a gaze to the middle distance and "I don't really want to talk about it... not until the machine is complete" if people pressed past me being a big weirdo I'd say I wasn't going to devote anymore brain space to it.
posted by French Fry at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2016

Hmm...I think it somewhat depends on your profession. Most advice here is addressed to the general-senior-year-job-applying-around scenario, and I think it's sound for that scenario.

If you're in law school applying for your 2L summer position (or finishing up your MBA), though, not participating at all in those conversations is going to exclude you socially to an undesirable degree, because the interview season is the dominant event of the season and takes up much time and attention and energy from everyone. Fortunately, the period for which this talk prevails is only for a few months. If that's your situation, I would prepare a very brief, general statement like "Oh, looking at the usual DC places" or "hoping for the buy-side" or whatever, and deploy that when the subject first comes up. Don't raise it in conversation yourself, and when someone is venting to you about their own experiences, just be noncommittal when they try to be socially responsible by asking you about yours in turn ("still waiting to hear..."). Basically, if you can manage token participation, you should be okay--just don't cut yourself off completely, or you will be isolating yourself unnecessarily.
posted by praemunire at 11:39 AM on September 26, 2016

I'd develop a tangentially related line of conversation that focuses on your 5-year plan, as opposed to "Where are you interviewing and how's it going?" Because really, a laughing reply of, "I'm applying to the same places as everyone else, what do you think?" says it all. But also consider that this is a stressful time for your friends and classmates, too. They're not digging for information so much as reaching out for reassurance that this is tough for everyone, that their experience is typical, and they're not somehow job-searching wrong after missing the memo that everyone else got.

You could also try changing the subject by saying, "Man, I feel like everyone and their grandmother has been asking me where I've applied. My family won't get off my back! Anyone else? How do you deal with the constant 'Do you have a job yet? Do you have a job yet?' I'm about to snap!" And then suggest, "Let's talk about what we're going to do AFTER all this. I've been thinking I'd like to eventually work in California, maybe try to get some experience in Blahblah industry." These can actually be pretty productive, idea-generating conversations and at least it isn't about job-searching in the immediate sense.

This might not make you feel any better, but job-search talk when you're actively looking is always stressful, and people usually really suck at it. I have a whole Dummies book in my head, waiting to be written, about dealing with being unemployed, with a whole chapter on how to handle well-meaning assholes who grill you and give you horrible advice about your job search. It is super-duper common, especially from people who should damn well know better. (Like your parents!) If nothing else, the takeaway here is that your feelings are totally normal, and not wanting to spend so much mental energy on the subject is also normal and healthy. Stress management is important during a job search, so do whatever you need to do to keep yourself on an even keel, even if it means checking out of the conversation, or even minimizing contact with your discuss-to-death acquaintances who want to hash over every detail.

In my opinion, asking about someone's job search is like asking someone if they're pregnant: It's a bad idea, don't do it. If a person has news to share, they will volunteer the information, otherwise just leave it alone and talk about something else.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with being competitive and secretive. I recommend it.
posted by tel3path at 4:31 PM on September 26, 2016

I'm in law school, and everyone has their stressor conversation -- some people don't like to talk about exams, or grades, or interviews, or resumes or whatever. It's always fair game to just say, honestly, out loud:

"Man, I just find that too stressful to talk about. Lets talk about..."
posted by jacquilynne at 7:26 PM on September 26, 2016

"I'm not sure yet" is true because after all when do you ever know anything for SURE in life?

Or if you want to ventilate about this phenomenon AND deflect these questions, perhaps you could raise the topic of 'competitive people' yourself.

E.g. "don't you find it really stressful when people ask you where you have applied and want to know the details of your plans? People here at this stage in life are so competitive!"

Chances are, your conversation partner will agree and be just as stressed by these conversations as you! And this way you can have an outlet for complaining about competitive, probing mutual friends.
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 11:13 AM on September 27, 2016

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