You did it: You graduated from college! And now, everywhere you go, you’ll be met with the same questions about your future plans.
Sure, it’s a nice break from having to explain Snapchat to everyone over 30; but these conversations can easily veer from predictable to awkward. That’s because if you already had a job lined up, you could just repeat the same canned speech about your start date, the company, and the nice person who interviewed you. But if you don’t have anything in the pipeline, it’s a lot harder to know what to say.
Thankfully, there are a few easy lines you reply with that may even lead you to a job opening!
1. “I’m Looking to Work in [Desired Industry or Location]”
Searching for a job can feel like it takes up enough of your life without having to discuss your progress (or lack thereof) at every social engagement. Plus, there’s always a fear that if you put yourself out there, someone will say something discouraging or you’ll have to explain coding to your grandmother. But before you change the topic entirely with, “I’m tracking down a few leads, but did you see those new Princess Charlotte photos?” remember that sharing what you’re interested in could lead to a valuable connection.
A common (rookie) networking mistake is to assume that unless someone works your exact dream job or at your exact dream company, she couldn’t possibly be able to help you. You think: How could your parents’ neighbor, the interior designer; your aunt, the dentist; and your cousin, the teacher; be at all connected to your desire to work in the non-profit sector? Well, the neighbor has clients, your aunt has patients, and your cousin’s students have parents—all of whom work in a variety of professions. And it could just be that when you mention what you’re interested in, they immediately think of someone you might be available to connect with for an informational interview.
These sorts of connections can lead to an in you wouldn’t otherwise have in the industry or at a given company, and it can help expedite your search. So, if you know what you’d like to do, but aren’t seeing the results you’d hoped for, be open about what you’re looking for.
2. “I’m Learning How to [Skill]”
Career changes aren’t just for those going through a quarter-life crisis. A lot of growth happens between 18 and 22, and even though you were fired up about your major a couple of years ago, it could be that you hated your last summer internship and want to do something in a totally different field than your course of study.
If this is the case, your network and experience in your new area might be particularly thin, so that’s where you want to focus all of your attention (and the attention of those who want to help you). If you share what you studied or didn’t like, others could get bogged down in the details. So, be forward-focused and discuss your pivot by sharing that you’ve recently become obsessed with design or freelance writing, or that you’re loving your coding bootcamp.
From there, ask if the other person knows anyone who knows anyone (or anything) related to your new interest.
3. “I’m Not Quite Sure, Tell Me More About What You Do”
Maybe you have absolutely no leads on what’s next, because nothing’s really piqued your interest yet. You don’t want to be that person who just “takes whatever’s available” but you don’t have a clear vision in mind either.
Even if you feel like you have nothing to contribute to the “future plans” conversation, you have a lot to gain. You can only learn so much about a role from a job posting; however, when you talk to someone who’s held that position you can hear what it’s like from an insider’s perspective. Plus, people love talking about themselves!
So, resist the urge to make something up, and instead, pass the question back to the person engaging with you. Ask him to explain what he does, what path he took to get there, and what any 22-year-old should know before entering that field. You just could find something you’d like to learn more about!
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4. “I’m Taking Some Time Off”
Sure, you never want to squander a potential networking opportunity, but you also don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Job search burnout happens, and if you have zero interest in following up on name for a coffee meeting or even listening to the other person describe her work, it’ll be less awkward if you steer the conversation away from the topic now, rather than after she’s made a list of everyone she can put you in touch with.
Use this line as a last-ditch resort when you don’t have the time or energy to discuss future plans. (Again, make sure you’re not just assuming the other person won’t be interested or able to help.)
Yes, it may lead to a barrage of personal questions about whether you’ll be living at home or how you’ll afford to travel, but at least you can take a break from the career questions.
You’re not alone: No one likes discussing work when they’re unemployed. It doesn’t matter if you’re 22 or 42. But if you can find a way to have the conversation, you might be able to make connections that help you find a job more quickly, which’ll make it all worth it.
Photo of new grad courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author