If you have a friend or family member who's unemployed and looking for a job, there are lots of things you can do help--but it's also important to avoid saying or doing the wrong things. Here are eight things to keep in mind when someone close to you is engaged in a tough job search.
1. Don't constantly ask for updates. You might be tempted to regularly ask if your friend has had any calls for interviews yet or whether she's heard back from that place she talked to last month, but trust that if she has news to report, she'll tell you. It's frustrating and even embarrassing for job seekers to have to repeat over and over that they don't have any progress to share yet.
2. Avoid giving unsolicited career advice unless you're in the person's field. Unemployed people are on the receiving end of a lot of career advice, much of it repetitive--and even worse, much of it wrong. Especially if you haven't been on the job market yourself recently, you might not be aware of how job search conventions have changed and you may annoy your friend or lead her in the wrong direction. But if you give advice anyway?
3. Don't take it personally if she doesn't take your advice. She might have already tried what you're suggesting, or she might have her own reasons for knowing it's not right for her. Similarly, pass along job opportunities that you see, but don't follow up and ask, "Did you apply for that job I sent you?" Trust that your friend is an adult capable of managing her own job search.
4. Offer to connect her with people in your network. Share her resume, make introductions, and think of people you might help her reach out to. Many jobs are found through personal connections, so don't underestimate your power to be a huge help in this regard.
5. Attend networking events with her. It's tough to walk into a room full of strangers alone. Offer to go to networking events with her so that she doesn't have to--but then make sure that you get out of the way when she strikes up a conversation with a possible connection.
6. Don't tell her that it must be fun to have so much time off work. You might be tempted to observe that it's nice to have plenty of times to run errands and watch TV, but you'll sound insensitive to the stress and anxiety she's almost certainly dealing with. Being unemployed isn't a vacation.
7. Do something with your friend that has nothing to do with job searching. Take her to dinner or a play, or just hang out together without asking how the job hunt is going. When you go out, make sure that you pick up the bill--but also consider asking her to do things that don't cost money, like watching a DVD or going for a walk.
8. Understand that it might take a while. Don't expect your friend to find a job immediately or express surprise that she's been searching for so long. In this market, job searches take months, and in some cases a year or more. Some well-meaning friends try to help with "tough love"--telling the job searcher to just work harder and the offers will come. This can be excruciating for the job searcher, who might be working far harder than you know. Keeping the judgment out of the conversation is one of the most supportive things you can do.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.
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