how can I help a job-searching friend who can’t catch a break?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

My small, very tight-knit group of friends and I are all suddenly finding ourselves in an exciting season of job transitions and moves … except for one (let’s call him Ross).

Over the last several years, Ross worked in a really challenging field/environment while finishing a master’s degree, got (understandably) burned out by that job and left to pursue a PhD, but ended up not finishing (for various institutional reasons mostly outside his control). Having to quit the PhD program early left him feeling pretty defeated. He had been a rockstar at the place he worked before the PhD, so they were happy to welcome him back on staff … but now he feels like he’s back at square one (plus he’s temporarily living with his parents while trying to figure out what to do next, which doesn’t help).

Ross has a ton of education and expertise in his field, and has been applying to what seem like highly-targeted, ideal positions for him, not only in our metro area but all over the country and in international locations as well. We were all super excited when he received an offer for an amazing opportunity in another country … but then he got rejected on a technicality only a few weeks before he was due to leave. He’s continued trying to job hunt since then, but it’s obvious he’s getting more and more demoralized as the search goes on. And while he’s glad to have some income in the meantime, it’s a seasonal type of job and will most likely be on hold for the summer.

I guess I’m just wondering how my friends and I can best support and encourage him while he’s going through this. I almost feel guilty about us all celebrating our new jobs and promotions and cross-country moves while he’s struggling … I mean, of course we’re not trying to rub it in his face, and he’s happy for us, but it can’t feel great for him. We try to give him both pep talks and practical help, but it’s almost like he doesn’t want to hear any of it and just wants to believe he’s cursed for life. I also recently had a long, drawn out job search (about two years total) so I get how hopeless it can be until something *finally* comes through. (Talking to a therapist helped me during that time, and Ross is a strong advocate for mental health, so I hope he’ll consider that too.) But how can we help him keep his chin up until then?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 220 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark*

    The last time I was unemployed, I had it about up to my hairline with well-meaning friends and family who were like, “well have you applied with X” and “maybe you could try with Y” and “you need to make your search broader” and “you should totally get more focused in what you’re applying to” and blah blah blah. Everyone seems to feel like they need to provide solutions when a friend is out of work. Just be there for him, be available to talk about it (but only if he asks you to), be available with solutions (but only if he asks you for them), and in general be a present, positive, and nondemanding presence in his life, because there’s a lot of people who implicitly require his emotional labor around their apprehension for him and about the general prospect of being unemployed. Maybe pick up the beers next time you hang, invite him to go hiking or fishing or other low-cost stuff that promotes mental health, and be a respite from anxious energy.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      When I was in Ross’ shoes, the worst advice I received was “start your own business!” It came from a dear, well-meaning friend who hasn’t worked in several years and when I asked her what I should start a business in (considering I don’t have any skills or hobbies that can translate to an income stream in that respect), she shrugged and said “I dunno. Just thought I’d suggest it.”

      I also heard that from well-meaning older relatives who also gave me Gumption answers.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        I hate that “start your own business” nonsense. First of all, everybody is not cut out to be an entrepreneur. That takes a certain amount of discipline, drive, and oftentimes money, that many people just don’t have. Secondly, even if you do have all three of those things, there’s no guarantee your business will even succeed. So now you’ve convinced someone who was out of work to sink all of their money into something that ultimately fails, which leaves them right back where they started or even worse off than before. It’s just not realistic advice to give, and people need to stop saying it without taking these things into account.

        1. Overeducated*

          That, plus if you have childcare costs,l (or any other major bills that you incur by working), it’s just a non-starter. Work has to come with a paycheck or it’s not viable for many of us who are not indeoendently wealthy.

      2. Suzy Q*

        I’ve heard everything in both of the comments Snark and voluptuousfire, and also, “Apply for disability!” I’m not disabled. Either provide concrete support or stay quiet.

        1. Zap R.*

          Also, applying for disability -in Ontario, at least – is extremely difficult and time-consuming.

          1. A tester, not a developer*

            Amen to that! The only time I got approved was when I literally matched the example they provided on one of the forms.

        2. Heina*

          My husband is disabled a zillion times over and we went through the process twice and he still was denied.

          1. jDC*

            Yes! Disability is very hard to get approved even if there is zero question you are disabled. This is why there are attorneys people pay out the butt to help them with it. People say go on disability like it’s so simple. Plus even if you are approved that’s after they’ve required you to go through years of doctors appointments to “fix” the problem and then they might finally decide it’s permanent.

        3. Nina*

          Feels like that kind of throwaway advice totally feeds into the whole ‘disabled people are lazy/stupid/welfare cheats’ attitude, ugh. Wish people would think before saying stuff like that.

      3. jDC*

        I love that. I was told this too. Oh ok let me just come up with a business idea that is guaranteed to not fail, find money for starting it, not take a salary for however long since no business makes money from day one… ya I’ll get right on that.

      4. irene adler*

        Hate that “start your own business” suggestion.

        So what do you do for money in the meantime, while waiting for the business to take off?

        Hmmm, get a job?

        If you could can and sell stupid, then I’d say, you have a ready source of it, have at it.

      5. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Start your own business is tough too, because a lot of the service-sector businesses that are “easy” to start have been supplanted by apps hiring gig workers. So you can’t start a petsitting business, you have to sign up for Rover or Wag. You can’t start a window-washing business, you have to join TaskRabbit (or whatever app is being used these days.)

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I’ve basically given up on “real jobs” myself and just signed up for some gig apps and do that. It makes a lot more sense than the “start your own business” crap – you actually get clients, you actually get paid (not usually paid well, but paid something) and you don’t have to put yourself in thousands of dollars of debt for a dream that will likely crash and burn.

      6. Snark*

        My congenitally entrepeneurial parents tried to do this. “Start your own consulting firm!” Nah fam.

        1. Overeducated*

          Yeah I’ve had to tell people “that’s what you do AFTER 20-30 years in the field, when all your contacts see you as an expert and want to be your clients. Not there yet.”

      7. TPS Cover Sheet*

        I *have* my own business. Well, on paper. Well, if I get a contract gig and they want to deal with an ltd. Which with the IR35 is a can of worms I won’t open. I still need a job.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I was coming here to say all of this, so thank you for typing all of it out so I don’t have to, lol. Just be a source of moral support, OP. Don’t feel that you have to proactively do stuff regarding his search because he’s probably already doing everything he can right now. A lot of job searching is a mix of opportunity and luck, neither of which any of us can control, so just be mindful of that.

    3. anonykins*

      Agreed. From what LW wrote, it sounds like Ross is done with advice, so my recommendation would be to stop giving it and instead focus on being a pleasant distraction from the job search.

      1. Liz*

        Totally agree with this. My BFF lost her job in a downsizing and was out of work for the better part of 2 years! not for lack of trying, but she had worked for a large, national company, but lives in a lower COL area, so she was paid much more than generally paid in that area. She isn’t near me, but we talked a lot, and a lot of it was me letting her talk, and vent, nad just making occasional suggestions WHEN ASKED.

      2. Michael Valentine*

        Yup! Provide opportunities for fun and distraction!

        Alternatively, you could be like my dad, and tell Ross to start knocking on doors. Yeah, dad, that’s exactly what I should do. (I’m kidding, for those who can’t tell!)

      3. The Original K.*

        Totally agree. Go for a walk with him or something. When I was laid off I got so sick of being in my place alone all day – the only time I left was for a workout – so when people invited me over or to go for a walk or whatever, I jumped at the chance. It felt good to at least feel like part of the world, even for just a couple of hours.

    4. Amber T*

      This. Sometimes when you need to complain and rant about the things in your life, the best thing you can hear is “man, that sucks.” Because it does suck. Unless you have the perfect job you could give him, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help him get a job, assuming his resume and the like are up to snuff. Beyond giving his resume a look over and sending him the occasional opportunities he may not of heard of, I think the only thing you can do is just be a friend.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. There comes a point where all the advice has been said and sometimes what you want/need is just a listening ear or someone to treat you normally. If you really need a direction, you can ask what he needs from you. I’m a venting person and my husband is a Mr. FixIt so when I just need to talk I will preface the conversation with that info. Otherwise he’ll try to fix it and just make me angry. Setbacks are hard, especially if you put a lot of effort into one direction or the setback makes you question your own value.

        1. Maude*

          I had a well-meaning friend who is a high-end manager who only approached my job loss as a manager, not a friend. She sent postings and talked about my potential in these roles (in spite of them being out of my area of expertise, or I had zero experience in). I found her approach to be so distressing as I wanted her friendship, not her management, while I grappled with feeling like a failure. I finally stopped responding to her messages for several months.

    5. Wing Leader*

      I agree with Snark. People mean well, but every single person wants to give you a piece of advice (like you haven’t already done that ten times anyway).

      This might sound silly but, to me, the best way you can help him is get him into a better mindset. And I don’t mean just order him to think better or say well-meaning but supremely unhelpful things like “Well, stay positive!” as if someone can just immediately flip their emotions like a light switch.

      If you can, help him to feel better by getting him involved in things. This will depend on what he and you have time for and what he’s interested in, but it might be something like jogging in the morning together. Or everyone meeting up to play a basketball game once a week. Just something good and active.

      There’s not much you can do about his job search, but if you can actually bring something fun and positive into his life it could do wonders for his mindset.

      1. Aphrodite*

        When I was unemployed for 18 months, I used to really envy those going to work on Monday mornings. I wanted to “have to” go to work on Monday mornings. And it was painful to get up each Monday and know I didn’t have anywhere I had to be. (Sure, I did job searching. I did that five days a week, and took weekends and holidays off like everyone else.)

        OP, is he involved or at least interested in things that offer opportunities to volunteer such as animal rescue, tutoring or helping in classrooms, environmental issues, etc.? Whatever skills your friend has should be able to be applied to an organization that could use them. On those days off mentioned above, I did not think about or do anything related to job searching. So I agree with others that involving him in weekend events and things and treating him as if he is working would be the best thing you can do.

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          Ah, remember back in the big recession of the stories about the blokes who left home every morning and went ”to work” as they couldn’t tell their families they’d gotten fired? Japanese parks full of salariman sitting on a park bench 8 hours… American guys in Walmart parking lots…

          Well, that wasn’t healthy, but one could do something similar – get a routine. Get out of the house as if you were going to work, go to the library or park yourself at starbucks or somewhere to ”do the jobsearch thing”… theres a lot of things to do at home, but a human is a human and oopsies you just spent the morning watching cat videos…

          I’ve noticed when I am ”in between contracts” I lapsed into a total lazy slob and all the things waiting to get done can wait another day… and then I am on a contract and whenever I get home I need to do just emergency stuff like water the plants and fill the drains after I fly out again… So when I had a ”routine” it helped me to commit some time to things instead of just laying about aimlessly.

