How To Support Someone Who's Lost His Job

When you lose your job, you go through variations on the classic five stages of grief. Instead of discussing the stages of grief, let's focus on the stages of support.
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When you lose your job, you go through a grieving process. It is long, it is brutal, and I am going to ignore it almost entirely. There have been more than enough articles discussing coping mechanisms and variations on the classic five stages of grief. Instead of discussing the stages of grief, let's focus on the stages of support.

Everyone knows that losing your job is stressful. In fact, it ranks as the Holmes and Rahe eighth most stressful life event (and if you add in change in financial state (#16) and change in living conditions (#28), well, you see where I'm going). As a result, people are, at first, overwhelmingly helpful. I had partners offering recommendations without my even asking, senior associates helping me with the wording for my résumé, and friends of the family offering up any job leads they happened upon. I cannot adequately convey how important this was.

In this first stage, conversations go something like this:

Concerned Individual: "Oh honey, I heard the news, is there anything I can do? How are you holding up?"

Me: "Well, I'm still in shock a bit, but I'm trying to sort things out. Please just let me know if anything comes to mind along the lines of a job lead or networking opportunity."

CI: "Absolutely. In fact, how about I call ____ right now and give you an introduction!"

Over time, however, interest wanes. You know that friend of yours who would not shut up about her breakup for a year? I am now that friend. Some days are still stressful and difficult, but my friends have heard the same refrain 100 times: "I'm still unemployed, stressed, bored, poor, blah sigh blah." It is not a fun conversation to have over and over again, so they have no interest in talking about it anymore.

At the same time, the people who have been offering job leads start to forget who I am. It has been a few months since the layoff, so the urgency has faded and I slip off the radar. In order to maintain some connection, I have to walk the increasingly fine line of contacting each person frequently enough to not be forgotten, but not so frequently as to annoy.

Now the conversations look a bit more like so:

Quasi-Tolerant Individual: "So, no news yet?"

Me: "No, there's no hurry for people hiring so..."

QTI: "Unfortunate. So, I have a date with Claire tonight."

In the context of professional references, conversation has become a slow back and forth of emails.

After five months, I was rationing the amount of job-search related conversation so that no single person was subjected to a critical mass. More importantly, I learned to be irrationally upbeat whenever someone posed a question about my prospects. This is crucial. A positive outlook, unsurprisingly, dramatically increases responsiveness. The result being that, as the actual situation gets worse, the tone becomes downright joyful.

Here is where the conversations start getting awkward:

Interviewer: "Could you tell me a bit about the layoff and what you've been doing since?"

Me: "Of course! The firm handled it as best they could and I've really managed to keep myself busy. I've worked for some trade organizations, published, and it's been really amazing to have a reason to move to D.C. Most of my friends live here. I'm sure things will work themselves out as they should and this has been fantastic for my networking skills."

Interviewer: "You are either the most forgiving person alive or you have your interview
face on and everything you just said is a lie."

Me: "..."

Interviewer: "Don't worry, you don't need to tell me which."

This seems like a good time to scale back on the joy; take it from "manic" to "silver lining."

The ten month mark, where I am now, is characterized primarily by silence. In some ways this is good. People no longer pointedly ask "Have you tried X?" or remind me that a law degree is also useful for many non-legal jobs. In others, it is frustrating. Former supporters start to wonder if my lack of employment is the result of some fundamentally unemployable aspect of my personality and stop sending leads. It is also no longer industry standard to send out rejection letters, even after an in-person interview. Instead, I gauge my prospects in terms of probabilities over time.

The final stage, which I fully intend to one day experience, I imagine looks something like this:

Dad: "Hey sweetie, how's it going?"

Me: "JOB! I have one!"

Celebrations ensue.

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