how can I make people stop talking to me about my job search?

A reader writes:

My parents and their friends are wonderful, well-intentioned people. But every time we get together, my job search is a hot topic of conversation (the last four years I have worked either seasonally or in retail while seeking work…thus I’m constantly job searching). Four years later and I officially can’t do it anymore–not only does their advice leave me defending my job choices and annoyed, but it completely dominates conversation and I have a tricky time changing the subject. Needless to say, I cringe every holiday season when I have to go back home and I anticipate many laborious, boring job search conversations.

How can I politely and firmly nip these conversations in the butt?

Try these:

“Actually, I would love to not talk about my job search and just be able to enjoy our time together.”

“I promise I’m on it and it’s going well, but I’m officially worn out when it comes to talking about it. Tell me how it’s going with (their hobby/job/kids/anything).”

“I so appreciate you asking, but I would love more than anything to take a break from thinking about it while I’m home! How is (their hobby/job/kids/anything)?”

Readers, what else have you found shuts these conversations down and keeps you from fending off comments like these?

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West

    Just changing the subject is what worked for me. But you can’t be abrupt about it, because then people think you’re all frustrated and need their advice even MORE. Alison’s suggestions are perfect.

    1. Natalie

      Agreed on changing the subject. I’ve found a good way that doesn’t seem very abrupt is to have a couple of items you’d rather talk about on deck, so to speak. Your favorite hobby, your volunteer thing, some weird news item or funny internet video you saw recently, the exact topic doesn’t matter so much as long as it’s something you can speak about for a couple of sentences and redirect their attention.

      1. Laura

        Great suggestions. Also, like Alison demonstrated with her examples, a great way to change the subject with someone is to immediately ask them something about themselves. People love to talk about themselves!

      2. Del

        Of course, there’s always the option of picking the topic that always starts a family argument (politics, religion, Cousin Sue’s really inappropriate new boyfriend, etc…) and making an escape when the yelling starts!

        1. Michelle

          If it was my family, you would just turn to me – the single 40 year old female – and ask one of the following:
          – are you seeing anyone?
          – when are you going to get married?
          – don’t you want kids?

          Good times. Looking forward to the holidays. ;)

          1. Anon Accountant

            Same here but I’m 30.

            – You know, your biological clock is ticking
            -What ever happened to that guy you knew/graduated with/etc. years ago? Is he still single?
            -Hey, did you know that Joe is divorced now? Better see him ASAP because he won’t be single long!

            Yeah. Good times

            1. Michelle

              And let’s not forget to mention…

              – Did you hear cousin so-in-so finally got engaged? See, it is never too late.

            2. Jen in RO

              Thanks you for reminding me that Christmas dinner is coming up and I’m going to be 30 next year and my mum “planned and had kids before 30, which she thinks is best”. I’ve only been saying I don’t want kids since I was 12…

            3. Lindsay the Temp

              My favorite is the 23 year old male cousin (I’m female and 30), who thinks we have some kind of solidarity pact as the only two single adults left in our family…ugh!

            1. Threeohfive

              +1,000,000

              I suffered through the job hunt conversation while I was unemployed and as a single woman in my early 30s now I contend with the marriage conversation.

              I’m tempted to say that you can change the conversation pretty quickly by asking THEM about something they would rather not discuss. “Job hunt is going well Aunt Sally. How is cousin Timmy doing after he was expelled from school?” That should send them running in the other direction.

              1. TrainerGirl

                +1000

                This has kept my mother from asking when I was going to get married and have kids my whole life. Thanks to my brother’s foibles that she would rather not discuss, I’ve never had to fend off the “when are you going to get married/have kids?” questions.

          1. tremendoustraining.co.uk

            years ago, when I lived at home as a troublesome teenager I came up with a simple method of pleasing my folks that I was doing all I could to secure work.

            I simply just dropped small snippets of information into everyday conversation. It didn’t have to be much but subconsciously they were getting enough info without having to ask me for it.

            Seriously, it worked. Even if it was just ‘Hey, just seen a great company advertising in town, think I’ll drop them an email’

            Even if you don’t, it sends out a signal that you are in that mindset which more often than not is a good way to keep them at bay.

  2. some1

    A genuine “Thank you for concern, but . . .” is a good preface to any of AAM’s lines.

    As annoying as it is that everyone keeps asking about the job search (or your divorce or serious illness or recent death of a loved one), they probably don’t realize everyone on Earth is asking about it and they genuinely care about you and want to seem interested.