        2. Marketing Queen*

          The main advice I give people (and I have a friend who’s going through a similar situation as Ross) is the one thing that really helped me when I was laid off and looking for a new job: find something, at least once a week, that forces you to leave the house. For me, it was a group through the career counseling company that my former employer paid for those laid off to have access to. The group was other people who had been laid off and were job hunting, as well. We were all in different industries and roles, but it was a weekly meeting (conducted by a career coach) for us to come together as both a support group and a work group. Just having a reason to get dressed, leave the house, and interact with people was helpful in getting me into a better head space when those feelings of doubt, worthlessness, and hopelessness crept in.

    6. Weegie*

      Agreed 100%. And do NOT, repeat, DO NOT! under any circumstances send him links to jobs he could apply for. That sort of stuff drove me nuts when I was searching for a job (and even when I wasn’t).

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        This is a know your audience thing. I had people send me jobs when I was unemployed and I liked it–and the job I ended up getting came from a friend. I was part of a layoff of the same employer so there were a lot of in the same field in the same city job searching at the same time, and it was mostly super supportive and there was a lot of, “hey did you see such and such, I’m not interested but you’d be great” going around.

        Possibly important to add: these were friends, but they were in the same field and they knew what I specialized in and my work strengths and could actually gauge if the job was a good fit for me.

        1. Blue*

          I think this is an important caveat, and I think it’s also important to ask what the person wants. A former colleague has been looking for another position in our field, and since I always keep an eye on certain organizations, I asked if she wanted me to send postings to her. Since she said yes, I asked more about what she was looking for so I could better narrow it down, but if she’d said no, I would’ve left it alone. As she got more desperate to leave, I also started sending things that I knew she was very qualified for, even if it wasn’t her ideal next step – which I could do because I knew her strengths and experiences based on my own work history with her.

          For someone not in my field, I’m not sure I’d send positions even if they specifically asked me to – it’s just really hard to know what might make sense for someone without that context.

          1. Works in IT*

            This. I have a friend who is always asking me if I know of any open Project Manager positions. He doesn’t want random job openings, he doesn’t want “if you broaden your scope a little the helpdesk manager is a manager it’s just not a project manager position”, he just wants job openings that fit those narrowly defined criteria.

          2. T3k*

            This this this. When I was looking for a job for over a year, I had relatives that meant well, but were sending me links to jobs that were completely unrelated to what my skill set was in (and no, I wasn’t exactly being picky, I was applying for generic box store jobs and the like as well as those within my skill set).

            1. Marketing Queen*

              This was THE WORST. My (well-meaning) dad (a Mr. Fix It) kept sending me job postings and telling me about jobs that I of course had already seen because hello, job searching when you’re unemployed is a full-time job! Or worse, were jobs I was either over-qualified or unqualified for.

      2. wondHRland*

        Only send a link/ job if it’s one of those “hidden” opportunties I always hear about (but can never find), to be gotten through networking. If you know somenone who could use someone like him, introduce them.

        1. TPS Cover Sheet*

          Word. Back in the big recession nobody dared to advertise an open position, as you would get 1000 applications the first day. You had no time to do a hiring process as you were on lean staff, so it was ”do you know anybody”.

          Right now I get a lot of contract roles that aren’t my cup of tea, but the recruiters ask the same ”do you know anybody”… and I have people pass me my line of stuff as well. If you are in a niche job those sometimes are networked pretty well. Nerd bulletin boards come to mind from the turn of the century.

    7. Psyche*

      Exactly this. As a friend, the best thing you can do is provide plenty of opportunities to socialize and relax (preferably without spending money). Invite him over for a game night and dinner or to watch something on TV. If you aren’t in the same city anymore, try to find ways to interact online such as playing games on Steam. Let him NOT think about jobs while with you.

    8. sofar*

      Ah, yes. The fixers. “Have you applied to Major Company in Our City? They’re always looking for good people!”

      Why yes, they are, but not in my field.

    9. jDC*

      Uh me too. Finally I sort of snapped and said that as i already spend all day thinking about a job, searching for a job, being stressed about a job I just want to be able to have a meal at the end of the day without it being the topic of conversation. Struggling to find employment is exhausting and demoralizing over time. It’s great that you think I should go be an acrobat but that’s not going to happen.

      1. jDC*

        Of course to the person I snapped at this meant I just didn’t want a job. You’re right, I want to win the lottery and hang out on my yacht. Didn’t mean I wasn’t trying, just that i really didn’t need to add even more stress to the situation.

    10. Colin*

      I second “pick up the beers” – long job hunts can also come with a burden on finances, or at least from my experience.
      I endured a very very long period – years! – of applying and interviewing unsuccessfully. It was incredibly demoralising, and I came to avoid meeting up with groups of friends who all seemed to be being promoted and loving their jobs.
      I think it really helps to spend time with friends and just be sensitive and skip/limit the job talk for a while, as much as is possible/reasonable. I also think, one on one, it helps to just lend an ear and let them vent if they want. I also think it can help to offer at least to read through any CVs/cover letters – sometimes there can be glaring typos that the writer has stopped seeing but kills their chances dead. And also to help prep for interviews, doing Q&As etc.
      Job hunting over a long period really is awful and can break your spirit. By writing in here, you’ve already shown you’re a great friend. They’re lucky to have you.

    11. Sandan Librarian*

      Just adding my voice to the rest saying that I’ve been in Ross’s position, and what I most wanted from my friends and companions was the opportunity to vent and distraction. In my case, I learned to preface my complaints with something like, “I’m not looking for advice or solutions, I just need to whine for a few minutes.” But, yeah. Be supportive and be willing to listen, and maybe wait for Ross to solicit advice or assistance before offering it.

    12. MommyMD*

      My philosophy is if I am not paying for another adult’s life, I don’t have the right to question their job searching or financial habits nor them mine.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Maybe the reason he lost his job offer at the finish line was someone ate his turkey sandwich and so they met Red Ross.

    2. JohnnyCake*

      Sorry, Ponyboy, for gettin’ your name wrong. Y’know, like my folks always tell me, I dunno nothin’.

  2. Moray*

    Sometimes, it helps to just hear…acknowledgement?

    Not advice, not encouragement, not really sympathy, just: “This really sucks. It’s not your fault, you don’t deserve it, and it sucks.”

    1. PB*

      Yes! I had the misfortune of hitting the job market in the early days of the recession. It sucked for everyone. No one was having runaway success at finding a job. Despite this, well meaning friends and relatives kept offering advice, like “you’re being too picky” (not true; I applied to 75 jobs that fit my qualifications) or “brush up on your interview skills! You’re more likely to get a job if you lean forward!” (what?). I know everyone meant well, but 1) none of it helped and 2) it felt like they were trying to make it my fault, when it was not. Like, I must have done something wrong to not be getting a job.

      It would have been really nice to have someone just say, “That really sucks, and I’m sorry.”

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Right. I graduated from college in September 2009 and didn’t get a job until late August 2010. I was living back home with my mom and job searching, and it seemed like every week she was screeching about how I was obviously not looking hard enough (I was – I can’t make jobs magically appear), I should be going to businesses in person and handing out my resume (I did this a few times to shut her up, and it was the most humiliating experience of my life because I knew she was dead wrong on this), and I clearly was too lazy and just didn’t want to work because I could be working at McDonald’s or at a store to get some income until I could find a real job (I applied to fast food and retail jobs – I was rejected for those jobs, too). It really beat down my self-esteem to the point where I almost gave up job searching entirely.

        I ended up going to auditions for community theater and writing fan fiction just to stop myself from having a mental breakdown, and then finally got a job through a temp agency. It took almost a year for me to get this gig, and I just wish the people around me, mainly my mother, would have been more sensitive about the fact that there just weren’t enough jobs in my area that wanted what I was offering. Commiseration would have been nice – the judgment definitely wasn’t.

        1. Heina*

          I graduated when you did (September 2009) and bounced around several 1099-type tutoring and instructional gigs until February 2013. It was 3.5 years of hell. No one believed me when I said I was doing my damndest to get hired for steady work. The only reason I did land a real job was because I knew someone who was willing to take a chance on me.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Yeah, it was rough for everybody for a long time. I lost that job I was talking about getting after only four months and then had to temp again (and landed in the most hellish environment I’ve been in to date).

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Hit enter too soon – meant to finish by saying I didn’t land into a real career until December 2013. It was a mess.

        2. T3k*

          I had this exact same issue several years later when I graduated. Took me a year to find a job (part time at that) and got laid off soon after just when I thought I was finally on my way to being independent (yep still lived at home). I’m not proud of it but I finally got my mom to shut up about it when I sent a somewhat childish email to a possible lead (basically a “mom works with X who’s spouse works at company in my desired field”). It wasn’t ranting but reflecting on it years later I realized it was basically the equivalent of “please just let me know any answer so I can tell parent to stop bugging me” wording. I don’t think I burned that bridge, just charred it, and hopefully the guy wrote it off as me still being new to the professional world.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I did something very similar to get my mom off my back, so you have my sympathies.

    2. Jamie*

      Absolutely! OP, it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to be able to offer Ross much job search advice he doesn’t already know about.* And sometimes it can be overwhelming when someone who is having a successful job hunt gives tips you already know about: it can kind of reinforce thoughts that things work out for others, but not you. As long as there aren’t glaring problems your friend needs pointed out, the best thing you can do is acknowledge the difficulty he’s having or not talk about it at all if he doesn’t want to.

      *The major exception here is, of course, if you or someone else can actually help Ross get an interview for a specific job.

      1. MtnLaurel*

        The rule I use with friends in Ross’s position is this: offer advice ONLY when requested, and otherwise be there to listen, about job stuff and non-job stuff. Let Ross direct the conversation around the job search and follow his lead. “yes, that really does suck,” sometimes does a world of good to hear.

    3. TootsNYC*

      oh yes!

      I’ve started doing this after realizing that my best friend’s attempts at reassuring me actually felt dismissive of my problems.

      I though of her as look AT me, but not as my problem.

      So now i visualize myself walking over to stand next to someone, and to look at their problem (not at them and their worries), and just sharing in the reaction.

      I had told my deputy at work about this revelation and resulting tactic. And then three weeks later she came to work and told me her son had just been diagnosed w/ a peanut allergy.

      I said, “Oh, man, that sucks! So now instead of only worrying about whether he likes the food, you have to worry whether it will kill him. Life just got complicated! And maybe even you’ll have to go ‘no peanuts’ for everybody, which would also suck! Oh, I’m pissed on your behalf. I don’t know who at–the world, I guess but I’m pissed on your behalf.”

      About 5 minutes later she said, “You just did that, didn’t you. I’ll tell you, it felt much better than if you’d said, ‘I’m sure it’ll be fine; you’ll adjust; lots of people have deadly allergies and they get by.’ ”

      So–commisserate. And then focus on stuff that’s not “solving his problem.”

      1. scooby snack*

        This is a great tactic! One thing I’d be wary of, though, is going overboard so that the person you’re talking to feels like they need to reassure YOU.

