Don’t Say “I’m Unemployed”

Don’t Say “I’m Unemployed”

So you don't have a job - don't let it define you!

Susan Bernstein | DivineCaroline

June 27, 2008

I love meeting new people, even if it makes me a little nervous. But one set of words that I hear at mixers and networking events makes me really want to run for the hills. You may have uttered these words. And I want to share some alternatives with you, so that you’ll make more connections, rather than having people dash off.

Last night, I attended a fun networking event in Berkeley, full of people who are on LinkedIn. The event was hosted by Ilene Koehler, who set us up in speed-dating fashion, to mix and mingle for five minutes per “couple,” and then move on. I noticed that three of the people I met immediately introduced themselves by saying something like this:

“Hi. I’m Jane Doe. And I’m unemployed.”

Shoot, this isn’t an AA meeting. But those initial words left me feeling awkward and sorry for my fellow networkers. Somehow, I felt obligated, like I was supposed to help out. The energy between us felt heavy. So I actually told one of these networkers, “Hey, you shouldn’t say your unemployed. Say you’re between jobs. Or tell people that you’re looking for a new job in whatever field you’d enjoy.” He got the point immediately. He smiled. He felt better about himself.

You see, saying “I’m unemployed” tells people what you’re not. And, in this case, it communicates “I’m not employed.” To me, saying “I’m unemployed” sounds a little bit like you don’t feel like you fit in with the world. Look, my friends, your self-worth is not determined by your job.

I invite you to consider what really makes up your self-worth—like your caring heart, or your ability to stand tall in the face of adversity. But please know that you are not a social misfit just because some company has not decided to bring you on board. Or some organization decided to let you go. A company is not your family, believe it or not. So, if you don’t “belong” to a company, you’re still a living, breathing, talented human being.

You just haven’t found the place where you fit in yet. Well, okay, that’s fine, but what now you’re wondering what to say when people ask you, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” These seem to be the quintessential questions that Americans like to ask each other when they first meet. How can you reply?

I invite you, first of all, not to feel ashamed that you aren’t working. I know it can be daunting to manage your finances, and the anxiety about the date that you’ll have a job can get overwhelming. Instead, think about how you can connect. You’re meeting someone new. What do you want from the interaction? Do you want us to feel sorry for you, dear unemployed person? Or could you be a bit vulnerable and ask for help? You could say something like: “I’m between jobs. I just left a company that does X. And now, I’m looking to join a company that does Y. Hey, I wonder if you know any companies like that?” or … “I am a job seeker (Hey, that’s a much cooler title than being the unemployed person, right? How does that feel?). I am committed to finding an employer who would value my talents in X, Y, and Z. I’d love your ideas about companies that might fit that bill.” See, now you’re engaging the other person.

You’re not trying to get them to find you the job … it’s not that strong a tone. You’re inviting them to help out. That’s vulnerable. But you’re not victimizing yourself by calling yourself “unemployed.” You’re actively pursuing new avenues for your job search.

Changing the language of “I’m unemployed” to one of the alternatives I’ve suggested is a way to shift your attitude and energy. I encourage you to notice how different words make you feel. Unemployed is not generally a pretty word. And you don’t have to use it as a label for yourself. You might fight me here and say, “But it’s true. I’m not employed.” And I’d tell you simply, “If you want to hang on to that energy, be my guest. But if you’d like to shift that energy sooner, rather than later, don’t wait for an employer to change the picture. Decide to lighten up on yourself and call yourself something else.”

Follow this advice and I bet you’ll be employed much sooner! I’d love to hear how this suggestion works for you. I assist job seekers in powering up their inner and outer fitness for finding work that fits as the head coach of the job search gym, I know the energy and effort it takes to manage a job search effort. I’m here to help!

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