It can be difficult to know how to talk with a job seeker. The process of managing a job search is emotionally—and sometimes physically—exhausting. Not just for the job seeker, but also for those who watch him or her continue to apply for jobs, go to networking meetings and attend job fairs, without getting the job, or sometimes, even an interview. There are a lot of ups and downs as someone goes through this process.
The job seeker in your life knows full well that you want to be supportive but it can be difficult to know how to talk to him or her. As someone who’s been through the process more than once, I want to share a few ideas about how to be supportive and most helpful to the person in your life who is weathering a career transition in this economy.
- Focus on the positive. This cannot be stressed enough. Sometimes, we will reach for a position for which we may not, at first blush, seem like the best match for us If we have made the decision to apply, that is our decision. This is our job: would you welcome someone else telling you how to do yours?
- Keep us informed about events or networking groups. We may not wind up participating in them, but that you’re looking out for us is always appreciated, and sometimes, that concern means more than the tip you send our way.
- Ask us about particular employers we might be researching and look for opportunities to facilitate an introduction to someone within those organizations. And please continue asking periodically: our goals may shift as our search lengthens.
- Encourage us to track the calls, letters, e-mails, meetings and other activities which comprise our job search. Job search as a process rewards effort and persistence, and having a metric to gauge both gives us some means of seeing our progress.
- Talk about our (or other people’s) horror stories, or the crummy state of the job market. Job search is one of the most emotionally difficult things people do. If we wanted to be depressed, we’d read some of our high school poetry. We want to be around positive people because we need that. If you aren’t being one, don’t be surprised if we start becoming scarce.
- Begin every conversation with “How’s your job search going?” The simple truth: it’s discouraging, and sometimes exceedingly so. We know you want to help, that you’re asking because you’re concerned. But understand that everyone else around us is starting conversations that way. Asking the far more general “What’s up?” will accomplish the same. If there’s no news, you have saved us from having to repeat that for the umpteenth time. If there is news, we’ll tell you—in fact, we’ll probably be shouting it from the rooftops!
- Forward our resume to people we do not know. Most of us have multiple versions of our resumes, and if you forward our resumes, we have no control over the message we’re putting out there. Instead, offer to introduce us to people—ideally, face to face, if possible. A face to face meeting, just for an informational interview, can be worth tons more than a simple e-mail, and is really our objective: not an e-mail whose status we will never know about firsthand.
- Tell us if we need anything, call/e-mail/text. This gesture, however well-intentioned, will in the vast majority of cases result in our responding, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind” and result in…nothing. The problem is that it’s open-ended and vague, like suggesting, “We should catch up, it’s been forever!” without any follow-up. A superior alternative: suggest something specific. Offers to review resumes, share contacts, or an invitation to dinner just to catch up—with a specific date and time—are always welcome.
As stated previously: we know that you want us to succeed. We know that you are concerned. And we appreciate that a great deal.
We just want to empower you to be helpful in ways you might not have considered.