Do’s and Don’ts for Helping a Friend Who is Job Hunting

by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO

While there have been dozens of new librarians hired in recent months in the NYC area, there are others who are actively job hunting. Soon-to-be new graduates will be starting their searches in the weeks ahead, if they haven’t already.

If you are friends with a fellow info pro who is currently seeking employment, there are ways you can help and certain actions that are best avoided.

Keeping in Touch
Do meet your friend for coffee periodically to catch up and just keep in touch. Job hunting can be isolating and detrimental to one’s well-being. It’s good for job seekers to get out and socialize with other professionals. Talk about things other than the job search. If you can, pay for the coffee without making a big deal of it. Between face-to-face meetings, stay in touch gently with "how are you?" emails.

coffee.jpgDon't assume your friend has lots of free time. With networking, reviewing job postings, writing and editing application documents, researching employers, and other tasks, an effective job search is time-consuming. Your friend will also still have all of their personal responsibilities to attend to.

Don’t vanish! Some people disappear when a friend loses a job, only to reappear with congratulations when the job search is over. Just being there, even if all you can offer is hopeful encouragement, is helpful. If you become incommunicado when your friend is going through a challenging time, you are likely to lose their trust.

Listening Compassionately and Carefully
Don't ask how the job search is going. This may sound counterintuitive, but if there is good news, they will be eager to tell you, and if not, your questions will feel like pressure, even if that is not at all your intention. Wait for your friend to bring it up. If you ask about it repeatedly, especially if it is the first question each time you talk, it can make it seem as if that is the only thing that matters. Let the conversations with you be a break from the job hunt. 

Do listen sympathetically if your friend wants to vent. Even in this improving economy, finding work can be difficult and frustrating. An honest conversation with a trusted confidant can be a beneficial way to blow off steam. Unless your friend is asking for specific tips or counsel, it is best to demonstrate support and understanding in your responses rather than offering advice or sharing your own experiences.

Don’t treat your friend as if there is something wrong with them (and then as if they are “okay” again after finding work). People don’t lose their value because they are unemployed or underemployed. No matter what someone is dealing with, the “you poor thing, how are you?” approach is not going to be appreciated.

When your friend is hired, say “congratulations” and ask about the new position. Don’t take that good news as an opportunity to go on about how horrible it must have been before and what a relief it must be now to have a job.

Playing the Blame Game
Don’t say anything to imply that that your friend is to blame for being unemployed or for a longer-than-expected job search. This kind of judging may assuage your own fears but will only put distance between the two of you. It is a disservice to your friend as well, as many skilled professionals have found themselves laid off and/or in lengthy job searches in recent years, through no fault of their own.

Do respect the decisions your friend makes regarding the job search. If you give advice that is not followed, let it go.

Don't minimize the difficulty of what your friend is dealing with, but don't say things that will make them feel worse. There is a world of difference between "Yes, this is a stressful situation" or "It's understandable that you'd feel frustrated" and "I can't imagine how awful this must be for you" or "I don't know what I would do if I lost my job." Don’t expect your friend to comfort and reassure you if their unemployment makes you uneasy! If you see they're really struggling with unrealistic negativity, remind them of past obstacles that they've overcome and of all they have to offer.

Being a Connection
Do facilitate informational interviews for your friend with other info pros you know who are doing similar work. This is especially beneficial for new graduates and others who are looking to build a new (or neglected) professional network. Always get your friend’s permission before giving out contact information or setting up a meeting.

Don't send your friend on wild goose chases. Putting them in touch with someone who "may be hiring at some point in the future" or having them pursue some other vague maybe-opportunity is not helpful, and can make a difficult situation harder.


Assisting with the Job Search
Do keep your eyes and ears open for job postings your friend may be interested in, and forward the info. This can save them time and effort in finding appropriate positions, and you may hear of opportunities they might otherwise miss. Be selective, though; don't forward anything and everything that comes to your attention.

If you have recent experience with hiring, do offer to review your friend's resume and cover letter. If you've never been a hiring decision-maker, though, or it's been years since you were job hunting yourself, it's better to leave the reviewing to someone else, as you may do more harm than good.

Do offer to be a reference if you have worked with or supervised your friend and feel comfortable recommending them. The more strong, positive references your friend has to choose from, the better.

By treating your friend as a fellow skilled, knowledgeable professional and offering real assistance, encouragement, and confidence in their abilities whenever you can, you'll be a valuable ally as they navigate this temporary job-search challenge. And, hopefully, before long you may find yourselves celebrating your friend’s new job!