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What Not to Say to Your Unemployed Friend

Updated on September 27, 2012

With the current state of the job market, almost everybody knows somebody who is unemployed, or has personally experienced job loss. I became unemployed several months ago when my workplace shut down. I have been searching for a job ever since, but as of this writing, I’ve had no luck. As this stretch of unemployment has dragged on, I’ve noticed that I keep hearing the same comments from friends and family. Some of the comments are helpful, but many, though well-intended, are not.

You should think about taking a low-paying job to tide you over until you find something better.

Unless your friend has come out and said she’s only applying for jobs in her field, don’t just assume that her search is so narrow. In many parts of the country, even minimum wage jobs are difficult to obtain, and hiring managers at stores, restaurants and such may be reluctant to hire and train somebody who they know will move on “as soon as something better comes along.” I have personally applied for minimum wage (or slightly above minimum wage) jobs at almost every local store and restaurant, but I rarely get a response. When I do get one, it’s along the lines of, “Well, you haven’t done this type of work in twenty years. We’re looking for somebody who can jump right in.” (The fact that it would only take a few minutes to relearn how to run a cash register or operate a meat slicer means nothing to them).

Don't Worry. The right job will come along.

When you say this, your friend is thinking, “It had better hurry up and come along before I lose my house.”

The job market is so bad here. Why don’t you move?

For a single person without any strong local ties, this might be a good suggestion. However, for somebody with a spouse or committed partner who's lucky enough to have a decent job, it's easier said than done. Both partners would need to find a new job in the new location. If there are kids, they'd have to move to a new school. If there's a house, it would have to be sold. Don’t forget that moving also costs money, which is likely in short supply.

My job sucks.

This one should be obvious. Go ahead and complain about a co-worker. Gripe about something your boss did. Vent about an annoying client. However, if you complain about how terrible your job is as a whole (even if it really is awful), well, let’s just say your friend won’t be the slightest bit sympathetic.

I saw a job posting for (something for which your friend isn't qualified).

Letting your friend know about job leads is extremely helpful and appreciated, but please check the qualifications. If your friend has a Bachelor’s degree in English, a posting that lists “Master’s degree in physics or engineering” as its first requirement won't do her any good. Because I love animals and recently went back to school in the hopes of eventually obtaining an animal-related career, people are constantly sending me job postings for anything animal related. Of course, these employers all want advanced degrees in zoology, biology, veterinary medicine or the like, and understandably so, but I am not yet close to being qualified.

How can you be busy?

This is the worst offender. Unemployment isn't sitting around watching TV and playing video games all day. As strange as it may sound, being jobless is a lot of work. Searching for and applying for jobs takes time. I recently spent four hours applying for just one job thanks to all the personality tests and skills tests that the employer required. People who lose their jobs often go back to school or do volunteer work to gain education, experience and contacts that may help in the job hunt (as well as to keep their sanity). They may also be doing odd jobs both online and offline to bring in at least a little bit of income.

Please don't get me wrong. It’s wonderful if you want to be supportive, and it's hard to think of the right thing to say or do. Saying anything in the above list is a thousand times better than ignoring your unemployed friend. My personal suggestion would be to just spend time with her. Take her out to lunch or invite her over for coffee. Meet her at the park and go for a walk. Being unemployed can be lonely, so any offer of company is appreciated. Just make sure to talk about things other than work.


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