        Like, if I’m not *mad* about a peanut allergy, but maybe scared or just unsure of what to do, my response to “I’m mad for you” would probably be that *you* don’t need to be mad, and in fact maybe I’d be confused that you’re giving me YOUR feelings to deal with (however tangentially). I think I’d want my feelings acknowledged, not echoed/amplified.

        But it’s so important to remember that just letting someone have a feeling without trying to brush it away too soon can be a HUGE gift in a culture of “it’s okay”-ness.

    4. Should Have Been a Mermaid*

      Yes! There’s a huge difference between sympathy and empathy and what people need is empathy. They need the, “Yes, this is shitty, and I’m going to be right here beside you” instead of the patronizing.

      Sympathy is like looking down at someone in a hole. You can think you’re helping yelling things like, “Have you thought about digging your way out?”

      What a groundbreaking – no pun intended – epiphany. “Yeah, umm… I’ve already tried that.”

      Empathy is getting into the hole and saying, “I don’t know how we’re going to get out, but I’m here with you and let’s just sit for a while.”

      1. LadyGrey*

        This is a great analogy. Even more so because it reminds me of this story, about a guy who has fallen in a hole:

        “…Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.'”

        I have complex feelings about Aaron Sorkin overall, but I would walk through fire for Leo McGarry of The West Wing, don’t @ me, LOL

      2. Curlz*

        I don’t know when this dichotomy about sympathy vs empathy started, but sympathy is not a negative thing at all. Sympathy literally means feeling bad for someone – not necessarily pity, but just seeing what they’re going through and feeling bad on their behalf. Empathy is imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes. Having empathy doesn’t mean you’ll have sympathy (like people who say that if they had to go through Terrible Experience X, then so should you, and they don’t want to hear your whining), and you can offer sympathy without knowing exactly what it’s like to be in that person’s place.

  3. Dragoning*

    Please, please, give him something else to talk and think about. Help is nice, and obviously you should all be able to talk about your lives, too, but constantly thinking about his job search and trying to fix it constantly (either your advice and pep talks) is also a lot of work and can get super demoralizing.

    When unemployed, I find a lot of value in being able to focus on other things or have other projects to work on. Making something with my free time.

    You’re his friends, so you don’t have to try to be his career counselor even if he needs one. He also needs just friends.

    1. agreed*

      Seconded. I had a really rough go of it for a long time, and the only thing that truly helped was permission to NOT think about it.

    2. Anna Badger*

      Captain Awkward has a really nice vein of suggestions about how instead of advising the person, you can ask THEM for help on something they’re great at. Are they stylish? Good at DIY, gardening, building websites? Ask them for their opinions, or for their help.

      In other words, don’t reduce your friendship/topics of conversation to be entirely about what they’re struggling with, make sure you also focus on what they’re good at.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Co-signed. Self-efficacy takes a dive in this situation; quietly bolstering it is a mitzvah.

        Like many tactics, this one can be used poorly — too often, too pushily, too obviously — but when done well, it’s a winner.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          Absolutely agree with seeking out their help with things. Here are two things that friends asked me to help with during my unemployment, in both cases because I had more free time than normal.

          –Friend S was writing a series of non-fiction books for a really small publisher. She told me they had limited ability for editing (still don’t know if this was true or a lie to help me) and she asked if I’d be interested in proof-reading/editing. She made it clear she couldn’t pay me, but she did take me out to lunch. I am not in an editing field (so this was NOT asking me to work in my field for free) but we both knew that being able to put that I did the proofreading/editing of published books on my resume would be beneficial to me. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but I was happy to have something productive to do with my time, and do a favor for my friend, and gain a resume builder. She also surprised me by including me in the acknowledgments of the published books.

          –The second example is likely harder to duplicate and was very much just fantastic timing. Friend K had family in the same city where I had family and her elderly grandmother was relocating to our city across the country. The grandmother had 2 cats that needed to be transported across the country by airplane, as there was some reason they couldn’t do car travel (don’t remember details). Per airline rules, each cat needed their own escort. The grandmother offered to pay the airfare of family members who could transport the cats. My friend K could do it, but her husband couldn’t get the time off work and they needed two. Since I had family in the same city, she offered me the chance to do it. So in a really difficult time, I essentially got a free plane ticket to visit family in exchange for bringing a very fat cat back with me. Again, hard to duplicate, but the offer and the trip meant a ton to me.

      2. Sharknation*

        I was just thinking of the Captain when I saw your comment! There’s a great letter in the archives that’s targeted at a job-searcher who’s unhappy & self-conscious about being unemployed that also includes some great advice for loving friends who want to be supportive:

        I’ve had friendships fall apart in the past because they became about fixing one person’s problem, so I heartily second all of this! LW, you sound like a good friend – I hope Ross finds something soon!

      3. Pippa*

        This is lovely and something I want to keep in mind for all the times when people I care about are feeling a bit beaten down by circumstance. Such a great way to communicate that you see and admire their talents, when they might be feeling unappreciated or down on themselves.

    3. Asahi Pepsi*

      Adding to this, OP – when you talk to other people in your friends group, do you talk to them about non-work things? If so, are those conversations as enthusiastic as the ones you hold with them about work?

      I used to spend time with people who would define themselves by their work and talk about nothing else. When I was unemployed, they started asking me about hobbies instead of my job search. Those conversations were never naturally started – it’d be a pause and then rapid switch to “how’s your cross stitch coming, Asahi?” followed by a weird interview of questions. If I asked about their non-work things, those conversations would die off quickly or get replaced by talking about work. Even though these people were doing the right thing by asking about things that weren’t about my job search, it made me feel left out.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This is a great point…I think we do? And he is working at the moment (just underemployed), so we’re still able to talk about work with him in that sense. But that is something to be cognizant of.

    4. Blue*

      When I decided to quit my own PhD program and was job hunting for the first time, one of my friends said, “I haven’t asked about your job search, and it’s not because I don’t care. I just know how much it can suck to dwell on it all the time. I’m happy to talk about it if you want to vent or if there’s anything I can help with, but it’s totally up to you – I won’t bring it up.” It was so refreshing and very freeing to know I could take a mental break from it when I hung out with her.

    5. Happy Pineapple*

      This is my advice too. I’ve been Ross, and it absolutely sucks. Job searching, especially when you have a higher degree and a passion for a niche field, is incredibly demoralizing. It makes you wonder if you’re not good enough. And then well meaning friends who try to “fix” the problem by giving advice can make you want to scream, because it feels like they’re implying you’re simply not trying hard enough to find a job.

      The best thing you can do is provide acknowledgement and validation of his struggle, and then focus on something, anything else. He’ll appreciate the break from worry and not being treated on the “down on his luck” friend, just as a friend.

    6. merp*

      I used to feel bad about feeling like I was ignoring something that a friend was going through by not talking about it, but knowing it was a source of stress they may not want to talk about. So I’ve done a version of saying something once – “We don’t have to dwell on this at all, but I’m sorry you’re having such bad luck.. Won’t bring it up again unless you do and want to talk about it.” or something like that – and then yes, just being a pleasant distraction from the anxiety. Try new activities in town, go outside, try a new restaurant, etc.

    7. The New Wanderer*

      Just being there as a friend is so key. When I was unemployed, I had a grand total of one friend reach out to hang out with me. Everyone else just kind of disappeared – too busy to get lunch or get together on a weekend when I asked, and eventually I stopped asking. I’m sure it was not deliberate as I didn’t have a rockin’ social life when I had a job but it felt much more obvious when I had lots of free time and no coworkers to fill the social void. It was very lonely.

  4. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Don’t push help or encouragement on him unless he asks. You mean well, obviously, but it can be really frustrating to have friends dumping unsolicited and often unhelpful advice on you. You can’t fix his life for him; what you can do is give him a chance to relax and take his mind off this soul-sucking job search.

    If Ross needs to vent about his job-hunting troubles, offer a sympathetic ear and an encouraging word. Otherwise, I would say to focus on fun activities where talk about work is kept to a minimum.

    1. annakarina1*

      I agree on this. The times I was unemployed in the last four years, my aunt would randomly meet a librarian (I’m an archivist) and start pushing their information on me. I would try to tell her that my field and work is totally different and wouldn’t be a good fit, but she would just think “library school means librarian” and keep pushing me, and it got to feel like she just wanted to feel like a good person for helping out the “poor” person, and it pissed me off. One nowhere job lead got me rejected on the spot, and I was frustrated and mad at her. At some point, I did blow up at her in an email when she was ignoring my no’s, and she would defend herself with “I want the best for you” and “I was only trying to help,” never actually apologizing. So yeah, it’s a bad idea for friends/family who don’t know your specific job field to just push information on you and try to make you feel guilty or ungrateful if you don’t want it.

  5. Amber Rose*

    Well, for starters, don’t offer advice unless asked for. Probably ease back on the pep talks too. Sometimes when life is just raining BS down on you, you want to wallow in it for a little while. When he’s ready to hear advice he’ll ask. In the meantime, what he probably needs/wants is validation that yeah actually, this is all awful and his bad feelings are totally justified. I know when I’m feeling down and people keep trying to “keep my chin up” I actually feel worse. Like, I’m now being pitied. I am pitiful. My negative feelings are so awful that everyone now feels responsible for expunging them, I am bringing everyone down with me, I must hide and suppress the sads for everyone’s sake.

    What you ought to offer, in my opinion, is a combo of acknowledgement and distraction. When you hear “I’m cursed for life!” the response could be something like, “Dude, seriously. This all really sucks. Wanna go for a [drink or meal or movie of choice]?” (Or if you’re not in the same location, ask about some other interest he has.)

    1. Weegie*

      This is fantastic advice – validation and distraction. He’ll find his own way. Just be his friend.

  6. SaffyTaffy*

    The thing I appreciated most from friends when I was out of work were A, their genuine friendship and invitations to hang out, and 2, offers for freelance work (not job leads or advice).

    1. Dino*

      Co-signed. Just be a friend and hang out without making it Ross’s Job Fair. Unless your advice is “here’s a freelance gig and the contact info” it’s probably best to pull back on advice.

  7. Erin*

    The last paragraph really resonated with me, as my roommate has been unemployed for over a year and has made no progress in her job search. I had a brief period of unemployment earlier this year, and I felt that I couldn’t give her any updates because every “I have an interview!” was met with an “I don’t! ::upside down smiley face::”

    I think just being there is the best thing you can do. Be receptive when he wants to talk, and don’t push it. And…honestly, if there are times when it feels hard or draining for you to be around him, it’s also okay for you to pull back a little bit. Loving someone means that sometimes their depression and negative energy seeps into you, and you need to remember to take care of your own mental health.

