10 things not to say to your out-of-work friend

If you have an out-of-work friend who’s trying to find a job, you probably want to be supportive and say the right thing to make her search easier. But well-intentioned comments can easily make a stressed-out job-searcher feel worse. Here are 10 things you should never say to an out-of-work friend.

1. “It must be nice to have so much time off work.” It might look to you like it’s nice to have plenty of time to run errands and watch Netflix, but this will make you sound insensitive to the stress and anxiety of unemployment – which your friend is almost certainly dealing with. Being unemployed isn’t a vacation. For many people, it’s more stressful than going to an office every day.

2. “How many interviews have you had?” There’s no way for this question to make your friend feel good. If she hasn’t had many, she’ll feel awkward explaining that. And if she’s had a lot, she’ll worry that you’ll wonder why none of them have led to an offer. Don’t put your friend in the position of explaining how successfully or unsuccessfully her search is going – after all, the only success that really matters is when she gets a job.

3. “Have you tried looking for jobs online?” Unless your friend is unusually technological inept, she’s looking for jobs online. Possibly daily. Suggestions of tried-and-true methods like this one can be aggravating for job-seekers, and can come across as if you don’t have faith in their ability to manage their own search.

4. “Why don’t you try temping?” While this can be a good suggestion for some people, temping isn’t as reliable of an income source as it used to be. With so many people out of work and competing for the same jobs, even temporary ones, many qualified job seekers report that they’ve registered at multiple temp agencies and never been called.

5. “Did you apply for that job I sent you?” You’re probably just asking out of curiosity or to be supportive, but it can be your friend in an awkward spot. She might have determined that job you sent wasn’t right for her, or she might have applied and not appreciate your stirring up anxiety about why she hasn’t heard back. It’s great to pass along job opportunities that you see, but make sure you don’t sound like you’re nagging about them afterwards.

6. “But you’re so smart (or accomplished or well educated). You shouldn’t have trouble finding a job.” You might think you’re being supportive, but since your friend apparently has had trouble finding a job, you’ll either make her feel bad about herself (why hasn’t anyone wanted to hire her if she’s so smart?) or make her think that you’re naïve about the very tough realities of today’s job market.

7. “You hated your old job anyway.” Sure, your friend might have hated her boss or not gotten along with her coworker, but she would probably rather have the income from that job than not have the work at all.

8. “Have you heard back from that interview you had last week?” This is a good way to remind your friend of something she might be trying not to agonize over. When a job-searcher has good news that she wants to share, you’ll hear it!

9. “Let’s go out to (expensive dinner / concert / trip).” Without any income coming in, your friend is probably watching her budget, so be careful about the cost of any activities you suggest. The exception to this, of course, is if you’re treating.

10. “It’s taking you so long to find a job!” Don’t expect your friend to find a job immediately or express surprise that she’s been searching for so long. In this market, job searches take months, and in some cases a year or more. Comments like this can be excruciating for the job searcher, who might be working far harder than you know.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 229 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.

    “Make sure to keep that objective statement right at the top of your resume and call the hiring manager three days after you submit your resume to schedule your interview!”

    1. Jane Doe

      Ughhhh. When I was unemployed last year, a friend who is not an expert in job searching told me I should be “proactive” by calling the HR department of a well-known company in my area and asking if they had any jobs in my field.

      1. Ethyl

        I’ve had that same advice, Jane Doe.

        Really, anything that follows “have you tried” is doomed. Either it’s outdated advice (cold calling! fancy resume paper!), it’s something I’m already doing, or it’s totally inappropriate for my field.

        Half or more of what was so awful about being unemployed was all the “advice.”

          1. SevenSixOne

            I respond to all unsolicited advice the same way: “Hmmm (concerned face, thoughtful silence) I’ll have to check that out (big big grin).”

            And that’s usually a lie… but it seems to appease the advisor.

  2. CollegeAdmin

    If I had this article when I graduated college, I might have printed copies to hand out to people when they talked to me.

  3. CKL116

    These are all great tips, but it would also be helpful to get some advice on what to say to someone who’s out of work. Most of those (annoying) things that people say are well-meaning, and people want to know if things are super-rough, or looking up, or if there’s some way they can help.

    My go-to is usually, “How are things going on the job front?” since it’s nonjudgmental and lets the person open the door as much or as little as she wants.

    1. The IT Manager

      Things to say:

      Have you checked out the Ask A Manager blog?

      And an alternative for #9, “Come over to my place for dinner one night.”

      1. A Bug!

        Yes, absolutely! I have been on both sides of this equation, and on both ends, I think a nice dinner at someone’s house is a great way to have a nice time on limited means. And the guest can feel like less of a burden by helping with the preparation and clean-up, which was a big deal to me when I was strapped for cash.

      2. Elizabeth West

        Yes!

        I would add, “How are things going? Do you need anything?” And then if they ask for something (reasonable), DO EET.

        “Yes, I’m kind of lonely; can we get together?” MAKE TIME FOR THEM.

        1. anon

          Yes, this: job searching can feel lonely if you’re unemployed, not just because you don’t have a regular place with people to be, but also because chances are you’re dealing with a lot of rejection on top of that. Make plans with them to hang out (inexpensively!).

    2. edj3

      While unemployed, I appreciated the friends who said they were thinking of me and asked if there was anything they could do to help — look over my resume, take me out for a drink, that kind of support.

      Think of it as expressing sympathy after a bad event. You won’t go wrong saying you don’t know what to say and you’re hoping for good things or happier times soon.

      1. Jessa

        This exactly. Ask if you can help. If you really honestly do know a job offer let them know, and then shaddup about it.

        If you have a referral process at your office ASK if they want to be referred by you before doing so. If Alison is doing resumes at the time, offer to chip in to help them send theirs to her or something. Bring dinner. Take em to a movie, do anything that has A: zero to do with looking for work, and B: not expensive, or free to them.

        Let them vent and ask before offering solutions “are you venting or are you asking for help?” SERIOUSLY THIS. It’s really hard if you’re unemployed to be able to just gripe about it without everyone and their brother and sister giving you lists of things that you’ve already done, tried to do, etc.

        Send em to Alison for advice, this column has a bunch of really good things about how to set your expectations, and to deal with idiot interviewers, companies that don’t let you know where in the process you are, etc. They’re not alone and here they’ll know that.

        But mostly don’t change. A lot of people start pulling away because well “Sue can’t afford to go out to eat and we always do that, etc.” Find other darned things to do. Not everything costs a lot. Maybe the group can chip in one week and take her. Don’t make her feel guilty because she’s broke, and don’t let her lose her friends when she needs them. Just because your friend had a downturn, and in this economy that can go on for an awful long time, don’t avoid them.

        1. Kerr

          +1. I also like the idea of inviting someone to dinner at your house; that way they can feel like they’re contributing by helping to prepare/clean up. Because as nice as it is to have people offer to treat, it can also be embarrassing. (Not that you shouldn’t offer! But doing free/cheap stuff is great.)

      2. Elizabeth West

        Exactly. And what I said above–if you’re going to offer, don’t pull it at the last second or blow them off. That may be the only thing they have going that week, since they don’t have any money for anything else!

    3. Bryan

      I agree on the refer them to this blog haha.

      When I was unemployed earlier this year I preferred to not talk about it to anybody. You can let them know you’re there if they need anything (I wouldn’t even say to proof resumes, just say if they need anything). If you’re able, it’s nice to do something for them that you know they enjoy but can’t afford. For example, I like going out to eat, when I was not earning a paycheck though this was one of the first things cut. But I would have loved if somebody took me out to eat.

      1. Ethyl

        I also agree on that! This blog really helped not only my resume but my sanity — it IS normal to take a long time to find a job in this economy, the advice I was getting WAS bad (I wasn’t nuts!), and there were things I COULD do that weren’t “bad salesman” techniques!

    4. Anonymous

      I guess it’s nonjudgmental, but it’s still going to make a lot of people cringe. The person already thinks about their situation all the time. It’s not like they’re going to forget if you don’t bring it up. Can’t you just talk about other things? It’ll be a relief to them to have one person in their life they can feel almost normal with.

