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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Unemployed Long-Term

Dear Sue: This will be short and sweet. I was laid off from my job in January and haven’t find work in my field yet. I am divorced, living in a new town, lonely and now, unemployed. I want and need to get out and meet people. However, when I meet someone new and they ask what I do for a living, I don't know what to say to make it sound less like I'm terminally unemployed. I usually respond with "I'm in the middle of a career change" which usually gets a rather cold, "Oh, I see" response, and from that point, the conversation usually dwindles. My unemployment status certainly isn't by choice. Do you have any advice on how to answer such a common, but not always well-timed question? – Unemployed

Sue Says: Asking someone what they do is natural in the course of a conversation, and taking an interest by asking questions is the only way to build rapport and establish a connection. It is understandable that you feel uncomfortable when asked about your career since you are, as you say, in the middle of a career change. However, it is possible that people aren’t as turned off by the fact that you are unemployed as you think. I wonder if your personal discomfort in talking about your status could be what is generating the cold response you get.

If we really want to scrutinize the words you use, I might suggest you avoid using the word ‘change’, which could sound as though you are unstable, and talk about the field you’ve been working in while mentioning that you are in the process of seeking new business opportunities. However, more important than what you say is +. If you talk about your state of unemployment and seem embarrassed, apologetic or act like a victim, people may get the idea that you are unstable. If you feel that you have something to offer and are comfortable with your situation and confident you will soon find employment, the people you meet will feel comfortable too.

In addition, if being asked about your work brings a one-sentence response from you and causes you to shut down, then the cold response may have nothing to do with your employment status. The best way to have something to talk about is to be actively doing something. What are you doing with your time? A great way to meet people can be through volunteering or finding some type of work to do until you find a more permanent job in your field.

Finally, if you are a good conversationalist, you can control the conversation and needn’t feel the pressure to do a lot of talking. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, so the next time you are asked the dreaded question, answer it, and then quickly turn the question around. Ask questions of the person you are talking to and you may find people warming up, opening up and wanting to continue talking with you.

Dear Sue: I recently left a company I was very happy at for a new job. I only worked there for 15 months and was not actively looking, but two smaller companies called to recruit me. I was offered a position, and have been working for this new company for just three months. I am a bit concerned because this new job is not the increase in responsibility I had expected. Meanwhile, the second company I was interviewing with called again offering me a position with better pay and more responsibility, which appeals to me since I am disillusioned with my lack of responsibility here. Yet I am concerned that I will be labeled a job hopper. I have never left a company without being courted to another, nor have I ever been disenchanted with management, except for this new job. Do you have any thoughts? – Not a job hopper

Sue Says: Considering the fact that you have never left a company without a job offer and continue to have companies seek you out, I don’t think you have too much to worry about. Although it is understandable that you don’t want to ruin your reputation, at this point with just a few changes over the years, I don’t think you need to worry. However, if the pattern continues, you may need to reevaluate the situation.

You are very fortunate to have the problem you do – many people have the problem of finding a job and would be most grateful to have to choose between two companies. I suggest you take the new position that is being offered to you, but not until you are absolutely certain that it is what you want and that you will indeed be glad you made the move.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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