How to Help an Out-of-Work Friend

Two female friends working on a laptop at home
Two female friends working on a laptop at home

What is the best way to help your recently unemployed friend? The number-one thing you can do is listen and be there for them... but don't go overboard. As friends, we have a tendency to go big, but a job search is a highly stressful situation -- something the job seeker needs to be ready for.

Talk to them. Ask them if they'd like help. Would they want you to act as a career coach? Someone who helps them stay accountable and also sends job listings? Some people have done their homework and know what they want, and that might not be at the end of a job listing. Other people are more open to it, so ask before you go ahead. Don't make empty promises. If you offer to set them up for an informational interview or connect them to someone in their industry, follow up on it.

Practice makes perfect. Offer to look at their resume, and if they are open to it, edit it. You can also help them with mock interviews and by offering feedback for their elevator pitches. Recommend them to sites like the Muse, LinkedIn, and Wakefield. Another thing a great friend could do to go above and beyond is to use a smartphone to record a mock interview. It's helpful to see yourself in action. Do you have a nervous habit of tapping your shoe or tugging your sleeve? Do you speak too fast or use a lot of expressions like "like," "um," or "at the end of the day"?

Use motivating words. Keep their energy level up. Many people tend to get depressed, discouraged and desperate during a long job search. It wears you down not getting called in for an interview or not getting called back for a job. That's a ton of daily rejection. Remind them how much of an all-star they really are. Advise them to try and freelance or put their skills in motion by volunteering. Remind them that their situation could and does happen to everyone, and that it's a matter of circumstance -- not reflective of their talent.

Check in. Every friend and friendship are different. If you are very close, ask -- but drop it if your friend isn't too chatty on the subject. Change gears and talk about other matters. Don't let your hangouts turn into marathon job-searching sessions. Your friend most likely wants a break from thinking about their dead-end job or unemployed status. Your friendly conversations act as an escape.

Squash tension and negativity.
Is your relationship as friends suffering while your friend looks for work? Talk about the friendship, not about the job search. Chances are that it's the job search tension that is subconsciously causing the negativity. I once recommended an unemployed friend to interview at another friend's firm. She was so unprepared and unprofessional in her email introduction and the interview itself that it ended up souring the friendship.

Are they simply venting? Do you have a friend who might be stuck in a dead-end job? Do they truly want to make a change? We have all vented about our jobs to a friend from time to time. The commute, the nosy coworker, the mountains of Excel work, endless business trips... but do they really want a new job, or do they just need to de-stress? Before offering to look at their resume or set them up with job leads, actually ask them what their next move might be.