      1. CKL116

        Well, sure I can talk about other things. I wouldn’t ask ONLY that question, and I wouldn’t even ask it first thing when I saw someone. But I talk to my friends about what’s going on in their lives, good stuff and bad stuff. While it could be a relief to not talk about something stressful, it would also be weird to totally ignore a big part of someone’s day-to-day life.

    5. A-cita

      My go-to is usually, “How are things going on the job front?” since it’s nonjudgmental and lets the person open the door as much or as little as she wants.

      I would advise against that particular question. Being unemployed really does a number on your self esteem–even though it’s irrational, there’s a lot of shame felt about it–and the question sort of forces people to acknowledge out loud that they’re unemployed (it sort of feels like the person is checking up on you and when you’re feeling down, you tend to be over sensitive and start to feel like there’s judgement behind the question, like: “You’re still unemployed?”). When I was unemployed, I got so tired of that question and I finally said, “Nothing has changed. When there’s good news, you’ll know about it.” I wanted to relax with my friends and forget my stress for a moment, not make it the topic of conversation.

      I like all the advice above. It’s important to just be there for someone because it is lonely and depressing. If you want to help, I’d just say, “I know job searching is stressful. I’m here to help if you need anything; just let me know.”

      1. Rana

        Yeah, that’s how I felt about it too. I dreaded family get-togethers because someone would always ask about the job search, I’d have to say I was still searching, and then it would turn into another advice session or attempt to console or reassure me, and both just made me feel worse.

        What I liked was when people asked about what other things I was up to, and when they talked about what was going on in their lives. That way we could have a conversation without the undercurrent of “Rana’s got problems, let’s try to fix them.”

        1. Elise

          I agree. Why not just say “How is it going?” and leave it at that. If they have any new information they wish to share….they will.

        2. Manda

          This. It’s worse while unemployed, but I felt the same way when I was underemployed too. I was stuck in retail well after finishing school and I dreaded any sort of party (ok, I don’t like parties much to begin with) because of all the inevitable inquiries about my job status. It was either “How’s your job search going?” to which I often replied, “It’s not,” or sometimes they’d just skip straight to “So where are you working now?” Ugh, it’s horrible.

      2. Felicia

        Yeah asking that every time you see someone unemployed makes it like that’s the only thing to talk about in their life. And generally there was nothing new to report, which is why I hated the question. If anything happened I would tell them and I would dread seeing them because I would dread how I was going to answer that question.

    6. Manda

      As a few others have said, I don’t like that either. I get a lot of “How’s the job search going?” I’d rather not talk about it. If I wanted to, I’d bring it up. If I got a job, I’d tell whoever I thought should know. It’s probably best just to ask, “What’s new?” If the person has a new job, they will probably say so. If they don’t mention it, they probably don’t have anything yet and might not want to talk about it.

  4. Lynn

    So… it is generally just better to not mention someone’s job search ever? Or is there some way to show support w/o stirring up anxiety? When I was job hunting (a year-long search), I hated most of those questions, too, and usually preferred not to talk about it, even with my closest friends/family.

    1. Jamie

      Actually I think not bringing it up ever is a nice way to go. If you’re close they know they can talk to you if they want, so they’ll bring it up.

      But being out of work is like health issues, infertility, divorce…there are a lot of touchy subjects out there that someone may need to discuss from time to time with those close to them – but they should control it because they can also be emotional bombs which can sidetrack the rest of their day emotionally.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Yes, that’s good. But I would at least tell them that if they wanted or needed to talk, I was available. They might be sitting there thinking you don’t ask because you don’t really care all that much, or they think talking about it would be bothersome.

    2. edj3

      I finally told people that when I got a job, they would be the first to know about it but otherwise it would be better for me if they just let me take the lead in initating job hunting conversations.

    3. Adam

      It depends on the friend of course, but since unemployment can be such an embarrassing issue unless you’re really close with them I’d go with a more general “So how are you doing?” or asking about any other facet of their lives that’s less likely to make them uncomfortable. If they want to talk about it they will.

    4. fposte

      I also think with good friends you can straight out ask–“Do you want this to be the place where we leave the job hunt behind, or do you want me to check in on how you’re doing?”

      1. Jessa

        Exactly. I think good friends get to ask ONCE and then they listen to what the person wants from them.

        1. A Bug!

          I always feel like “friendship advice” comes with the unspoken qualifier of “unless you know otherwise.”

          If you’re close enough that you know going in that your friend would welcome a certain action, then you don’t need to be getting your cues on that particular relationship from advice columns.

    5. Bluemeeple

      Personally, I wish nobody would ever ask me how my job hunt is going. If things are not going well, I don’t want to talk about it. If things are going well, believe me, I will tell you without being prompted!

      1. Felicia

        + a million! If I get an interview or a job I will tell you, so please stop asking. If there’s anything at all to tell, I will tell you! Ask me about something else for once, or just ask me how I am, and I’ll bring up the job search only if i want to (which is rarely)

    6. Allison

      It’s not a bad idea to avoid the topic entirely, and instead offer a brief diversion from their job hunt. If they’re not doing well, they may feel ashamed to talk about it (and then hear how it’s their fault for not trying hard enough) and they might not actually want your advice. Sometimes the one thing they need from their friends is something to take their mind off their unemployment.

    7. Katie the Fed

      I would treat it the same way you’d treat it with someone who is trying to lose weight. Just keep your questions/support general unless they indicate they want to discuss it. “So how’s everything going” opens the door without pointing out something that may be sensitive.

      1. Natalie

        This is a good way to handle all sorts of potentially touchy or draining subjects. With closer friends it’s easier to say “hey, do you want to talk about your health issue/divorce/sick family member/unemployment, or watch funny cat videos on the Internet?” but with more casual friends it’s probably best to stay vague and cheerful.

    8. Jessa

      Ask. As a good friend you can probably get away with “I get being unemployed is a pain in the keester, if you want to vent I’m here, if you need help let me know, I don’t want to inundate you with advice you’ve already heard, let me introduce you to Alison before I totally back off this subject unless you ask me to come back to it. Remember I’m your friend and your safe space.”

    9. Del

      Honestly, I would stick with a simple “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Offered with genuine meaning and sympathy (ie, ask in a way that shows that you are definitely interested in the tl;dr answer) opens the door for them to vent if they want to vent, or just to say “Pretty rough, but let’s not go there” or a variant if they’d rather not get into it.

  5. Ali

    I was always willing to talk about my job search when I was looking, but I had a friend of mine suggest I apply for the same job she was doing, as they needed multiple people in the role (product demo person in Sam’s Club stores). I decided not to apply, and when we had a falling out, that was one of the things she got mad at me for.

    Yeah, we haven’t talked since.

  6. themmases

    I wish there were a subtle way to give this to my aunt. I got her advice on my resume and a template cover letter because she did used to teach technical writing, but clearly I’ve opened a door that I would rather not have. I’ve decided to tough out my job for one more year until grad school, but while I was actively looking I got #6 regularly. I felt bad about snapping back, but it’s just so much more aggravating than the person saying it seems to realize!

    She was really pushing for a family friend to get a job at my boyfriend’s company, and constantly pestering my boyfriend (who does not have hiring power) about whether they had decided yet, why or why not… It didn’t work out and that friend has a survival job right now while he looks for career work. She’s incredibly miffed that he works at a deli now and I just want to shake her and say, “Where have you been? Almost every person my age has had to do that.” Her opinion (and my mother’s) is that this is because he didn’t call to follow up. :headdesk:

  7. Kristin

    I also hated when people would say “Wow! I wish I could get paid for doing nothing!” (in reference to unemployment.)

    First of all, rage. Second of all, it’s MY money that I paid into in order to be able to receive the benefits, so I’m not “getting paid for doing nothing.” Ugh. It’s just a ridiculous statement. And of course I’d rather be working!!

    1. Jamie

      ITA it’s a totally insensitive thing to say. But there is a misconception that UI is just getting back what you paid in. Employers also pay into UI (more than the individual) and there is some tax burden there, at least in my area.

