How to Explain Your Job to Your Parents and Relatives

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means gathering with family and catching up while bottles of wine quickly disappear. Should you be one of the few lucky enough to have a job this holiday season, you’ll undoubtedly be asked by relatives what it is that you’re doing these days — especially if you have recently graduated from school or just left a previous job. Many jobs these days are entirely new positions, created as a result of advancements in technology, the evolution of new media, or the rise in entrepreneurship. Even many traditional jobs are now outsourced to contractors who work for a fix priced or hourly rate at home, and these contract positions often do not provide benefits such as health insurance or paid vacation.

Choosing a non-traditional job is not for everyone, and very few understand the lifestyle of those who choose contract work. Most people are used to working in office environments with routine schedules and weekends. Working on contract or as a freelance designer, developer, or writer can mean sporadic and fluctuating paychecks, which can cause financial stress for those who are most comfortable with a steady paycheck. There are also no set schedules for contractors or freelancers — though this is often considered a benefit for those who choose this style of work. Many non-traditional workers often work from home, or in coffee shops. Those used to working in office environments worry that this may lead to loneliness.

How to Explain Your Job to Your Parents and RelativesWhen I accepted the offer to blog for LockerGnome (which is a contract position), I left behind a full-time 9-5 position in a cubicle, which was complete with health insurance and other standard benefits. For months, my parents continued to forward me job advertisements looking for administrative assistants and entry level social media management roles at large companies around the Seattle region. Even though I was admittedly making more money with less expenses (working from home requires no commuting costs and less pressure to buy trendy clothes and shoes), my parents were concerned that my new contract job was not “stable.” It took several more months — and the good timing of supportive news articles — to explain that even people with “real” jobs are not always provided paid health insurance and that anybody can be fired or laid of from any job, at anytime — regardless of their method of payment.

Now, I have the challenge of explaining this to the rest of my relatives as we gather for the holidays. Luckily, I’ve had a year to prepare an explanation. That, in and of itself, is the first step for anyone who needs to explain their job to their family. I know my parents have already explained my new career to most of my family, so most of my explanation will probably be largely technical (such as how I actually get paid). If none of your relatives have even been informed that you have a new job, mentally prepare yourself. You’ll want to be able to provide a short answer, and the whole story.

The short answer may not explain what you do very accurately. For example, if you do PPC marketing from home and your great aunt has yet to ever use email, it may be your best option to avoid confusing the you-know-what out of her and potentially ruining the holiday. For relatives whom probably won’t understand your job no matter how detailed your explanation, consider what the “traditional” version of your job is, and leave it at that.

If your relatives are somewhat savvy to the industry in which you work, and they ask what your job is, tell them what you do — though without the fluffy buzzwords that your industry may use to describe your position. Are you a “social media ninja?” What about a “communications evangelist?” Even I am not sure what those positions entail, so for your relatives, break it down to the actual responsibilities of your job. Also, explain how you help your company or client as part of the team. While it is common for contractors to only work with an agency for a few months, let alone a year, previous generations worked with their employer for nearly their entire career. You may not be able to bridge this gap per se with your older relatives, but if you can demonstrate a similar work ethic, they will be more likely to understand your job and career style.

Explaining a non-traditional job to your parents and relatives can be frustrating, and may take several family gatherings to help them fully understand what it is that you do. Keep in mind, though, that you’re less likely to encounter the same type of judgment from your parents while explaining your job than during a first date. They have to talk to you again (at least, eventually). The more you can help them relate to the differences and calm their concerns, the sooner they will stop forwarding you job ads from Craigslist.

Do you have a non-traditional job? How have you explained your career style to parents and relatives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Article Written by

Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.

  • Andrew Jamison

    I wish I had a job with the flexibility and freedom of being a professional Blogger the issue i have is not motivation more lack of content creation skills. What kinds of things do you do to find interesting topics to blog about

  • Aryeh Goretsky


    I would think telling non-technical friends and family that you are a writer would work? If nothing else, it might increase your chances of getting gift certificates from bookstores books at the holidays. And relatives are less likely to ask you to help fix their typewriter then if you were to tell them you work in the computer field.


    Aryeh Goretsky

    • Howe4321

      That’s a good idea. 
      I’m going to tell everyone I’m a bum and maybe they’ll give me food and money. I can get books at the library..

  • JC

    My parents are unable to comprehend the internet in general, much less how I make money using it. I’ve worked as a Business Solutions Account Executive for companies like MCI, Comcast, Verizon Wireless, and other communication based companies for years. Every Christmas I’m get grilled about my profession because most of my family memebers are successful business people; even though, like I stated before, they don’t understand how money is made online. They’re completely ignorant to the countless hours I spend reading blogs, writing articles, commenting, campaigning, etc.

    My family, like most, is dis-functional. I explain what I do as a commission based sales job with one of my affiliates. This way they can easily understand how my “job” works and what it entails. I’m forced to explain how making money online works, on a daily basis. Therefore, I prefer to be as discrete as possible with family members; unless they’re interested in doing what I do. In that case, family members become clients.

  • DCA

    When I became self-employed my mother-in-law (The Neighbourhood Gossip) would refer to me as “unemployed”.  (For a perspective one of the neighbours was alcoholic [been seen with a can of beer outside.] another was a wife swapper [had lunch with his secretary.].)  After ten years my MIL and me have come to a simple understanding –  I do not eat her cooking and she thinks I work  for the government.  (I travel frequently, get calls at odd hours and I am constantly reading e-mails.)  The major difficulty was when the kids started school.  They were behind in the concept of week and weekend and when the other kids asked the “what does your dad do?”, they did not know what to say.  I was having to much fun keeping MIL guessing that I just told them to say I was a “Boss.”

  • Magic Trax

    At first it was really frustrating. I was constantly getting told “At some point we need to put our dreams on the shelf and be realistic.” Moronic advice if you ask me. Many times I tried describing it in a traditional job sense, but none of my relatives could grasp the concept of it still. Over the years they’ve calmed down about it for the most part, but I still get a “suggestion” here and there.

  • Dan Oblak

    I just tell them I am a hit-man, and have available to me a great Friends-and-Family rate as one of the perks… then we (my wife and I) make sure they have a copy of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’.

    • Andrew Jamison

      lol nothing like scaring family in to quietness

  • Glenn-122

    i try to explain what it is that i do to my family and it just doesnt work  
    as a compter software analyst (pish for software reviewer lol) i look at software and gather info on it and leav feedback and eviews and tutorials on it and i try to explain and to no avail lol 
    iv tried it in many ways, like saying im a program inspector or that i look at software and say weather its good or bad but still they dont get it lol