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Dealing With Nosey People When You're Unemployed

If you’ve been out of work for months, you’ve no doubt dealt with family, friends or even complete strangers who have all kinds of job advice for you and ask sensitive questions you’d rather not answer.

Why aren’t you applying here or there? I hear so-and-so is hiring, have you looked into it? Maybe you’re just looking in all the wrong places and need to do more networking. How many interviews have you had so far? You mean you haven’t interviewed anywhere in the last six months? Why not? What does your spouse think of all this? It can’t be that hard to get a job interview, can it? Maybe your resume needs work. What's in your cover letter? I don’t see why finding a new job should be so difficult for you. Maybe it's time for you to get back out there? I’m sure there are a lot of jobs if you really look. I bet you regret getting that advanced degree now. How's your 401(k) doing? I have an employer match...

If these questions and comments aren't bad enough, it hasn't escaped your notice that the person asking the questions has remained gainfully employed throughout the recession. Maybe this friend or relative has never been unemployed in his or her life, lucky to have settled on a long-term career that’s been largely insulated from recessions and layoffs. Unemployment is foreign territory to these people, but it doesn’t stop them from speaking like an expert on the topic and making you feel more uncomfortable inside your own skin than you already do.

Needless to say, interacting with people who come off as insulated know-it-alls can be very annoying if you've sent out hundreds of resumes to little or no response. Everything they say can cut you to the core and throw you off balance, even though your rational side says to let it roll off your shoulders. This person has never walked in these shoes, so what does he or she know? But no matter how many times you say this to yourself, such conversations can only compound your frustration level and make you feel more isolated.

So what should you do when you’re cornered for updates on your employment status at a family barbecue, Thanksgiving dinner, or by a fellow parent at your kid’s soccer game? Here are a few tips for handling nosey people:

Remember how much you know.
The person offering job advice and asking questions may not know the first thing about your former job and the economic trends at play in your industry. You do. This knowledge gives you the expert’s edge. Never forget it.

Don’t make excuses... Going into excessive detail about the number of resumes you’ve sent out or how many interviews you’ve had could put you on the defensive and lead to even more intrusive questions. The first rule of unemployment club is not to talk too much about unemployment club with people who won't understand it. Simply say you’re working on it (no pun intended) and that things are moving along as well as they can right now, but thanks for asking. Don’t open the door to additional questions and advice from people who can't relate to your situation.

...But stand up for yourself. Unemployment, especially in this recession, shouldn’t be worn like a badge of shame. If someone is making underhanded comments about your employment status, asking “What did you mean by that?” in a good-natured way will get most people to backpedal and change the subject fairly fast.

Walk away. If you feel like someone is going too far with questions and advice, politely excuse yourself and find someone to talk to who won’t badger you. You shouldn’t be made to feel badly about yourself or your situation. Be kind to yourself by seeking out positive people. This step may require limiting your time with prying friends or family members until your wayward ship is getting back on course.

Have a Stuart Smalley moment. Chances are, you’ll walk away from these interactions feeling demoralized and rehashing the entire conversation in your head. Remember that you’re a good person of many talents. Take a few minutes to do something that makes you happy – go for a walk, work on your garden, watch a good movie, talk to someone who understands and supports you. Know that you’ll survive these tough times and walk away more resilient.

You’ll also emerge from this recession with a deep sense of empathy that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Someday, when you’re back on the advice-giving end of things, you’ll be able to rely on hard-fought personal experience to make the uncomfortably unemployed person standing in front of you feel better instead of worse. You'll know exactly how this person feels, and that's worth something.


  1. I know this post is really old but it has definitely help me answer a friend without coming across as rude! The answer sounded more positive than my actual situation right now so thank you very much for writing a great advice that isn't redundant!


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