      So while I think it’s a needed safety net (although not properly administered, imo) it’s not self-funded.

      1. Kristin

        True. But I still paid into it, so it’s not for “nothing.” And my employer paid into it and was paying me for 6 years of service. (I got laid-off, so it wasn’t a performance issue.)

      1. A Teacher

        A bit off topic, but Katie I was actually thinking about your post the other day and some of the others that post here regularly. I hope with the furlough you are all able to hang in there. This situation sucks and I wish all of you the best!

  8. LOLwhut

    “Wow honey, now you’ll have lots more time to cook and clean.”

    This is essentially what my wife said. And while she was very supportive and understanding, hearing that after a long day of job hunting, interviewing, and networking made me feel very stabby.

    1. Anonymous

      I could see this as a sitcom episode where you take her literally and just settle happily into being Stay-at-Home Spouse without ever looking for a job again.

      1. LOLwhut

        Don’t think I wasn’t tempted! I frequently offered to give up my illustrious, high-flying career to assume the life of a house husband. No dice. :)

  9. Dee

    I agree with this as well. As someone who was out of work for six months until January of this year, it was a lifesaver for the few that offered. The problem is most of your “friends” virtually disappear. Like any stress event, in my experience, most people disappear as if they think being unemployed is contagious and they don’t want what you have. When I did start working again, I really appreciated those friends who were a true support system.

    1. fposte

      I think this gets complicated too, because so many of us have friends at work and aren’t used to having to consciously seek those people out, and then so many things we tend to do with our friends involve spending money in a way we don’t want to do if we don’t have a job. So it can be nice for the temporarily more fortunate friend to offer some non-spendy possibilities–take a walk, go to the library, come over for a meal, that kind of thing.

      1. some1

        There *is* an element of Survivor’s Guilt when this happens (been on both signs of this), but there is also an element for some that they do purposely distance themselves.

        People are afraid that they could lose their job, too, so they (even subconsciously) victim-blame (Jane should have seen the writing on the wall after the last round of layoffs, Jane was a bad employee, Jane pissed off the wrong manager, etc. Even when this is true, it’s not helpful and is self-serving.)

        I have heard divorcees and widows have this happen after they lose a spouse or the separation

        1. Elizabeth West

          Yeah, it does happen with breakups–friends feel they need to take sides, and it’s very difficult when you have mutual friends. Some of them you just don’t see anymore ever, or they are clearly allied with the ex.

          With job friends, it’s a bit trickier. In many cases, even if it was a layoff or something non-performance related, lots of people tend to be ONLY work friends with work friends and not outside friends. So it’s really easy to find yourself bereft.

          1. some1

            “Yeah, it does happen with breakups–friends feel they need to take sides, and it’s very difficult when you have mutual friends. Some of them you just don’t see anymore ever, or they are clearly allied with the ex.”

            Sure, this happens, but that’s not what I was referring to. I have heard of people’s friends from before the relationship dropping off the face of the Earth just because they are now solo, not because they have an allegiance to the other partner. Some couples only want to socialize with other couples, so they don’t invite people who aren’t paired up because they assume the single person doesn’t want to go.

            1. Windchime

              Or they assume that inviting a single woman/man along could somehow be a threat. As if we are going to start trying to poach on someone’s spouse or something. Grrrrrrr.

              1. Elizabeth West

                I hate that. I always want to say, Yeah, your husband’s nice, honey, but he’s YOUR husband–and he may be all that to you, but I probably don’t find him that attractive. I don’t want your guy with all his baggage–I’d rather have my own guy. I just want to hang out.

      2. tcookson

        many of us have friends at work and aren’t used to having to consciously seek those people out

        Or if you’ve only been friends with them at work, and then they are not there, sometimes you don’t know if they would have wanted to take the friendship outside work if their situation had stayed the same or if they had left for a more positive reason . . . so it can feel awkward to propose an outside-work friendship that you don’t know they would welcome.

    2. A-cita

      I had this happen to me. A very long term, very close friendship was destroyed over this. I had supported her in many ways (emotionally, financially, technically–resume help, portfolio help, job negotiation help, provided contacts, cheer-me-up gifts, etc) through the many times she has gone through unemployment and the one time in my life I was unemployed, she avoided me like the plague.

        1. A-cita

          Thank you. The plus side is that it brought me closer to a different friend who was just so unconditionally supportive, even when I know I wasn’t the best company to be around. You really do find out who your real friends are.

          1. Ruffingit

            That is the beauty that is wrapped around the very ugly situation of unemployment (divorce, insert any other life hardship). It’s not just a cliche that you find out who your friends are.

    3. Manda

      For me it’s the other way around. I have difficulty making and keeping friends to begin with, but I’ve shied away from the few that I have because I’m ashamed of myself. I talk to them a little but not much. It’s hard not to feel like I don’t deserve to be out having fun. I can’t help wondering if they think I’m pathetic. Also, I dread discussing the situation. I had one online friend I still talked to often and he randomly disappeared.

      And while we’re on the topic of relationships here, questions like, “So, you do you have a boyfriend?” and, “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” are about as annoying as, “Have you found a job yet?” I recently had someone ask me how my love life was and my response was, “Nonexistent.” She was like, “But you’re so beautiful,” which is analogous to #6 – “But you’re so smart.” Ugh.

  10. Adam

    I’d like to add one for the mother’s out there:

    “Why don’t you try applying for a jobs here (i.e. geographically close to her)?”

    It’s a sweet sentiment and all but it drove my crazy since I didn’t want to move (and told her so frequently) and it also never seemed to sink in to her that the unemployment rate in her state was nearly triple what it was in mine.

    1. Jamie

      I can imagine that would be completely annoying…but I’m a mom and I get it. :)

      She loves you, you’re her baby, and she wants to see you more often and to live closer.

      Doesn’t mean that would be right for you, but your comment made me smile and I love that you appreciate the sentiment underneath the smothering.

      Now go call your mom and tell her you love her!

      1. Adam

        Oh trust me. Moving closer to her would be unhealthy for me in just about every respect. She means well, but has a tendency to forget pertinent information that I share, particularly how the job market in her state was abysmal when I was looking versus where I live it was just average difficulty.

        Thankfully she’s no longer sending me job postings for local positions. It was an appreciable thought at first even though I wasn’t interested until she started sending things at random, like the part-time job working primarily kids, which would have guaranteed me a quick descent into insanity. X_X

        Now we operate under the “If I have something to tell you about my career I will let you know” rule and everyone is much happier. :)

        1. Forrest

          For real. I love my mom but dealing with her is extremely difficult due to her untreated bipolar disorder.

          Its not cute, its not sweet, its just causes anxiety and stress and I really wish all parents would take a step back and not just leave it up to the child to tolerate it.

      2. Cat

        Heh, my dad periodically calls me and is like “I keep meeting people in [your industry] who say there are tons of jobs in [our city]!” I’m not planning on moving yet (if ever), but it is sweet of him.

      3. some1

        It’s one thing to want your kids as close as possible. It’s another to use the loss of your kids job (or a break-up or some other tragedy) as a reason to get them there.

      4. Malissa

        I’m still not sure how my mother did it, but when I was looking at relocating and getting a new job I wasn’t finding anything in the entire state. Then some thing came open in the town where she lives half the year. The clouds cleared, bird started chirping. Next thing I know I’m on a plane for an interview. And then BAM! I had a new job.
        I totally give her all the blame(credit) for this.

    2. Windchime

      Oooops……..Adam, are you my son? Because I say this to my son sometimes. He is living in an area where jobs are scarce and I think he’d have a better shot here in my area. Plus, then my kid would be close by and all that.

      I’m taking careful notes on this thread, so I don’t do anything to make things worse for my son who is employed, but in a dead-end job that he doesn’t like.

      1. Adam

        Nah, I don’t think we’re related. ;)

        My mom doesn’t want to live where she is either. She just hasn’t found a better option yet.

        My advice? Give your son some breathing room. He knows you care, but odds are there isn’t anything you can tell him about his career prospects that he doesn’t already know.