    I think when you acknowledge the other person’s concern, they are much more likely to A) stop worrying needlessly and B) back off without feeling rebuffed.

    1. Meg

      I like this. I think most of these people want to seem genuinely interested, and it’s an easy topic (for them) to discuss. I think Alison’s suggestions are perfect. If they try to push advice on you, just keep saying “I appreciate your concern, but I’m honestly not interested in talking about it.”

    2. Dulcinea

      Until I experienced a long period of under/unemployment myself, I would always ask unemployed people how their job search was going, because I thought that was the thoughtful, considerate thing to do, and because I genuinely did care. WOW did I learn my lesson!

        1. Elizabeth West

          Yeah, the question itself isn’t annoying, especially when it’s motivated by caring and concern–it’s the constant repetition and having to continually answer it the same way. “No, I haven’t found a job yet. No, I’m not married yet. Yes, I feel like a huge loser–thanks for rubbing it in.”

  3. Anonymous

    It’s really okay to say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but to be honest I’m a bit worn out and don’t want to talk about it right now. How’s [your kid/your cat/your spouse/your job/your favorite baseball team] doing?”

    Most people will be mildly thrown off for about half a second and then carry on with the new topic. For the ones that don’t get it, you can push harder.

  4. SB

    I love that the OP is thinking about it now – having some canned soundbites makes escaping these conversations easier!

    Lines that have worked for me:
    – Say very little that doesn’t invite conversation – let them blather on if they need to, but don’t input much. Use a breezy tone for things like “Oh, I’m used to it by now,” or “It does seem like I’m always looking this time of year, doesn’t it?”
    – Escape to “grab a glass of water” or “make sure no one needs help in the kitchen”
    – Sometimes I ask about THEIR work, when I’m really annoyed – see how they like talking about work at the holiday!

    1. Jazzy Red

      Best – burst into tears, blubber about how hard everything is, you can’t afford to get your car fixed, the cat is sick and needs to see the vet, and then ask them for money. They will avoid you like the plague.

  5. Sascha

    Go to the bathroom. Stay in the bathroom for a sufficient amount of time until they either forget or find someone else to talk to. :)

    But seriously, I have found that if I respond “It’s alright” or “it’s fine,” and then ask them something that will require them to talk at length about themselves. Like Alison suggested, how is hobby/job/kids/etc. Although I would not ask others about their jobs, lest they bring the conversation around to your job searching again. The trick is to keep asking them follow up questions so that they forgot about your job searching.

  6. Anonymous

    “I recently interviewed with the CIA/FBI/MI5/KGB and I’d love to tell you all about it, but then I’d have to kill you. It’s an official secrets act thing. So, how’s (kids/spouse/job/hobby)?”

  7. Marmite

    Firstly, I love that the OP wrote “nip these conversations in the butt”!

    Secondly, “Thanks for asking, but it’s really pretty boring, nothing exciting to report. I did have an awesome time with my community theatre group/visiting Grandma/at that new restaurant last week, though. Did I tell you about that?”

    I find switching to something that’s still about you but something you can enthusiastically talk about works well. Especially for relatives you don’t see much who want to hear about your life and therefore need to hear something about what you’ve been up to.

    1. Elizabeth

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. For a lot of people, it’s probably not so much that they’re burning with curiosity about your job search in particular, but that they want to connect with you and “How’s the hunt?” has become a default. (Your non-job-hunting relatives probably have their own questions they’re tired of answering. Just ask your younger cousins whether they enjoy being asked things like, “So how’s middle school?”) Answer the question they’re likely trying to ask, which is, “How are you? What matters in your life right now?”

  8. Marina

    Do not engage! Do not engage! You know how “No” is a full sentence? “Fine” is a full sentence as well. As in, “How’s the job search going?” “Fine. How’s your job/kids/cat/hobby/overly dramatic and always interesting second cousin?” Do not feel the need to actually answer anyone’s questions about things you don’t want to talk about. Don’t get defensive. Do not engage. If someone offers you unsolicited advice, limit your responses to “Hm,” “Interesting,” or, if you’re feeling particularly generous, “Thanks for the suggestion.” Write “Do not engage” on your arm in sharpie.

    1. Sourire

      I’d argue that you should up it to a two word sentence (“Fine, thanks!”), but otherwise, ITA. Police and concise, and if at all possible, boring.

