Skip to Main Content
by Cathy Vandewater | December 14, 2012


Ah, holiday parties. Harmless gatherings of merry-making. Or are they actually fields full of of conversational landmines?

Social stuff can always be tough when you don't really want to talk about your job situation. After all, if you don't have anything nice to say...

But parties can be especially rough around the holidays, when people you haven't seen all year want to catch up and ask all kinds of probing, judgmental questions. So what do you do? Get sloshed and cry to your uncle's coworker that you're sick of interviews? Go off on your grandmother for looking judgy that yes, you're still unemployed?

Well, you'd certainly make this one a holiday for the books. But if you'd rather keep your event uneventful (and your reputation in tact), we'd advise you to avoid the following behaviors:

1. Talking about how much you hate your job/job search

It can be tempting to use a negative topic to bond with people over, but if finding a job or making new business connections is your goal, don't. What may seem funny and respectably snarky to you can come off as bitter or even unhinged to people you don't know well.

And when you're on the market for the job, you can't afford to offend anyone, even strangers.

Save the wisecracks for close friends and family—talk about hobbies or industry news instead.

2. Asking explicitly for help

Times are tough, even for the employed. Those with jobs are likely getting inundated with pleas for help—whether or not they're actually in a position to give it.

Whatever you do, don't be needy. Even if you're lucky enough to meet someone who works for your dream company, blurting out your desperation to work there will kill your chances.

Instead, approach interactions as chances to meet and get to know interesting people that might create a useful network down the road. In doing so, show interest and ask questions, and by all means talk about the work you're interested in.

If an opportunity for work comes out of the conversation, it should do so naturally. But don't wreck a perfectly good first impression or party with inappropriate requests for job help.

3. Getting defensive

It can be frustrating hearing the same insensitive, or worse, downright mean catchphrases all night. "Hang in there!" is annoyingly dismissive while, "You still haven't found something?" may feel so perjorative you'd like to punch someone in the face.

But quit taking it so personally. Parties are awkward, and most of us are just feeling around for the right thing to say, especially when on a a topic as difficult as someone's tough job search.

Realize that they truly don't know what it's like to be in your shoes, and let gaffes go.

4. Coming unprepared

If you're planning on avoiding the elephant in the room—your job, or lack thereof—have a few talking points planned. If you don't think things through ahead of time, you may blurt of something you hadn’t planned on bringing up at all.

But not to worry, it's not as calculating as it sounds. Simply think of a few things you've been upto aside from scouring job boards. Stick to happy, fun topics or stories: a recent volunteer experience, a funny disaster with the kids, or your prodigal return to the gym. Bonus points if you can work in projects that are work or industry related, yet not explicitly spoken resumes.

5. Being liquidly courageous

A drink takes the edge off, yes, and you'll likely be edgy at holiday parties. But if you're planning on avoiding emotional displays or going off on unsavory topics, you'll want to stay nice and sharp. Have soda water between drinks, and be sure to eat.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
How to Handle Holiday Small Talk (WSJ)
'Twas the Night of the Company Holiday Party
Fake It 'Til You Make It?