How to Answer ‘What Do You Do’ When You Hate Your Job (Or Don’t Have One)

what do you do hate jobDo you find it annoying when people ask what you do for a living?

It can seem so arrogant of them right? Like they’re asking just so they can judge you.

After all…

  • You may not like what you do for a living
  • You may be between jobs
  • You may have a job that isn’t all that lucrative or ‘impressive”

It can be a touchy subject. So it’d be great if people would just get the memo and stop asking that question altogether.

But the truth is, they won’t.

So how do you make the most of it?

Is there a way to answer that gets people off your back about your job status while keeping the interaction light and positive?

I believe there is and I’ll show you how I did it in this post.

Why People Will Always Ask What Do You Do

We may wish this question would go away, but it won’t. There are several reasons for this:

  1. It’s just a habit burned into most people (because they’ve been asked so much and don’t know how else to start conversations)
  2. It’s a way for others to “place us” in the socioeconomic status hierarchy. This will always happen because humans are a social species and we want to see how we “compare” to others.
  3. What we do for a living is an “accepted” way of finding out a lot about us. Since we spend so much time at our jobs, it does define us to a certain extent.

My point is, wishing the question would go away or trying to find ways to avoid it are pointless. People will always ask this question.

If you’re hoping they won’t, you’ll only be caught off guard again. You’ll feel awkward trying to answer.

Instead, I’ve found it’s best to be prepared with an answer. I don’t recommend rehearsing much in advance of conversations. But in this case I make an exception.

What I Did When I Was Jobless…and Living with My Mom

When I finally stopped working on cruise ships as a social host and decided to stay home, I had a long transition period. I didn’t have a house or apartment because ship contracts lasted six months. So I stayed with my mom while looking for a job and a place to live.

The process took a lot longer than I expected.

So during that period, when people would ask me the question, “what do you do,” it was a touchy freaking subject. There was shame wrapped up in that question for me.

So when I tried to explain my situation, I was embarrassed and awkward. The people I talked to picked up on that nervousness and became nervous in return.

And just saying I didn’t have a job or that I didn’t want to discuss it made things awkward too.

Eventually I got a couple of crappy jobs I didn’t like and the problem was the same. I was working, but felt little pride in it. So again, I was embarrassed to admit what I did for a living.
hate my job

First You Need to Change the Story

I’ll reveal what I did below, but first if you’re in a similar situation, you need to deal with those feelings of shame and embarrassment.

If you’re out of a job currently or in a job you don’t like, then you need to be “OK” with that before you’ll feel comfortable explaining it to others.

So ask yourself, how does your current situation fit into your overall goals. For example, if you’re out of a job right now, what are you doing to fix that situation?

  • Are you looking but just not finding anything yet?
  • Are you taking the time to build another skill or opportunity?

If you are in a job you don’t like, what’s the overall plan?

  • Are you learning something in this crappy job that will help you later?
  • Does some aspect of the job help you achieve your goals?
  • What are you doing to change your situation to something more desirable?

You see, when you look at your situation in a constructive light like this, you take the shame out of it. You see that your current situation is temporary and part of a larger success story. Basically this is what you tell others when they ask what you do.

“Well, I’m currently between jobs, but I’ve been searching. I’m looking for something in I.T.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t like my job, haha. Nice people there but I’m studying to be a nurse actually.”

“Well, I have a couple of ‘pay the bills’ jobs for now. They give me free time to work on my true passion which is business.”

There is no shame in any of these answers. Because they all show you’re working toward something that will make you happy. Plus, everyone has adversity in their life. Most will sympathize with you and it will likely cause bonding, not disgust.

Sure, some jerks might be snooty and think down on you. Screw them. Those aren’t the type of people you want to associate with anyway.

Now you might be thinking:

“But I don’t have a job and I’m NOT really looking for something else.


“I DON’T have plans to get out of my crappy job.”

Why not?

This is the only life you have. Why would you spend longer than you have to in a situation you don’t like?

Look, part of a healthy self esteem is taking responsibility for your life. If you’re not taking control and doing what you can to improve your situation, then it makes sense to feel shame.

But if you ARE doing what you can, that’s admirable. That’s sexy. That means you’re now part of the human struggle to better yourself and your life.

There’s no shame in that.

Second: Mention What You Do But Focus on Your Passion

So like I said, I finally got two crappy jobs. One was bartending (ok…not so crappy. But it was for catered events so it didn’t pay well). The other was fundraising (also didn’t pay well).

But I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur eventually and the bartending gig would give me more practice in people skills. I knew the fundraising job would give me marketing skills.

But honestly, I didn’t want to talk about those two jobs at all. So when people asked me what I did for a living back then, I said this:

“Well, I have a couple of ‘pay the bills’ jobs, but my real passion is to be an entrepreneur. Eventually, I’d love to be my own boss. ”

What this did was hint I didn’t want to talk about my “real” job. My passion was business and that’s what I’d rather talk about.

And if YOU do this, most times it will work fine. The person will get the hint and ask about your “passion.”

Other times they press on about your “crappy” jobs. Either because they’re bad conversationalists or just conditioned to super sleuth your “paying job.”

When that happened to me, I answered. I told them about my other jobs and how they supported my entrepreneurship goals. And it was the truth, they did. But I now felt comfortable talking about it because I first changed the story in my own mind.

Then I asked about their passions or “what they like to do” and usually the conversation started on a more compelling path for both of us.

So if the above technique of focusing on your passion doesn’t work, you’ll now be prepared to talk comfortably about your “paying” jobs. You’ll be able to mention proudly how it fits into your life and plans even though it’s not ideal right now.


So to recap here’s the process:

  1. Change the story in your own mind. Look at your current situation in a positive yet realistic light. How is it just one step toward something better for you?
  2. Focus on your passion instead of your job title. When people inevitably ask you what you do, mention your job briefly but put the focus on your passion. Create this one or two line answer in advance so you aren’t caught off guard. I gave my example above. If they still seem intent on talking about your paying job, talk about it in terms of how it relates to your passion and overall plans.
  3. Ask them about their passions and what they like to do to keep the interaction going in a positive direction.

Now I realize I only covered a small amount of possibilities here in this post. So if you have any other questions about this particular topic, please ask in the comments section below. I’ll answer any questions there.

(images courtesy of mickyc82 and TRF_Mr_Hyde via Flickr)

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