“In Transition” and Other Awkward Euphemisms

March 30, 2010 at 12:38 am 13 comments

“So what do you do?”  It’s such an innocent and often-asked question. It’s a natural ice-breaker – you hear it whenever you meet a new person, whether at a networking event, a business gathering or a social encounter of almost any kind. To an unemployed job-seeker, however, it’s a loaded question that can sometimes cause squirming and discomfort. Exactly what do you say? Do you simply announce your job category or title (e.g. “I’m a Sales Manager,” “I’m a Computer Engineer,” “I’m an Accountant,” etc.) and hope they don’t embarrass you by asking where you are currently working? Or, do you take the initiative and immediately go on to explain that you are not actually working right now … and in fact you are looking for a job?

If you subscribe to the notion that Networking is considered by most job-seekers to be the most likely activity to produce success in today’s ultra-challenging, highly competitive job market … then you really should be prepared to talk about your job-seeking status to just about everyone you encounter. [Read “Looking for Networking in All the Wrong Places” for an overview of the wrong vs. the right ways to network.] The question is, what term do you use? Saying “I’m in transition” has become one of the most widely accepted euphemisms in use today for being out of work. Like most euphemisms, it’s a term that is meant to make an unpleasant thing sound more palatable.

I got to thinking … what other euphemisms could a person use to say they’re unemployed? So here’s a list of miscellaneous terms I’ve heard that one might use, ordered from the most commonly used and professional-sounding, down to the most ridiculous, ill-advised and just plain funny:

Euphemisms for Being Out of Work:
●  In Transition
●  Between Jobs
●  Unemployed
●  Self-Employed
●  Consultant
●  Freelancer
●  Domestic Engineer
●  On an Unpaid Sabbatical
●  Professional Volunteer
●  Professional Social Networker
●  Professional Job-Networker
●  Professional Job-Searcher
●  Professional Job-Seeker
●  Professional Blogger
●  Job Market Researcher
●  Employment Challenged
●  Career Challenged
●  Taking a Break from Regular Work
●  Embarking on a Journey of Self-Discovery
●  On the Dole

“Why did you leave your last job?”  Answering that often uncomfortable question is another situation where euphemisms are frequently used. That question comes up during almost every interview, and on most job applications. Explaining why you left your last job – or for that matter, pretty much every job listed on your résumé – is something that certainly requires some thought. The answer you give must be both truthful and somehow palatable. It should ideally be easily understood and logical, and yet at the same time not cast you in a negative light to your potential future employer.

Of course, if it was your decision to leave a company and move on to another job elsewhere – it’s usually pretty easy to say something like: “I left for a better opportunity.”  The problem arises when leaving was not your idea. If you were let go “for cause” (meaning your actions caused you to be fired) it’s the most difficult scenario to explain going forward. You need to tread carefully. On the other hand, if you lost a job due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g. company-wide layoffs, poor economic conditions, etc.) then using the right euphemism can often satisfy an interviewer’s questions and explain gaps between jobs.

So again, here’s a list of miscellaneous terms I’ve heard that one might use to explain why you left a job. They are ordered from the most commonly used and professional-sounding, down to the most ridiculous, ill-advised and just plain funny:

Euphemisms for Why You Left a Job:
●  Laid Off
●  Downsized
●  Position was Eliminated
●  Office was Closed
●  Company Relocated
●  Company Went Out of Business
●  Contract was Not Renewed
●  Position was Outsourced
●  Workforce Reduction
●  Company Streamlined
●  Company Restructured
●  Took Early Retirement
●  Transitioned
●  Optimized
●  Rightsized
●  Offered a Buyout
●  Offered a Package
●  Severenced
●  Severed
●  Career Downgrade
●  Made Redundant
●  Turned Loose
●  Given Walking Papers
●  Fired Without Cause
●  Fired For Cause
●  Axed
●  Riffed
●  Sacked
●  Canned
●  Discharged
●  Let Go
●  Displaced
●  Decommissioned
●  Involuntary Separation from Employer
●  Involuntary Retirement
●  Terminated
●  Terminated with Prejudice
●  Shown the Door
●  Received a Pink Slip
●  Given the Boot
●  Voted Off the Island
●  Put Out to Pasture
●  Shit-Canned
●  Went Into the Light

With both of these lists, feel free to combine the words or phrases in different ways to create new variations. And if you’ve heard any other euphemisms for either being out of work, or for leaving a job that aren’t already included on either of these lists … feel free to add your new terms in the comments section below!

