A Playbook for Navigating the Holiday Dinner Table As You Look for a Job

OK. Here it comes! The holidays! If you are in the job market you may be viewing family holiday get– togethers with mixed emotions. Now if you happen to live in a Hallmark TV special your holiday dinner table conversation will be infused with tactful, carefully framed questions and thoughtful affirming responses. No one will interrupt and everyone will listen and reflect on your responses.

Right! That’s not what usually happens!

Maybe you’re concerned about fielding comments like “Dios Mio! I’ll pray for you” or “So did you get a job yet?” If you don’t want to leave the table feeling like “a pithed frog from freshman bio,” you’re going to need a plan and a playbook. So here are some tips to help you navigate the holiday festivities.

  • Think like a politician and plan your communication ahead of time. Do you see politicians winging it at press conferences? No! They’ve got a communications staff crafting answers and questions. Make your tax dollars work for you and study how they pivot and switch off touchy topics and take the listener to where they want to take the conversation. So practice some responses like “Thank you for your concern, here’s where you can be a great help.” That’s an interesting point, I will think about that.” Yes, you may have to take a few deep breaths, and you may have to repeat your response a few times!
  • Don’t be the distraction. Think about it. Chances are one of your near and dear is going to be grilled about “When are you going to find someone and settle down” or “So, when are you going to have kids?” In a desperate move to get the attention away from them, they are going to ask you about your search. Now if this happens, say, “Thank you. I am so glad you asked” and give an update. Grit your teeth if you must, but go for it. You’ve prepared for this moment, so own your space.
  • The better plan is to drive the conversation and bring up your search. What you are showing the group is that you are comfortable talking about it and you will put them at ease. Doing this will enable them to focus their energies on listening and maybe even coming up with a good suggestion. You know questions are going to come up, so be proactive.
  • You are going to turn this holiday dinner into a productive event and put your family and friends to work.
  • But before you can put your family and friends to work, you have to remember the following points: People have lousy memories, and“The closer you are in DNA, the less chance that this person knows exactly what you do.” Sure, they may remember some key things like “You are my cousin” and “You are busy and you travel a lot,” but chances are your relatives may be a hazy on current, important specifics. So don’t take their memory lapses personally, and for goodness sake don’t quiz them about what they do and don’t know about you! Use the meal as an opportunity to tell and resell your story.
  • Buddy up with a favorite relative or your partner and make them a “plant” Give them questions and comments that will help you get your points across. Am I serious? Of course I am. It’s not like you didn’t do the same thing way back when, when you were kids scheming for ice cream around the kiddie table!
  • Make it easy to have people help you. No matter how great your career pitch and tag line, “People have lousy memories.” They may remember that they were supposed to do something or that you said some very interesting things, but they will forget what it is they are supposed to do if you don’t help them. Remember your audience is contending with the affects of tryptophan, alcohol as well as copious amounts of sugar and fat while they are listening to you. If they also added a nice post-dinner nap to the mix, you can guarantee that a lot of your information has not been securely locked in short-term memory.
  • Plan your follow up campaign and leverage social media. Save an email in your draft folder and attach your resume and an overview with key points about your background, what you are looking for and why. Include some talking points so your relatives will collect the correct information. Give simple instructions and requests. Make sure you’re LinkedIn with everyone.
  • Don’t forget to send your information to your younger relatives too! They know people like teachers, coaches and parents! They are also great advocates for people they like. Send them a text or a twitter with links and you may shock them into looking up and peering at you with fresh eyes. You’ll also be surprised to learn who is in their network.
  • Remember someone knows someone or about something, but they need some prompting to see you in new light or make a mental connection.
  • Keep em moving – Don’t get stuck in a conversation or a space. If you feel the conversational spotlight needs to move away from you, a calm “Enough about me, I want to hear about someone else for the next few minutes” will give you the chance to regroup.
  • Holidays can be stressful, so create a “day after the holiday plan” and check in with your job search resources and support team. Do your follow up.

This is a baker’s dozen list! – Be kind to yourself and know that not every one will “get” what you are trying to do or how long things take to make a change.