Unemployed is Not Who You Are

by Heather Coleman Voss, Business Services Coordinator

We have been trained in business or even casual situations that once introduced to someone, the next question we will answer is, “What do you do?” If you have been laid-off, this question can throw you for a loop. Unfortunately, most job seekers will answer with, “I’m unemployed.” I never allow my clients to describe themselves as “unemployed.” Here’s why:

  • Responding with “I’m unemployed” is often a conversation stopper, and it makes people uncomfortable because they do not know how to appropriately respond, other than to offer sympathy.
  • It is not an accurate description of who you are and what you do. And when you look at it realistically, it doesn’t actually make sense. You can’t “do” unemployed – it’s not a skill set, and saying “I am unemployed” does a disservice to you – and to the people who may need your talents and abilities.

An alternative answer I  have heard many others use is something along the lines of, “I’m in business management. What do you do?” Though slightly better, there are a few problems with this answer as well. First, you’ve deflected conversation back to the other person without first truly answering their question. Second, while it does reflect your skill set, it doesn’t accurately describe your situation – and that means that the connection with whom you are speaking will never have the opportunity to inform you of potential job leads, or introduce you to someone who may be hiring.

I was in this situation myself seven years ago, and I can never remember feeling so depressed, despondent and utterly worthless as I did then. I have worked since I was 16 years old, and had never been in a situation like this. I was a recently divorced single mother with a young child, and I felt like the world was crashing in on me. I also didn’t want people to know – I felt like I had to deal with this on my own. I was ashamed, confused, terrified and full of raging anxiety.

My answer was always, “I’m in non-profit, what do you do?” Needless to say, that answer didn’t lead me to further opportunities. This answer certainly didn’t help me, or my daughter – or any potential employer who may have needed my services. And it kept me stuck – right where I was.

Acting as if everything is just fine – or acting as if “unemployed” is who you are – neither one of those things will move you forward.

I challenge you to accomplish these 12 steps within the next two weeks:

  1. Make a list of every single accomplishment for which you’ve been responsible over the last five years. Whether on the job, as a volunteer or as a stay-at-home parent, write them down or type them up. Big or small – every accomplishment is important. Once you’ve finished, take some time and read it back to yourself. Remember who you are and all that you have done. 
  2. Search on sites like www.mitalent.orgwww.indeed.com or www.linkup.com to find positions that interest you. Just use keywords to search out positions that get you thinking, “Hey, I’d like to do that.” Get excited about opportunities out there. Start seeing yourself in those roles. 
  3. Use sites like www.onetonline.org to research labor market information, salaries and bullet points describing various job positions available. Remember all that you’ve done and match those skills up to potential jobs for which you should apply. Use those bullet points as a springboard to reconstruct your resume.
  4. Order business cards through free sites like www.vistaprint.com, and include keywords which describe your skill sets to fill-out the card. Include your mobile number, your email and your social media sites. Take them everywhere – and hand them out the next time you are introduced to interesting people.
  5. Contact your local MI Works! office and take advantage of the numerous resources available for people in career transition.
  6. Update your social media profiles to reflect your talents and abilities, and the direction in which you are heading. That’s your “About” section in Facebook, your LinkedIn “Header” and “Summary” sections, your Twitter and Pinterest “Profiles.” (More on social media for job search in subsequent posts).
  7. Tell your Facebook friends that you are taking the next step in your career. Be specific and positive. Let them know that you’d love to get connected with someone who may need your services. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to connect you, and how many people are hiring or know someone who has recently posted a job.
  8. Set up a professional email account – I recommend Gmail. Use your name as your handle.
  9. Use the features via Google to create a Google Calendar and use it to schedule your time – designate certain times for job search, free networking events and workshops, sending out resumes and interviews. You will be organized and feel very productive – and this tool will greatly assist you in moving forward in your job search.
  10. Use Google Drive to create a Job Tracking Spreadsheet – log-in every position for which you apply, contact information, title, company and so forth. Keep track of your job search – and give yourself credit for all that you are accomplishing.
  11. Understand that you will be creating a tailored resume for each job posting. Phrased differently – you will need to study each job posting and match your skill sets and accomplishments to the specific needs of each employer. This will require work and effort on your part, and the results will be very well-worth it! For professional, cost-free assistance check out our Workshop Calendar on resume writing, interview prep, social media for career and business and much more.
  12. Follow great blogs for career-seekers such as: Interview Angel | Career Trend | The Job Quest | Resume Bear | Tim’s Strategy | YouTern | Career Sherpa | The Write Solution

Now that you have regained your confidence in yourself through the proactive actions you are taking for your career, let’s circle back to the introduction. The next time you shake someone’s hand and he or she asks you what you do, make eye contact and smile. Hand this person your business card with confidence! Say, “I’m currently searching for new opportunities in [insert field of choice here]. If you know of anyone who may need my services, please feel free to connect me. Here’s my business card, do you have one? Now, tell me – what do you do?”

One last suggestion – connect with each person you meet on LinkedIn, and ask them if they’d like to network on Facebook. Connections stay alive when we interact on a weekly basis.

Remember this, career-seeker:

Unemployed is not who you are – it is a situation you are working through. 

Let us know how we can help!


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