  8. EmilyG*

    My advice would be to spend time with him in a way that doesn’t reinforce the idea that your worth in this life is related to your job. For example, one of my favorite things to do is a volunteer gig in my city where we help pack food for food pantries in a warehouse (the tasks vary but that’s the basic idea). Lots of people actually want to do it so it sometimes takes some doing to find a timeslot that I can do with my friends together. I always leave that event feeling just happier about the world and the people in it. If I were in his position, I’d love it if my friends did the extra work of setting this up for us to do together, because then I could get the good feelings of doing the project while still focusing my own organizational energy on jobhunting. You say “our metro” so I’m guessing that you’re still in the same area as him for now?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Or, ask for help–do you need to repaint your bedroom? Ask if he’d help you out, if you buy the pizza and he picks the playlist. (Only if you’d be willing to help him move, etc.; no sponging!)

      Do you need advice at work? If you think he’d have insights, ask him for them.

      Ross has value that is far beyond his job. Make those a focus for you.

    2. Mama Bear*

      I like this idea, too. If Ross is feeling like he’s become The Guy Without a Job, relating to him in a way that puts him back on even ground may help him feel better without being patronizing.

    3. Ali G*

      Volunteering is a great idea. When I was unemployed, the 2 days a week I volunteered were the days I felt the best about myself. One of the hardest parts of not working is feeling like your days have no purpose except to look for jobs. And then when you get rejections on top of that, then it’s even worse. Getting out of the house and doing something in no way related to a job search, can help immensely.

  9. Zap R.*

    Honestly, as someone in a situation very similar to Ross’, I’d be careful pushing the “go to therapy” thing too hard. Therapy is great but it’s expensive and if Ross is low-income right now, it may be inaccessible to him.

    A lot of commenters on this site tend to suggest therapy and it’s well-meaning, but the honest truth is that it isn’t feasible for a huge number of people. For me, the most frustrating thing about being the one low-income person in my group of friends is hearing my friends recommend health care options and treatments that I can’t afford.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Also finding helpful therapy is/can be hard, particularly if you’re going the “I’m broke and need poor people options” route. I’ve done that and been through half a dozen therapists who just didn’t click with me and who made me feel worse in a lot of ways.

      1. Zap R.*

        And if you’re LGBT, the search to find a therapist can be especially hard.

        Also, most free/low-cost options are CBT-based, which really doesn’t work for everyone.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Or if you have any kind of chronic health issues. A common thread among the therapists I saw was the “exercise solves all of life’s problems, get 30 minutes a day” but I have a severe fatigue problem. Sometimes I can exercise. Most times I get five minutes in, get light headed and see stars, then have to go take a two hour nap or risk blacking out and hurting myself.

          But just try explaining that to people who have exactly one solution and one solution only for any problem.

    2. Avasarala*

      That sounds really frustrating. But I still think people should continue to recommend therapy whenever possible because it lowers the stigma of therapy being just for “crazy people.” Maybe it’s not an option for everyone but if someone has health problems, it makes sense to suggest going to the doctor.

      1. Zap R.*

        I mean, as an actual “crazy person,” I don’t find it reduces the stigma at all. It’s condescending advice that treats therapy as a silver bullet for mental health issues and I cringe when I see it thrown around so easily on this site.

        It’s like telling a homeless person to just rent an apartment.

  10. Art3mis*

    I think just be a sounding board if he needs it. Don’t send him job postings, he knows about them. I have a friend that would send some and they were things I was not qualified for or not interested in for whatever reason. Don’t say things like “Are you going to really buckle down and start looking harder now?” I had friends say that to me more than once as if I wasn’t spending all of my free time looking already.

  11. Aixing*

    I think one of the best things you can do is talk to him about anything other than the job search, like other hobbies he may have or other things going on in his life. I remember job searching and finding it increasingly annoying and discouraging when all everyone wanted to talk to me about was the job I didn’t have and couldn’t seem to find.

    Obviously in all of this, don’t hide your good news or avoid celebrating your successes, but be kind. (Even you writing this letter is an act of kindness that I’m sure he appreciates.) Remind him of why you appreciate his friendship apart from his professional successes or failures; your friendship will be invaluable to him going forward.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I would ask him if there’s anything he wants you to do. It differs drastically from person to person how they cope with this kind of issue.

    My ex was angry at me for ever mentioning work due to jealousy issues, she never told me until she snapped, that was an ugly fight and yes, it’s part of why it didn’t work out in the end. Whereas my partner now straight told me that he just needs to be able to stew and deal with it internally. He doesn’t like being needled or the “well meaning” things a lot of people lean towards by default. However he completely understood that other people still were accomplishing things and having a good time during his hard times, so he was happy to join in and it helped him stay encouraged on it’s own that “future looks good despite present being struggling right now.”

    You can’t know how someone prefers to treat an unfortunate event in their life without really asking and being good friends, you should be able to find a way to ask him without being meddlesome.

    1. Aurion*

      Yes, ask!

      I’m generally of the opinion that if someone wants X something from you, they will ask you or mention it; my mother is much more of the “but pride/ego/save face/whatever, they’ll never ask, you have to preemptively offer and anticipate” and whether my approach or my mother’s land better really depends on the recipient. But even the most reticent person usually responds well to a kind, candid question about how to best support them.

      “Hey Ross, buddy, your situation sucks through no fault of yours and I want to be supportive, but also don’t want to be pushy. With the caveat that I am not you and thus don’t understand your field/work as well as you do, do you want me to try to help you with contacts/job leads/suggestions, or keep our hangout times a job-free zone, or something in between?”

      Asking outright may or may not win points about diplomacy or thoughtfulness (for those who know Ask vs Guess culture, I grew up in a very Guess household), but I’ll take pragmatic effectiveness any day.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Bingo! You need to know someone.

        There are people that I’m close with that I’ll just jump in and do-do-do what I know they’ll want. Then there are others, who aren’t as close that I have to put the feelers out.

        I don’t think you need to wait for someone to ask because that’s a lot of baggage to drop at their feet and a lot of people aren’t comfortable assuming that you want to help. So they turtle inside themselves. So it’s that soft pitch of “Let me know how you feel man, this stinks and I want to do whatever will help you!” and it’s in their court. Sometimes their ego won’t let them take you up on an invite or they won’t open up and that’s okay, so you just put it out there needless to say.

        Assumptions can hurt a lot more than just face planting and making something awkward in the moment as well I’ve learned.

        1. Aurion*

          And it may not even be that awkward, to be honest. Some cultures do consider candor off-putting/rude, but I think western culture embraces frankness a lot more; candor and kindness are not mutually exclusive here.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I think the awkwardness is usually inside the person who’s starting the conversation more than anything. It feels “weird” to say the least. But then the other person responds kindly and you are like “Okay it didn’t hurt at all.”

            It reminds me of when i hype myself up for a blood draw. It doesn’t actually hurt but man, does it cause bad feels when the doctor is all “Mkay imma send you over to the lab now.”

      2. Kelsi*

        “I’m generally of the opinion that if someone wants X something from you, they will ask you or mention it”

        So agree with this! When my bf was out of work for awhile (especially knowing his parents were way overinvolving themselves), I made sure not to bring the job search up UNLESS he did. If he did I’d be supportive and engaged, and give my opinion if directly asked for it–if he didn’t, I made sure our conversations were a job-free zone, because he didn’t have those anywhere else.

        (People can be the worst about that stuff–folks were regularly asking ME about his job search and trying to funnel advice through me to him. DON’T!)

  13. WellRed*

    Newsflash: It’s not “almost like” he doesn’t want your pep talks. It’s a sure bet he doesn’t want them. Knock it off. If he asks you to proof a cover letter or whatever, great but that’s it. I agree therapy might help, while he figures out his next move.

  14. Jaybeetee*

    A big thing you can do is reinforce to him that he is more than his professional life and professional achievements. When I was struggling with employment in my early 20s, I remember literally thinking I didn’t have an identity – because I came from a background where people identified strongly with their professional lives. Like, “I’m not a doctor, or a lawyer, or a receptionist, or a teacher, or a bus driver, or a barista… I am nothing”.

    Obviously that’s a pretty dark place, and that may not be where Ross is at, but it can be easy, when struggling with something for so long, to just label yourself as “failure”, and talking about and focusing on other aspects of his life (and yours, when talking to him) can help remind him that he is an entire person, regardless of what’s happening professionally.

    1. Jana*

      This is so true. A long, fruitless job search can be a time that is so confusing, demoralizing, and depressing. Focusing on non-work interests in vital. Cultivating those interests in vital and remembering that you identity isn’t always about your work. OP, if you can, maybe pull back on talking about your friend’s job hunt and just be a friend who goes on a hike with him, takes a free yoga class with him, learns a language with him, etc.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I’m still in this headspace, Jaybeetee. I’m someone who derives a lot of my self worth and confidence from what I do for a living, and that’s a terrible mind-frame to have because you can lose your job in any manner of ways, and then what? (I’m working on this problem in therapy though – it’s unhealthy.)

      When I was unemployed during the recession and job searching with no success, I felt like the biggest waste of space – it was horrible. I ended up cutting off a lot of friendships because I felt worthless and didn’t want people to see my struggling, and that just compounded my mental health struggles. It wasn’t until I started engaging in the fanfic community that I started to dig myself out of that whole because I was writing stuff that people enjoyed, so that gave me something entirely different to focus on instead of my own failures.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        THEN YOU HATE YOURSELF! …ask me how I know.

        I also felt like a worthless waste of space and I knew in my heart that everyone else also knew I was a worthless waste of space (obviously, since they wouldn’t hire me for anything).

        What really helped me was — this is weird — piano lessons. I started taking piano lessons and I had something to do that felt productive and not like a waste of time, and there was a fairly linear relationship between me working hard and me doing well. I definitely had to come to that solution myself though. If anyone else had brought it up I would have told them to jump in a lake.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          That’s not weird at all. Music – listening to it or performing it – has always been a saving grace for me during times of emotional upheaval and distress. During my joblessness, I continued singing and auditioning for musicals, and though I wasn’t really landing any roles, I still felt good about myself because I was doing something I enjoyed and was around other artists whose music was so good, it took me away from my own problems for awhile.

          And I learned that, funnily enough, being rejected in the community theater world actually didn’t harm my self esteem the way being rejected for office and service industry jobs did – it inspired me to keep trying because I wasn’t getting feedback that I was awful; I was just too green in comparison to everyone else, but I was assured I had talent. That positive feedback even gave me the strength to keep looking for day jobs.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            For me it wasn’t even the music aspect, it was the fact that it was something I felt good about achieving that I could actually control. With job searching I was working really, really hard and doing a good job but I was still not being successful — I got a ton of “You were great but this other candidate was amazing,” which is nice but doesn’t pay my rent.

            With the piano, if I worked hard and practiced diligently I got better at it and learned to play things. The hard work had a concrete outcome! In general the harder I worked the better the outcome! It was amazing!

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              That makes a world of sense. I think that was also the hardest part of not being able to find work – not being able to control the outcomes no matter what I did or how hard I worked. We were always told that if you worked hard in school, you’d succeed when you got out….but that wasn’t the case for a lot of people.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Fanfic also gives you that feedback–reviewers who love your stuff can get you through a ton of bad days. (of course I read some reviews of stuff when I’m having one of those days…it really helps to know that someone likes my writing).