      This has always worked very well for me in relation to questions about my single status and I imagine it would translate well to job-hinting status as well.

    2. FarBreton

      That worked for me! If it was someone who was nice and had good intentions, I let them know that I’d let them know when I had news/was doing everything I could and then politely changed the subject. If it was someone who liked to ask so they could give me condescending advice, I sometimes did, “Fine–oh, I have to go get that thing over there!”

  9. Jessa

    It may also take a frank and private conversation with your parents about “Look, I try to be nice but I’m not going to keep coming here if you can’t help me get Aunt Millicent off my back about the job thing.” Don’t frame it as them bugging you take that as a separate thing to work on, but enlist them to help you change the topic if Auntie starts in. If you’re lucky you’ll get them off your back too, but they’re your parents, they think that gives them permanent meddling rights. The idea is to get them to help you change subjects when OTHER people meddle.

  10. J

    I only came in the mention that the expression is nip in the bud, not butt.
    Made me laugh though.

    That said, I’ve also found that sometimes in these conversations if I start talking about something I actually like about my current job (if I have one) can derail their line of questioning and often we won’t come back to the job search. E.g., “I’m actually digging [aspect] of the store I’m working at, in fact the other day [interesting story] etc.”

    1. The IT Manager

      This is the second time this week I read/heard “nip it in the butt.” It’s definately “bud” but a lot of people make that mistake.

      My mistake is – “if you think that, you have another thing.” I have learned it is supposed to be a second “think,” but I can’t seem change it in my head.

      1. WFBP

        This makes me think of my cow dog who got kicked out of doggie daycare (yes, I’m one of THOSE people) for nipping people in the butt trying to herd them.

        The final straw was when the worker guy almost got bit in the family jewels instead – that was an interesting call to get. No more doggie daycare for us!

  11. Gene

    Simple solution, you don’t HAVE to go home for the holidays.

    And if anyone asks why you weren’t there you can say, “Since all you guys seemed to care about was my job search, I decided to stay here and put all my energy into that.”

    Yeah, I know that won’t work and will just be what you are saying inside your head, but if the trip home is a source of stress, don’t go. You’ve been searching for four years, so you are at least in your mid-20s; at some point you’ll quit going home for every holiday season, why not start now?

    1. TL

      It is possible the OP generally enjoys going home for the holidays and looks forward to seeing her family, except for this one annoying question.

  12. HappyFreelancer

    I’ve been in similar circumstances and it’s hard to know what to say. On the one hand, you appreciate their concern (right?) and they want to make sure you’re not going to be homeless or otherwise financially insecure (probably?), on the other hand, asking too much is meddling and can be anxiety-provoking. Blah! Where’s my afternoon coffee? Going to read the comments now.

  13. Leslie Yep

    My SO has a job he HATES but is prestigious/interesting/people want to hear about it and it deeply bums him out to have to talk about it. Frankly, most people learn their lesson after one of his barbed retorts (okay, he’s an attorney; extra-barbed) but he asked his parents to limit themselves to one, occasional question about his job (i.e. one general question per phone call), and I think wouldn’t find it too hard to have them reach out to the rest of the family to indicate that it’s just not an interesting or welcome topic of discussion at the moment.

    Of course, this means that people go behind his back to ask me how it’s going, but at least that takes a bit of the burden off of him.

    1. Lexy

      I had the same problem when I worked for a Big 4 public accounting company… Constant questions from strangers (or bewildered looks if they aren’t business types) the best way to get them off my back wouldn’t be too appropriate for family

      Them: “oh, that’s really cool, what’s it like working at (place)?”
      Me: “soul sucking.”

    2. Marmite

      One of my best friends is an actor, currently with a non-lead but fairly big role in well known UK TV show. He likes his job, but everyone asks him the same questions. Strangers, interviewers, friends, family, etc. With close family and friends he has a one good anecdote about work rule – if we want to know about work we just ask him “how’s work?” and we get one good story then the conversation moves on.

      For everyone else he’s extremely polite and patiently answers the same questions ad nauseum.

      1. Elizabeth West

        That sounds like a good way to handle it–they’re not going to stop asking.

        When I get a moment to chat with writers, actors, composers, etc., at a convention or online, I like to ask what they like to do OUTSIDE of work. It’s a better topic for anyone, really–famous or not. Plus, I’ve heard about some really cool hobbies by asking that question. :)

    3. Anonymous_J

      I can relate! I HATE my job with a burning passion. When people ask me about it, I tell them, “It’s still awful, and I’m still looking. Please let me know if uncover any leads.”