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Getting Un-Stuck from your Rut! Avoiding the “Black Hole of HR”

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Terry Schultz  |  March 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Very good euphemisms Michael. I’ve often thought about these questions and how to address them. You can be sure that I will use them, combined or separately.

    Reply
  • 2. Cathy Thomas  |  March 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Love it! Thanks.

    Reply
  • 3. Patricia Kulcsar-Lesso  |  March 31, 2010 at 2:16 am

    While I do not like the phrase “in transition” it certainly is better than saying,”I am unemployed. No one seems to notice the value I bring.”
    What about ” I am a beginner in the HR profession bringing knowledge, honesty, work ethics and integrity to my next opportunity to be creative, to impact the bottom line and to make a difference in my profession.”

    Just me and my thoughts.
    Patricia Kulcsar-Lesso

    Reply
  • 4. Thomas Beer  |  March 31, 2010 at 3:32 am

    Hi Michael, I like your thoughtful Recruiter Musings. Always entertaining and educating – all of them well worth reading. Just wanted to say Thank You. My best regards from Leipzig, Germany,
    Thomas

    Reply
  • 5. Bill Vick  |  April 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Michael – I love the way you write and you’re thoughts hit many of the points and issues faced in today’s changing employment model dead center but I think you missed an opportunity to write about how to effectively deal with that “What do you do” question that comes up again and again.

    What are your thoughts on an elevator speech (or something similar) that answers the question in a way that the person asking it actually hears something and does not mentally go into a ho hum zone? BTW – I think too many people slam a label on their back and say something like consultant or freelancer because they don’t have an effective way to answer the question. Freelance is respected career path and an area of growth both in the US and elsewhere – I know many professionals who would not work any other way and earn way into the 6 figures.

    So – my question to you is 1) what do you think of an elevator speech and 2) how would you construct one, or something similar, so you do not fall into that black hole of labels and candidate speak?

    Reply
    • 6. Michael Spiro  |  April 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm

      Bill:

      I agree that a well-constructed elevator speech can avoid the need for those uncomfortable euphemisms mentioned in the blog, and should concentrate on a person’s skills, experience and career goals. It should sound exciting, relay a passion for one’s area of expertise, and clearly explain the type of position the person is seeking. Oh, and it should be very brief … hence the name “elevator speech” (meant to be delivered in the time it takes for a short ride in an elevator with your audience.) Explaining “how to construct one” is a topic for another blog [“Is Your "Elevator Pitch" Taking You UP or DOWN?”]

      -Michael

      Reply
  • 7. Jim  |  April 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Michael – another euphemism for being unemployed that I have heard is “Voted off the island”. Probably belongs towards the bottom of your list.

    Reply
    • 8. Michael Spiro  |  August 20, 2012 at 11:08 am

      Good one! I added it to the list.

      Reply
  • 9. blackwatertown  |  April 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Re: Euphemisms in response to What do you do? Consultant is a good one. I quite like “I’m a writer.”
    It’s often indistinguishable from simply being out of work anyway. Both share the idea of a long term, seemingly distant, receding reward. (Sorry, unproductive day of writing.)

    Reply
    • 10. Every Critic  |  August 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      You may wish to re-evaluate this list. It’s two years later from your original post and the words/phrases “consultant” and “self-employed” all but scream “I’m unemployed.” You should do an update and evaluate how many of these euphemisms have fast become eye-rolling cliches.

      Reply
      • 11. Michael Spiro  |  August 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm

        I never claimed that any of these euphemisms would disguise a person’s employment status. And actually, by coincidence I just read these lists over yesterday! While “Consultant” and “Self-Employed” may indeed be tip-offs that a person is actually unemployed — I still think they belong on this list of commonly used euphemisms. If you think about it, they are no more revealing or likely to cause “eye-rolling” than saying you are “in transition” … and they certainly sound better than saying you are “On An Unpaid Sabbatical” — or worse yet, “On the Dole!”