  15. Kiki*

    Unless you are 100% sure there’s something Ross is doing wrong or something you could help him with, I would say don’t mention his job search unless he brings it up. Sometimes you *are* just unlucky and it can be annoying when people who aren’t in your situation give you advice, no matter how well-meaning it is.

    Focus on doing things to boost his happiness and sense of self outside of work and academics. Take up a low-cost hobby together, plan a lot of fun 1:1 things. I’ve found just having friends and doing fun stuff to be the biggest boon to my mental health.

  16. CatCat*

    I’d stop talking about the job stuff period. As you know, it’s a sensitive topic. He doesn’t want to hear pep talks about job stuff. There are PLENTY of other things to talk about in life.

    Invite him to social occasions and events. If you know finances may be tight for him right now, focus on things that you guys host or that are cheap to participate in like BBQ, picnics, hiking, game night, chilling at a beach if you’re near the ocean or a lake. I’ve had some demoralizing stretches of unemployment and it was very lonely and almost the ONLY thing I thought about was needing a job. So outings with friends that did not involve thinking about needing a job were so, so helpful.

  17. bunniferous*

    Life happens to all of us and it is just Ross’s turn. I agree with the other posters-lay off the job talk and just be there for him in other ways-work is a very important part of life but not the ONLY important part. If he has people to hang out with to give him distraction that may be what he really needs right now.

  18. SciDiver*

    Keep Ross involved in your tight-knit friend group! One of the worst things (at least in my mind) about unemployment is the isolation, and he’s likely feeling it more because he’s living with his parents again. I remember feeling like I couldn’t go anywhere/do anything because I had to save the little money I was earning, and hosting friends at your parent’s house is…really not appealing. Refocus the group’s pep talk energy on fun, low-cost things you can do and make it as easy for him as you can to come with you! Offer rides, pay for a round of drinks, do the research to find cool events, organize outings. Even if you aren’t able to do these things often, having a get-together or event to look forward to is a huge help.

    1. tacocat*

      This is a really good point. I moved back in with my parents a few years back, and while they’re great, it’s very awkward for me to have friends over. The house isn’t too big, and I can’t really kick my parents out of the common areas, so they’re just … there. Plus even though I’m working and have a pretty busy schedule and am not home much, I REALLY appreciate when friends have me to their places (or organize some kind of outing) – I miss being comfortable with hosting, it’s just not all that easy for me right now.

  19. Anna*

    I would say, just listen to him and then ask him if there is anything you can do to help. Also, if you can help keep his spirits up by spending time together and just being a good friend. I remember back in 2008 when I was out of work and in danger of losing my home… hearing friends complain about their contractor not painting the walls of their new house the right shade of red and acting like it was the most horrifying thing to ever happen, was pretty upsetting. So I would also suggest being aware of the conversations you have around your friend and make sure that you are not saying things accidentally that may make him feel worse. You don’t have to be afraid to mention your new promotion, but don’t complain for instance that you thought that your salary bump would be bigger etc…

  20. sab*

    It might just be me, but I’d want my friends to stay out of it if they were not in my professional field. If they were and could provide me with real leads and contacts, then sure! Help me out! What worked for you might not work for him, especially with his PhD debacle.

    Also, just be a good friend, which it sounds like you already are! This might sound unhealthy, but try not to gush about your job too much. When I got into graduate school and a friend of mine didn’t, the next year was rough in terms of hanging out with her. I was ECSTATIC about my program but I could tell she couldn’t share in my excitement, and that was totally understandable. So I focused on the very few, but real, negative aspects of it, and complained about them to her – this might be a really bad way to go about things, but it worked for us. Ross is probably thinking the grass is greener (and it probably is), but just…be contentious about how you come off about it.

    Good luck Ross!

  21. AnotherSarah*

    I think that sometimes there’s an impulse to be positive–Ross says, “this sucks!” and you want to say, “hey, it’ll get better!” Like if you acknowledge how bad it is/feels, then it’ll get worse. But what would happen if you agreed with him–“this DOES suck, and I’m so sorry it’s happening to you”? I think the “it’ll get better, don’t worry, chin up” talks might better be saved for yourself. Ross will definitely find something, and you know how hard it can be–try focusing now on validating his feelings?

    1. MoopySwarpet*

      This! Sometimes when you have a problem (health, work, mental, etc.), you want someone to hear you for a second. He knows in his brain it will get better, but he can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, yet.

  22. hbc*

    “We try to give him both pep talks and practical help, but it’s almost like he doesn’t want to hear any of it….” The best way you can support him is by taking his cues. He doesn’t want you trying to solve either the job situation or the emotional situation.

    Also, from all the “we”s, it sounds like this friend group is actually strategizing on How To Handle Ross, which never, ever makes people feel better. In fact, rallying all this support around him reinforces the notion that this is a big, traumatic deal and not a temporary bummer. Just reign in the work celebrations as much as you can while still sharing your lives, sympathize with him when he’s got a new rejection letter, and follow his lead.

  23. Kelly L.*

    I’m going to tack onto the “talk about something else” advice, and specifically say don’t ask him how the job search is going. You’ve been through the same thing recently, so you probably already know this, but I’ll say it for the benefit of the lurkers too–when he has news, you’ll hear it! :) It’s demoralizing to have to repeat your bad news every time you see someone, and even more so when multiplied by every friend and every family member who asks the same thing. Ask him about other stuff, like TV shows and books and stuff.

    1. sofar*

      Seriously. When I first graduated from college, I had to literally stop going to family events because everyone was asking me, “So…how’s the job hunt?” My parents, understandably, had a lot anxiety about me not finding work (it took me about 5 months, but I did!). And “How’s the job hunt?” was a way of assuring THEMSELVES that I was still applying for stuff and not just sitting around watching TV.

      Having to come up with a positive, “Oh, I’m chasing down a few opportunities!” response and find a subject change multiple times at a family event was just excruciating.

      Plus, as you say… when an unemployed person gets a job, they’ll be shouting it from the rooftops, and you will hear about it.

      1. Rich*

        I had a spreadsheet I used to keep track of everything. Offering (politely) to walk them through the Great Job Search Spreadsheet was 100% effective in shutting down those conversations.

      2. londonedit*

        Agree. I freelanced (successfully, mind you) for four years, and I still had people who couldn’t understand the fact that I was happy freelancing. Surely I must be looking for a ‘proper job’? So I had all the ‘How’s the freelancing going? Are you getting enough work? What are you working on? It’s paying the bills, right?’ comments, and it was really irritating. Since moving back into ‘regular’ employment, literally no one has asked me if I have enough work to do or if I can pay my bills. Yet apparently it’s fine to pry into freelancers’ finances? Ugh. So yeah, don’t always make ‘Hey, how’s the job hunt?’ the first topic of conversation. If he wants to talk about it, great, but he probably doesn’t always want to talk about it.

  24. Corporate Slave*

    PLEASE don’t suggest therapy. That’s one more way to say “it must be you/your fault” and just further demoralizes the person.
    The truth is that the economy may be great for some people, but for many it absolutely sucks. There’s this myth we seem to collectively buy into that when something’s not going well, it must be that person’s fault. Instead, the world is full of victims of circumstance who are unable to pull themselves out of a hole no matter what they do. And usually it’s because of something absolutely stupid and irrational, like what color they are or what age they are or how many minutes it’s been since they last did yada-ya skill.
    So validate Ross’s reality and then just be there. And encourage anything that might give him joy, no matter what it is – hiking, reading, landscaping, whatever he enjoys doing that gets his mind off the parts of life that suck.

    1. Tigger*

      This. I was Ross right out of college (found a job- was fired within a month because the head admin hated that her husband (my boss) hired me with asking for her input (she was on vacation) had a string of temp jobs that “loved me” and wanted to keep me but there was no budget for me) and was going through a horrible breakup. The therapist told me that This string of bad luck doesn’t happen to good hard-working people and I shouldn’t try to get a normal office job because I had the experience level of a glorified volunteer and no one in their right mind would hire me.
      That stung alot.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        What the hell?! Did you report that therapist? No therapist in their right mind would say something like this to a patient – I’m so sorry you saw someone who clearly had issues of their own they were projecting onto you and made you feel worse about yourself.

        1. Tigger*

          No but I stopped going to him. He stopped practicing a few months later to retire. It was weird.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Ahhhh, the retirement angle now makes this make sense. He was about to stop practicing anyway, so he didn’t care about being an ass on his way out.

    2. Tigger*

      Yep! When I was in Ross’s spot after college the therapist told me no one in their right mind would hire me because I have as much experience as a glorified volunteer. It was not helpful

    3. Zap R.*

      Yeah, I feel this. Like, therapy isn’t going to change Ross’ situation. As a queer woman who wants to work in an industry that is notoriously unfriendly to queer women, all the therapy in the world isn’t going to break down the institutional barriers between me and the job I want.

    4. Mockingjay*

      Exactly. I graduated in the middle of the 80s recession and was unemployed for a long time. I didn’t need a therapist; I needed a job. So did everyone else. There were precious few jobs to go round for several years.

  25. Anonymous Poster*

    The poor guy needs time to recover from getting his hopes up and having them dashed. That sounds like a pretty awful way to lose out on an opportunity. I really doubt Ross wants pep talks and advice right now, but maybe just… be there as a friend. Catch a movie, go to a bar, play some board games, or whatever that looks like for him.

    Of course he’s dwelling on it. The best thing you can say is, “You’re right. That sucks. I can’t say anything that will make it not suck, and I’m sorry it’s happened to you.” Then let him take the reins. Distractions away from dwelling on might-have-beens can also help – I’m talking things like pottery classes or long walks or free events in your area. Ross might not want to go out – but the friends can come to him too.

    But be there for your friend. He needs that. He needs y’all to acknowledge that what happened really, really sucks. He needs his friends. He doesn’t need pep talks and advice right now. If he wants that, let him ask for it.

  26. Aeon*

    « Ross has a ton of education and expertise in his field and has been applying to what seem like highly-targeted, ideal positions for him, not only in our metro area but all over the country and in international locations as well. « 

    I think that this is the salient piece of your story. It sounds like he is applying to the kind of very competitive jobs that there are not very many of. If your experience is very specialized, or you are at a point in your career where you have a lot more experience than most positions are looking for, it can be very difficult to find the right fit, much less jobs with a salary range appropriate for your experience. It sounds like this is exactly the position that he is in. And you say that he is casting a very wide net. So I don’t think that this is the sort of problem that can be fixed with a pep talk. Unless you know of a problem with how he is choosing jobs to apply to, or the manner in which he is doing it, I don’t know what advice you could give to fix his problem. It is an unfortunate matter of supply and demand, and he just needs to keep applying until something comes through. And since he got so far in the hiring process before having the offer rescinded, it is understandable for him to be bummed out and discouraged about it.

    I agree with the posters who advocate talking about absolutely anything but the job search. I’m sure he is already having to talk about it more than he would like with everyone else in his life. Keep planning to see him regularly, be sensitive to the cost of what you’re proposing and just try to be a nice and regular distraction from what sounds like a very grueling job search process.

