Job Search

How to answer “What do you do?” when you don’t have a job

Photo credit:  Sam72, Shutterstock

Photo credit: Sam72, Shutterstock

We all know that networking is important when looking for a job. However, it can be challenging (and sometimes downright awkward) when someone asks, “What do you do?” and you don’t have a job.

On Quora, a few readers chimed in with how they would answer this question if they were out of work. Here are a few of the helpful (yet tongue-in-cheek) responses that stood out to us:

From Venkatash Rao:

  • Convert to a networking opportunity: “I am on the market. Know any good gigs for a [your profession here]“
  • Embellish the truth: “I’ve got a couple of options brewing. Haven’t yet decided what to do.”
  • Vague it out: “I’ve got a few gigs going on. “
  • Deflect: “Let’s not talk shop. Did you catch the game last night?”
  • Turn it around: “Nothing interesting on my end, what’s going on with YOU? Still tied to a desk?”

From Gil Silberman:

  • Where I live, San Francisco, it is perfectly understandable and acceptable not to be working for an employer at the moment, if ever. But what’s not so well accepted is to simply be doing nothing. If you don’t have a job then you can spend the time working on a project, or educating yourself, volunteering, building skills, starting your own company. You can even make up a name and build a website for whatever this thing is you are doing.

From Meenakshhi Mishra:

  • “Hi, I am so and so, Just enjoying life and relaxing for a change!”

Read the rest here.

Depending on where you are in the job search and how you’re networking, honesty is often the best policy: letting people know what you’re looking for can help them connect you to great opportunities. Additionally, we often undersell ourselves when we network: talk about the volunteering work you’re doing, projects you’re launching, or interesting books and ideas you’ve come across. There is a lot to share beyond the job search.

How would you answer “What do you do?” if you’re not working? Share your quips, experiences, and ideas in the comments below.

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4 Comments

  1. Alyson Weiss

    Thanks for compiling these, Allison! These are great answers!

    I have two to add:

    1. Quip: Netflix.
    2. Idea: Find some sort of language that describes what you do even if you are not currently doing it for a company. For example, I love to write, give trainings, and affect change. Even though I’m currently employed, I often tell people that I “translate complex ideas into tangible action steps”. I just add different types of information to that (ie – I’m a social media coach who… or I’m a writer who…) depending on the occasion.

    For the record, I think it’s important for people to start defining themselves apart from their current jobs even when they are employed because what happens if you get laid off or want to make a career change?

    • Pixiechicken

      Brilliant! I think these sorts of things should be taught in public school. How imperative it is to be able to give a 30 second elevator speech about yourself, or to recognize the actions that you do, in a context outside of your chosen profession? Thank you, Love. Great post!

  2. alli

    I def wouldnt embellish the truth though i have accidently in a rush, but usually that will get you fired.eventually. but i have used my hobbies and began the prep process of starting my own businesses so if someone asks. Or i will write for someone else in the interim to share knowledge.

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