“How’s the job search going?”

When you’re unemployed, you’ll hear it again and again. It’ll become the standard opening line of nearly everyone you talk to, from your parents to your friends to that random LinkedIn contact who is apparently keeping tabs on you.

After hearing it one time or 300, it’ll take every ounce of your being to resist strangling anyone who utters those words.

But, since you have to form some sort of response—after all, for the most part, the people who ask are probably well-meaning—what can you say when you’re out of patience, out of pleasantries, and still out of a job?

Here are a few options.

“What I Really Need Is…”

When someone asks you how the job search is going, it’s easy to interpret the question with negativity—that the person clearly thinks you’re a deadbeat and wants to rub your current state of joblessness in your face.

But, for the sake of preserving your sanity, change your mindset to assume that most people who ask you about your job search have good intentions and want to support you, but may not know what assistance they can offer.

So, give them a way to help: “It’s going okay, but what I really need is more insight into my target role. Do you know anyone who is a project manager? I’d like to set up more informational interviews.”

Or, maybe you need an introduction to someone at a specific company, or you need someone who’s willing to do mock interviews with you to calm your nerves. Whatever it is, this is your chance to ask—so take advantage of it.


“I’m Having a Hard Time With…”

It’s important to stay positive through your job search, but if you’re having a hard time with a particular aspect of the hunt, it’s perfectly okay to be truthful—you may be able to gain some useful advice in the process.

The key to this response is being specific—otherwise, all you’ll do is open yourself up to vague, generic, and altogether useless job search advice, like “You just have to give it time.”

Instead, hone in on one specific issue you’re experiencing, and ask that person’s advice: “I’m having a hard time quantifying my accomplishments on my resume since I don’t work with numbers. I know you’ve had a role similar to mine before—how did you format your resume bullet points?”

Now, this probably won’t work very well with Great Uncle George, who’s worked the same job for three decades, equipping him with approximately zero relevant job search advice. But if you’re talking to a contact who landed a great job in the past year or is in a similar role or industry, it can be a great approach.

“I’ll Let You Know When Something Changes”

When you just can’t take it—you can’t muster the positivity to dive into your spiel about how you’ve been sending out tailored resumes and networking your face off—this is a good, polite alternative. It works especially well for those contacts you see multiple times a week, who can’t seem to grasp that your job status on Monday will probably be the same on Tuesday.

To some, it may sound a bit dismissive, so make sure to stay positive: “It’s going a little slower than I anticipated, but I’m keeping at it. I’ll be sure to let you know when something changes!”

With that, you’ve politely but firmly let your contacts know that they don’t need to ask you for an update every time they see you—you’ll be sure to update them when something happens. Then, make sure you actually do keep them in the loop.

No matter how well-intentioned your friends and family are, constant inquiries about your job hunt are going to wear on your nerves. With a few smart replies in your pocket, you’ll be ready to face their constant questioning until you do eventually land that dream job.

Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.