  14. Lucy

    My friends and I call this bean-dipping. Whenever someone gets on a subject we don’t want to talk about, just change the subject to the most boring topic in the room. Example:

    “So when are you planning on finding a job?”
    “Have you tried the bean dip? It’s superb.”

  15. Cajun2core

    How about saying something like:

    You know, I was thinking of getting into the funeral home business. Can I count on you as one of my first customers?

    Yea, passive-aggressive but sometimes that is the only thing that works.

    1. Anonymous_J

      Or, “I’m a stand up comedian. How’d you like to be part of my first joke next time I perform?”

  16. smallbutmighty

    I like all the suggestions here, and I totally get where you’re coming from, and that you don’t want your holidays hijacked by job search talk.

    That said, I have to ask why, if you actually WOULD like a job, you’re so opposed to talking to people who might in some way be able to help you. Maybe they know somebody who knows somebody who works in the field you’d like to work in. Maybe they’ve been through frustrating but ultimately successful job searches themselves. Maybe, if what you’ve been doing for four years still isn’t working, these people’s comments are valid, and maybe that’s part of the reason you’re so defensive.

    I don’t know the details of your situation. But I do know that by the time I landed the job that led to the position I have now (I’ve been with the same company for 7 years, with two job changes within the company in that time), I was bitter and defensive and didn’t want to talk to anyone about how totally demoralizing the job search was. What led to me getting this job was a former sorority sister inquiring about my job search and me resisting the urge to shut her down and confessing that I was really discouraged but still held out hope that I could get hired by [Current Employer]. “Oh, I have a friend who works at [Current Employer]!” she said. “I’ll give you his email address. You two can connect.” We did, he gave me some great advice, I applied for a job, he wrote a note of support to the hiring manager, and here I am.

    1. Anonymous

      Right, but most of the people don’t have those kinds of suggestions/connections, they’re just nosy!

      1. fposte

        I don’t think the question itself is really nosy, though, any more than any other blather question (like “How’s the job going?”) is nosy. They’re not really keen to know the details of your latest resume overhaul and coach you through your ongoing battle with Taleo, they’re just demonstrating an interest in what’s happening in your life. (Not that there aren’t people who take it into meddling after that, of course.) I’d therefore differentiate it from truly inappropriate questions such as “When are you going to have a baby?”

        I still utterly sympathize with the OP and others on this (the academic version is “How’s that dissertation coming?”, which is going to get somebody killed someday); it’s just that what makes it harder to shut down is that it’s not inherently improper, it’s just too freaking much, as Sourire suggests.

        1. Awkward questions

          Ok, so it’s not just me that thinks it is weird when a customer/fellow employee/relative (not immediate) asks you when you are going to have another baby!?! My son is 1.5 and at least six people have asked me if we are trying for another one…. What am I supposed to say to that? One of our firms biggest clients (super nice guy but still) told me he had a dream I was pregnant and asked if it was true. All within earshot of my manager and co workers. WTH? Why do people have to be awkward?

          1. Lynn Whitehat

            When we were struggling with secondary infertility (which means we had one baby but couldn’t have another), I found the perfect way to get everyone off my back. “When are you going to have another bayyyyyyyybeeee?” I would give them my biggest smile and say “we’d love another! The Lord has not yet blessed us!” Nobody ever once asked a follow-up question, but they DID ask, so they couldn’t say it was TMI. Maybe they thought twice before asking the next poor soul?

            1. Jean

              Yes! Yes! Yes! My variation of this was to smile sweetly, and say “Oh, that’s up to G-d.” Highly effective at stopping that conversation because (to paraphrase the Hebrew National advertising slogan) it’s hard to argue with a Higher Poser.

              Warning: This won’t work if you are known to be disinterested in religion. No offense to atheists/agnostics/unaffiliated folks; it’s just not going to be very convincing.

              1. Kerry

                I disagree; referring to the big guy upstairs as the “Higher Poser” will *definitely* work for atheists! ;)

    2. Sourire

      To me, it sounds much more like OP has been having the same boring conversation with the same criticisms and advice for four years now, and likely with people who are much older and very used to different job searching methods than are the norm now. Also, depending on how far away she currently is from “back home”, it’s probably fairly unlikely these people have connections that would help her. If uncle Bob did somehow miraculously suddenly become best friends with the hiring manager at dream job, I’m sure he would mention such and OP would be thrilled to have that conversation, but I highly doubt that is going to be the case

      1. Anonymous_J

        Plus, I have a brother in law who asks so he can criticize people’s choice of field/job/etc. His favorite comeback is “But there’s no money in that!” LOL!

