"So what are you doing now?" "Oh, nothing. How's the shrimp?"
June 12, 2006 7:31 PM   Subscribe

No job, family reunion. How do I deflect the inevitable questions?

The short/quick/dirty details: am in my late 20s, finished a master's degree a year ago, took a few months off, did an internship over the winter that went nowhere, have been temping since then. The day before I leave will be the last day of my current assignment, which is in a field unrelated to my interests but has been paying the bills. I have been applying for "real" jobs, but my interests are a little diffuse and my search consequently has not been very focused, which I'm working on. I'm unhappy that it has taken this long, but that's not the immediate problem.

I leave in a couple of days to go to a four-day extended-family reunion. I anticipate that I'll be asked a few dozen times by various relatives (some of whom may have only heard of me in the context of my father talking about how smart I am) about what I am Doing Now; short of handing out preprinted copies of the preceding paragraph, I have no idea how to respond that is (a) honest, (b) not rude, (c) quick, (d) dignified, and (e) doesn't bring conversation to a screeching halt...although I could probably bend on point (a) somewhat if necessary.
posted by kittyprecious to Human Relations (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just tell them that you've left your current job, and are looking for employment that better suits you.
posted by borkencode at 7:37 PM on June 12, 2006

Just say "I just completed an internship & have been interviewing for positions in [such and such field]". Then, unless they have some amazing contacts for you, change the subject. It makes you sound smart & busy, and hopefully people will be too self-absorbed to drill you.
posted by tastybrains at 7:47 PM on June 12, 2006

agreed, honest but brief. There's no reason to be rude nor to give more info, just keep it short. how about just "I'm on a jobhunt, and it's a pain"? and if you're asked more talk about what you'll be doing when your ideas come together.
posted by anadem at 7:59 PM on June 12, 2006

Oops! punctuation!
posted by anadem at 8:00 PM on June 12, 2006

I think saying, "I've just finished my master's degree in [blank] and am looking for work" is a great answer. People don't want to hear the gritty details, anyway, and you just may get someone who says they know someone in the field who may help you out. You still sound smart and together, and they may get the opportunity to give you some advice. Everybody wins.
posted by team lowkey at 8:09 PM on June 12, 2006

I think saying, "I've just finished my master's degree in [blank] and am looking for work" is a great answer.


And... "During my degree, something that really sparked my interest was 'X', and for the last couple of months I've been thinking of ways to 'whatever X' since it combines my career and a passion of mine. Especially now, considering current 'X conditions', I feel that pursuing 'X' could be lucrative and humanitarian."

I did this a lot because my undergrad took a much longer time than originally anticipated. It's easy to deflect questions when you can speak knowledgably about something in your field. Oftentimes people don't necessarily care that you're making a lot of money or "moving up", but that you're using your head to do something useful and that makes you happy. (This is because many people are so unhappy and feel that their work doesn't necessarily contribute anything)
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:19 PM on June 12, 2006

I agree with 'I just finished my master's and am looking for work.' No need to go into any more detail. They don't really care anyway; if you give a confusing or complicated answer, you're asking for the conversation to go on longer and require more explanation on your part than you want to sign up for.
posted by bingo at 8:23 PM on June 12, 2006

How about: "I'm just coming off sabbatical. I needed a bit of break between school and launching my career -- you know, before the daily grind really kicks in. I'm just weighing all my options now, I don't want to rush in and find myself at the wrong position after all I've invested. What about you? Weren't you just on vacation?"
posted by GIRLesq at 8:42 PM on June 12, 2006

Response by poster: All the answers so far have been good and thoughtful (thanks all around), but I'm also wondering what to do about relatives who know me a bit better and may want to go into more detail when I'd rather just change the topic.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:47 PM on June 12, 2006

I went through this after grad school too. Never occured to me to not to just admit that I couldn't find a job I wanted and that the ones I was getting offered I had no interest in so I was temping to keep my options open. Most people seemed to think that was a pretty good idea, at least for the the 30 seconds it took for them to lose interest.
posted by fshgrl at 8:53 PM on June 12, 2006

but I'm also wondering what to do about relatives who know me a bit better and may want to go into more detail

The question is, how do they know you a bit better? I mean, if they knew you, they'd know the answer to whether or not you are employed and would themselves steer clear of these questions. Or, if they know that you're just trying to change the subject, then they should know that you'd only do that because you'd rather not talk about your current unemployment.

