[Noozhawk’s note: Thanksgiving is much more than a holiday feast. It’s the kickoff to an entire season of family gatherings at which seldom seen relatives will inquire about what you’ve been up to and, more specifically, what you see in your future and how you plan to get there. Especially if you’re a college student home on break. Dennis Nord, retired director of UCSB Career Services, long ago wrote this insightful “recipe” that generations of Gauchos have used to survive a well-intentioned roast from Mom, Dad and Auntie Estelle. Thank you to Don Lubach, career services associate director, for sharing an updated version with our readers.]

The Holiday Grill

Get ready for the holiday feast with you as the main course! Here are some strategies you might use to ensure that you survive and even enjoy the experience.

First, never answer career/college questions that make you nervous. Remember, there will always be someone who will try to make you regret any plan you ever hatch!

Second, keep your relatives off balance and take control of conversations. Here are some lines to use when your uncle or sister-in-law starts up with some (uninformed) comments about why your major is not a good one in 2010.

Strategy 1

Ask “I would really like to know how you chose your career after college.” This ought to keep them busy and it might give you some ideas for what not to do.

Strategy 2

Request “I could use your help in meeting people who (for example) work at an alternative energy company.” Get their help in finding people who do something you think you might do for an internship, shadowing day, or full-time job.

Strategy 3

Announce “I have some clear ideas of what I want to do:

a. I want to be in a job that includes technical writing for the computer industry,

b. I want to live in the South Bay area and

c. I would like working in a small company with not more than 50 employees, most of whom are high energy. Can you link me to someone who does that, or might know people like that?” Specific requests will get them thinking about where you might find a position.

Strategy 4

When you find people doing what you like, ask them: “How did you get started? How would someone new start? What would you recommend to a new person trying to enter this field? What do you get out of your work besides a paycheck? Would you do it again? Is there something you would rather be doing? Do you have plans for five years from now? Who does more with creative programs? Can you introduce me to someone in charge of the GIS department? What do you read that is exciting in your field? What are the problems you deal with? What’s the most exciting development this year? What are you looking forward to in your job? Why do you stay with the job you have?”

Notice that you are the one with the apron at the grill now? You’re asking them specific questions about their life experience that relate to your emerging interests. And, as you’ll soon find out if you have not done this before, your subject will adore this moment.

These strategies require that you are ready for the questions and doubts and prepared to “fire back” with intelligent questions and requests for help. All college students are accustomed to being put on the spot in classes and discussions.

Keep in mind that those who may be gathering with you around the dinner table love you and mean well. So please, no throwing of yams or cranberry sauce. And, if you want to serve up something more delicious than a slice of pumpkin pie, thank your family and remind them how much they mean to you.

— Dennis Nord is the retired director of UCSB Career Services.