“How’s Your Job Search Going?” (the worst question for job seekers)

My cousin found herself in a job search recently and I went on the hunt for this blog post, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe it’s hiding somewhere on my blog. Or, maybe I didn’t write it here. But I did write it on LinkedIn… whew!

I know this is long, but it’s one of the most important things I’ve learned in my job search (and since starting JibberJobber).  So please read through this whole thing, internalize it, use it, and share it with others. This is so important that I’ve mentioned it in almost every presentation I’ve done, and I really think it can make a huge difference in YOUR job search.

The original post is on LinkedIn: The Best Answer for the Worst Question in Your Job Search


A week ago I wrote The Question That Makes Job Seekers Sound Stupid and the comments were polarizing. Either you thought the article was right on, or you thought I was a horrible person for using “stupid” and “job seeker” in the same title. Nonetheless, the article got more views than any other article I’ve written, and I’m convinced it was because I did that. Only one or two people asked me to go deeper, which is what I hoped would come out in the comments (instead of the disapproval of the word stupid).

In this article I go deeper. I will share something I’ve shared across the United States as I’ve traveled from one job club to another. I am normally invited to speak because I wrote the book on LinkedIn way back in 2007 (before there were hundreds of books on LinkedIn), or because I pioneered the idea of using a CRM-like tool to organize a job search and, more importantly, manage your long-term career relationships. However, my favorite presentation doesn’t touch on either of those to topics in depth. Instead, I go into what I call Career Management 2.0: The new way of managing our career in a world without job security.

In my presentations I ask who has recently been asked “how’s your job search going?” Pretty much every hand goes up.

Then I ask “who actually likes that question?” Every hand goes down, the crowd murmurs and shakes their head, and we all console each other as we share our disgust for this classless, useless question. Of course, we’ve all asked this question to our own friends or family over the years, but this moment of group consolation is not the time to admit how utterly useless (and unkind) we had been to our friends during their own job search.

Personally, I hated this question. If you had to ask, it meant I was still in a job search. I was still a third class citizen. I was still that special project, walking down the hall at church. I was the loser who couldn’t get a job (I couldn’t hardly get an interview), and now at family-and-friend get-togethers I was “that guy.” I’m sure they were thinking something like “what is he going on now, six months? Six years? Poor guy. Probably picked the wrong major. Or, he must have issues working with people.”

“How’s your job search going?”

The question that is like pouring salt in the open wound… a wound so fresh for job seekers that they don’t need any salt to feel sometimes-immense pain.

In a job search, you hear this question week after week, and it never loses its sting. It is a constant reminder of your state of insufficiency and inability.

Unfortunately, most job seekers answer this question with the worst answer ever: It’s going okay” they say. Or maybe some version of that, including “It’s going fine,” or the more honest response: “IT SUCKS!”

We are making their worst question worse with our worst answer, and both parties walk away feeling a bit deflated.

In my presentations I share something that I think is absolute brilliance. I figure I get brilliant, exceptional inspiration about once every 18 months, and this was definitely my 18-month brilliant inspiration.

I ask my job seekers to please interpret the question “how is your job search going” into another simple question. It’s the question I think most people are really trying to ask, but they don’t know the right words. Instead of hearing “how is your job search going,” interpret their question to:


Isn’t this a totally different question? You can’t misunderstand “how can I help you” to mean “you are such a loser,” the same way you might misunderstand “how’s your job search going?”

Now, before I go on, and because I got beat up over using the word “stupid” in the last article, let me just state that the feelings of being a loser, third class citizen, etc. are from my own personal experience, and are shared with from job seekers across the world. I’m not calling job seekers losers, but I’m not going to ignorantly deny that many (most?) job seekers feel like there is something wrong with them. The longer a job search goes on, they might internalize feelings of self-deprecation. Now that we have that clear (that I’m not a job search hater), let’s continue…

If you interpret the question “how’s your job search going” to “how can I help you in your job search,” would you still respond with:

“It’s going okay.”

No, absolutely not! That answer doesn’t make sense at all! If someone asks how they can help you, you don’t say “it’s going okay!” Your high school English teacher would have a fit over that!

So how do you answer this new, interpreted question? Here’s the answer I share with job seekers:

It’s going okay…. (that is directly answering the question they asked, and now you answer the question they meant to ask) I’m looking for an introduction to someone who works at one of my target companies. Do you know anyone who works at Company A, Company B, or Company C?

Now we have a response that (a) answers their question, (b) answers the question they are really asking, and (c) allows them to help you, because you are asking for something very specific.

We are only asking them a yes-or-no question. We are not asking for an introduction (although we’ll get to that), or for money, or for a job. We are not asking for something that is outside of their control. We are simply asking them to scan their brain to think of anyone they might know who works at Company A, B or C. Yes or no is the only response they can have to our question.

If they say yes, then you can ask for an introduction. Assuming you are not an emotional wreck, and unprepared to respond appropriately to the introduction, most people will be willing to make introductions. That is why they asked the question in the first place: to help you!

If you have an idea of what your target companies are, you can use this response all day long. You can even change target companies, but don’t ask your question with more than three. As you so this, you will help them help you. You will empower them in a way that a response like “It’s going fine” doesn’t. You will invite them to think the forward-moving path you are on to your next job. Most people want to help you. Some won’t, but just move on to the next person who is ready to help you.

Of course, you can change from Company A, B, C to job titles or industries (“Do you know anyone who is a project manager” or “Do you know anyone who works in the ABC Industry?”)

This response is really quite brilliant. Make sure that when you get an introduction, you treat it with the utmost respect, you follow-through with the introduction, and you have to follow-up with the person who gave you the introduction.

But that, my friends, is for another article.

Jason Alba created the online job search organizer JibberJobber.com. He realized a spreadsheet was not a good tool to organize a job search and knew there must be a better alternative. Job seekers, consultants and even people who are in their dream jobs use JibberJobber to organize personal and professional relationships, much like a sales professional would use a CRM to manage their prospects and customers. Ready to own your career management? Get a JibberJobber account or join our weekly webinars to learn more.

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