    3. OP

      OP here! @smallbutmighty, you make a great point: I should be open to everyone’s input on my job search because this is how connections are made. And I fully believe that, and am networking with such connections now. However, with this particular set of people (my parents and their friends), those connections were established four years ago. That can has been kicked! Now– their job search advice is along the lines of “you should look into becoming a realtor!” (I was an environmental science major), or countless clippings of international companies that “I should look and see if they are hiring”…aka very very thoughtful, but hasn’t proven fruitful or necessarily helpful in the least. When it comes to my parents, they’ve boldly crossed appropriate boundaries established by many young adults regarding their parents, and I have to nip them in the butt (I know it’s not right, but I like it!) for my personal sanity and because lord knows if I give them any more inches of rope how many miles they’ll be able to string from that…

      I think being asked by a helpful sorority sister is one thing, but being asked by someone who has asked you the same questions again and again and guides you towards the same conversations (again and again) is definitely another.

      On a totally other note: as some have mentioned below, I completely agree with the mentality that unless the person mentions their job search/divorce/delinquent child/pregnancy first, you should not bring it up. I can assure you from personal experience, my job search is already on my mind 99.9% of the time, and I have no qualms talking about it with the right people or the majority of people (friends? check! roommates? check alumni? check! etcetc) and have very intentionally not talked about it with the other few people (aka my parents and their friends)…

      1. smallbutmighty

        Totally makes sense, and apologies for misunderstanding/projecting. I know I spent so many years underemployed and in despair and more or less mired in my own hopelessness and unwilling to discuss my plight (or maybe just in denial?) that I want to spare anyone else the same fate. But it sounds like you know what you’re doing and just need to shut these people down. Good luck with that, and in the whole job thing.

    4. The Clerk

      That said, I have to ask why, if you actually WOULD like a job, you’re so opposed to talking to people who might in some way be able to help you. Maybe they know somebody who knows somebody who works in the field you’d like to work in.

      This is why I put up with the talk for so long from my in-laws. But frankly, they had four years to come up with a viable inside contact and never did. They talked a fair bit about how many jobs there are and how I’d have better luck if I were a more social person, but my MIL is one of those people with 2000 shallow friendships and it seems not one of them has an in to a job for me.

      Now, I agree that talking about it to people who might not know you’re searching is good, and I do that, but the OP sounds like she’s in my situation; it’s the same people asking the same questions time after time and giving the same lack of help, so she needs a way to politely shut them down.

      Maybe, if what you’ve been doing for four years still isn’t working, these people’s comments are valid…

      It’s not working because the economy is terrible and people who didn’t get experience before it collapsed are in a Catch-22. If the comments were helpful advice, it would have worked by now. My guess is that it’s along the lines of “Now have you tried looking online?” or “You need to get out and pound the pavement!!”

      1. Anonymous

        Then move. Yes the economy isn’t the best. But somewhere, someone is hiring. If the job that you want doesn’t exist in the whole wide world (or in the area that you’re willing to live in), it’s time to go to Plan B.

  17. Parcae

    Actually, I want to (slightly) disagree with Allison here– yes, be firm, direct, and cheery about not discussing the job search (“Thanks for your concern, but I’d rather not discuss that over the holidays!”) but don’t be so quick to flee or start questioning your relatives about their own lives.

    I’ve been in this situation, and 9 times out of 10, the relative in question is just trying to express polite interest in your life. Running away or shutting down the conversation completely (“I don’t want to talk about ME; let’s talk about YOU!”) actually makes you seem abrupt and secretive. As Marmite suggests, come prepared with a few stories or topics from your life that you DO want to discuss. Sharing some non-job related information about yourself helps reassure your relatives that A) they’ve done their conversational duty and appeared interested in your life and B) your deflection wasn’t a silent cry for help requiring further interrogation. THEN you can change the subject to their new job/baby/square-dancing club.