        1. Ruffingit

          He knows you care, but odds are there isn’t anything you can tell him about his career prospects that he doesn’t already know.

          THIS! 100 times this. People who are unemployed/underemployed are already well-aware of career prospects. They are not sitting around waiting for other people to send them those magic job ads. They know what they need to do. Be supportive, but not intrusive.

    3. Ruffingit

      There’s also the whole deal where parents think they know your industry, but they don’t. At all. They think because you work in engineering for example, you’re capable of doing every kind of engineering under the sun. Same if you’re a lawyer – clearly, you can practice all law. My father continues to wonder why I didn’t use my law degree to “practice corporate law for 10 years and make a ton of money and then you could have just done whatever you wanted in life after that…” The absurdity of that statement knows no bounds. So yeah, don’t assume you know your child’s profession just because you know their job title.

  11. AAM Fangirl

    Ugh my friend’s 20-something son is looking for work, and everyday, him mom and parents friends post some ANTI-AAM type advice. Like: “Don’t waste time emailing, just show up at an office and tell them you want a job there!” And “Be persistant, keep calling every number at a company until you find someone who will give you an interview.” When he refuses to do that, but instead goes about things the smart way (since I showed him this blog for advice!) these same people respond by calling him “lazy,” saying “You’ll never get a job unless you go out there anf fight for it like this!”

    1. AdminAnon

      That happened to me when I was living with my parents while job hunting. I talked to them about their horrible advice until I was blue in the face, but they kept insisting that they got their jobs (20 years ago) by being persistent and aggressive. Every time I applied for a job, they insisted that I should call (often despite the “NO CALLS, PLEASE” at the bottom of the position description).

      My dad has been headhunted into every position for the past 23 years and my mom got her part-time, just for fun job 3 years ago (after 19 years of being a SAHM) through a friend of a friend, so they really have no idea what it’s actually like.

      1. tcookson

        Yes! and you have to do it EARLY because if you wait until noon (or even close to it) then the employers will think you are LAZY for not being the early bird.

    2. Ruffingit

      Yeah, you need to fight for positions. Get your boxing gloves out. Sigh. It’s so sad that people don’t realize how hard it is out there and how much things have changed.

    1. Katie the Fed

      Thanks guys – I just responded in another thread. I’m doing ok – the weather is beautiful, I’m churning through a long to-do list that I’ve neglected for too long, and my boyfriend is furloughed too so we’re enjoying quality time. And the pets think this is the best thing ever.

      It could always be worse :)

      1. KJR

        That is true! My dad is off from NASA, and has pointed out that this conveniently coincides with the beginning of hunting season! I know he’s sad not to be at work though.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit

      Thinking of you!

      And, seriously: I’d love to see this guest post. Or anything from Katie’s perspective in the middle of this nonsense.

    3. Brett

      I was just thinking of you for another reason. I landed my first consulting gig this week (that even complies with all our secondary employment and ethics restrictions). Now might be a really good time to work on reaching out to some potential consulting gigs since you are interested in that.

      1. Brett

        (And I am working writing out how it worked, so that I can contribute something constructive, since I am sure you have already thought of that :)

      2. Brett

        My searching was too incompetent to find your other thread, so I’ll just post my update here. This is coming from the open thread discussion about leaving federal government.

        So, the day after we had that discussion, I had a meetup event going on that I was organizing. While at that event, I talked to some people at various companies and dropped the hint that I would be interested in some secondary consulting work. Less than 48 hours later, someone contacted me back and wanted to know if I could sit down with them and discuss a consulting position.

        Here is what I learned: They had four reasons to be interested in me. Unlike what I thought and said in the thread last week, solving problems for them was only a minor interest, though part of it. Second, they wanted me to teach their employees the pitfalls specific to my field that they would otherwise have no clue about. Third, they wanted my skill and reputation to help them recruit potential talent.

        The most important thing of all though was that they wanted my reputation and connections. They need to talk to investors, and being able to say “We don’t have any chocolate teapot experts on staff, but we have Brett as a chocolate teapot consultant” helps convince investors that they can handle the parts of their core product that branch over into chocolate teapots, and beat their competitors into integrating chocolate teapots into their core products.

        So, imagine you have a growing company looking for investors to provide funding to go international; or with a core product that has an inherently multi-national market. They can hire you and your international relations expertise on a advisor-consultant basis and go to their potential investors and say, “We don’t have strong experience on staff with foreign governments, but we have Katie the Fed as an advisor. She has [this laundry list of international relations experience] and has all of this work experience for the federal government in a managerial role. She will help us navigate foreign government and foreign markets.”

        According to the people I talked to earlier this week, this improves investor confidence. Not only does the company get more investment, but the investor might even specifically invest in funding and retaining you as a consultant. If you work out well as a consultant, they might even approach their investors about investing enough to bring you on at a competitive rate as a full time employee. Or, since capital investors normally have a portfolio of companies, the investor might introduce you to other companies in their portfolio.

        Not sure this will work for you, but that is what I learned this week and, like I said, maybe the shutdown will give some time to talk to venture capital firms and startup companies about potential opportunities.

        1. Katie the Fed

          I’m sorry I took so long to reply, but thank you for the update! I really appreciate it. Congrats to you, and I really appreciate all the info. I’m going to start looking more seriously into how I can do the same.

    4. A Teacher

      I posted above to you before I came down this far–but anyway way to have a positive outlook in this crappy situation.

    5. ChristineSW

      Thinking of you Katie (and any other furloughed federal employee reading this) – I really hope this mess clears up soon. ((hugs))

    6. Malissa

      You have my sympathy!
      So do the Border Patrol people who are still working but not getting paid at the check station on my home. I don’t know the rules otherwise I would be tempted to have pizza delivered to them. For working in 95 degree heat with-out pay.

      1. KellyK

        I’m sure there’s an office number somewhere you can call and ask if that’d be allowed. I’d order an assortment of sodas (regular and diet) and bottled water to go with that pizza, since it’s so hot.

      2. JessB

        I think that sounds like one of the nicest things ever, Malissa! I hope you’re able to make it happen.

  12. ChristineSW

    Great list! I particularly echo #4 (temping). In addition to what Alison says, temping just isn’t feasible for some people. From my understanding, temp positions tend to have a pretty fast turnaround time. If they are unable to drive, either because of disability (in my case) or not having a reliable car, it’s very difficult to predict whether you’ll be able to jump in when the agency tells you they need a temp tomorrow.

    Another thing I didn’t like hearing: “Have you tried X school/Y hospital/Z nonprofit?” or “What about school/nursing home/children’s social work?” I understand that you’re just trying to provide helpful suggestions, and I appreciate that. However, I’m limited in the types of jobs I can do in my field (because of the fieldwork required) and, frankly, I’m not interested in most direct contact positions. (To be fair though, most people are not familiar with the nuances of my field beyond traditional client contact roles and types of roles I’ve been trying to get experience in).

    1. Jamie

      Even without those obstacles, temping is not what it once was and it saddens me because it was an awesome way to get started.

      When I temped between 2005-2007 there were 3 days I wasn’t working not of my own volition. It was crazy – I was constantly busy, could pick and choose, and considered it job shopping. And offers to come on perm were more common than not.

      When I temped briefly in 2008 for a couple of months in between jobs the cupboard was bare. Forget about being choosy, you were happy to be called for anything.

      A crappy economy will hit the temp industry hard. When times are good and money is flowing and Jane is taking a week off you call in a temp. When things are running leaner and Jane needs time off Bob and Wakeen have to cover for her while still getting their own work done.

      Again, it’s such a shame because it was SUCH an awesome entry into the work force for me. I worked short, mid, and long term assignments in a variety of industries and learned tons of different software packages and got to hone what I wanted. I saw all kinds of management styles and office cultures and it helped me craft an excellent idea of what I was looking for – and there was no reason to settle down too soon because I could work full time and still job shop for the perfect gig.

      I hate that my kids and everyone else starting out don’t have this same in that I had with temping. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone…I can’t even remember the last time we talked about hiring an office temp for anything.

