How to Ask ‘What Are You Doing After Graduation?’

You’re a soon-to-be college graduate home for the weekend before your senior year spring semester finals. You run into your friend’s mother at the supermarket who asks, “Where are you working after graduation?”

This question’s intent is simply curiosity and innocent inquiry. But it can feel more like the beginning of an inquisition and a source of ulcer-inducing worry for soon-to-be college graduates.

If you are a curious parent who runs into a student or even a college student who wants to know the direction of your peers’ lives, what is the best way to ask this question while being respectful about different choices?

Why Wording Matters

According to The Daily Caller, only 14% of new graduates in 2015 procured a job before they graduated. If you phrase your inquiry by asking people where they will be ”working” you rely on a number of assumptions.

Assumption 1: This college student has chosen to work right after graduating as opposed to taking some time to travel, a hiatus between school and his or her next degree or beginning his or her job hunt after graduation.

Assumption 2: This student knows exactly what he or she wants to do and has his or her life all figured out. While seemingly dramatic, asking someone where he or she is working predisposes this individual knows the type of position he or she wants to pursue. A college student’s major may not correlate with what he or she is interested in after graduation, and this individual might need time to explore and confirm interests.

Assumption 3: This person has already found and confirmed his or her role.

Graduates, even fellow college students may fall in this trap of asking the question incorrectly. I guarantee at least one person will ask “Where are you working after graduation?”

How to Ask the Question

Whether a parent or a student, whatever you do, do not ask “Where are you working?”

To avoid seeming judgmental, there are two preferable ways to ask the question:

What are you looking forward to after you graduate?

This invites a positive context surrounding the topic and shows that you’re open to any response ranging from the individual already having confirmed a job to the student planning some time for relaxation. You phrase your question in a way that doesn’t seem pushy or bring up resentful feelings for the recipient.

What are you doing after you graduate?

While not the best version, this is a preferable question since it excludes any specific mention of a job.

Students begin their job hunts at different times. While there is a general time frame during which students begin the job application process, that doesn’t necessarily mean the individual will find a job instantly or even that the person knows exactly what he or she wants to do. Within industries there are many different directions and roles an individual could pursue.

The graduation question exacerbates an already stressful process and uncomfortable topic for those who don’t yet have a job, so phrasing is key.

How to React

And just as important as the actual question is your response. If someone admits to difficulty finding a job or says he or she doesn’t know what is next in life, remember to stay upbeat in your response. Confirm to this individual that it’s OK to not know and explore, and there is really no time limit that should be established.

Express that an individual’s choice is exciting and don’t just respond with “Oh, you’ll find something.” Confirm that this person should not worry even if he doesn’t have secure post-grad plans. I can guarantee that he or she is concerned enough without you reinforcing these fears.

If you are the parent and your new grad already has a job, you should be humble about your child’s accomplishments. Sometimes excitement can seem like bragging. You don’t want to rub salt in a wound for those who are having difficulty finding a job.

Some Final Advice

The job search process is difficult, especially for new graduates who are juggling their final semester of college and the job hunt. New grads also don’t have the job hunting experience of a seasoned professional. It is important for new and soon-to-be graduates to be proactive in their job hunt, but don’t let the job search or parents’ and peers’ questions be stress-inducing. Your final semester in college should be full of enjoyment. Make the most of your last days. While you should be cognizant and begin your job hunt, contrary to popular belief, you do not have to already have a job upon graduating.