Working with the unemployed

As someone who has been laid off several times (I seem to have a knack for getting into an industry at the worst possible moment) I’ve dealt with more than my share of the usual consequences.  On the positive side, those past experiences are definitely helpful now as I go through it again: I have managed to rack up highly-targeted job applications at about four times the rate I did in 2002 – 2003.  Same goes for actual contacts.

What’s been the most helpful is my LinkedIn (the professional network) account.  Through it I have managed to breach the Human Resources firewall in a few organizations and also have many people in my network keeping their eyes out for me (and I for them).

What’s been the least helpful, however, have been certain well-wishers.

People with the best of intentions can often say the wrong thing… without realizing it, I’m sure.  So just as I made an attempt to straighten out some recruiters recently, I’ll dispense a little unsolicited advice to those well-meaning folks who are close to anyone unemployed:

Don’t tell them that they’ll find something better (especially immediately after the job loss)

I know you mean it in a positive way, but for many of us the position we just lost was the best we’ve had yet.  It certainly was in my case.  I was naturally angry and confused for weeks after receiving notice, and that’s common.  The last thing we want to hear is something that, to us, feels patronizing and serves to rub salt in the wound.

When times get tough like they are now, those laid off find themselves working 1 or more jobs afterward that pay lower and are less satisfying than what they just held.  That is the reality.  We may indeed find something better, but it will likely be a while.

Don’t tell them it’s “God’s will”

I believe in a higher power, but I don’t think He meddles to the point that He causes any of us to lose our livelihood.  That would violate the spirit of free will.  Regardless, it can come across as another stinging comment whether it’s meant as one or not.

Don’t hammer them with suggestions

Some people are relentless with their ideas on what we should be doing.  If the person has been laid off before, odds are he/she has a good idea of how to perform a job search.  That said, we can’t know everything so pointers (especially feedback on our resumés and related materials) are welcome, but we only need to hear it once.  I think I’ve been asked “have you checked with Employer X yet?” at least 10 times from one concerned individual!  Yes, I checked with them!  No, they have not called!  But you’ll be the first to know if something moves in my favor!

Do keep in constant contact

One thing that’s been consistent when I’ve been laid off: people commisserate for a week or two, then forget us.  Perhaps they’re uncomfortable dealing with our situation.  Maybe they’re worried it’s contagious.

It’s easy for us to fall into a funk after a job loss, so the best thing friends and family can do is call, visit, and motivate us to keep active.  I get so caught up in my 24/7 job search that I often realize I’ve been in the house, virtually tethered to phone and PC, and haven’t been out in several days.  If someone you know has fallen victim to this, take them to lunch, bowling, a movie, anything.  Offer to pay if you can.  But don’t make it a one-time event; check in on them periodically.  We need to keep looking, but we need an occasional break (i.e., recharge) too.

Do help them network

Much better than talking is doing.  You can be a virtual extension of the person you are wanting to help.  Within your own social and professional circles, put out feelers for the job hunter.  Find out what companies they are looking at and see if you can help them identify anyone inside.  The old axiom of  “it’s isn’t what you know but who you know” is never more true than when employment gets tight.

Dismissal of your suggestion is not dismissal of you

Many people want me to check out this employer or try that tactic, and while in some instances these suggestions are helpful there have been occasions when the proposal won’t work for me.  One example is a certain local employer for whom I would love to work but is in a part of town separated from me by an impenetrable wall of unmoving traffic.  But if I explain that to someone trying to be helpful, they may (and have) take it as a rejection of them.  It is not.  So, if you are motivated to offer such advice, separate yourself from the suggestion because even though it may sound good from your perspective, there’s a chance it may not work for the job seeker… and you need to be willing to accept their response.

Bottom line

Never assume we don’t appreciate your help and consideration.  We most assuredly do!  But be sensitive to our specific needs, including when we need advice and company versus when we need to sort through our feelings alone.  If you truly know the person, then you should have no trouble detecting the signs and responding accordingly.  If you don’t really know them, then a simple “I’ll keep you in my prayers” is good enough.  😉


4 responses to “Working with the unemployed

  1. sadcollegegrad

    Great post. Very well said. I am glad to know others are getting the same thing. People just tend to want to insert sympathetic response here, but when it gets to be the umpteenth time you’re hearing it, it is anything but helpful!

  2. Thanks. I believe most people do want to be helpful, but perhaps many think they’re the only one to offer certain types of advice.

    In addition to what I said here I also advise them to pause before gushing out anything, and reflect on and how it would come across to THEM, along with how many others might be saying the same sort of thing.

  3. Joseph Charpak

    Another well thought out post. Keep writing and keep hunting.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement Joseph!

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