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.

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