      1. Jane Doe

        This is similar to my experience. I temped in 2007 and 2008 when I was out of school during the summer and I had a steady 40 hours/week for the whole summer (and had I not been a student they could have used me the entire year). In 2012 I had very few assignments and most of them were shorter than two weeks long, and they were pretty much all administrative.

      2. Elizabeth West

        When I temped briefly in 2008 for a couple of months in between jobs the cupboard was bare. Forget about being choosy, you were happy to be called for anything.

        Oh HELL yeah. Happened to me last year. First thing I did was contact Express and Penmac here. Waited—zippo.

        I stayed away from Kelly because our local office has a ‘tude.

      3. ChristineSW

        Good point Jamie (as per usual ;) ). Back in 2000, I was called all. the. time. when registered with a particular temp agency; I had to turn them all down because of the driving situation. The one I did take only kept me for one day because I wasn’t fast enough.

        More recently, I’ve registered with an industry-specific placement agency as well as the temp division at my university. Other than a couple of nibbles (neither went anywhere–one of them I wasn’t even interested in), I’ve gotten nothing whatsoever between both agencies. I thought for SURE my university would’ve wanted me!

      4. Felicia

        Totally agree! I graduated in 2012- and it was generally people older than me who suggested I try temping. I registered with lots of agencies, but especially being a non experienced person, couldn’t get anything, since the rare time a company wanted a temp, they had plenty of experienced people to choose from. Fine, it worked when they were my age, but you’d think they’d notice that their company never tries temps anymore.

        I hate the “why don’t you try x” in general though. Because either the person hasn’t job hunted in the past 5 years and don’t know what it’s like now, the person hasn’t been entry level in the last 5 years, so they don’t understand how much harder it is to get started, or it’s something i’ve already tried so i feel bad about failing at whatever it is.

        1. SevenSixOne

          SO MUCH YES. Someone who hasn’t been job hunting– especially entry-level job hunting– in the last 5 years can’t even IMAGINE how much things have changed in such a short time.

    2. Shane Watson

      I totally agree. I hate hearing the “have you tried X”, almost as much as I hate hearing the “you’d have a job by now if you’d have tried my suggestion.”

      Seriously, feel free to give me good contacts or potential job offers, but don’t flood me with them. I have a tough enough time filtering through the jobs that I’m qualified for without having to filter through the 10 you just sent me that are for plumbing, burger-flipping, or being a CFO.

      1. Rana

        Oh, gosh, yes. I know what skills I have, and don’t have, so telling me I’d be great at Job X when I know I’m not competitive for it is a waste of both our time. The question isn’t whether I could do the job (given time to learn and a tolerant boss) but whether I’d be able to persuade an interviewer that I’m a better choice than someone who’s already got several years of experience doing that job. That requires a level of persuasiveness I simply do not have.

  13. Katie the Fed

    One thing I’ve noticed with friends and colleagues who were unemployed for a long period of time – they seem to almost have a kind of PTSD with regards to employment. The whole experience was so traumatic they are terrified of being back in that position and get really nervous about losing their jobs again. It seems like it’s something that takes a long time to get over. In the US our jobs are such a big part of our identity – it can shake you to your core to be without one for so long.

    1. ChristineSW

      I can see what you mean. My layoff itself wasn’t really traumatic, but everything leading up to it was kinda was. It makes me really scared to go back to work for fear that I’ll lose my footing again.

    2. Rana

      That’s exactly right. In my case it coincided not only with not having a job, but the realization that my entire field – one I’d dedicated over a decade to – is no longer something I’m competitive in (because the number of openings is so insanely few, if you don’t walk on water you’re not going to get an interview – and even then, you’re competing with several other water-walkers).

      It really damages your sense of self, beyond the effects on your pocketbook.

  14. Anonymous

    I am sending this to my mother-in-law forthwith.

    Then I’ll follow up next Thursday and ask if she read that article I sent last week.

  15. nyxalinth

    I would like to add:

    “You’d have had a job weeks/months/years ago if you’d just lower your standards and work fast food/retail/wait tables/other low paying job people assume is very easy to get.”

    Those jobs are harder to get for obvious reasons. Less obviously, they’ve gotten pickier, too, and often demand recent previous experience. (I worked for KFC 6 years ago. Not recent enough for the ones in Denver, I suppose. Like it changes all that much, but that just shows you how it is.) Also here in Denver unless you’re Hispanic or a college/high school student, it’s impossible to get fast food work even in good times.

    Another one is well-meaning people passing on stuff that they think will be a good stop-gap, like starting a blog. yes, people make money, but it can take 1-2 years to get any money coming in.

    Also, i love writing, so people always keep asking me why I don’t write for money. Why that’s so easy, I didn’t even think of it before! Not.

    1. Anonymous

      Omg the writing. My coworker’s daughter dropped out of college to “find herself” and now works retail part time. I guess she was pretty good at essays and whatnot while she was in school, and the coworker keeps telling her she should write a book about being out of school and looking for work. I wonder what she thinks it ought to be called–Confessions of Absolutely Everyone Everywhere Since 2005?

      I write a lot of fiction for fun and have no illusions (or desire) for anything beyond maybe putting a couple books on Amazon for $0.99 just to get a few dollars out of it, but the corollary to “Have you looked for jobs online?” for anyone who knows I write is “Have you thought about self-publishing?”

      1. nyxalinth

        Yup. I get that one, too. Those people don’t understand that self publishing means doing all the things that will get your book to make money by yourself, too.

    2. Elizabeth West

      Yeah, like freelance writing is SOOOOO easy to just rake in the bucks!

      Cue my rant about how people think writers are rich. Or this: “You write books? Any of them published? Well get moving!”

      Or this: “Why don’t you self-publish a book and make some money?” AHEM. Because it costs money and I didn’t have any!

      *headdesk*

      1. Felicia

        I have a freelance writing gig where i get 50$ per assignment and get 4-5 assignments a month – that makes me super duper extra lucky, because most people can’t even get that. And yet some people think i could totally live off freelancing

        1. Elizabeth West

          That’s….let’s see…only slightly more to what I got from unemployment. Not a lot! And that was after taxes, and you would have to pay higher ones if you’re self-employed. I think people don’t realize that.

          1. Rana

            Bingo. If it weren’t for my husband’s income subsidizing me as I freelance, I’d be out on the streets. It takes a long time to build up enough of a client base to be self-sustaining, and it’s damn expensive on the way there.

            “Start your own business” is advice best reserved when all other options are exhausted, and even then, it’s pretty risky.

            1. Julie G

              I’m a freelance travel writer and I love it when people think I can actually live off what I make. I have two books coming out next year and I still need my husband’s income to survive. And try applying for jobs to make extra income – everyone thinks you will quit and jump on a plane tomorrow. Luckily, I have learned to have multiple income streams. I also work as a freelance editor and I am a puppeteer. Yup. Puppets. People love’em and shows bring in more money than writing books.

      2. SevenSixOne

        I have a friend who turned a popular blog into a full-time job… but it took 3+ years of daily updates, a substantial savings, and a supportive partner whose job pays most of the bills and covers their benefits to get there…. and the blog (and magazine articles, TV appearances, speaking engagements, etc. as “popularblog.com’s Terry Soandso”) makes about $30,000 a year.

        Friend is talking to an agent about a book deal, but Friend knows the best outcome there will make maybe $50,000. Not chump change, sure, but Friend is far from rich, and Friend is one of the very very lucky ones.

    3. ChristineSW

      Ditto with the writing!!! I love writing and would love to incorporate my skills in paid employment. However, some of the suggestions are not as easy as some people think. The most common suggestions I get are blogging and grant writing. First of all, I don’t even know where to BEGIN with blogging. I’ve actually thought of starting a blog, but it would not be for making money or building a nationwide audience. As for the grant writing? You need experience to have any chance of starting your own business (another suggestion I sometimes get–self-employment). While I have experience with reviewing grants, I have yet to write a grant myself.

      I’m not shrugging off these suggestions, don’t get me wrong; they’re just not the quick fix that many people seem to think they are since it takes time to build up a reputation.

