February 13, 2014

So What Do You Do? Six Ways To Answer That Vexing Question [by Stevie Martin]

Although the perfectly normal adult "what do you do?" question gets asked every time you meet someone new, it's surprisingly difficult to answer when you don't have a set response, or a job. Thankfully, we have some suggestions.

1. “I’m freelancing”

It doesn't matter what area you're freelancing in. To distract them from asking about the specifics you could try either (a) spilling your drink on them  (b) spilling their drink on them (c) spilling their drink on you (d) throwing your drink at the wall (e) dropping your drink, shouting "FIRE!" and setting fire to yourself by way of distraction.

2.“I’m taking time out to figure out what I want”

Boom, immediately you've gained control of the situation in a way that unemployment never allows you to. You're not floating around aimlessly, crying at jobcentres and cash machines. Instead, you're unwilling to rush into a career that isn't right for you. (As well as a useful party get-out, this is also a genuinely good thing to do). You're weighing up your options. Bear in mind 60% of the people you speak to will have sold their actual dream for a vaguely important sounding job title and an even vaguer alcohol addiction in a bid to stem the aching boredom that comes with sacrificing one's happiness.

3. “Do you like Dogs?”
AKA Pretend You Misheard And Alter The Conversation To Something Totally Different. One issue is they may think you're mad or drunk, but people like chatting to interesting conversational partners. Also, they might genuinely have a big thing for dogs which would cut through all the painful small talk and get you talking about the stuff that really matters.

4. “I’m the CEO of a pen company while moonlighting on the side as a Romanian travelling clown called Honko Honko”

Lying extraordinarily about your job will force the other person to view you as an eccentric, creative type who doesn't like labels. If they try to delve deeper, lie even more and change the subject to something more interesting (dogs?). One down side to this is they may think you're sidestepping small talk and appearing mysterious in a bid to flirt with them, and they could end up trying to snog you. Or is that a plus? Depends.


Honesty is sometimes the best policy, but going meta and banging on about how you're unemployed and find such questions upsetting will make the other person feel so guilty they'll be unable to continue the conversation. Feel terrible. Get drunk. Probably choose one of the other response options.

6. “I’m between jobs right now”
This is as good as saying you're unemployed, but it just sounds more proactive. If they probe, just offer them the last piece of work you did for anyone, regardless of when or what it was. Worked for the uni magazine in 2009? You've been doing some freelance writing for an independent magazine in Lancaster (If you went to uni in Lancaster. Other universities are available). Be careful though, you could end up being the victim of well intentioned but incredibly annoying advice. Like "have you tried starting a blog?" and "Have you looked at jobs on the internet?" Both of which, as we know, are one-way tickets to Patronising Town.

This piece was written by 
Stevie Martin
 and originally appears on the UK jobseeker website - Go Think Big.Co.UK. It's reposted here with Stevie's generous permission.

Stevie Martin is part of the team at Go Think Big.Co.UK. - a site that helps young jobseekers get their foot on the career ladder - http://www.gothinkbig.co.uk/

Image: flickr


  1. Replies
    1. Yep, the other day at an event - as an unemployee - in answer to the dreaded question, I stupidly responded with the unemployed word. It certainly ended several conversations. NEVER again! From now on I'm going to be a born-again freelancer/contractor. Thanks Stevie Martin for the sage advice.