We’re coming up on Labor Day, a holiday to celebrate our workforce. It can be a bittersweet weekend for someone who is between jobs because as a society, we are consumed with professional success and failure.
The truth is, what makes us valuable contributors to our community is not what we do to earn a living but how we choose to be who we are.
You can trust yourself to handle any awkward situation and avoid uncomfortable moments at the Labor Day barbeque if you’re prepared with a few easy conversational guidelines that allow you to strengthen your personal network, but without turning the neighborhood gathering into your very own job search forum.
First, trust that it is okay to use your prepared short responses to common job-hunting questions just as you would at any networking event. Keep your vocal tone casual, rather than the professional tone you would use in a formal networking event, and remember to end each response with a question so that you hand the conversation back to the other person.
Effective job seekers stay focused on the present, not on the past or the future. If others focus on your employment status for too long, you can redirect the conversation with this: “I find that looking for a job is as all-consuming as having a job. I’m taking this holiday weekend to recharge my batteries. What’s your favorite way to take a break from work?”
The long recession has contributed to a point of view that the unemployed could be working if they chose to. If you encounter someone who wants to place the blame for your unemployment solely on your shoulders, respond with a pleasantly voiced statement about how challenges to corporate expansion planning and hiring are due to any number of broad calamities, such as the housing market, the financial crises in European countries, and the government fiscal cliff. Your response allows you to get in some important points and chances are high that others will take the bait on one or more of the new topics you’ve introduced.
Keep any negative feelings about your job loss to yourself. In the first place, nothing kills the party mood faster than a rant. Second, unless the person you’re speaking to is a professional counselor, you will only stir up your negative emotions rather than resolve them. If by chance your fellow guest happens to be a professional counselor who can help you, arrange to call Tuesday to make an appointment, and then change the subject.
On the other hand, trust that it is fine to speak about your feelings related to looking for a job and the economies you’ve had to make during this time. When your answers are short and your voice neutral, you allow others the opportunity to understand your situation and to respond with compassion. Those people help you build your network of support. Trust that even those who say the wrong thing either mean well or have unresolved feelings about their past experience with involuntary unemployment.
Finally, you are more than your job search and people will know it through your ability to talk about local news, current movies, books or events, children, sports, cars, your volunteer work or a favorite hobby. Be ready to ask others about their lives or opinions. People love to talk about themselves and they’re likely to remember you as a brilliant conversationalist when you let them do most of the talking. It’s true. Try it this weekend and see what happens.
The bonus for you of letting others do much of the talking is that you will learn a great deal about them, and they will become valuable additions to your support network.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: Labor Day can be a dark anniversary for people struggling with unemployment or under-employment. If you are looking for a new job, trust that the steps you take this weekend are simply part of the path leading you to where you’re supposed to be.