      1. Elizabeth West

        No, they’re not. And making money through blogging is HARRRRRRDD. You have to have a niche, and a “product” that everyone wants, like Alison does, and post a LOT to keep readers interested. I’ve been tempted to use ads on my blogs, but that usually only amounts to a pittance if you don’t have much traffic.

        1. Collarbone High

          I once tried out an online tool that told you the value of your blog, based on readership, ad placement, etc. Mine was worth 17 cents.

    4. Anonymous

      Ugh, x10 on the “you should write!” thing. I actually had a career coach suggest I look into freelance writing as a viable job path, since I was an English major (many moons ago) and like to write. That was about the final straw on *that* relationship – I figured if he was that clueless about the current employment market, I was better off saving what money I had left and just spending more time here instead… Totally unclear why people think a) everyone should have a book/blog/freelance writing income, b) this would provide any semblance of reasonable income in a short period of time for even the next JK Rowling.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Yeah, really, especially since some of those trying can’t write their way out of a wet paper bag. Google “worst self-published books” sometime. It’s fun.

        1. Rana

          Yup. As an editor, I hear a lot of discussion about it. Unfortunately, the nature of self-publishing means that potential clients (a) don’t really have the money to pay for professional editing, and (b) don’t have experience being edited, and so are challenging clients to work with.

        2. Jen

          Yay, good way to waste the next half hour! (Feeling lazy today.)

          And pretty much what Rana said – when I was copy editing, I was very glad I only had to work with translations and not directly with the authors…

      2. Julie G

        You can make a living but it totally depends on the kind of living you want. I don’t buy into the starving artist mentality and don’t like cereal every night for dinner. That being said, I realized a while ago that because of my freelance background, it would be tough to have any employer take me seriously. I’ve had to work very hard to make a writing/ freelance career work and treat it like a business. I’ve had success but it will be a while before I might have a “real” income.

  16. Anonymous

    Also, thank you especially for #3 and #4. When people ask if I’ve looked online, I always have to fight the urge to say something like “No, my typewriter isn’t compatible with that America Online” or “I’m afraid I’ll get one of those viruses and it’ll knock out the electricity.”

    And temping is not the Secret Undiscovered Magical Land of Free Jobs They’re Desperate to Fill. Everyone tells you these things (usually in a whisper) like it’s some esoteric knowledge only three people in the world have and you’re now the fourth.

  17. Anonymous

    I’ve been reading AAM for a long time and I think this is one of my favorite posts, mostly because I am currently unemployed and I’ve heard more than a few of these. One came directly from an interviewer after he learned I no longer had a job. “So, is it like being on vacation?” Uh….sure, if being on vacation means never spending any money, writing a zillion cover letters, praying nothing in your house breaks, and hoping your dog doesn’t need a trip to the vet.

    1. Kerr

      Wow. I thought I was the only one who’d been asked that kind of question! One interviewer actually said, “So, I guess it’s nice to have a vacation, huh?” Well, yeah, it would be. But it’s been a very long vacation, and it would be nice to be able to afford stuff again. And most people don’t spend their vacations applying for jobs.

      Fortunately, most of my friends have been very understanding and not prone to giving advice. I’ve still heard just about everything on this list from others, though.

      Oh, and #11: Don’t assume that your unemployed friend (or interviewee) is getting unemployment pay. Not everyone who can’t find a job fits the criteria.

  18. some1

    #11: Don’t reveal that your friend has been laid off to others. (Exceptions being needing to tell employees, vendors or customers.)

    Just like someone getting divorced or miscarrying; it’s not your announcement to make. I was laid off from a previous company and one of my closest friends there mentioned it in her FB status a couple days later. I hadn’t even told my parents yet.

    1. Agreed

      Yeah and don’t make a big announcement either if you’re helping a friend/family member financially. That happened to me. Someone I know who was assisting me with some of my smaller bills when I was out of work said this to her co-workers right in front of me “So I’ll be right back, I’m just going with Agreed to put gas in her car.” Way to make me feel like a charity case, thanks so much. This particular person though had a general issue with this kind of thing with everyone. I did tell her that it wasn’t appropriate to announce other people’s business that way and she did take it well so I guess there’s that. But still, it was humiliating to have that happen.

  19. Anon this time

    I love “why don’t you temp?” Like it’s something you have a choice to do more so than getting a full-time job. Getting a temp job is as hard as getting a real job, even in NYC. Its not like there are all of these good temp jobs waiting to be filled.

    I am employed but wanting to switch jobs and it is much harder than the last time I looked, even though I have much more awesome experience. What do I get from friends? Horror stories of how it look a year for xyz person to get an interview – and they are awesome too. Wow, that does not help or motivate me. That makes me think this whole process is stupid and I should drop out of the job search if its not going to make a difference anyway.

  20. some1

    I have to say, when I was unemployed, I really appreciated my friends who took me out for drinks, dinner or coffee, suggested just coming over to hang out, or just checked in periodically. Being laid off definitely made me realize who my friends are.

  21. Ed

    Something that bugged me when I was out of work was relatives constantly trying to get me random jobs where they worked. I appreciated the thought but they don’t understand my industry (IT) so as a senior-level engineer, an entry-level tech job is not appropriate for me. I would politely decline and then hear “beggars can’t be choosers”. I will admit they had no idea how much I was making at the time and that they were asking me to take a $50K pay cut. My mother was the worst. Her best friend’s 40-year-old son lost a very prestigious job, ended up losing everything and living in a shelter so she was convinced that would be my path if I didn’t desperately latch on to the first job to come along.

    I stuck to my guns and found a better job than I lost (which eventually led to an even better job) but those were some very stressful months. I burned through all of my savings, sold some expensive possessions and put $2K of bills on a credit card (I had gotten a zero-interest-for-a-year card deal, now non-existent, as a safety net when I found out my job was ending).

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      I felt bad about my $15K pay cut with the new job after being laid off, but then my former boss mentioned her $35-40K pay cut. But hey, we’re both working again!

    2. anon-2

      Yeah when I was let go – I was making a substantial amount – but people were telling me “latch on to the first job”.

      NO. Some of the jobs out there would have required me to take a 50 percent pay cut. That meant I would NEVER recover. Fortunately I was back at my 1990 level by the middle of 1992. Had I taken a lower-paying slot – it would have burned me for YEARS.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        Yeah, but right now, being burned for years or perhaps never recoving is still better than losing your house, which is what my former boss was facing. This is no longer the 1990s.

  22. J

    I have a good friend who works at the corporate headquarters for a major retail chain, and he’s constantly telling his friends to apply for his department and dismissively making comments about how they’ll hire anybody, and how half the people on his team don’t know what they’re doing. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t still get 10,000 applications for any job posting.

    One of the most aggravating is “You should just work at ________,” and it’s especially irritating because he doesn’t get why it’s frustrating to hear. He’s has never had to look for a job in his life – he was recruited right out of college by his current company, and even the part time jobs he had in school he just walked in and took back in the days when you could do that. So he’s not trying to be condescending, he just literally doesn’t know what it’s like to look for jobs because he’s never had to do it. In his mind, if he wants a job at X he just goes there and gets one.

    I’m not even currently job hunting and he’s said most of the things on this list to me, and he’s certainly said them about our friends who are looking. Some people just don’t have any experience being out of work.

  23. Elizabeth West

    Oh the bad memories of last year….

    1. “It must be nice to have so much time off work.”
    For many people, it’s more stressful than going to an office every day.

    ZOMG yes. It’s like “Gee, I’m out of milk; can I scrape up enough pennies around the house, go for a walk and scope the gutter, etc. to get my calcium, or do I have to call my mom/friend/relative/whatever to loan me four bucks until the UI check hits?” :{

    3. “Have you tried looking for jobs online?”

    This one was especially annoying, since anyone who knows me knows I am online ALL THE FREAKING TIME.

    4. “Why don’t you try temping?”

    Tried it; they never had anything for me. Only one thing, and it was a half-day thing on July 4th, when I already had plans. Not like the last time I was unemployed in 2004, when I had temp jobs out the wazoo and even ended up working in the actual Express office.

