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What You Should and Shouldn’t Say to Your Unemployed Friend

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Your friend’s out of work. But while she scrambles to make ends meet and worries about the future, you’re heading into a stable workplace every day and collecting a steady paycheck. Her predicament puts your cranky boss and overloaded inbox in perspective, and you’re doing everything you can to provide her with leads.

You also try to mind your manners when she opens up about the details of her search process. Here are a few things it’s probably better not to say so you don’t compound her feelings of frustration and isolation (and place a burden on your relationship):

1. “How’s the job search going?” (again, and again)

It’s fine to make conversation and inquire into your friend’s well-being — but don’t ask incessantly.

Some job search days are better than others, but your friend will be on the market every day until she isn’t anymore. If she hasn’t told you she has a job and is starting next week, don’t expect to be provided with updates every hour. In fact, only ask if you have something to offer.

2. “Here’s what you’re doing wrong…”

If your friend asks you for advice, feel free to offer tips and critique her strategy. If she doesn’t ask, don’t attempt to tell her what she’s doing wrong — because you might add to her annoyance or, worse yet, give her misleading advice.

3. “I know a guy who does the same thing you do. He can hardly tie his shoes, but he was hired within a week of graduation for a six-figure salary. You should think about doing that.”

This story can be inspiring if you end it by handing your friend the name and phone number of the manager who hired the guy. But if you aren’t planning to do that, it’s not a good story.

4. “That’s the problem with kids in this economy today. They always (fill in the blank).”

Alternatives include “They never…” or “They think they’re special, but they’re not” and “They’re so entitled.” These are especially toxic if your friend is younger than you.

People don’t love being handed a list of everything that’s wrong with them. They also don’t like lists of everything wrong with their generation.

And while we’re at it, they also don’t love hearing what’s wrong with every member of their ethnicity, their gender, their hometown or everyone from their alma mater or with a degree in their area of study.

5. “On the plus side, you have all this free time now!”

Your friend knows exactly how much free time she has. No need to rub it in.

Try these five statements instead

Words of encouragement will go over better. The following statements show you have your pal’s back, you care and you’re not spewing generic advice:

1. “It’s rough out there.”

This might sound cliché, but it’s actually polite.

2. “Ugh.”

Sometimes a simple “ugh” is all your friend needs to hear. Honest emotion feels good every now and then.

3.  “I’m keeping an eye out for you.”

Having a trustworthy supporter is vital.

4. “I know a guy who’s a complete genius, who graduated at the top of his class in Harvard, and he can’t find work anywhere.”

This puts your friend’s job search in perspective.

5. “I remember when I was laid off and spent months on the job market. It was frustrating and isolating, but it worked out OK. I made it through, and I’m sure you will, too. I’m here if you ever need a sounding board.”

Nothing beats a compassionate friend who’s willing to listen and talk. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

Jenny Treanor is a career advisor and job search expert who provides consultation for staffing firms, hiring managers and job seekers across every industry. Her blogs and articles appear regularly on LiveCareer, home of America’s #1 Resume Builder.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.modern-senior.com/ Amy Blitchok

    Thank you for this list. I was working as an English Lecturer at a University when I was laid off and friends and family were more than happy to offer suggestions about my next career move. They meant well, but it definitely didn’t make my situation any easier.

    • Guest

      Well, obviously you’re not going to find a job with a major in English. Here’s a hint: Nobody reads literature in the first place, and EVERYBODY uses Wikipedia and Cliffs Notes. That should tell you something right there about how relevant your field is to today’s market.

      Now, if you were a welding instructor or taught a programming class, that’s different.

      Oops, just broke one of the no-nos about offending people’s fragile egos. Especially those “emotional” liberal arts people at (cough) McDonald’s.

      • sweeno

        You seem to comment on here a lot. And you REALLY seem to hate English degrees. I’m assuming you were burned by en expensive liberal arts program that didn’t land you the job you expected. Maybe you should rein in the anger, get your software certification, and keep your expectations reasonable when you hit the job market the second time around. Don’t count on getting rich with an attitude like that, certification or otherwise.

  • http://www.callboxinc.com/ Belinda Summers

    In times like this, a friend needs a listener more than a lecturer. I think they could also appreciate if you could give them some suggestions where they can find their new job. Very compassionate list of tips.

  • jrandom421

    Here’s another one heard recently: “What are you going to do, since your unemployment has run out and Congress has refused to extend it?: