Conversation Starters for Thanksgiving Dinner

1289860839296_3899503Thanksgiving is all about food and family. But turkey legs and mashed potatoes don’t sidle up to you after three eggnogs and ask why you can’t be more like your sister.

The first big holiday of the season is here, and you need to be ready. Your extended family members are lying in wait, cooking up juicy conversation starters like, “Let’s hope the economy gets out of the gutter by the time you graduate, huh?,” “How’s that job search going?,” and “So, are you dating anyone yet?”

But this year’s going to be different. This year, you’ll turn the small talk to your advantage with some crafty conversation starters of your own. You’ll find that with the proper prodding, each relative has something genuinely valuable to share with you.

Uncle-Jesse-Duke-the-dukes-of-hazzard-30209168-324-362YOUR UNCLE JESSE

The challenge: Uncle Jesse never has the same conversation just once, so you know he’s going to ask you (again) what your major is, and you will have to explain (again) that majoring in Religious Studies does not mean you are studying to be a priest.

Your tactical approach: “How’s business at the dealership?”

Say this because a) nothing is more likely to distract Uncle Jesse from your future employability than a question about American-made vehicles, and b) you can learn a heck of a lot about the local economy by studying consumers’ buying habits. The people who are buying (or not buying) Uncle Jesse’s cars are the same people who are hiring (or not hiring) employees. One of his customers might even be your dream employer. Find out if he knows anyone who is working in your field of interest and see if he can put you in touch with that person.


The challenge: Oh, how you secretly loathe him. This guy has been making you look bad since he skipped kindergarten and first grade on the same day. How is it possible to earn above a 5.0 GPA in high school? Was it really necessary to triple major at Yale? And why does he keep talking about Georgetown Law? It’s been a whole year since he graduated.

Your tactical approach: “So, what’s it like being a lawyer?”the-lincoln-lawyer

His response to this innocent-sounding question will immediately replace your anxiety about being unemployed after college with blissful relief that at least you probably won’t be working 70 hours a week and falling asleep on the couch every night with your laptop still on your lap. Listening to other people talk about their jobs can help you pinpoint what is most important to you in your future career. Compare your cousin’s experiences to the kind of life you’d like to lead. And don’t forget the lawyers know lots of people (a.k.a. potential employers), too.


The challenge: This sweet, fluffy-haired lady once threw a dinner plate at Richard Nixon’s face on her 1960s television set, so you rightly fear her. In her opinion, your life should progress as follows: Get a spouse, get a job, get a mortgage, and work for the same company until you retire or die, whichever comes first.86509377

Your tactical approach: “If you could’ve tried a different path in life, what would it have been?”

Nana isn’t much for networking, but she has more stories than everyone else in the room put together. Her regrets about roads not taken—and her reasons for not taking them—can powerfully illuminate the choices in front of you now. You might also realize that some of the hard decisions she made were based on practicalities that still exist, and will affect your own dreams.

Suit up, soldier. Winter is coming, and so are your relatives. Prepare to make the best use of your time together—and avoid awkward questions—by starting the conversations you really want to have.

Kacie Glenn
The Career Center


One thought on “Conversation Starters for Thanksgiving Dinner

  1. Nathan December 1, 2013 at 7:43 pm Reply

    love this! it’s cool to ask about someone’s experience in life, like you suggest with the grandma… asking them ‘if you knew then what you know now, what would you have chosen to do in life?’ … bound to get some great answers.

    if you are ever interested in a blog post, I wrote on conversation topics all the time… blog (and check out the convo tool) is here:


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