  27. Sheramatic*

    I will agree with the others – pep talks can be demoralizing. My partner was unemployed for an extended amount of time and it was rough. Not his fault, his entire industry collapsed and there were a lot of people in his shoes – and reminding him of that was completely not useful. What helped, he told me, was my being there to listen and not constantly asking how the search was going and giving unasked for tips. Also, and this seems a bit silly, but we had a lot of conversations about the Avengers. Where the Infinity stones might be. How Thanos was going to find them, who was going to die. They are just movies but he enjoyed them and it gave him something to focus on other than being out of work. Maybe it is sports for your friend, or a tv series or a board game or knitting… something – anything, that can be enjoyed with friends that didn’t revolve around looking for work. Good luck.

  28. Megasaurusus*

    One of the hardest life lessons when your young and your friends are your life before you break off to create your own family, is that you simply can’t live other people’s lives for them.

    I graduated during the recession and was nearly homeless before I finally found employment. And I have a developmentally disabled adult son who is incredibly demoralized by the difficulty of finding work in a world where being able to present yourself well in an interview is a skill he can’t master, no matter how many other applicable skills he has for the job. And for me and for him, all the well-meaning pep talks and advise from others only fanned the flames – because underneath all of that kind of a behavior is an intonation of blame (even if this is not the intent). People who aren’t doing something wrong don’t need advise or pep talks. But sometimes you are not doing anything wrong – you are just doing something very difficult with low chances of success.

    Failure is inevitable in life and people handle it differently, in their own ways. It’s okay to let them be grumpy and feel how hard it truly is to continue to not meet a goal. After enough time, most people will reassess their goals and make radically different choices once they’ve walked as far as they are willing to down the path before they cut their losses.

    The most happy people I know are people whose life didn’t go according to their ‘plan’ and ended up pursing different careers than they went to school for or had already spent half their life in.

  29. Sarah Biffy*

    When he feels defeated and frustrated, say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. It sucks.” That’s all. Unless specifically requested, pep talks and advice make it worse. Just listen.

  30. Nanc*

    When a good friend married and relocated for her husband’s job I gave her a $100 Starbucks card and a list of stuff I could do to help her. The Starbucks card was so she could treat herself from time to time during the job search and the list was so she could ask for what she needed when she needed it.
    I also made a point of emailing and snail mailing every-day stuff about my life. She later told me it was helpful because she was tired of everyone tiptoeing around talking about their jobs because she was unemployed and all the offers of advice, have you tried this job, etc. and it was nice to hear about every-day stuff. She also said it was nice to sit in Starbucks all by herself and just sip a latte and do nothing for an hour every once in awhile.
    Mind you, I really had to rein in my tendency to HELP and PROBLEM SOLVE because that’s not what she needed.
    Ross will find his way–it’s his journey, detours and all.

    1. Zap R.*

      Yes to the Starbucks card! That’s a fantastic idea. I used to feel tremendous guilt for treating myself to anything while I was unemployed. (I still feel that way now that I’m underemployed, to be honest.) A Starbucks card gives your friend permissions to feel like a person again for a little while each day.

    2. Sabzy*

      I really like this. I think it’s also useful to try and organize friend gatherings that don’t cost too much. The hardest thing for me, when I was struggling, was when friends went out together to do something I couldn’t afford. I desperately needed the distraction, but I also desperately had no money.

    3. PBJnocrusts*

      Yes to this – my friend gave me a $100 grocery store card. It was an amazing and thoughtful gift.

  31. Jedi Squirrel*

    Also, if he’s going into summer unemployment, try to find ways to hang out that don’t involve a lot of money. A picnic in the park with a frisbee game afterward, an evening over for Netflix and popcorn, a hike through a nature preserve, a day at the beach. Not having money when your friends do sucks. Not having money and you’re friends constantly offering to buy your ticket also sucks.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Not having money and you’re friends constantly offering to buy your ticket also sucks.

      Yes! When I was unemployed, I hated people inviting me out for drinks or coffees and offering to pay – it made me feel like an even bigger failure that I couldn’t afford a lousy $5 drink at happy hour or a $4 coffee at Starbucks. Nobody wants to constantly feel like a charity case.

  32. Tabbythecat*

    Currently going through similar situation. I lost my job in october and after a few interviews since beginning of last year. I was hitting walls not just with jobhunting but internally. Ask him what he needs and attempt once a fortnight to include him in extra curricular activities. I think one month break no job hunting. Do things that excite you and cost effective. Does he do sport or exercise? That would help him. When he bounces back he’ll be ready and have inspiration about what he wants next. In the meantime just give him a friendly ear if he needs to talk.

  33. Tigger*

    I think I would stop trying to help and just be his friend. I have been in Ross’s shoes and it sucks. The words of encouragement get grating after a while

  34. Maika*

    Listen and validate! Don’t offer to solve or fix the problem. Be an engaged friend and get him involved in activities he likes to do in life. Help him get wider perspectives when he’s ready for it. Don’t send job links or tons of Gary Vee videos. Let him process the reality he’s in and when he’s ready, you can be a more enthusiastic supporter on his job front initiatives. Give him your attention and care as a friend.

  35. Wendy Darling*

    Possibly controversial (I hope not) but… does he have to keep his chin up? Because I would argue that his situation is a huge bummer and being unhappy about it is totally appropriate.

    I’d say that unless he’s having a legitimate mental health crisis (in which case he needs a therapist not friends telling him to cheer up), and as long as he’s doing things BESIDES wallowing in misery, wallowing in misery is a totally appropriate activity for him right now. I also had a really long job search and I felt like crap the entire time, and people trying to tell me it wasn’t that bad just rang false and annoyed me. It was absolutely that bad. I knew it wasn’t going to be that bad forever (it just felt like it), but at the time it was that bad!

    I think the best thing you can do is empathize. It DOES suck, and sometimes what feels best is just admitting that something is horrible and you hate it.

    1. JD*

      Agreed. Sometimes people get a little too stuck in “my life is miserable” and it makes sense to put up boundaries, but *some* “my life is miserable, please just listen for a bit” is normal and appropriate in reasonably close friendships. Especially when someone is objectively going through a rough patch. Just listening is often better than trying to fix things.

  36. Beth*

    If you have a connection (e.g. your company is hiring and you can offer a referral, a friend’s company is hiring in his field and you can connect them), offer that.

    If you have particular expertise (e.g. you have experience with hiring in his field, you’re a phenomenal editor who can catch all typos at a glance, etc.) offer to look over his materials from that perspective.

    If you don’t have a specific skill or connection to offer, stop trying to pep talk or offer advice. He’s almost definitely got a million people in his life offering general advice and telling him to keep trying. He’s likely pretty burnt out on hearing it! Offer a friendly ear for when he wants to vent. Invite him over for a no-work-talk-allowed dinner. Give him space to be himself and hang out socially without this job hunt looming over him for a couple hours. If he chooses to bring it up, offer compassion instead of trying to fix it for him (this is a good strategy for a lot more than job hunting, for the record—it’s very common to get so caught up in trying to help our loved ones that we miss that what they really need is some comfort and commiseration while they solve it themselves).

  37. sofar*

    One thing I LOVED during my two major bouts of unemployment was when friends suggested “productivity” days/nights. We’d meet at one of our places (or at a coffee shop). I’d job-hunt and write cover letters, and they’d work on whatever. I was so grateful for the company (job-hunting is really isolating). And, if I needed a quick proofread on a cover letter, they were right there to ask.

    1. AnOtterMouse*

      This! A friend and I went through simultaneous unemployment when she finished her PhD and I dropped out of the same PhD program. We would designate “laptop time” together at one of our kitchen tables. No judgments about the other’s chosen work of the day (finishing up papers for publication, or job-hunting, or whatever), but we were together for the company and to have someone to bounce ideas off.

  38. DataGirl*

    He’s young and college educated, so something *probably* will come through eventually- but it doesn’t always. My husband (who is neither young nor in possession of a college degree) has been searching for 6 years. He’s applied to literally hundreds of jobs, across the globe. At this point I do think it’s hopeless. So not to make this about me, but yeah the well meaning encouragements and ‘oh, it will eventually work out’ comments can be very irritating because for some people, it just doesn’t.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*


      Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided” is imho one of the most important and necessary books I have ever read. It’s about how the American cultural norm of optimism is actually cruel, destructive, and hurtful.

      Empty reassurances about how everything is actually going to go great have always been invalidating and infuriating to me.

  39. LosDelRio*

    I mean the only and obvious solution is to burn the institutions oppressing the proletariat, defeat capitalism, and dine on the rich.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Haha! I’ve found political activism can help me feel less like a loser despite my lack of career success. There are lots of small political races needing phone bank, text bank, and postcard writing volunteers. There are demonstrations – if you’re in the US, tomorrow night at 9 pm (July 12) there will be vigils nationwide protesting the horrific detention conditions at the border – search for “Lights for Liberty.”

  40. Sara without an H*

    Ambrose Bierce once defined advice as “the smallest current coin.” It’s also the one everybody is happy to distribute freely to their friends.

    Leave off the advice and practical help. Just stop. Ross has probably heard all the advice he can stomach and then some. Instead, take him to lunch and you pick up the tab.

  41. Jennifer*

    I think the best way to help him keep his chin up is just to stay out of it. Stop giving advice, if you haven’t already, and just be supportive friends. Come over and binge funny shows on Netflix or go out hiking or take him out for drinks, whatever things he enjoys.

  42. Ra94*

    I would avoid talking about jobs with him, period. It sounds like he’s had enough of those conversations with everyone else, and would benefit from being reminded what makes him an awesome person and friend outside of the employment world. What hobbies does he love? What’s he really good at? Delve into those areas of his life and let him take his mind off of job-searching.

  43. Ally*

    The only useful help I’ve received from friends were from those working at the specific company that I was interested in. They helped proof my cover letters and adjusted wording on my resume.
    As far as career advice and job search advice – no. Last time I was unemployed, the suggestion of “why don’t you just teach?” repeatedly came up. I have zero teaching experience, no teacher training, and no teaching credentials – which they already knew. Other suggestions involved starting my own business or positions that required fluency in a foreign language (which I do not have).

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup, I hate the “just teach” thing too. Once again, that’s coming from people not taking into account that some folks aren’t cut out to be teachers for numerous reasons, and the idea that just anyone can walk off the street and go into a classroom and be an effective guide for children is insulting to actual teachers. This isn’t something anybody can just do well – it’s a learned profession like medicine and law. You wouldn’t tell an unemployed person, “Well, just to become a lawyer.” Like, what?! Lol.

  44. Cathy Gale*

    When Ross complains about his situation and asks for advice, you can suggest he consider what kind of work he can do that makes him feel good or pertains to his knowledge base, even if only on a part-time basis from home. The old “what would you do if all work only paid a dollar” question.