    Note: this tactic also works with nosy butts at work or church who want to handwring over my lack of boyfriend/husband/children. “Aren’t you married yet?” “No, but did you hear that my brother just got his master’s degree? I’m so proud!” / “When are you going to have kids? You’re not getting any younger!” “Gee, no plans at the moment. Did I mention that my mom is thinking of retiring?” Most people’s inappropriate questions come from a place of real concern, so the idea is to change the subject while subtly reminding them that I DO have a family (and friends and interests, etc.) and I’m not weeping into my Lean Cuisine every night out of loneliness.

    1. Lynn Whitehat

      I wanted to warn everyone that playing the I Don’t Want To Talk About It card only works once per conversation. “How’s the job hunt?” “You know what, I would really like to take a week off from thinking about it. Can we talk about something else?” “Oh… OK. Sorry. So, you’re not still seeing that awful guy, are you?” And now you look super-difficult if you don’t want to talk about that either.

      You can do it, but beware! Some people will use it against you.

      1. Rana

        Agreed. It’s better to have a bland redirect to a conversation you’d rather have than to shut down the conversation in an obvious way. Until I figured this out, I had to endure not only the Job Advice conversation, but also the Why Is Rana So Unhappy/Prickly/Negative conversation. It got old, fast.

        1. Jean

          Lynn and Rana make excellent points. I especially like Rana’s explanation of why it’s so much easier on oneself to use a “bland redirect” instead of a Total. Shutdown. Nobody likes being hit by the conversational equivalent of a 2-ton safe dropping down out of the sky. (Especially not a 2-ton safe that somehow also manages to bite people in the rear end!)

  18. Anonymous

    This is a good reminder for those of us who are currently employed to be sensitive to those who are looking. I saw a family friend at a pre-TG dinner last weekend, and he was recently laid off, so I let him guide the conversation and tried not to pry.

  19. ThatGuy

    If it’s family and friends, you can generally be pretty pointed about your comments. Family almost has to forgive you and friends eventually will as long as you’re not too much of an ass about it.

    My cousin used to ask me all the time when I was going to get married. I finally told her “When I decide to do it, you’ll be the first to know. Until that happens, stop asking me about it.” That was the last time I heard anything on the subject: 10 years ago.

    You might try adapting your response to something like “When I find a job I like, I’ll tell you about it. Until then, back off.” Maybe it will work for you as well as it did for me.

    1. Zahra

      Well, I hope she’d be told after the future fiancée, and your parents (if applicable) at the very least ;)

  20. Joey

    My mom and aunts have always been big chismosas(look it up). I always felt like they wanted to compare and or one up each other. I’ve learned to be boring when they try to probe. They asked about my job searches-“it’s going fine-got it covered.” My relationships “I’m fine, thanks. Believe me you’ll know when its time to know.” They asked about my jobs “you know- its work.” They asked me when we will be having kids- “it will happen when it happens.” They asked when I’ll buy a house “I don’t know- I’ll invite you over when I do though.”

  21. Nonprofit Office Manager

    This post is helpful. A good friend of mine has been job searching for about 6 months. I never know whether or not to ask for updates about her interviews. On one hand, I’m afraid not asking makes it seem like I don’t care about what’s going on in her life. But on the other hand, I assume she’ll tell me about any good news. After reading this post, I think I’ll just keep letting her broach the topic.

  22. Not So NewReader

    Do you have one person in your family that would back you 100%?

    I am thinking that maybe you could call/email that person and explain: “You know I love our fam. But I just cannot do another holiday of 1000 questions about my job search. This is MY vacation to, and I need the down time to recharge. I just want to enjoy everyone’s company. Can you pass the word “no job hunting talk with me”?

  23. Ruffingit

    Lie and say you have a job, you’re happy with it and it was their advice to put confetti on your resume and send it with some doughnuts that finally worked.

    Seriously though, just straight talk is generally the best way to go as Alison suggested. Also, as a general rule, no need to defend your choices. It’s OK to say “I’m good with what I’m doing/choice I made” and leave it at that. Often, we fall into the trap of thinking we need to defend or explain ourselves, but you really don’t. Just stating that you’re fine with your choice and refusing to discuss it further puts a damper on the fire of the conversation.

    1. fposte

      “Lie and say you have a job, you’re happy with it and it was their advice to put confetti on your resume and send it with some doughnuts that finally worked.”

      Actually, that could be amusing in a group setting, only take it beyond that. “In fact, I’m Secretary of the Interior. Senate confirmation was rough, but now I’m good to go. Thinking about renaming the national parks after Hunger Games characters.” You’d have to know your audience, but it could entertain you while making your point.

