Seven “Don’ts” for Friends and Family

Stop sign obscured by tree

Yesterday, I talked about some things that family and friends should do when someone they know becomes unemployed. Here, I offer seven suggestions of what NOT to do.


Avoid them. To say that someone losing a job makes for an uncomfortable situation is an understatement. Whether or not you worked in the same company or field, much of that discomfort comes from survivor’s guilt.

But think about it — you didn’t cause the job loss to happen, so you are not being blamed. Please put your feelings aside and reach out to the person who needs your support. If they are not ready to talk, give them some space and try again in a couple weeks. It can take time for folks to process a blow like this.

Pity them. (I don’t think this one needs any explanation.)

Assume they don’t need anything because they aren’t asking. The circumstances for the ones who have been let go are overwhelming, to say the least. It can be hard to be able to identify what someone can do to help them on top of everything else that is happening, so they may just not ask. Or they may not want to trouble you. Or their pride may be keeping them from asking. Or a combination of all three.

Play the comparison game with the job seeker. You know, telling them “I heard that Bob lost his house because of his layoff,” or “Susan’s marriage broke up from their financial problems,” or “Jeff has cancer.” And then follow up with “YOU CAN BE THANKFUL THAT’S NOT YOU.”

I get that you are well-meaning in trying to help the job seeker see that things can be worse, and yes, it is good to keep it all in perspective. Unfortunately, all this does is negate the feelings of the person who is unemployed. Even if they have been keeping their frustrations about the job hunt away from you, your words still have the power to make them feel guilty about that private grousing. Instead of propping them up, you have effectively undercut them.

Assume that you can’t be a resource for referrals or information because you don’t work in their field. Like I said yesterday, it’s not just how you specifically can help. It’s potentially how your brother, your friend from college, or the spouse of your third cousin who is in their industry can help. If the job seeker you know agrees, pass on his/her information to facilitate the connection.

Suggest jobs that are not in their field/what they are looking for. I know that even some job hunters get to the point of saying, “I just want a job, any job!” But the reality is that taking a job offer that is a bad fit is not a long-term strategy for professional satisfaction. The relief of getting a paycheck soon wanes, and telling yourself “I’m lucky to have a job” is of little consolation.

Try to solve their problems for them. Now’s the time for you to keep things in perspective: they’ve lost their jobs, not their abilities, their knowledge, or their desire for independence. Be a sounding board, work with them to devise a strategy, but don’t take over their lives. They need to be in control of their careers.

What other behaviors should family and friends avoid?

Image courtesy of Michael Gil

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