    Plenty of people can work for themselves in some fashion. The assumption is that starting your own business means a lot of formal crap. It doesn’t have to. Many folks are needlessly intimidated by the idea of what it means to be in business.

    If you pick up some part time work on your own, that’s a side business, where you are an “sole proprietor” for IRS purposes. That’s it. Schedule C is not that hard to fill out.

    Something relatively unglamorous as tutoring, proofreading, yard work, or a lemonade stand – still a business. There are books targeted to people who don’t think of themselves as “entrepreneurs”, Sara and Geoff Edwards have written some excellent ones that are probably at your local library.

    When I went through two cold spells in my twenties, part-time side work not only helped pay bills, but it also helped me get work later on (instead of presenting myself as someone who had been unemployed; and there’s nothing wrong with volunteering, but working for yourself is more highly prized by most employers). It also helped me feel better about myself. Prior to this period, I would never have seen myself as a business person, either.

    A friend who is in the same boat as Ross – underemployed with a lot of education – used to say she had no talents or ability to run a small business. She insisted on moving to a city that is notorious for underemployment – where many, if not most, people under 30 live entirely off money in the gig economy, and work for themselves. She turned down a contracting offer because she was troubled by the idea of working for herself, and negotiating her own pay – had stereotypes about business “people” – and then nothing else turned up except a low paying secretarial job that she hated, and did for several years. A couple of months ago she described herself as getting a job, consulting on a project for a wealthy family in her city – and we were all happy for her. Then she told us that “maybe” she’d convince them to pay her.

    So mindset, not just economic pressures, has some impact on what happens to us. We often have an idea of what is acceptable to us, and we’ll stick to that even in the face of realities, including that we have to leave our comfort zone to do the things we want to do. Perhaps holding our noses and becoming our own boss.

    On that note, I would tell Ross to read everything by Karen Kelsey, The Professor is In. If he’s an ex-academic rock star, and highly educated, but dropped out of school, he’ll have to figure out a new course for himself, and she’s one of the first “alt-ac” career advisors to check out.

  45. Aquawoman*

    I think the best thing OP can do is change her goal. I doubt he’s asked for “help” in “keeping his chin up.” When I’ve been in difficult times, sometimes even just the routine “how are you?” bothered me because I had to actually be performative just to say “fine.” It’s a small thing (and I’m not faulting people for normal social niceties!) but small things feel more burdensome when you’re already burdened. I’d think about whether the effect of “keeping his chin up” isn’t actually asking him for emotional labor (of feigning cheer).

  46. Momma*

    Balance is key – don’t talk about the job stuff ALL THE TIME but also don’t instantly go silent the minute he walks into the room. If you were talking about work stuff when he shows up, finish the conversation (briefly if possible), maybe ask him 1 quick “how’s your job hunt going?”, then find a new topic. If all the upcoming get-together’s focus on celebrating new jobs or promotions, maybe mix in a few gatherings like a hike or trip to the beach to break those up where work talk is prohibited.

  47. Dasein9*

    So, if I understand the OP correctly, Ross is employed, but in a job where he is not utilizing his talents despite it being a challenging field and is in a living situation that is not ideal to save money?

    Could he be in a “fallow period,” and working out what direction to go next? This sort of thing can’t be rushed. Be supportive and understand that things can take time to work out.

  48. Letter Writer*

    Thank you all so much for your comments and insight! When I say “tight-knit,” it really is like a Friends/How I Met Your Mother dynamic, which at times can feel incredibly supportive and other times completely codependent. So it’s so helpful to have some outside perspective. I think all the suggestions to simply validate and acknowledge what he’s dealing with, rather than trying to fix it, are hitting the nail on the head. Plus serving as a distraction rather than focusing so much on what’s going wrong — hiking is a great suggestion, and we’ve started going to a local bar trivia night pretty regularly, and he likes swing dancing so I’m already planning on accompanying him sometime.

    And I think what should have been the most obvious piece of advice but the one we’ve all been neglecting is to first ask what *he* needs instead of trying in vain to help from angles that really aren’t helping him. It’s been a tough couple years for him on more than just the job front, so this applies across the board.

    I wish I had time to respond to every comment today, but I’m reading them all and really appreciate it!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      You sound like a terrific friend, LW. Ross and your other friends are lucky to have you around.

  49. Existentialista*

    I survived a multi-year period of job searching which eventually busted up my relationship and precipitated an overseas move (so, in a way, cost me everything) so I remember the emotional weight and the gradual deterioration, but with one foot in front of the other it does get better and will pass. I can echo the rest of the Commentariat in saying that as his friends, the less you talk about his search the better. Get him out, get his mind off it, focus on other activities, give him a break, give him ways to see a better reflection of himself back from the world.

    In my case, at one point I knew that I needed some help to avoid hitting bottom, so I sought out a therapist who was really more of a life coach. We talked about my feelings but she also asked to see my resume, and pointed me in some very practical directions for networking and applying for jobs, which hadn’t occured to me on my own. So, if he can find this kind of coach, it can do wonders for confidence and self-image, and for me at least was an important step on my path out.

  50. MicroManagered*

    My thoughts:

    Don’t offer job-hunting advice unless he asks you for it.

    Talk about your own long job search. When he says he got rejected again, offer up “Ugh I know how that sucks. I applied for 15 jobs in my field before I even got a call.” (or whatever is true here.)

    If something therapy-relevant comes up, don’t suggest he go to therapy. Talk about how therapy helped YOU. “I had a therapist tell me once (relevant thing that is true of you and not advice to him).” and see if he picks it up.

  51. rapinoe fangirl*

    I hate to piggyback on a letter that isn’t mine, but I’m going through something similar…but with my partner. So: pretend the letter writer is ross’ partner…you can’t really talk about everything but the job search, because you’re supporting him and it’s not just the elephant, it’s the whole room. what then?

    1. User 483*

      Limit the time you spend on the conversations and don’t pepper them with stuff throughout the whole day. Like — if you decide to play a board game together, just play the game and talk about other things. Don’t bring up the job at all during the fun/bonding time. Discuss that at separate times. Don’t make them think that any random conversation is going to suddenly be about reminding them that they don’t have a job.

    2. LawBee*

      As always, the answer is ask what your partner wants, and see if you can find a solution that works for you. Maybe say something like “I know that job hunting is really hard, and demoralizing. I love you and have confidence in you, and I’m happy to support you however you need for however long it takes, but I also don’t want it to define our relationship. I’m not with you because of your job, but because I think you’re wonderful. Is there something you want me to do or to stop doing that would help?”

  52. House Tyrell*

    As someone who was unemployed from January to May this year, I can confidently advise you to not send him job openings unless you really truly believe he would qualify and be great at it and hasn’t seen it and and are confident it’s something he could and would like to do and also talk to him about things that are not job searching. Well meaning friends and family sent me tons and tons of job postings… that I was either grossly over or under qualified for. Like I have a MA in political science and want to work in Title IX policy for universities… and they’d send me literally any job at a university, even if it was doing cancer research in a lab or as a professor or being the Vice President, etc. I knew they meant well but sending me those only momentarily got my hopes up when I saw a link, then immediately crushed me and also wasted their time and mine. I also was so tired of being asked about the job search. Ask him about anything else! What books he’s read recently, a sports game or movie you know he watched- literally anything else.

    It sounds like he at least does have a job at the moment so that’s good at least. I also currently have a job now but it’s not in my field or something I enjoy, so I’m still looking. It’s at least lessened the amount of postings I get sent significantly and pays my bills. But I’d kill for something to do after work that isn’t go home and sit on my couch and be anxious and depressed. Go hiking or see a movie together- something he’d enjoy and that gets him out of the house after work since it seems like he doesn’t want to work there and working a job you don’t want or like can be draining and discouraging. And I wouldn’t personally be upset that my friend’s were doing well, I was always happy for them when they got jobs and I didn’t, but if you get the vibe that it’s upsetting him then maybe at least try and talk about non-job things all around.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      +1 to not sending job postings, because a lot of people who try to recommend jobs have no idea what the qualifications for jobs are and how they relate to what the jobseeker actually does. My MIL thinks my husband’s PhD is an MD and loves sending him postings for doctor jobs. “Oh the local hospital is shorthanded, you should apply there!”

  53. Charlie*

    I’m an ex academic recently transitioned into work. What helped me most were support groups with other academics making a transition (even though Ross himself may not identify as an academic). Try to steer him away from academic “quit lit”, which is glorious and has its place, but will probably reinforce a negative self-image. The best resource for me was an online community called “Beyond the Professoriate” which was a message board and series of video conferences and accountability that helped you feel like you were setting goals and making progress in a job search even if you weren’t seeing results. It is mostly populated with people who finish PhDs but don’t go on to academic careers, but there’s really not that much that stands between someone who finishes and someone who doesn’t finish – people who finish the degree but don’t get the job go through similar tough times.

    Lots of the resources for academics transitioning will help address burnout (burnout for me was the kind of thing that lasted for many many years beyond the initial worse symptoms – it followed me out of a terrible professional situation and made a good professional situation impossible for me because I wasn’t fully recharged when I took it on). The burnout part may be the thing that needs addressing, but as his friend there’s probably not much that you can do except continue to include him in stuff and don’t let him isolate and lose touch.

    I’d say keep celebrating your news and keep being positive about whatever happens for him. The key thing is probably to make sure he knows you value him regardless of his professional achievements.

  54. Pippa*

    To address just one possibly minor aspect of this – it sounds like some of Ross’s demoralization comes from having to leave his PhD program, even though it was for reasons mostly out of his control. If he’s feeling embarrassed by that, or that people will uniformly judge him as a failure because of it, I’d just like to say that he shouldn’t put too much weight on that. Not to minimize what he’s feeling, because it must have been a terrible disappointment, but to other people, it just looks like a change of plan that might have any number of explanations. It’s really common for people to leave PhD programs, and not only because they “fail” in some way – programs lose funding, advisors retire and aren’t replaced, departments can be toxic, career goals can change. A colleague of mine, whom I admire greatly, was unable to finish his PhD because his advisor died and his department was a mess, so he was left in the lurch for years. No one thinks this reflects poorly on him. It probably varies by field, but I’d never automatically assume that someone who left a PhD program was a failure.

    I’m not saying you should try to comfort Ross by saying “nbd, lots of people leave PhD programs”, because he didn’t want to leave and it’s small consolation at the moment, I imagine. Just wanted to offer the view that leaving a PhD program isn’t something everyone will regard as a personal failure on his part.

    1. Existentialista*

      Yes, in fact, when I was working on my own, I read in a very helpful little book called “How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation” that, to the author’s best ability to estimate, only about one in four who start a PhD eventually finish it. So he’s in good company with the other 3/4.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Gauge carefully whether Ross will want these, but when I was dropping out of my Ph.D program (I wrote quit lit before it was cool!), Barbara Lovitts’ book Leaving the Ivory Tower and Wilf Cude’s The Ph.D Trap helped me feel less alone, and work through what I owned of my crash-and-burn failure and what my department and university did.