  • 12. Alex Lopez-Bono  |  April 27, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Michael,
    Impressive blog. Very practical and without unnecessay buzz words.
    I just shared few articles of your blog on my FB.
    I love your Euphemisms for Being Out of Work/ Why You Left a Job.
    All the best luck!

    Reply
  • 13. Craig Kozan  |  June 3, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Mike,

    Thanks for all of your information, and also for using your valuable time to help all of us !!

    Reply

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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for over 15 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, and Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, a professional services firm that deploys professionals with at least 25 or more years of experience. Prior to that, he worked for two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours
         Pass?

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

Networking:
 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

Interviewing:
 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job
         Interview"

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient
         Truths

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More
         "Searchable"

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your
         Rut!

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule: Never
         Burn Bridges

 The Power of a Positive
         Attitude

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales
         Position

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-
         Seekers

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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Blog Visitor Count:

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Recent Posts:

Previous Posts (by Date):

►  Comic Relief: Job-Seeking
      Humor - Volume 4

------------------------------------------
►  "Unemployed Need Not Apply" -
      Working Around This Scary
      Message

------------------------------------------
►  Explaining Short Stints and
      Employment Gaps

------------------------------------------
►  The Lost Art of Customer
      Service: Unreturned Phone
      Calls & Emails

------------------------------------------
►  Comic Relief: Job-Seeking
      Humor - Volume 3

------------------------------------------
►  The Résumé Test & Checklist:
      Does Yours Pass?

------------------------------------------
►  The "T" Cover Letter -
      The Only Type Worth Sending

------------------------------------------
►  The Brutal Truth on how
      Résumés Get Eliminated

------------------------------------------
►  Comic Relief: Job-Seeking
      Humor - Volume 2

------------------------------------------
►  Age Discrimination: Exposing
      Inconvenient Truths

------------------------------------------
►  The Double-Whammy of
      Rejection and Isolation

------------------------------------------
►  Is Your “Elevator Pitch” Taking
      You UP or DOWN?

------------------------------------------
►  Comic Relief: Job-Seeking
      Humor - Volume 1

------------------------------------------
►  Warning: That Rant You
      Posted Just Went Viral!

------------------------------------------
►  Using Social Media to Enhance
      Job-Searching

------------------------------------------
►  Avoiding the “Black Hole
      of HR”

------------------------------------------
►  “In Transition” and Other
      Awkward Euphemisms

------------------------------------------
►  Getting Un-Stuck from
      your Rut!

------------------------------------------
►  Time Management: Recipe for a
      Well-Balanced Job Search

------------------------------------------
►  Face-to-Face Interviews:
      Secrets, Tips and Tricks

------------------------------------------
►  Counteroffers: Just Say No!
------------------------------------------
►  The Proper Way to Quit a Job
------------------------------------------
►  The Real Truth About Working
      with Recruiters

------------------------------------------
►  Phone Interviews:
      Secrets, Tricks and Tips

------------------------------------------
►  The Golden Rule: Never Burn
      Bridges

------------------------------------------
►  Candidates Gone Wild:
      Recruiter Horror Stories

------------------------------------------
►  Following-Up: An Essential
      Key to Success

------------------------------------------
►  Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing
      Technique

------------------------------------------
►  New Year’s Resolutions for
      Unemployed Job-Seekers

------------------------------------------
►  How to Network: A Step-by-
      Step Guide for Job-Searching

------------------------------------------
►  Top 10 Most Helpful Things for
      Job-Seekers

------------------------------------------
►  Top 10 Most Annoying Things
      for Job-Seekers

------------------------------------------
►  Age Discrimination: Secret
      Conversations Revealed!

------------------------------------------
►  The Art of Giving: The Key to
      Effective Networking

------------------------------------------
►  Targeted Networking: How to
      Effectively Reach Out

------------------------------------------
►  Why Job Hunting is a
      Consultative Sales Position

------------------------------------------
►  The Power of a Positive
      Attitude

------------------------------------------
►  Looking for Networking in
      All the Wrong Places

------------------------------------------
►  Answering the Dreaded Salary
      Question

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