You aren't going to find a "winning combination" to avoid all awkwardness and discomfort. Sorry to say, but some relatives are just naturally really stupid when it comes to human relations and ask the dumb, annoying questions. Plain and simple. The trick is to avoid one-on-one conversations with these people. In a group environment, it's easy to deflect questions and change the subject while appearing very sociable. One on one, they're only looking at you, so you're stuck.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:04 PM on June 12, 2006

You are assuming it is a negative to say you don't have a job yet and you are predisposing yourself to be on the defensive. I would say the best defense is a good offense. Tell them you haven't found the right job yet and ask for their help as if it is perfectly natural and acceptable to be in your postition, which it IS.

If someone questions your not having a job after that, go on the attack and ask them what is wrong with waiting for the right job in your chosen field? There is no shame in not being able to get the job of your choice and working in temp positions or another field until you do. You are paying your own bills and carrying your load. No problem.

If these relatives take the time to think before speaking they will admire you for looking for the right opportunity for yourself and in the interim working at other things to pay the bills. It has nothing to do with "smarts".
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:35 PM on June 12, 2006

I'm also wondering what to do about relatives who know me a bit better and may want to go into more detail when I'd rather just change the topic.

"This is my vacation and I'd like to keep it that way." Or however you think it should be put.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:36 PM on June 12, 2006

Are you worried more about ways to change the conversation, or is the root of the problem potential embarassment caused by current uncertanties in your life? I'm sure that any person worth their salt can relate to the situation that you are in. If you are honest and they try to make you feel inferior or inadequate, fuck em, just talk about the weather. On the flip side if you are open and honest, they may tell you a story about a similar time in their life when things were uncertain and you can just build the conversation around that. You may even make a connection with someone that you would not have otherwise. Not having a job that you like is not the end of the world. Looking for a better one is not anything to scoff at. As Drew Carey might say: Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the local bar.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 9:49 PM on June 12, 2006

i think you need to ask yourself whether this is an awkward situation ... or an opportunity ... you could get good advice and even some contacts that might help you get a job to get you by

i think everyone knows it can be tough out there these days
posted by pyramid termite at 10:05 PM on June 12, 2006

Your answer is in your post.

I have been applying for "real" jobs, but my interests are a little diffuse and my search consequently has not been very focused, which I'm working on. I'm unhappy that it has taken this long, but that's not the immediate problem.

I'd be perfectly comfortable giving that answer to anyone who asks. Inevitably someone will ask what your interests are at which point you can start talking about them.
posted by junesix at 10:06 PM on June 12, 2006

Just tell them you're a consultant. No one really understands what that means anyways, not even consultants.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2006

Heh. I'm a (working) consultant, and I heartily endorse blue beetle's answer.

"I've got a few consulting projects going while I look for something permanent." (The main project being "looking for something permanent.")
posted by enrevanche at 2:49 AM on June 13, 2006

I was in your situation, so I told everyone I was a freelance journalist...
posted by badlydubbedboy at 5:30 AM on June 13, 2006

I know many college graduates who have turned to temping or a short-term career while they look for employment that suits their skills. All you need to mention is that you've completed your master's degree and that you are looking for work in that field. Even if you weren't that motivated in your search while you were temping, it's the truth. Working puts a strain on your ability to seek out a better job and it's more likely you'll be able to devote your full attention to the task now.
posted by mikeh at 6:49 AM on June 13, 2006

My feeling is that most working people are jealous of folks who can afford to leave a job and take their time finding a new one- they're not asking you what you're doing now because they want to pick on you- they want to live vicariously through you.

In other words: Don't be so defensive, man. Your family just wants to know how you're doing.
posted by elisabeth r at 7:45 AM on June 13, 2006

"I'm on the lookout right now, do you know anyone in <field>?"

If this was Miss Manners, she would suggest replying, "Oh, you couldn't possibly be interested in that!" said with a slight laugh and then followed with a redirection to a question about them.
posted by plinth at 8:02 AM on June 13, 2006

Say you are researching your next book. Walk around with a notebook, even if you're just scribbling your grocery list. Watch your relatives instantly be on their best behavior.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:09 AM on June 13, 2006

"I just finished my Masters, and now I'm doing some freelance consulting work."

sounds good to me!
posted by drstein at 11:00 AM on June 13, 2006

People love to talk about themselves. A short smiling answer with return questions about what they are up to should throw the train off the tracks.
posted by GIRLesq at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2006

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