“How’s the job search going?”
I get asked this everyday. And every time someone asks, I struggle with the answer.
(Note: there are people this doesn’t pertain to – you probably know who you are.)
First of all, 90% of the time it’s impersonal, and I KNOW the person could care less. It’s like asking “How ya doin’?” to somebody that you pass on the sidewalk. You have no intention of actually stopping to listen to the answer, it’s just a polite formality by which we judge whether somebody is an asshole or not.
“She just WALKED RIGHT BY and didn’t even bother to ask how I’m doing! What an asshole!”
“I thought you didn’t really like her anyway…”
“I don’t! I hate her and everything she stands for! I hope she dies slowly! But she could at least show a little common decency!”
All most people are doing when they ask how your job search is going is using any little piece of personal information about you to make it SEEM like they give a shit.
“Hello, I know a thing about you. How is that thing? Ok, bye now.”
When I used to cashier at “NW Local Warehouse Grocery Store Chain” that shall remain nameless, I used to take a minute before my shift to think of three four conversations to have with customers while ringing them up – then I could alternate conversations as customers came through providing them the illusion that I was amazing and REALLY cared about each of them as individuals. Topics were usually focused on fairly innocuous things like: sportsball achievement, weather thing, and news topic du jour. Then, I could get through my day without really having to engage with anybody, and everybody felt like a special little snowflake. We all get to win that way.
This is what people are actually doing when they ask how your job search is going.
And by the way, if a job search is still GOING, then by definition, it’s not going well, and asking just brings up failure. If you’re still LOOKING for a job then you obviously haven’t achieved the ONLY objective of a job search. Just imagine if we talked like that about searching for missing kids.
“How is the search for little Billy going, Chief?”
“It’s going fan-TASTIC! No sign of him yet whatsoever…not sure we’ll ever find him… but we’re REALLY searching.”
A job search can only go well in the past tense.
Here is a job search in a nutshell: Look for openings, apply, wait, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. All of that in a soup of rejection, doubt, fear, and financial insecurity – which, I might add, is also basically the working class Catholic experience in America, so my childhood tempered me well for this.
“How’s the job search going?” is a question nobody looking for work wants to hear, because it always floods you with all of that stuff, but usually the person asking isn’t actually asking for the real answer, so you have to swallow all of that, conjure a smile, and just say…“Hey, it’s going great! Thank you for asking.” There’s no real transaction here, just molecules bumping against one another for a blink and then going their separate ways again.
So here’s my advice: If you really care, ask people about their dreams, and what they want out of their next job, or if they’ve applied for any jobs that they’re really excited about. And especially ask them about things in their life NOT related to unemployment. For me, I’ve used this time to realize that life is too long to spend it overworking myself and stressing out about every little thing, and that taking time to appreciate life and the people around me is REALLY worth it.
If you don’t actually care, then just ask, “How ya doin’?” so I can say, “Fine.” and be on my way.