    1. nyxalinth

      Not to mention that until they’ve tried it, they don’t know about all the rubbish recruiters sometimes do, like was mentioned yesterday. Or the fake jobs intended to lure people in, resume farming, etc.

  24. Jazzy Red

    “It must be nice to have so much time off work.”

    Here’s a true story. We had layoffs at my company, and two days after, one of the ex-employees needed to talk to someone at our company. All calls go through the receptionist, so the receptionist answered and said “Oh, I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather we’re having today! I’m so jealous that you’re off work and can be outside, and I have to stay in the office. I wish I could be outside today!” The caller was gobsmacked, and when she could speak, she said “I’m glad you’re so jealous of me, but I’m jealous of you. You can probably make your mortgage payment this month, but I can’t, and I’m going to lose my house. ” So the receptionist complained to her boss that Former Employee called, and was rude to her. For real.

    Don’t say stupid things like that to someone who’s out of work.

      1. Jazzy Red

        She’s still here, and every time I see her, I want to slap her.

        She’s like the cockroaches – she’ll still be here after we’re all gone.

    1. Nicky

      I just had to share this as an example of jaw-dropping insensitivity.

      I’m thankfully employed now, but in February myself and two colleagues, including my awesome manager Kate, were made redundant as our employer decided to remove the service we provided from the regional office, and move everything to London. We were close with our on-site office mates and our London colleagues, and had served 6, 12 and 25 years respectively, so it was pretty traumatic. We were given an emotional sendoff and maintained close ties with our London team-mates – so much so that Kate travelled to London to surprise another manager at his leaving party about a month later. Enter the Division Head, one of the people responsible for our redundancies. “Oh Kate!” she said, “What a lovely surprise! I’m sure your leaving party will be just as good as this – when *are* you girls finishing again?” “Our leaving party was a month ago – and I believe you paid for our bar tab” replied Kate, accompanied, no-doubt, by a death glare and a fantastic exit.

  25. Sabrina

    #5 Yes. I have a friend, bless her heart, who tries to help me out by sending postings from her company. They aren’t related to what I want to do and aren’t in the city I want to live in.

    I’d also add on the flip side of this… awhile back I was in a job that I wasn’t happy with (I know, so unlike me) and a couple of times I griped about it on Facebook. And I had a friend who would respond with “Well at least you have a job!!” OK, true, but not helpful and I had legit concerns about that job. Fast forward a few months, she has a job that she hates (and complained about a whole lot more) and I’m unemployed. It was VERY hard for me to not say “Well at least you have a job!”

    1. Jamie

      That is so frustrating – like you aren’t allowed to feel bad about something if someone, somewhere has it worse.

      Just because I’m grateful it isn’t a brain tumor doesn’t mean my migraine doesn’t hurt. The world isn’t that black and white.

  26. Sabrina

    I also want to add “Why don’t you go work at XYZ Company?” As if being George Costanza and just start showing up were a realistic option.

  27. Bryce

    From the Department of Top Things Your Out-of-Work Friends Won’t Tell You, But Wish They Could:

    “I need your support, not necessarily your advice, and definitely NOT your criticism.” (This is Numero Uno!)

    “What I really need a lot of days is just a sympathetic ear.”

    “I’d love to do something non-job-search-related with you.”

    “I appreciate even small gestures of support, like feeding my cat and emptying the litter box when I’m traveling to an out-of-town imterview.”

    “The opportunities you send my way may not be the right fit for me.”

    “Don’t regale me with success stories and horror stories about job searching.”

    “Looking for a new job is my job now.”

  28. LV

    A librarian friend of mine has had her work hours drastically cut as her library has started opening later and closing earlier in an attempt to save money. It drives her up the wall whenever patrons say, “Oh, you must love getting to go home so early in the day!” They mean well, but it’s so thoughtless. Yeah, she really enjoys getting 16 hours a week instead of 30! She didn’t need all that extra money or anything!

  29. Felicia

    Another thing – don’t make every single thing you say to them about their job search. I’m currently don’t a 4 month temp job, but i have this problem with my family all the time. I’m more than just my job search, and I think about it all the time, so it woudl be nice to talk about other things for once!

  30. Kelly L.

    “Why don’t you apply at (job that’s highly technical in a field I know nothing about)?”

    My mom FB messaged me every day during my job search to ask if I’d heard anything. She meant well, but it made me feel bad every time I had to say no. Finally, I said, “If I hear anything, I will let you know. I promise.” Ironically, I got an offer the next day.

    1. A Bug!

      When my IT-skilled partner was unemployed, he got it from several directions. What do you even say to people that unfamiliar with your qualifications?

      “What do you mean, you’re not qualified to be a pharmacy technician? That’s computers, isn’t it? You’re being too picky.”

      1. Jamie

        Yep. And the other side of that is people trying to help their unemployed loved ones by asking those of us in IT how they can get a job like ours, because so and so is “really good with computers” and you don’t need a degree right?

        Yeah – I spoke to one of those people who are “really good with computers.” He had zero interest in the field and the extent of his expertise is being the only one in the family who knows how to hit the reset switch on their router and being on Facebook a lot.

        There is a little more to it than that…I’d be thrilled to talk to someone who had an interest in the field but it needs to be based on more than “it looks easy and you can make a lot of money right?”

        Yes…it’s very easy, I barely have to think at all… and I’m typing this from my diamond encrusted keyboard from the cabin of my solid gold private jet.

        IT is still a misunderstood little wonderland.

        1. Katie

          “the extent of his expertise is being the only one in the family who knows how to hit the reset switch on their router”

          Lol, this is the extent of my being good with computers, but I still call myself the family IT department. TV “broken” again? Sure, I’ll fix it. The same way I did last time, by hitting this magical source button on the remote and/ or jiggling and hitting the TV. Or my classic, even for lower tech appliances, try unplugging it and then plugging it back in.

          There are definitely jobs where people will be impressed by this level of tech-savviness too, but pretty much none where understanding the basics of working items with a power switch is enough to get you a job.

        2. Windchime

          For sure. I’m a SQL developer. Nobody in my family even knows what I do. One of my sons used to think that I just sat at my desk and typed all day.

      2. Julia

        Aaargh yes! My mother wanted me to apply for jobs as a stonemason because I had a degree in geology.

        1. anon in the uk

          Yes. I work in tax and have done for nearly 15 years. Anything I can remember about accounting standards or property law is so remote as to be non-existent

        2. clare

          Wow, that one really made me laugh…what do you even say in reply to that?
          I can relate though- I got my MA in cultural anthropology and the number of people (even college-educated big city types) who think that it I studied archaeology or, God help me, paleontology (really) is incredible.

    2. Shoshie

      I’m a chemist, and I get tons of people saying that I *must* be able to find work in our city because there’s tons of tech. Except that I’m not going to be able to compete with programmers for programming jobs and biologists for biotech jobs.

      I also get #6 a lot, since I just finished my PhD. It’s really frustrating.

  31. Claire MKE

    These are also good things not to say to someone who is working a survival job…especially while you are both AT your survival job. Yes, thank you, friend-of-my-mom, I would really like to discuss my job hunt while I am checking you out and my manager is right over there.

    1. Anonymous

      My MIL did this a couple years ago, no kidding. Are they completely oblivious to where they are standing? It’s like the guy who tries to hold up a doughnut shop.

  32. JJ

    YES, A MILLION TIMES YES. Thanks for this post, I feel like the only one out of my close friends who has yet to get a job, and it’s frustrating to hear these things. Another one, “You should try networking more/harder.”

  33. Vicki

    I hate the advice about “the hidden job market”.

    Yes, I have 400 connections in LinkedIn. But most of them are not hiring managers; they’re individual contributors, just like I am. When I ask if there’s anything in my area of expertise in their companies, they invariably point me to the company’s “careers” page and say “if something looks like a match, I encourage you to apply”. Even the hiring managers say that (they hire development engineers and I’m a writer/content manager. I _support_ dev eng but I don’t work for those teams directly.)

    Yeah, well, I’ve been doing that.

    1. MrSparkles

      “You know Vicki, all you need to do is network your way to work”

      What you just described is the actual reality of so called networking and the “hidden job market”.

