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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

The Polite Person's Guide to Answering All the Rude Questions People Ask When You're Unemployed

Understatement: Being unemployed is a challenge, every day. And to add to this stress, you’ve also got to deal with well-meaning but annoying comments and questions from your friends and family.

That’s why I’ve prepared a guide to the most common things you’ll hear and how to answer them. At least one part of the job search just got easier.

1. “Where Have You Applied and Interviewed?”

Some people will ask about the details of your search—either because they’re curious, or because they’re trying to make conversation. However, this puts you in a tough spot. You don’t want to be rude, but if you don’t get the job, you’ll face awkward situations down the line when they ask, “So, did you ever hear back from X company?”

The Reply

“I don’t want to give any specifics—I’m scared I’ll jinx it. As soon as I accept an offer, however, I’ll definitely let you know!”

2. “How Long Have You Been Looking for a Job?”

When you’ve just started the job search, this question isn’t too tricky to answer. But when you’ve been looking for (what feels like) forever, it can feel like the other person is judging you. Whether that’s true or not, try gracefully deflecting the question.

The Reply

“I’ve been searching for a fair amount of time—I’d rather wait to find a great fit than rush into a job that’s not right for me.”

3. “[Name] Just Got Hired at [Company]—You Should Try Applying There!”

Irritating though this advice may be, it’s delivered with good intentions. And hey, maybe the company is one you haven’t thought of, and now you’re going to go look at its open jobs! Or maybe you’re not interested. In any case, say you’ll check it out—whether you’re being honest or telling a white lie, it’s the most tactful response.

The Reply

“Thanks so much for the suggestion! I’ll check it out”

(And if the person follows up and you didn’t like the position? Just say: “It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but again, thank you for thinking of me.”)

4. “What Are You Doing Since You’re Not Working?”

Be prepared to answer “So, what do you do all day?” from blunt (ahem, rude) people. This question may be uncomfortable, but you can handle the moment with diplomacy.

The Reply

“You know what they say about looking for a job: It’s a job in and of itself!”

Or, if you’ve got some awesome projects you’re working on:

“Apart from researching jobs, sending out applications, and interviewing—which I’ll tell ya, keeps me pretty busy—I’m also working on starting a blog.”

5. “Do You Think You’re Being Too Picky?”

When you’ve been searching for a while, your loved ones might start to worry that it’s not the jobs—it’s you. Try to remember this question usually comes from a good place.

The Reply

“I think it’s really important to find a role and a company where I can do my best work. If that requires going on more interviews, I’m happy to do that.”

6. “Well, I’m Sure Something Will Come Along Eventually.”

This is mean to be a comforting statement. Unfortunately, when you’re doing everything in your power to find a job, it can rub you the wrong way—“something coming along” implies you’re just sitting there passively, waiting for an employer to swoop in with a fantastic offer. Also, you don’t want something—you want the thing.

The Reply

“I’m confident something will! I’ve devoting lots of energy to the job hunt, and I know it’ll pay off. I appreciate your support.”

7. “Hey, Thought You Might Want to Apply to This!”

When someone who knows your strengths, interests, qualifications, work personality, and career goals sends you a job listing, he or she is usually pretty on-point. However, the list of people in your life who know all that is probably pretty short. Plus, when others send you job listings, there’s an expectation that you’ll, well, apply!

The Reply

If you’re interested in applying: “Thank you so much for thinking of me! This looks like a cool opportunity. I’m going to do a little more research into the company and position.”

If you’re not interested: “Thank you so much for thinking of me! While this looks like a fantastic opportunity, I’m [searching for a more marketing-intensive role/hoping to stay in Washington/looking for a smaller company/trying to transition to the tech industry].”

8. “If Someone Offers You a Job, You Should Take It!”

This one’s never easy to swallow. Maybe you’ve been offered a job, but it hasn’t felt right. Or maybe you haven’t gotten an offer, but that doesn’t mean you’re so desperate you’ll take anything. I’d advise quickly shutting down this line of conversation and moving to a new subject.

The Reply

“I wish it was that simple. So, what did you think of [that Pats game/the new Jennifer Lawrence movie/the news about China/the Kate Atkinson novel]?”

9. “Have You Thought About Going Back to School/Taking a Part-Time Job/Looking at Lower-Paid Jobs?”

Yep, you’ve probably thought about it. And I know this statement can sound like “You’re still unemployed because you’re aiming too high.” Despite the implications, you can (and should) still respond nicely.

The Reply

“I’m definitely still considering my options.”

Did I miss any questions you’re always fielding? Give me the heads up!

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