Ahhh, Christmas: Season of gift-giving, egg nog, gathering around the tree, and making awkward conversation with relatives who don’t understand your career at all. When I started off as a freelance writer last year after almost 10 years as a full-time editor, one relative asked me if my main income would come from my personal blog. (Nope!) Most of my other relatives still seem to doubt that I’m able to make anything close to a full-time income with writing. (Yep!) But I love ‘em nonetheless. You probably have similarly confused family members. If you’re wondering how to talk with family members about your job, here are three tips to make those holiday career conversations easier.
1. Think “elevator pitch.” No, you’re not trying to get your Aunt Janet to invest in your startup. (Tip 1a, just in case: Don’t badger your Aunt Janet about investing in your startup.) But the concept of an elevator pitch can be helpful in approaching a large family gathering where relatives are likely to ask you how work is going. You should be able to succinctly describe your job in an upbeat way that will make sense to people working in completely different industries.
2. Go ahead and brag. You don’t need to prattle on for hours about how much you earn or how much your boss loves, but if you can’t gently toot your own horn around family, when can you? If a relative asks you how work’s going, go ahead and describe the project you’re working on in its most glamorous terms: Did you get to travel, interact with interesting clients, or even just snag some cool freebies? Relatives in different industries won’t understand the dull details, anyway, so go ahead and share the sexy stuff.
3. Keep your cool if you’re unemployed or underemployed. The Wall Street Journal’s Work & Family column recently tackled the subject of how to make holiday small talk if you’re unemployed at the moment. Stay up-beat, rather than lamenting how frustrating your search is. And if an obnoxious uncle presses you relentlessly about it and refuses to move on, one expert says, you can politely say “You know, that’s not the happiest topic right now. Let’s talk about something else,” or even pointedly change the subject: “Have you seen Zero Dark Thirty yet?” The same advice applies if you’re underemployed, say, putting your brand-new women’s studies degree to use by wrapping burritos at Chipotle.
If none of this works in satisfying a pestering relative, there are two surefire ways to move on from an annoying conversation about your job: Go refresh your glass of eggnog, or get your interrogator to start talking about herself.