Holiday Hazard: Answering the 'Are You Still Unemployed?' Question

New Year party
GettyHoliday parties: this could get awkward.

I know many job seekers who dread the holidays, but not for the usual reasons of hating the crowds and the hype. Their dread is based on the expectation that at least one person (usually more than one) at each of the many holiday gatherings will ask the question, "So, are you still unemployed?" Painful as it may feel, this question can be an excellent conversational opening for the job seeker to gain valuable assistance in their job search.

Rather than seeing this question as something to avoid, see it as an opportunity to let your network, family, and friends help you in your job search. Perhaps you can even have fun with this, and find a better job more quickly than if you had stayed home or avoided the event. Your personal "tribe" will help you meet this goal.Scientifically Boost Your Confidence in Advance

Before attending any gathering, build your confidence and put yourself in a great mood by spending two minutes doing what Harvard Business School professor Dr. Amy Cuddy calls a "power pose." In private, before you leave for the event--or at the event, if you happen to be alone in a room or a bathroom stall--channel the winner of a big race. Like that winner, stretch your arms up to the sky (or ceiling), and look upwards, too, with a smile on your face. Like you've just won something BIG! Standing still, hold that pose for at least 30 seconds--two minutes, if possible.

Power poses sound a bit crazy, but they work! You don't get more pragmatic and "real" than Harvard Business School, which trains the titans of industry. Dr. Cuddy's scientific research has discovered that striking a power pose changes the hormone levels in your body, increasing your confidence and reducing stress. (Helpful before job interviews, too!)

Answer THE Question in 5 Steps

When The Question is asked, don't cringe and don't get angry or defensive. Follow this five-step approach:

1. Smile, and say...

"Thank you for asking!"

And mean it!

2. Follow up with...

"Yes, it's a very tough job market right now. More than 3 million people in the U.S. have been unemployed for more than six months. This has never happened before!"

Just to make it clear--in case there is any doubt--that you haven't been sitting on the couch, drinking beer and playing computer games.

3. Share your job search goals.

Be specific about what you want, like this...

"I'm looking for a job as a [one to three possible job titles] for [employer name], [employer name], or [employer name], or a similar company in [the industry and/or location.]"

Giving this response requires that you have determined that target job and those target employers in advance. So if you don't know what you want, spend some time deciding. Knowing what you want is THE key to finding a job in this job market. What you say isn't set in concrete. You can even change your statement depending on the audience (a family dinner VS a local professional association holiday party, for instance).

4. Ask for information...

"Do you know anyone who works at one of those companies or in that field? Or anyone looking for someone to do [your target work] for them? I'd appreciate an introduction and contact information..."

Be prepared to take notes on your smart phone or a scrap of paper. If someone doesn't have the contact information immediately available, ask for their business card (if appropriate) or at least their email address, so you can send them a note about the information you need.

If they don't have any leads for you at the event, ask them to call (or email) you if they remember or find an opportunity or good contact for you later.

5. Thank them, again...

Even if they don't have any contacts for you immediately, tell them you appreciate their assistance in helping you beat this tough job market, and you'll do the same for them, if they need the same kind of support in the future.

Bottom Line

The holidays are a GREAT time to find a good, permanent job, and how you answer this question can be an effective strategy for involving your "tribe" in helping you succeed at your job search.
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