    2. jax

      You’re right. It’s pretty powerful to say, “I’m happy where I’m at,” and smile calmly. No defensiveness. No explanations. No annoyance.

      No matter what we’re uncomfortable with in our lives (crappy job, singleness, extra weight, problem children, divorce, you get the picture) people are stunned into silence by calm, happy acceptance of it. Suddenly, it’s not the elephant in the room. “Oh. You’re happy?!? Well…that’s great dear!”

      You can’t screw up your face in faux concern when someone is okay with where they are at.

      1. Ruffingit

        I have saved myself a lot of anger and emotional angst by no longer supplying details of my life to people who don’t need them and/or who are overly opinionated. I have come to realize that I don’t have to attend every fight I’m invited to. If someone says “Well you need to…” or “You really shouldn’t have taken that job/made that deal/bought that car…” the immediate inclination is to defend the choice. Realizing that I don’t have to do that and can just say “I’m good with car/job/choice” was a huge epiphany and now I try to pass it on to others. Save yourself the trouble, stop defending and explaining. You don’t owe anyone that, no matter how much your parents/friends/others try to make you think you do.

        1. Lynn Whitehat

          I’ve deflected many a buttinsky by making it clear that I am COMPLETELY THRILLED by events as they are. If you’re disappointed with your life, they have something to butt in about. If you’re dancing in the streets because you love your car/j0b/family size, they have nothing to “contribute”.

          1. Ruffingit

            True, but I would say too that even if you’re disappointed, this same theory applies. You can just frame it in a different way. “I’m happy with my job search efforts” for example. My thing is just not giving people an opening to butt in whether you’re happy or sad or whatever about your situation. Because let’s face it, if you’re sad it’s even worse when someone comes along trying to tell you what you need to do to fix it. Most people already know what they need to do and they’re trying to do just that. Doesn’t help to have someone talk to you as if you haven’t been making an effort/are too stupid to do what you need to do as in “Have you tried that monster.com thing to find a job…”

    3. Whippers

      Yeah, I started doing that with people I hadn’t seen in while and probably wouldn’t see for another while. It just seemed so unnecessary to have that conversation with people all the time.

    4. MaryMary

      “Lie and say you have a job, you’re happy with it and it was their advice to put confetti on your resume and send it with some doughnuts that finally worked.”

      I vote that you come up with a new occupation for each person who asks. It’ll be so much fun when your relatives compare notes. “Did you hear Jane has a new job as an accountant?”
      “Are you sure? I thought she found work as a firefighter.”
      “No, no, you’re both wrong. Jane opened a chocolate teapot store.”

    1. Gjest

      That’s hilarious. I just sent it to my brother and told him I think we need a pre-holidays Skype meeting.

  24. Erin

    When my boyfriend was looking for a job people could not stop telling me about the most random of leads, it was really frustrating as he was never open to any suggestions I passed along. I had to beg people to stop talking to me about it so that the circle of impotence could end.

    1. Lynn Whitehat

      I have a friend who needs a dog-walker! Did you see Pizza Hut is hiring? They say e-books are super-hot right now; can you do something with that?

  25. Angelina Retta

    This might not apply to OP but in general if it is distant relatives or the friend of a friend asking (hello there holidays) they might ask because it’s the only thing they know about you and they’re desperate to make small talk on a subject besides the weather. Be pro-active in telling them about yourself on a different subject. Wear a gaudy Christmas sweater. Anything to make an obvious topic that they use as a lead off for something else.

    1. Andrea

      ITA! I deal with this kind of thing by planning ahead and thinking about innocuous topics to ask about and funny stories I can share. I think these awkward topics and nosy questions get brought up mostly because people don’t know what else to say and they just don’t give it a lot of thought. And I think they’re mostly well-meaning folks. The way to prevent this kind of thing is to think ahead and come up with things you can discuss and things you are happy to share. Compliment the other person on something that they are wearing; remind them of a fun memory by asking them to tell the story again; tell a story of your own about your dog or cat or idiot neighbor or home improvement mishap; talk about movies or books or TV and ask for recommendations; ask “what’s keeping you busy these days?” or something similar instead of asking about work or kids or job searching…. See what I mean? It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Just give it a little thought ahead of time, and you’ll be prepared and more than able to change the subject and to avoid asking these kinds of unimaginative (and potentially irritating) questions yourself.

