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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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  • Tulips_max50

    Mz_ReinaAkaGoldie

    4 months ago

    2 comments

    Very helpful tip, it really does make you feel better about yourself...how do you describe yourself when you are introducing yourself and y0ur previous experience is in "everything under the sun"??? Now I know to label myself as a Job Seeker when needed but having experience in almost everything what type of professional am I before I start to state my experiences??? I have no clue...Or should I just mention my current position which is just a warehouse worker in which I perform several different responsibilities and not assigned to a particular department (packing, sorting, loading, unloading, picking, inventory, stowing, etc,...have I gone extremely too far with this??? A Warehouse Associate, maybe??? You sound important and professional you say Senior Sales Professional or Sales Executive, Customer Service Specialist or Customer Service Representative, Insurance Agent, CNA, Computer Technician, Administrative Assistant, Veterinarian (especially this one which is an awesome way to describe someone who works with animals all day), and then support your backgrounds and not all of these require a degree to own the title...I am a warehouse worker until I finish college, but I also have experience in customer service, insurance, sales, caregiving, transportation, child care, and all that great stuff too, or is it just my fault that I chose to add variety to my experiences??? I liked my title better in all of those positions...Help!!!

  • ____max50

    Rocutrick

    over 3 years ago

    20 comments

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  • Photo_user_blank_big

    juicy012

    over 3 years ago

    4 comments

    Unenployed is a big problem now,I think it should be sloved ,or which may be raise a lot of problems.

    juicy couture outlet

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Settia

    over 3 years ago

    2 comments

    Great advice. Even when I was working, I never liked when the first question someone new asked me - "what do you do?" (I find it a very unoriginal question and don't particularly like being defined by what I do to make money). And now that I am not working, it's a more sensitive question. One in which I sometimes answer: "I travel, read, bike, hike..." This usually gets a smile. But in networking it's good to follow-up (or answer instead) with, what you advise - "I am currently in between jobs and currently seeking a ....."

  • Mepic_max50

    hardworkingal

    almost 6 years ago

    4 comments

    I just finished reading this article and you said it best. I was starting to feel uneasy saying I'm not working or I'm unemployed at this time. I like the option of say "I'm in between jobs" or I'm a job seeker. People do have a habit of defining someone before really getting to know the person & there expereince when they hear the words "I'm unemployed" Thanks for writing the article it made me feel better inside.

  • Baby_and_me_max50

    honeybush

    almost 6 years ago

    44 comments

    I like to say I'm taking time off for good behavior, that tells people I may be out of work
    but I still have a great attitude. Did I mention they can't help but laugh, and see me in a
    positive light.
    TEX

  • Baby_and_me_max50

    honeybush

    almost 6 years ago

    44 comments

    You are very classie and smart, do you know where the sights are for bartenders. Most of the
    sights that allow you to post your resume do not list beverage service. I need to find a sight
    that Las Vegas Bar Managers will frequint.

    TEX

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Account Removed

    almost 6 years ago

    I have always cringed when someone would ask me what I do for a living. That single sentence made me feel terrible about myself. I would always answer that I am unemployed. I understand how negative that word is now! Lots of light bulbs have been lighting up in my head! I will from now on say that I am a "Job Seeker"! Thanks for writing your article it really opened my eyes!! :-)

  • Thisisme_max50

    Kpoage

    almost 6 years ago

    14 comments

    I have been "between things" for 3 months now - I still find it hard to run into old repeat customers of my old job and they say "So! You are no longer there! What are you doing now?"
    If I say Unemployed- I get a look - and if I say "I am between things" I get a more confused look and I have to explain -- but in a meeting new friends situation- it actually does make a difference to not say Unemployed -- between jobs is perfect to say because they have a "I have been there!" reaction to it - Unemployed throws off the mood a bit =oP

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    sfbrinkley

    almost 6 years ago

    2 comments

    Great article and great timing for me.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    NikkiGibson

    almost 6 years ago

    14 comments

    Great article! I am 61 years old and have been "in between jobs" for months. I really have
    struggled with my self-esteem, or shall I say the lack of it. Using the term, "Job Seeker"
    keeps my self-esteem and dignity in place. Thank you.

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    Jennre

    almost 6 years ago

    6 comments

    As someone currently unemployed I have struggled with what to say. I have used the "I am in between jobs". It makes me more comfortable and those around me.

  • Jo_max160_max50

    jo_islandgirl

    almost 6 years ago

    154 comments

    Have always felt uncomfortable saying I am unemployed when asked. I like the positive and active term of 'Jobseeker'. Will use this from now on.:) THANK YOU!

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    lee

    almost 6 years ago

    10 comments

    LUV it! Job seeker .....instead of 'I'm unemployed'. So what if you are 'underemployed'? Is there a catchy title to let one know that, although I am employed....I am actively wanting to pursue something else making more money or more responsibilitiee?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    dhf

    almost 6 years ago

    8 comments

    Hi: Just reading that article changed my outlook...and I felt better and more optimistic about the "adventure" ahead (smile). As of today, I won't use the word "unemployed" again !!! --Donna

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