Replying to Job-related CNY Questions - a Guide
Replying to Job-related CNY Questions - a Guide

Posted on 23 January 2020


Chinese New Year is a time for celebration. There's feasting on those special pineapple tarts, a gambling den in every living room, and a chance to catch up with family that you only see once a year.

But invariably, some relatives remind us why we only see them once a year. They ask probing questions, endlessly compare you to other successful cousins, and don't seem to know when to stop or back off. And though they do so with love and our best interests in mind, it can become a little irritating.

Under the heading of "probing questions", questions about your job probably rank quite high. Chinese New Year is a special time when people can ask all sorts of things with impunity, no matter how private and personal.

So, how to answer? We have some suggestions.

"How much do you earn?"

First things first: you are under no obligation to disclose your salary, no matter how pushy or curious your relative is.

Some time-honoured strategies to deal with this question include deflecting the topic ("After CPF deductions, I'm not sure myself! I don't even know when I can draw out the money…."), making a joking suggestion ("Definitely not enough! Can Auntie top up the ang pao?") and/or giving evasive answers ("Enough to go on, I guess…").

Worse comes to worst, you can always stuff your face with egg rolls and hope that they get the message and move on.

"Why don't you have a job?"

There is a traditional belief that being out of work during Chinese New Year is a bad omen for that year's luck and prospects, and relatives will sometimes remind you of that.

In our opinion, the best response is to whip out your phone, open the JobsCentral portal, and start looking then and there.

But that may not be to your taste. How about talking about what you are doing instead? You can tell them about how you started a business, your volunteering adventures, or the difficulties in child-raising and how being a parent is a full-time job.

"What do you work as?"

Chances are, unless you work in one of the CNY-approved occupations like engineer or lawyer, your well-meaning relative has no idea of what your job is or what it entails. The more jaded amongst us would even say that this question is merely a lead-in to the next question on this list, "well, then, why aren't you X?"

Don't let the burden of possible comparisons with your highly-paid peers get you down. Answer honestly and describe your job and what it means to you. There's more to work than the salary: you can tell them about the fulfillment you gain, or the opportunities for overseas exposure that you wouldn't get anywhere else.

"Why aren't you a doctor/lawyer/engineer like your cousin/brother/sister?"

The Lunar New Year is the time for families to get together, and, more often than not, be compared to each other.

Dr Chua Siew Eng, a consultant and specialist in psychiatry at Raffles Counselling Centre, highlighted how comments from family members that often trigger something are the ones aimed at your character. The comparison question can touch on old grudges and deep-seated issues, and next thing you know, you're spiraling back to your youth when your older cousin scored so many A1s and you didn't.

Take a deep breath. Remember, those moments are past and you have your own life and success now.

You can acknowledge that you still have more to accomplish, while appreciating how far you've gotten. How about talking about how you can spend more time with your parents, or that hobby you've picked up? Success and fulfillment differ for everyone.

And the end of the day, Chinese New Year is a time for family to celebrate and cherish their relationships anew. Enjoy yourself!

We at CareerBuilder wish each and every one of you a Happy Year of the Rat!

Food photo created by pressfoto -

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