What You Should and Shouldn’t Say to Your Unemployed Friend

Dec 10, 2013 - Joe Matar

Your friend’s out of work. But while she scrambles to make ends meet and worries about the future, you’re heading into a stable workplace every day and collecting a steady paycheck. Her predicament puts your cranky boss and overloaded inbox in perspective, and you’re doing everything you can to provide her with leads.

You also try to mind your manners when she opens up about the details of her search process. Here are a few things it’s probably better not to say so you don’t compound her feelings of frustration and isolation (and place a burden on your relationship):

1. “How’s the job search going?” (again, and again)

It’s fine to make conversation and inquire into your friend’s well-being — but don’t ask incessantly.

Some job search days are better than others, but your friend will be on the market every day until she isn’t anymore. If she hasn’t told you she has a job and is starting next week, don’t expect to be provided with updates every hour. In fact, only ask if you have something to offer.

2. “Here’s what you’re doing wrong…”

If your friend asks you for advice, feel free to offer tips and critique her strategy. If she doesn’t ask, don’t attempt to tell her what she’s doing wrong — because you might add to her annoyance or, worse yet, give her misleading advice.

3. “I know a guy who does the same thing you do. He can hardly tie his shoes, but he was hired within a week of graduation for a six-figure salary. You should think about doing that.”

This story can be inspiring if you end it by handing your friend the name and phone number of the manager who hired the guy. But if you aren’t planning to do that, it’s not a good story.

4. “That’s the problem with kids in this economy today. They always (fill in the blank).”

Alternatives include “They never...” or “They think they’re special, but they’re not” and “They’re so entitled.” These are especially toxic if your friend is younger than you.

People don’t love being handed a list of everything that’s wrong with them. They also don’t like lists of everything wrong with their generation.

And while we’re at it, they also don’t love hearing what’s wrong with every member of their ethnicity, their gender, their hometown or everyone from their alma mater or with a degree in their area of study.

5. “On the plus side, you have all this free time now!”

Your friend knows exactly how much free time she has. No need to rub it in.

Try these five statements instead

Words of encouragement will go over better. The following statements show you have your pal’s back, you care and you’re not spewing generic advice:

1. “It’s rough out there.”

This might sound cliché, but it’s actually polite.

2. “Ugh.”

Sometimes a simple “ugh” is all your friend needs to hear. Honest emotion feels good every now and then.

3.  “I’m keeping an eye out for you.”

Having a trustworthy supporter is vital.

4. “I know a guy who’s a complete genius, who graduated at the top of his class in Harvard, and he can’t find work anywhere.”

This puts your friend’s job search in perspective.

5. “I remember when I was laid off and spent months on the job market. It was frustrating and isolating, but it worked out OK. I made it through, and I’m sure you will, too. I’m here if you ever need a sounding board.”

Nothing beats a compassionate friend who’s willing to listen and talk. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

Jenny Treanor is a career advisor and job search expert who provides consultation for staffing firms, hiring managers and job seekers across every industry. Her blogs and articles appear regularly on LiveCareer, home of America’s #1 Resume Builder.