      I truly get how you feel, ugh.

    2. Rana

      I hear you. I’d say 95% of my contacts on LinkedIn are the same level or lower than I am (and so unable to do any hiring) and the remaining 5% who could be hiring are in fields in which I have no experience. They’re great as colleagues and for staying up to date in my field, but as sources of jobs? No.

    3. Jen

      I know this is off-topic, but I’ve visited your site a couple of times and I want to be you when I grow up, Vicki :) (Cats included! Mine is nowhere near that fluffy.)

  34. MrSparkles

    I just have to say: Preach on!

    I will add one more point: please don’t offer advice/suggestions on what you should or shouldn’t have done in an interview after the fact. I have had to bite my tongue from wanting to snap at people who haven’t been on the applicant end in eons but are quick to suggest things you may have done wrong to “lose” the job.

  35. Jean

    Looking for work is not for the faint-hearted. It takes determination not to get discouraged or bitter. One of the few benefits of running a job search is that one quickly grows good at identifying comments that one does not want to hear and people around whom one does not want to be. My hope is that when my life gets busy again–because, once re-employed, I will be obliged to manage my domestic and personal tasks in the margins of time left over after allocating hours for a weeks’ worth of working, commuting, and sleeping–I will already be good at identifying and avoiding unhelpful people, attitudes, and activities!

    1. Anonymous

      Seriously, it really shows you who doesn’t belong in your life. It also, for more thoughtful types, makes you more sensitive about not being an asshole (even inadvertently) when other people are suffering.

      I figured this out when my current boss lost his father-in-law. I told him I was sorry, had that moment when I was trying to think of something pithy to say…and then came the moment of truth when I remembered all the times people have patronized me and realized Wait, I can’t fix this and it’s not about me being freaking Yoda; it’s not about me at all whatsoever. All you can really do–all I would want someone to do for me–is admit that it sucks and there’s no way to magically unsuck it.

  36. Ruffingit

    When I was unemployed, I got tired of being asked about it at all, no matter how well-meaning the asker was. I got to the point where I said “When there’s something to report, I’ll let you know.” When I was out with friends/family, I didn’t want to be reminded that I was unemployed.

    The other thing I would suggest because I’ve been both the recipient and the giver in this situation is this – give money for all gift-giving occasions for your unemployed friend. When you’re not working, money is the most helpful thing. And, if it’s a close friend who would be accepting of this, offer to fill up their gas tank or something once in awhile. I received that when I was unemployed from a close friend and it was a huge help. Later, when I was working, I did it for another friend of mine. It’s helpful, especially when you’re driving to interviews and in my friend’s case, the food bank. That little bit of extra help goes a long way.

    1. Anonymous

      give money for all gift-giving occasions for your unemployed friend.

      You mean…the best Christmas gift isn’t the book How to Get a Job?

  37. AF

    I loved #3 – golly, I should check out this Internet thing all the kids are talking about? Why didn’t I think of that! I have tried nearly every job site and networking method at least once, and I have very good reasons why I continue pursue or not pursue all of them. I’m not an idiot. And this advice usually comes from people who have had steady jobs for years and have no idea how ridiculous and overwhelming job searching is.

  38. Stephanie

    “Why don’t you start your own business?”

    Sure, you want to loan me the $10,000 to get started? If not, let me go back to Indeed in peace.

    1. Sissa

      This is a surprisingly common piece of advice I got when job searching, and I gave the person a death glare every time. :)

      I don’t start my own business because I have no start capital, limited social skills and no idea how to do accounting or whatnot, and secondly because being a freelancer in my field really sucks (or, most commonly, the clients suck). If you don’t believe me, check clientsfromhell.net.

    2. Ruffingit

      Oh AMEN!!! Heard this so many times. Because starting your own business is incredibly easy, don’t you know that? UGH.

  39. Manda

    3. “Have you tried looking for jobs online?”

    My aunt, who is a retired nurse and hasn’t had to look for a job in at least 30 years asked me, “Have you ever tried that Monster.com?” Well no shit I’ve tried Monster.com. I’ve also been to CareerBuilder, Workopolis, Indeed, etc., etc. I’m at these sites just about everyday.

  40. JP

    Yes to all the comments I read above. The reply that I always like to hear (but rarely do) when I reply that my job search is going OK, is: “please let me know what I can do to assist you, if anything.” Instead, as has been stated above several times, is a reply with some meaningless piece of “unsolicited advice.” BTW, a great post and topic. Thanks.

  41. Chris

    Stuff to add:

    1) “Have you tried changing the type of job you are applying to?”

    2) “Back in my day, we had companies recruit students out of college. No one went to recruit you?”

    3) “All of your classmates were able to get jobs. Did you try doing what they were doing?”

    4) “Have you applied to company X?”

    5) -if my peeps I’m hanging around with get tipped off that I’m unemployed, the conversation when people talk to me is about my unemployment rather than other things-

    6) “That guy is the laziest student ever, and he’s a Position X at Company Y. Surely you must be able to get a job if he was able to.”

    7) “Have you tried going door-to-door to other companies? It’s super important that hiring managers put a face to the name of the resume.”

    8) “Cover letter? Yeah, I remember that one class where I had to write one. I got a C- on it. What were those for anyway?”

    9) “Have you tried going to the college career center or unemployment office ?”

    10) “Weren’t you involved in a ton of engineering projects in college? I thought that you would have had a job immediately after college by now.”

    11) “Have you tried networking or going to aerospace conferences?”

    12) “Man, I hate going to meetings about meetings. Work is boring since college and it sucks. What about you Chris? Don’t you hate going to work meetings about meetings?”

    13) -that shocked look some people give when they realize you’ve been unemployed for a long time-

    14) “Resume? I think I had to send one in, and I was instantly given a job.”

    15) “Have you tried applying to Starbucks, Dairy Queen, or McDonalds?”

    16) -awkward silence when someone is tipped off that I’m unemployed-

    17) “Huh, you’ve been sending in this resume since graduation, and you STILL haven’t found work? It’s a beautiful resume.”

    18) -at an HR career fair-

    “So, we have machinist graduates from “city college” , laminators from “community college,” and ONE aerospace engineer from the “University of State” here today. Wow! We have an engineer in the house.” -everyone in the room gives me an awkward look-

    19) “Company X, company Y, and company Z all made the paper today. Have you tried applying there?”

    20) “It sucks that you don’t have a job. It seems like you of all people should have gotten one immediately.”

    All 20 of these have been said to be at some point during my period of unemployment and all make me cringe for various reasons. Yay unemployment.

    Good things I’ve been told:

    1) “Here, have an IPA.”

    2) ” Here, have another IPA.”

    3) “Don’t be shy. Have another IPA.”

    And this is how friendships are born and problems are solved.

  42. Anonymous

    This needs to be required reading for anyone before they’re allowed to leave the house or use a phone or computer. It should be part of a short life course which includes Things That Are Not the Holocaust as well as Racist, Ableist, and Classist Topics to Avoid.

  43. Anonymous

    I find that people settled in jobs are the most insulting and treat you like you don`t know what it`s like to look for jobs. It`s easy give advice when you don`t have same problem. I have had one person (in my family) say `if this idiot can get a job and stay in it, no offence, why can`t you?`. It`s the `no offence` thrown in in the middle that bugs me.

    Being unemployed is not a holiday. It`s frustrating. I spend most of my days looking for jobs, applying to some that I find that I see myself as suitable for, or else upskilling, including refreshing my language skills. In the evening I relax but when I say I am watching something on tv or reading, they say `oh fine for some I`m too tired to read after a day`s work!!` boo hoo.

    I often get comments from people who have jobs, hate them (or at least just do it to pay the rent which is fine by them) and almost want you to get a job you hate as well so you can be as unsatisfied as them.

  44. Kinky Kurly

    I’ve had a friend/family member say almost everything on that list. It makes me cringe. I know they don’t mean any harm but this process is difficult enough without someone suggesting “it shouldn’t be this difficult” or have you tried (fill in something that I’ve tried) etc. etc. etc.

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