A Good Person’s Guide To Handling Your Best Friend’s Unemployment

We all know someone whose been affected by unemployment – and even if we don’t know someone directly who’s been laid off, we’ve all heard horror stories and news blips about the sad state of the economy. I had to become tight with the gals at the unemployment office in 2009 – and I know that all job opportunities in the future don’t come with a guarantee. There’s a good chance you’re reading this because you, yourself, are out of a job.

So why did I cater this towards your “best friend”? Well – it’s how I wish I was handled during that miserable time. Obviously I couldn’t announce to my family and friends how I should have been treated, especially after knowing that every attempt to address the situation was out of love. (And anyway, how awkward would that have been? I’m just not that upfront of a person, especially in times of extreme emotional instability!)

1. Don’t Keep Asking “How’s The Job Search?” Let me get this out there: Jobs are like relationships. You have good ones, you have bad ones and no matter what, you learn from them. The “How’s The Job Search” line always made me cringe. Obviously I was trying to move forward, but despite sending a million resumes to what turned out to be 999,999 Craigslist scams and one legit job, I was always left in the dark. Your unemployed friend is definitely looking for his or her next big connection. If something “clicks”  that they think is promising (ie: an interview!), they’ll let you know. Imagine being in an long relationship, and having everyone you love ask you right afterward if you’ve met a new guy or girl. With time, something will definitely blossom. And you’ll learn all the juicy details.

On that note, don’t ignore your friend completely. Just make sure to amp up conversation on all the happy topics you’ve talked about prior – and if your friend is the one to bring up the situation? Listen.

2. Don’t Let Your Friend Get Too Pessimistic.  Just because your friend is unemployed doesn’t mean that they’re worthless, useless and a big jerk. But he or she will totally feel that way. They didn’t  lose the job based on a lack of credentials – or anything they did, necessarily – but with the devastation of the layoff, they might just fall into what is known as “The Sad Zone*”. While you shouldn’t have to shower them with compliments on a daily basis, keep reminding them that: A) They’re not alone. A ton of smart, educated, beautiful and fantastic people are in this situation. And B) This isn’t forever. It might seem like forever, but it’s not. They should never give up on themselves, or discredit any of their past experience and education – and if anything, they should be optimistic. Did they go to school to be a lawyer, but can only find a part time cashier job at the local CVS? Amazing. They have the opportunity to both meet and study such a diverse group of people who walk in and out of the store, can sharpen their financial skills and customer service skills, and can connect with a brand new group of people who might know of a job lead in the future – all while getting a sweet discount.

 2B. Also, Encourage Your Friend Not To Wallow For Too Long. Obviously wallowing is necessary, as it is in every breakup. But if weeks pass, and your friend is still holed up in her apartment, suffering the anxiety of the unforseen next step? That’s unhealthy. Don’t judge their choice in Netflix marathons (for me, it was DVDs of Gilmore Girls) and remember that this is just the first step of feeling better. Just make sure to check in if you haven’t seen them for weeks, and hear a marathon of Project Runway in the background if they butt-dial you while in the midst of a couch-coma.

3. When You Hang Out With Your Friend, Don’t Discuss How Terrible Your Job Is. If your friend can’t even land the sweet CVS gig (often times applicants are said to be “overqualified” – it’s tough out there!) he or she might not be the best outlet for your rant about your boss’s vacation policies. During my stint of unemployment, I grew to resent all of the Facebook posts about how “awful” my acquaintances had it, when they suffered things that seemed simply mundane. But despite how annoyed I was, I couldn’t truly blame them. When you’ve been lucky enough to have never seen “the other side”, it’s near impossible to realize how one tiny, totally normal comment could rub someone the wrong way. Now, I’m not saying never to vent. It’s important to vent! Just make sure you choose your audience wisely – since after you complain about how you hate your job, your friend is only thinking, “I wish I had her job.”

4. Keep An Ear Out. If you’re gainfully employed – or at least decently employed – let your friend know if any jobs come up at your company that they’d be a good fit for. An insider “friend recommendation” typically puts their resume on top of the stack – after all, they have the advantage of knowing someone who can make sure their spectacular cover letter actually gets read. For me, it was really sweet when friends went out of their way to send me information about career opportunities at their company. Even if it didn’t work out, it was a great gesture.

 5. Inspire Your Friend To Be Creative. While some people tried telling me that “unemployment is like a vacation!”, I – personally – couldn’t view it that way. I was too focused on finding a new job to pay my rent. While I was a huge panicky mess, I kind of regret the fact that I rarely took the time to breathe. If your friend likes to write, draw, act, sing, play guitar, knit or use any other creative outlet – remind them that this is a good time to explore that more. Many outlets can be used as a coping device, and it’s definitely safer and healthier to write or paint your feelings rather than post a Facebook status on how sad and angry you are. (Sidenote: Unemployed friends, make sure to never badmouth your old boss or job on Facebook or Twitter. That stuff can be traced back to you and cost you a few opportunities – despite your privacy settings. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard stories. Stay safe with social networking.) Creative outlets are an amazing way of staying productive – and if they’re truly skilled, they can think about opening a store on Etsy.

In summary, the best thing you can do for your friend is be there. Make sure she never loses sight of who she is, and realize that if she’s being distant, she might just need a good coffee-date, for a chance to not talk about how depressing the job market is. And while jobs are definitely important, nobody should feel identified by having one. You are much more than your job – even if you’re happily employed, your job is just one part of you. You’re defined by something much, much greater.

Do you have any more tips to add? Do you know of any legitimate, lesser-known websites to score a great job online? Want to vent about your recent layoff? Share it all in the comments – we’re here for you.

* “The Sad Zone” was made up by me, right now. It’s pretty self explanatory, but to give an example, it’s when you’re sad and feed on sad media to keep yourself from getting back on track. Feel free to use “The Sad Zone” as you wish. It’s my gift to you.

(Image via Shutterstock).

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