Answering Those Awkward Holiday Party Questions: STILL Unemployed?

WorkCoachCafeWell, it’s becoming “that time of year” – Thanksgiving and the other year-end holidays are approaching.  Which means parties and family get-togethers.  And those awkward questions, specifically questions like this one:

So, are you still unemployed?

Even if you only lost your job last week, this question typically makes most people feel like absolute failures.  Assuming the question and comment are intended to be sympathetic and supportive, they can, nonetheless, be confidence killers and demotivating, making you want to curl up into a ball and disappear.

However, curled up in a ball is NOT a good way to spend the holidays nor an effective job hunting posture, so be prepared to handle this question.  Give your answer (see the options below), and move on! 

Responding to Nasty People

In general, few people will purposely want to make you feel uncomfortable.  But, if you feel someone is being nasty, be brief, and change the subject:

  • “Yes, looking hard.  What’s new in your world?” 
  • “Yes, like millions of other people.  What did you think of that last game of the World Series?” 
  • “Yes, hardly working!  You still hate your job?”  

Best not to let them see they have succeeded at being nasty, but if they don’t take the hint, talk with someone else.  

Responding to Everyone Else 

I think it’s best to assume that most people are not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, even if that is the result. If the person seems to be sincerely interested, perhaps they have some information that can be helpful for your job search.  So, take these next 4 steps…

1.  Ask for Contacts

Use your own judgement on when to use which of these responses.

  • “Yes, still unemployed.  It’s a tough job market right now.  I’m looking for a job with [name a couple of your target employers].  Do you know anyone who works there?”
  • “Yes, still unemployed and looking hard for a new job.  Know any companies who might be looking for or needing someone who is an excellent [your target job title]?”
  • “Yes, still unemployed, but definitely looking hard.  Know any recruiters or staffing companies who work with [your target industry, like retail or construction] or help employers find people in the [your profession or your target job title] field?”

The first 3 questions help people think about who they know who might be able to help you because they are so specific – company names and specific job titles will more easily enable them to remember connections they have that might help you.  A focused job search is also the most productive way to find a job, as well.

If your job search is unfocused, these may work too:

  • “Yes, still unemployed.  They doing any hiring where you work?”
  • “Yes, still unemployed.  Know of anyone around here doing any hiring right now or needing someone like me?”

Do feel free to ask the same person/people all 5 questions if they can’t help think of answers to the first 3!  

When you get good responses to any of those questions, write down the names and as much contact information as you can get plus the name of the person who gave you the name(s) as well as how your contact is connected to these people.  

In addition, also ask for best (or worst) times to call or email, job titles, locations, and any other information you can get about this new potential network member.  That additional information will enable you to build some rapport with this new person, hopefully.

2.  Ask for Help Connecting

If someone has contacts, ask the for help connecting with those contacts.  The help could include:

  • Arranging a meeting with all 3 of you at a coffee shop, restaurant, or some place convenient for everyone.  Or, arranging a meeting for you and the new contact.
  • A simple emailed introduction, hopefully copying you on the introduction so both you and the new person have each other’s email addresses. 
  • A phone call to the person with a suggestion that they contact you.
  • A snail- or e-mailed version of your resume sent to the contact.
  • Other options that are comfortable for both of you.

Be ready for some people to decline all of the above requests for help connecting.  If they do, ask for permission to use their name when you contact the person and suggestions on how to connect most effectively

3.  Follow Up Immediately

Hopefully, you will have help connecting with these people quickly (since you are “still unemployed”).  Or, if no help is available, do some research on the people (LinkedIn and Google) to see if you can find some “common ground” to help establish rapport, and then contact them as soon as you are able.

4.  Say Thank You!

When you have received a good networking lead, be sure to send the person who gave you the lead a sincere thank you (even if the lead didn’t work out).  If the lead does end up getting you and interview or (hopefully!) a job, share your good news with your original contact as soon as you can.

Thank you is a very important step!  It’s easy to forget in the chaos, stress, and excitement of starting a new job, but don’t.  Remember the people who helped – or who tried to help.  They could have ignored you and not tried at all.  But, they didn’t.

The Result?

Best case: you’ll have some good leads and end up with a great new job.  Worst case: you may help train the person not to ask awkward questions unless they are ready to provide help, too.

Remember the Feeling

When you have a new job (and you will!), don’t ask your unemployed friends and family this question, even if you have good intentions and are ready to share what you learned in landing your job.  Ask what they are looking for (job titles, employers) and offer them leads – all the leads you can. Or simply ask them if they are interested in what worked for you when you were unemployed.  Share, if they express interest, but move quickly on to other topics if they don’t.

Now, Share Your Favorite Answers to This Question!

If you have been asked this question, and developed a very effective answer to it – or a very funny one –  please share your answer with us.   Just “Speak Your Mind” and post your comment below…

More Information About Holiday Job Search

Land a New Job NOW: Holiday Job Search Works!

Is Job Hunting During the Holidays a Waste of Time?

6 Ways to Make the Most of This Holiday Season

© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at@jobhuntorg and on .

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