Laid Off: How to answer “what work do you do?”

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jun 16

One of the simple events that happen when you are laid off is that you need to change your answers to simple questions – and it is surprisingly hard to do. Questions such as “what are you going to do now?” Or, “have you started looking yet?” And, “what position are you looking for?”

In America, at least, what work you do is an icebreaker in starting conversations. Often, asking what you do for work is the second or third question asked of you.

Being laid off requires you change your answer. And, more important, you need to have a bit more armor for the questions and responses in a time where you are still processing you were laid off.

Just as setting up a personal brand requires thought and execution, so does your new status. How you answer the simple “what work do you do?” question tells a lot about how you are handling your new status. The question surprises your sense of self-worth and what person is that person standing in front of you asking.

Think of the work you do for answering questions in a job interview. You know you will be asked your strengths and weaknesses. If you are good, you’ll have answers for the standard questions in an interview. If you are really good, you’ll practice answering them before an interview.

So it is with being laid off.

What work do you do?

There are many possibilities for answers. If you want to continue to work in your industry, you can reference this as well as say that you were laid off. “I work in technology management, but was recently laid off by (insert stupid company name) and am looking for something in my industry.”

You can also point to taking some time off. “I work in technology management, but was recently laid off by (insert stupid company name) and am taking some time before looking for a new position.”

Or, if you have plans to do something on your own, you can answer that you are working on something new. Interestingly, you will get two responses to this approach.

One, dismissive. Something like, “Oh, and what kinds of work will you be doing?” The undercurrent is “won’t succeed” whether qualified, determined or not. This is where the extra armor comes into play.

Second, you can get a response that is genuine interest. You can tell this because there is interest in helping you in your search. Thus, you’ll be asked what you have done with the project so far. What direction you’ll be taking it, perhaps even what the business model is for the work. All of these questions show interest, but also requires you to know most of those answers. Most of the time, unless you have thought long and hard about what you will do next, you don’t have the answers. These types of questions come with an expectation that you have already done some work to get you on the road to your new gig. If it is too soon for you to have done something, these questions can be awkward to answer.

The key is to have a short, one sentence answer just like you did when you were employed. Plus, have practiced it enough so it is comfortable for you to say.

Just remember there are people who still think that if you are not employed – family or friends – you don’t have as much worth. Armor is good.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.