Job Search Tip: 5 Topics to Avoid at Holiday Gatherings

'Tis the season to gather, celebrate and rejoice, right? Not if you are a job seeker. This time of year can be particularly stressful for job seekers who are tempted to vent about their concerns, anger, and opinions, and share their frustrations with everyone around them. However, reputations and careers are often built, enhanced, and crushed by missteps due to carelessness or poor planning. As you transition from the military to the civilian workforce, here are some topics to avoid at holiday gatherings:

1. The Presidential Election

Each of the 319+ million people living in the United States has a strong opinion about the outcome of the recent presidential election. The odds are, if you were to start voicing your views at a holiday event, you would find sympathizers as well as people outraged at your opinion. For this reason alone, I advise not discussing politics, or the election, at social or business gatherings. There is always risk and reward when being authentic and sharing your passion and views. When you find those with whom you agree, there is synergy, a building on ideas, and discovery of like minds. When you encounter someone with a strong opposing viewpoint, it is possible for the discussion to turn from discussion to rage quickly. For job seekers, this is a risk not worth taking.

2. War/International Conflicts/Terrorism

Your commitment, passion and duty to serve your country likely gives you strong views, and realistic insight into conflicts happening around the world. While relevant and interesting, your opinions could negatively influence the people you're talking to at a holiday gathering. Remember the numbers -- estimates are that around one percent of Americans have served in the military. This means that you are likely speaking to someone who has no connection to, or real understanding, of the sacrifices, realities, and intel of international conflicts, terrorism, or war. They know what they've read in the news, or what a friend posted online. Do you want to be the one to inform them of the "realities" of war? Consider the impact to your reputation and credibility if this is what you are remembered for.

3. Celebrity Drama

Disappointing as it might be that the popular celebrity couple you follow is headed to divorce… is this the conversation you want to have with new contacts, and the impression you want to leave? We often remember who told us news in addition to the news itself (remember the expression, "don't shoot the messenger"). Instead of talking about celebrity drama or gossip, why not use the news to enhance your reputation and brand? Introduce topics about trends in your industry or new developments in your field of expertise. No need to avoid timely news topics, just be sure to enhance and advance ones that build your credibility, instead of take away from your brand.

4. Your Career Struggles

As a job seeker, you might be feeling rejected, disappointed, and even angry this time of year. Everywhere you look it seems people are joyous and celebrating, while you're feeling frustrated about your career options. When surrounded by new contacts at business events or networking functions, it might feel comfortable to vent your woes and share your disappointment with others who might find themselves in the same situation. Resist this urge. As best you can, remain positive and exude confidence and optimism! Remember that you never know where your next lead or opportunity will come from -- that person you're venting your anger about the job market to might be the person you're scheduled to interview with in two weeks! Focus on making a good impression when meeting new people; let them know what you're good at, passionate about, and looking for in a career. Especially at the holidays, messages of optimism are appreciated and embraced.

5. Your Health

We've all met that person who, when asked, "How are you?" tells you! Aches, pains, ailments and ills -- they share it all. Robin Kowalski, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Clemson University offers this observation about people who lead with a complaint: "We start a conversation with a negative observation because we know that will get us a bigger response than saying something positive would." Your health -- good or bad -- is a private issue. Sharing your concerns, recent diagnosis, or limitations is not good conversation, especially at the holidays. When you share your problems with others, particularly those not equipped to provide sound advice, you put the other person at a significant disadvantage. Imagine they are asking themselves, "What am I supposed to do with that information?"

The holidays are a stressful time for most people. Instead of focusing on what you don't have (good job, healthy career, stable income, predictable future) consider what you do have. Focusing on what is positive in your life can attract positive people, opportunities, and more joy.


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