“What do you do?”? is the easy default opener when meeting someone new. With just one question we learn so much about a person as their identity is often wrapped up in their job. “I’m an accountant, a teacher, or a nurse” is an easy way for people to find a launching pad for conversational connections.
But for the 30 million who are unemployed right now, “What do you do?” becomes tricky. It can even bring on waves of shame or self-doubt, even though it shouldn’t. What you do is a vastly different proposition than who you are. That hasn’t changed whether or not you have a current position; if you were talented, amazing, generous and creative before the pink slip, you remain so today.
Be conscious of those who are seeking jobs right now and rephrase your introductory questions or casual queries. Things like: “Tell me a nugget about yourself; What’s something you learned in the last month?, or What do people say about you a lot?” get the conversation rolling without that awkward moment of angst for those who don’t have a position or title to share with you right now.