        (I don’t need sympathy, just to be clear — this was two decades ago and I’m fine now.)

  55. giraffe*

    You should ask Ross this question! Everyone is different. Personally, when I was unemployed I *hated* when people were “trying to support me.” Friends and family were constantly trying to give me bad advice, repeat pointless platitudes like “you’ll find something soon!,” would ask me what I was trying and suggesting dumb stuff (Oh, really, you think I should check out Idealist while I’m searching for a nonprofit job? Wow, what a revelation, you’re so helpful).

    Stop trying so hard. Don’t talk about it all the time. Let him bring it up if he wants to vent or something, but otherwise don’t say a word. If you happen to hear about a specific opportunity he might not otherwise hear about, pass it along, but otherwise stay out of it. And buy him a beer.

  56. Sherm*

    Along the lines of “no pep talks,” don’t say anything like “The economy is doing well right now!” or “I just read that people in your field have super low unemployment!” He reads the news like we all do and knows the supposed state of the economy (which is never unfailingly great for everybody out there; there are a lot of factors, like subtleties in his specialty, which can make all the difference). I’ve been told these things in the past and know that they are not motivating at all. The message I was internalizing was not “I can do it!” but “I can’t make it even when it’s supposed to be easy.”

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Just because the economy is adding jobs, doesn’t mean they’re a) the kind of job you can do and b) the kind of job you want to do. It’s hugely frustrating to be told, “But the economy’s booming right now!” when the economy in your city is booming with delivery and warehouse jobs and you can’t do heavy lifting, for example.

      1. Snark*

        And it doesn’t mean those jobs that were added are stable, adequately paid positions with benefits and promotion potential. While we’re back to where we were, numberswise, a lot of the positions that evaporated in the recession were replaced by hustle-till-ya-die gig economy work, freelancers, and cheap entry-level jobs.

  57. Jinxed*

    Honestly? This is me. I graduated with my BA in 2011 and am now in my thirties.

    I get such anxiety when it comes to job hunting that my boyfriend helps me look up jobs now. I still work retail. I came towards the end of reading this and was tearing up, because this is exactly what I’ve seen from my friends and family. It’s just beyond frustrating and I have pretty much given up on hope of any meaningful job.

    I am learning how to be a front end web developer, but knowing how every job wants years of experience and such, I don’t have hope.

    The jobs I have gotten have been through friend referalls, and I know I’m a good worker. All my previous jobs have said so. But it hurts to see when you’re going for a promotion in a crappy job you’ve been working for three years saying you don’t have enough experience, and then they hire someone that doesn’t even understand what job they’re supposed to be doing because, “they interviewed well. ”

    I guess I’m just royally you-know-what-ed.

    1. Cathy Gale*

      Hang in there. You are not your position. And you are not alone. One of my friends just turned 30 and it took her several years to get a “grown up” job – the same you’re working at, front end web. You may want to check if there are any part time or even volunteer gigs doing that to get in the side door/be able to claim x years of experience. She did that, she had one job and volunteered to do coding part time at same job.

  58. Laura*

    Wow. My friends abandoned me when I became long-term unemployed (still am). Wish I had this person as a friend back in 2012.

  59. Minocho*

    Honestly, I just do what I can to help with their self esteem. Honest praise and admiration or praiseworthy and admirable things feels good and can help push one out of a slump. when you actually value their advice and/or insight, ask them for it. Thank them for it.

    If they don’t address their bad feelings directly, I don’t either, but if they bring up the subject, I do the same sort of thing more directly and obviously. “Just remember, you are awesome. You are great at teapot design and your eye for teapot color is something I could never pretend to have. It really sucks that you’re not where you want to be, but I know you can get there.”

    I can’t make someone’s feelings or frustrations go away. But I can try to remind them that they’re worthwhile and have value.

  60. Seller of teapots*

    So my best friend has been dating, somewhat unsuccessfully, while the rest of our close group of friends has gotten engaged, then married, then had kids. It’s been rough on her and I see that same dynamic happening for you and your friend.

    The single biggest thing my bestie has needed, according to her, is someone to listen without trying to fix. Someone to say yeah this sucks and here’s some ice cream. Let’s go do this fun thing together etc.

    As others have said, be a friend, don’t keep your joys private but also don’t gush to this particular friend. Love them through the hump.

    And yeah THERAPY!!

  61. HQetc*

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments, so apologies if I’m repeating. I agree with the press of posters that say that talking about non-job stuff is probably good. The one thing I might offer up is that there are fora/support groups/blogs for ivory tower refugees, because he is sooooooo not the only one in that boat. So if he doesn’t have many folks in your group who’ve been though something similar, it may help him to interact with people who have been/are there. Recovering Academic was helpful to me (I finished, but by the skin of my teeth, and ended up basically taking a year of recovery time). Versatile PhD is a job site for PhDs who don’t want to go the typical academia forever route, but, IIRC, a lot of their jobs would be suitable for dropouts, if Ross can stomach filtering through the ones that do actually require the PhD.

  62. LawBee*

    If he is like me when I went through a spate of really unsuccessful job hunting while my friends were getting amazing raises and promotions and I was basically losing money every month – he doesn’t want your spoken encouragement or pep talks or anything like that. This is what would have helped ME during that time period:

    a. If I’m actually talking about how rough the market is, how I got another rejection, etc., don’t follow up your sincere commiseration and best wishes with the news of your random five figure bonus you got because of how amazing your job is. That is a topic for a different day, my friend.
    b. Telling me I’m great at what I do rang very shallow because none of them KNEW what I did.
    c. Just listening when I wanted to talk about it, with a “man, that sucks” and “that must be so frustrating” made it easier for me to later be excited for their good news.
    d. Don’t offer solutions!
    e. Remember that Friends episode where the ones with the high paying jobs kept wanting to “go somewhere nice” and the ones with the low paying jobs were reduced to eating the free bread at the table? I know your friend has a job now, but the dynamic holds.

    But mostly, ask Ross what he wants. His job search isn’t the entirety of him, and he wants to be happy for your success! But it is really hard when you feel like you’re failing left and right, and don’t know why, and everyone you love is being amazingly successful at you (even though they really aren’t being successful AT you).

    1. anonagain*

      YES to point A. I just had someone tell me about the promotion that they already emailed me about* when the entire point of the call was so I could ugly cry about how I got another round of rejections and will need to leave my field in order to find work.

      I do like being able to celebrate people’s triumphs with them, but maybe don’t share good news with someone who hasn’t even had a chance to wash the cry-snot off their face yet?

      *I had already responded a week earlier and I was stoked for them at the time, too.

  63. Mel*

    Sometimes it’s nice to just not talk about work stuff at all, when you’re out of work. Like, it doesn’t need to be taboo, but it helps you feel like less of a desperate loser if you can just have fun with your friends.

    I also sometimes feel *good* about my friends success, even though I’m currently unsuccessful. It makes me feel like it’s something I can do too, even though I’m not right now.

  64. 867-5309*

    As many others have said, focus on listening and not on solving. Some ideas:
    – Do activities together versus just going to bars. The (four) times I’ve been laid off, my friends took me out to get plastered and honestly, after a while it just didn’t help anymore. Instead, I started suggesting friends and I meet at the gym, go hiking, etc.
    – Suggest the occasional breakfast, lunche or coffee on weekdays so he gets out of the house and a break from job searching.
    – Share relevant job leads or contacts, but casually. (As in, “Saw this and thought of you.” versus “I think you should apply for this job” or “You’ve be great at this – you should apply.” That leaves the ball in his court.)

    I’ll also just share this… Two of my friends left their PhD programs in chemistry and had similar reactions. One ended up working for a company (Chemical Abstracts, a division of the American Chemical Society) in subject matter-related literature and research, and the other became a high school science teacher. The first – working for an association or tangential research, publishing field – is one that might not be on your friend’s radar.

  65. NA NA*

    I was just job searching and the number one thing I wished was that people would stop asking how it was going. I will tell you when I have good news and otherwise you can assume it is going horribly and I’m hating every minute of it. Instead, I wish people had just told me more about the problems they’re facing. Sort of like a tacit acknowledgement that everyone has hard times sometimes. I think the hardest part of the job search for me was feeling like I was “behind” everyone else, and life is so easy for THEM, why is it so hard for ME.

    I will say though, that I’m a little skeptical of how not his fault these problems are. If you’re burning out in a master’s program, a PhD program is probably not a good idea at that time. And rejected on a technicality sounds to me like he did something he thought wouldn’t backfire and it did? Maybe I’m reading too much into these things and most of his situation was outside of his control, but I do hope that Ross can take a step back to look at whether his decision-making has been a bit self-sabotaging, and perhaps there are things to address there?

    Also, if you feel uncomfortable suggesting something (like you mention therapy/mental health care) to someone, you could always try bringing it up about yourself to test the water. I sometimes do that when Friend A tells me Friend B has a problem and I want to help Friend B but don’t officially know the info.

  66. Old Lady*

    He doesn’t need a therapist! He needs money and/or a job.

    I wouldn’t do the “cheer-up” talk – those always made me feel worse. Nothing is worse for your self esteem when you notice people feeling sorry you.

    There’s really nothing you can say to cheer him up – it’s a sad situation, it normal to feel bad.

    You can ask if he needs anything. But beyond that, treat this like a normal situation – which it is.

  67. MommyMD*

    Ross needs to take care of his own grown adult life.

    Just be a supportive friend in the usual ways without investing so much in this. This is for him to figure out. When he gets tired of floating around, he’ll stop. Or not. Either way, he’s a grown man.

  68. Agastache*

    It’s fine to celebrate your job success, just keep it in perspective and don’t take it for granted. It’s the entitled, assuming everyone has a job type comments that are grating to job seekers and lower their self-esteem, not genuine excitement that something good has happened to you. I would put more of an effort into being sensitive and not making the problem worse and less into actually trying to fix it. Also, if you pity or look down on him or somehow see this as his fault or that he is less because he does not have a job, even subconsciously, that will come through in your speech and body language, no matter how much you try to hide it. If you think there maybe even a little feeling of that within you at some level, maybe have a deep think about the situation, how it could happen to you (and it sounds like it has) or anyone, and how much of our success and failure is luck/determined by unpredictable forces outside of our control (Job is great reading for this). I think if you meditate on that until you fully believe it, you will carry that into you actions with him and naturally behave in a way that is empathetic, comfortable, appropriate, and makes him feel better.

    I also second the suggestion about doing low or no cost activities. Focus on what you CAN do together instead of what you can’t, his strengths and successes instead of his weaknesses and failures.

    One of the worst and least necessary aspects of unemployment is the stigma. Just let it go. Think of him as a person, your friend. Not your unemployed friend. Honestly, one way for him to feel better is to join a social group where unemployment is not stigmatized (this could be grad students, since that matches his background; people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum; and a lot of people in foreign countries, which might also be a good option, since it sounds like he is open to traveling).

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