  26. Reader

    pesters me about my job search and gives me “helpful tips”. She hasn’t worked in 25+ years so I told her that she should apply for some jobs and see how easy it is before she subjects me to more of her tips.

  27. Whippers

    When I was unemployed, a family member who lives abroad and who we talked to on skype every week, constantly pestered me about my job search. It was the first thing she asked when I answered the call and it got to the point where I made sure I wasn’t in the room when they rang on skype. The family member also greatly extolled the virtues of “What colour is your parachute?” and kept insisting that I should get it. She even went so far as to look this book up in my local library and tell me it was available there. Her husband also added insult to injury by telling me that the book shows you how to take skills you used in one job and apply them to another. Yes, I know, they’re called TRANSFERABLE SKILLS and every jobseeker from the beginning of time knows about them.
    I think it’s this implication that they know better than you, that they’re telling you something new and insightful.

  28. NewToThis

    Story of my life.

    I’ve been searching for a job non-stop PRAYING I’ll find something before Christmas so I’ll finally have a job to talk about. I’m a recent graduate and I know I’m not expected to find something right away but I still feel awkward answering all of the job search questions – especially when two of my relatives work in my industry. My family is very open so shutting down their questions would make it even more awkward .. I just stick to short responses: “it’s going well.”

  29. Jean

    Seasonally-appropriate variation on the routine of acknowledging the uncomfortable question before redirecting the conversation:

    “I’m still looking for a job, but I feel so thankful for what I _don’t_ have to seek out–[describe family, friends, stress-relieving hobbies, great sense of community in neighborhood, congregation, or whatever]!”

    Yeah, I know that during a long-term job search one’s primary hobbies become fighting down fury at unresponsive HR departments or trying to calm the panicked thoughts of “how much longer can I keep paying for food and shelter?!” But maybe this would deflect some Nosy Parkers, especially if you followed up with “What are you thankful for this year?”

    1. VintageLydia

      You know, shutting down/redirecting a rude and nosy conversation topic is ALSO a useful skill. Having the same conversation with the same people for years and years is not productive, especially when you’ve had it so many times you’re basically reading off a script each holiday.

  30. aninnymouse

    That is how I feel. Every time I see my family that is ALL they ask. I just tell them I have a big list of leads and mention some places. That usually shuts them up.

    Plus I haven’t finished college so they go on about that too. UGH!

  31. Cat

    I tend to be quite blunt and honest, especially with my family and close friends who know me, and I’d probably just say, ‘I appreciate your concern but please shut up. I’m stressed enough already and constantly being interrogated about it isn’t helping. I came here wanting a chance to relax and enjoy myself.’ That being said, I’ve been in this same situation for a year now (the industry I work in has died so I’ve worked for just 10 weeks max this year) so I’ve lost all patience. Diplomacy is no longer an option and might be a better option for the asker!

  32. Nick

    This all depends…

    If I am in a geographic place where I have no intention of finding a job I usually just say, “I’m working on some stuff that seems promising.” If I am in a place where I would be willing to work I let people throw in their two cents. If its something I don’t need to hear just nodding for about a minute without engaging the person usually results in the conversation dying on its own. However, there is also the chance they will randomly have a connection for me to exploit and I want to hear about that. I might be tired of working on my job hunt, but if I really need a job there is no reason to be shutting down any opportunities.

  33. creative type

    I love the thoughtful and funny comments here. As someone employed in a “creative” field, I seem to be looking for work a lot more frequently than many of my relatives, with less material wealth to show for my efforts when I am working. (And I’m not a kid. I’m over 60.) It’s difficult not to be defensive, so here are a few things I try to keep in mind:
    1. Older people (parents/grandparents) may have grown up in a time when a decent employee was set for life–40 years, pension, the works. This is not that time, and people who are currently working will have many different jobs and careers over the course of their work life.
    2. The questioners are very, very excited when what I do wins public recognition. Being unemployed is the downside of a creative career, and it’s ok to point that out in a gentle way. “This is the part of being a _____ that kind of sucks.”
    3. It helps to have an edited, palatable answer ready. Mine is something like, “I haven’t missed my (horrible job) at XYZ company for a minute. But the job search is frustrating. I know there’s somebody out there who needs exactly my skills. But finding them is tricky.”

    Finally, most people aren’t prying to make you feel bad, and would help if they could. Offer to send them a resume and a short description of what you’re looking for. Most suggestions will miss the mark by a wide margin (ignore this), but hey, you never know.

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