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Advice / Job Search / Networking

3 Perfect Replies to (Politely!) Shut Down Negative People When You're Job Searching

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Inevitably, a job search involves frustration. As you probably know all too well, they’re almost always often longer and harder than you thought they’d be.

But you know what makes them longer and harder? People chiming in with their thoughts on how it’s going. Sure, they may be “just trying to understand” why you’re changing careers. Or maybe they’re “just trying to help” by giving unsolicited advice. Or, they could be “just trying to empathize” by sharing a story of someone they know who’s been looking forever to no avail.

And often, they have good intentions, so you don’t want to be dismissive or walk away. However you definitely do want to say something so they stop bringing you down.

Here are three options to make the other person feel heard, and still change the topic to something you’d rather discuss:

1. “People’s Experiences Can Be So Different”

Saying what something reminds you of is a common Human 101 conversational response. Someone tells you they booked a trip to Italy, and you respond that your college roommate just got back from Rome. Or, your friend tells you they just finished a great read, and you share the name of the book you’re in the middle of, and so on.

So, when you share that you’re job searching, it shouldn’t surprise you that the person you’re speaking with is going to wrack their brain for a story about looking for work. Ideally, it would be a cheerful tale of how they landed the role of their dreams with less effort than expected, or questions about exactly how they could help.

But, in an effort to relate, it could be they share a totally depressing story about whomever they know who’s having the absolute worst luck.

So, acknowledge that you heard their story, then comment that experiences can vary and move on to a new subject.

2. “It Is Hard—That’s Why I’d Love Your Support”

Another reason people will say completely demoralizing things is because they think it’s in your best interest if someone keeps it real with you. They want you to know that changing careers can entail a steep learning curve, lesser job title—and a pay cut.

Or their goal is to make sure your eyes are open to all scenarios when you work with a recruiter. Or, they’re trying to help you manage your expectations, so you’re aware that long job searches can be totally normal.

Since their aim is to be your reality check, blowing them off usually only encourages them to pile on. Instead, acknowledge whatever harsh fact they threw out—and that you know it well.

Let them be clear they can check the box of having opened your eyes. In fact, they did such a good job, that you’re hoping you can count on them to be supportive.

3. “No Updates Here: What’s New With You?”

Truth talk: Some contacts may have a different definition of being supportive. You’ve mentioned your search to them previously, and you know they always have something negative to say.

In this case, it’s 100% OK to sidestep the conversation. When they ask how it’s going, reply that you have no news to share. It’s completely plausible, because—as they’ve probably reminded you—these things take time.

Then immediately follow up with questions for them. If you say that you have nothing to share, and leave it there, they may push on why. But, if you flip to making them the subject, you should be able to steer your talk in an entirely new direction. Take advantage of the fact that people like talking about themselves, by asking question after question, until you can excuse yourself.

Job searches are draining enough, and so you want to marshal your strength for when you need it most; like having the guts to hit submit on that application or pumping yourself up before your interview. At the same time, you don’t want to swear off seeing your friends altogether just because someone’s take could bring you down.

So, keep these three responses in your back pocket, and no matter what, promise yourself you’ll keep your focus on your true goal—landing that awesome new job.