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  • Diana Schneidman

Battle of the words: “unemployed” or “in career transition”?

Which is the better choice of words when addressing those who don’t have jobs?

I made my choice inadvertently back when I established the mission (and website) for my business, Stand Up 8 Times: To help unemployed and underemployed people who would like to start making money quickly as a freelancer or consultant.

The word “unemployed” came to me early in the development process and I never questioned it.

However, after the whole shebang was in place, I asked to participate in a career-oriented radio talk show. (This is still under discussion.) One of the moderators told me that the correct label for “unemployment” is actually “career transition.” The former is negative and defeatist, while the latter is positive and uplifting.

From this viewpoint, “unemployment” represents the door that has slammed shut, while “career transition” is the window that is opening.

Of course, if this radio opportunity pans out, I will use the phrase “career transition” happily. My goal is to be a good guest and move the on-air discussion forward, not to justify my previous choice of words.

A more important consideration (to me) is whether I should change the language on my website, business cards, etc. Is the word “unemployment” too distressing? Does it focus readers too sharply on the downside of their situation? Does it engender dejection or even shame?

I’m open to a “yes” argument, but I confess, at this point I prefer “unemployed.” For starters, continuing on my current path saves me from website changes and costly reprinting.

Even more important, I think it calls out to my target audience more directly and clearly.

And furthermore, I don’t think “unemployment” and “career transition” mean the same thing.

To me, “unemployment” means not having a job. “Career transition” focuses more on the journey to a different job and can take place among those who are fully employed full-time in top-paying jobs.

Of course, many people are in both states of being at the same time—having no current job and looking for a new direction.

I think of my primary audience as unemployed people who can use my money-earning techniques temporarily (to generate income until they find their next full-time job) or permanently (as they establish a freelance or consulting career).

However, I believe my advice can also be valuable to those who are exploring new paths, including those resigning from their current jobs to devote themselves to freelancing or consulting.

Or is the difference more akin to “sweat” versus “perspiration”? They mean exactly the same thing. One is somewhat coarser and the other somewhat euphemistic but neither is obscene or unacceptable.

Originally posted 3-15-09

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