With 14 million people out of work in this country, chances are good you know one of them.
See also: How to find a green job.
What you may not know is what to say to an unemployed friend. As someone who lost a full-time job in 2008, I’ve been on the receiving end of too many misguided words. So I’ve come up with a list of do’s and don’ts for talking to someone who’s out of work.
1. “Everything happens for a reason.” If your friend believes in karma or a natural order of things, this may be welcome. But waxing philosophical won’t usually be welcomed by someone whose main concern is finding a job. Statements like these make it sound like you’ve got no idea yourself.
2. “Where one door closes, another one opens,” or related clichés that include: “I’m sure something is just around the corner.” “This could be the best thing that ever happened to you.” “At least you have your health.” How does any of that help? You might as well open a fortune cookie.
3. “Enjoy your ‘funemployment.’ ” Not having to work might be fun for a week or so, but after going to a few matinees and updating your Facebook status too often, the fun of unlimited free time gets old — especially when the mail arrives with bills and your house is being foreclosed on and you can’t afford health care.
4. “You’re lucky — I hate my job.” Do you hate it as much as not having a job?
5. “It’s too bad I don’t have time to stop by ....” You say this to yourself, because you’re avoiding your unemployed friend. Your absence will be noticed. The friendship may not survive; it’s at times like this that your friends need you.
1. “How can I help?” This is a good start and can be preceded by “I’m sorry.” Much like helping someone mourning a death, the best thing to do is offer condolences, but then go on to specific ways you can make a difference.
2. “It’s on me — for your job search.” Buy something. No one expects you to write a mortgage check, but a $25 card from a coffee shop so your friend can go there to work on a laptop while job hunting is a good start. Or pay for a haircut, manicure, new suit, résumé review, business card update, babysitting or anything else that helps in the search for a job.
3. “I’ll run the vacuum.” Do chores. Make a meal, clean your friend’s house, take the kids out for a playdate. Finding work is a full-time job, and some chores don’t get done.
4. “Let’s go to lunch.” Sit down in a restaurant, with the bill on you. Or go to a movie together — anything that will get your jobless friend out of the house and interacting with people. Socializing is a big part of the workday, and without work, it’s difficult to have basic human contact.
5. “You may want to shoot this guy an email ...” Find a job contact. This is the mother of all assistance. An intro on a social networking site is a start, but a face-to-face meeting is best. It could be someone in the friend’s field, or a related field, so that a job lead can develop somewhere down the line.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay area.
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