You’ve finally done it.
You landed the first job in your field. After years of school, you’ve made a major breakthrough and secured gainful employment. Things can only go up from here. Time to celebrate!
Then you tried to tell your friends and family. You were so excited to make the big reveal. But when the moment came, all you heard was, “So, you’re playing with computers?”
This part can be a downer. After working hard to find a job that allows you to use your skills and education, it can be pretty demoralizing to hear someone misunderstand it. Are they doing it on purpose? Are they trying to belittle or insult you? Why isn’t everyone more excited for you?
Maybe you told an older relative that you’re developing browser applications for a cutting edge tech firm they asked you how anyone could make any money doing that. Or perhaps, you told your friend that you landed a job writing marketing documents and they asked you when your novel was coming out.
This can all be incredibly frustrating. So here’s how to manage the situation without feeling bad about it.
Stay Calm and Explain
It’s not their fault. It can be that they genuinely know nothing about your field and need you to explain it to them from A to Z. Try to remember that the work you are doing may have been unimaginable only a decade or two earlier.
So, think deeply on these points instead of stressing out.
Don’t Take it Personally
Don’t take it personally if the person you are speaking to isn’t able to immediately understand your new job, and especially if they quote a negative stereotype associated with your line of work. Remember that this person is a family member or friend. They care about you and what you do. Odds are, they are just trying to understand, and are looking to you to correct their misconceptions and clarify aspects of the work that they don’t quite get.
Explain What You Do Using Simple Terms
Let’s be honest here. The way you write about your job on a resume is probably not the easiest way to explain what you do. Try to avoid using the technical, academic lingo that you spent your university years practicing (e.g. “I synthesize data collected from multiple sources to arrive at actionable conclusions”). Especially avoid using any industry-specific jargon that anyone that doesn’t work in your field would not be familiar with.
Connect Your Role To Their Experiences
I can’t stress this one enough. Understanding a new concept becomes much easier when you’re able to relate it to something you already know. I’ll use an example from my own experience here.
When working as a proposal writer, I often struggle to explain my job to my friends and family. One tactic that has worked well for me is to relate my job to the act of writing a resume. Everyone (or darn close to it) has had to write a resume and use it to apply for a job at some point in his or her life. As soon as I tell someone to think of me as someone who writes one big resume for an entire company, things suddenly start to click. Try to find something relatable about your job and use that as a starting point when explaining what you do.
Emphasize the Best Parts of Your Job
While this might seem like a no-brainer, it is all too easy to get sucked into talking about what’s not awesome about your job. How many times have you been discussing work with someone and the conversation has devolved into discussing “how boring filling out those reports is,” or “how slow it can be on the sales floor,” or something similar. Stop. Do not do this. I’m begging you. While everyone is occasionally guilty of this (especially me!), we all need to try harder to discuss our work in positive terms. Pick out the parts of your job that are awesome/interesting/rewarding/etc., and use those as a starting point when explaining your job.
Wait, Why Is This Even Important?
At this point you might be wondering why it’s even important to explain your job well. After all, if your relative or friend isn’t understanding you (or doesn’t even seem interested), why should you even bother?
Well, if the desire to educate your friends and family isn’t enough, consider this. This interaction with your confused (and/or skeptical) friend or relative is pretty similar to a mock interview for a big job. While that may sound a little intense, try and imagine the embarrassment of not being able to clearly explain your current job when it comes time to interview for your next one. If you aren’t able to explain your job in a relevant and concise manner to people you are close to, it’s unlikely you will be able to do it in front of a potential future employer or hiring panel. Use your conversations about your job with friends and family to develop your ability to explain yourself and sell your skillset.
Once you can connect your job to a friend’s job as an architect or your grandfather’s work at a dairy farm, you’ll also be able to relate it to that senior lab technician role you’ve been dreaming about. Then it’ll be time to celebrate (and explain your job to your loved ones) all over again!