It’s hard to know how to help a job searching friend, right?
You mean well, of course.
But truth is, unless you’ve recently been through a job search of your own, you might become more of a pain than a partner.
The rules have changed.
And the advice? Endless.
You want to help, but you don’t want to make a mistake, or unintentionally hurt your friend more than she’s hurting right now.
Based on conversations with many job seekers as well as their friends and families, here’s our guide on how to help—and what to avoid right now.
(Pssst: if you’re the one job searching and you’re not sure how to tell your friends or family how to help YOU, forward this to them article. And be sure to join our Insider Community —free— to get timely and real-world help like this right in your inbox.)
How to Help a Job Searching Friend: Do’s & Don’ts for the Modern Age
#1: DO reach out.
I’m writing this when unemployment is on a painful rise, catching many folks off guard thinking their jobs were “safe.”
(Psst: in a fast-changing world, your job’s never really been safe.)
Your friend could be among the many caught off guard by downsizing, restructuring, or layoffs.
When it happens, it’s . . . awkward.
Even when job loss is happening to many around the world, it’s common for someone to feel embarassed, ashamed, angry when it happens to them.
They may not tell you directly what’s happened.
Or, they may not want to talk about it.
Be a real friend and go first.
Reach out and say:
“Hey Bob–Sarah mentioned there’d been a lot of new layoffs at Groundburg Co., and she thought they may have included you. Just wanted to reach out and say I’m thinking about you, no matter what’s going on. Don’t hesitate to reach out anytime if you want to talk more, or if I can do something for you or a friend.”
“Hi Alex. Hope you and the girls are well. I read that the local office of Dancing Accountants Inc. was closing, and know you’d been there for a long time. If you or your colleagues are now looking for what’s next, know I’m here to support you however I can. Just ask.”
When you reach out first, you break the ice.
By going first, you give the other person permission to start a conversation at a time when they may be feeling like they don’t have any right to ask for anything.
Sounds crazy, but what’s going on in the newly unemployed person’s head is:
- “Who am I to ask for help?” or
- “I can’t reach out until I know what I’m asking for.”
You don’t have to offer anything, solve anything, or FIX anything.
As a friend, your job at this stage is to just be there, and be open.
#2: DO respond when someone reaches out (even if it’s a teensy bit cold).
Okay, in a perfect world, we’d all have the skills to keep up with our networks, even when we don’t need them.
We’d all know how to send emails that don’t sound desperate (my scripts here help.)
If you want to know how to help a job-searching friend—even one you haven’t talked to in a while—answer the email. Respond to the text. Return the call.
Therefore but the grace, and all that.
After all, it probably took a lot of guts for them to reach out.
In your response, invite the person to talk live:
“Hey Clarissa—thanks for letting me know what’s happening with you. I’m sorry you have to go through that. Since we haven’t talked in a while, why don’t we plan a call soon? I’m good Monday after 2:30 if that works for you, or let me know what can work and we’ll make it happen. Talk soon!”
An invitation to talk creates an action to help your friend move forward.
Now, as with any invitation, they may decide not to accept.
Or more likely, they may think they can’t talk to someone like you until they have more of a plan in place.
That’s a bad decision on their part.
Your friend the job seeker should talk to everyone and anyone, anytime.
However, that’s not your decision to make.
All you can do is make the offer, and then let it go.
#3: DON’T ask what happened. DO ask open questions.
But let’s say your friend is among the smart job searchers, and they immediately schedule a call (video or phone) with you.
How do you help a job-searching friend when you’re talking together?
First, park your natural curiosity. Avoid asking for the uncomfortable details of the layoff or firing (“did you really get laid off via text???”)
Yes, it’s human to want to hear the gossip, but in the long run, it’s irrelevant.
Your friend’s probably exhausted from telling the story, too.
Instead, ask open, non-judgy questions, like:
- What’s the general direction you’re exploring now?
- What kind of questions are coming up for you?
- What kind of help would be most useful for you right now?
- How can I help you best?
You don’t have to DO anything in that first call unless something jumps to mind in response to what they’ve said.
#4: DO ask permission to make introductions.
If your friend has done her homework on modern job search, she’ll already know that one of the best things you can do to help her is to make introductions.
Hopefully, she’ll ask you this when you ask “how can I help you best?”
If she doesn’t ask—and you really want to know how to help that job-searching friend—proactively bring it up, like this:
“Based on what I heard you say, I probably [know/am connected on LinkedIn with] a few people [in your industry/in your profession/at the companies you mentioned.] Would you like me to make some introductions so you can hear more about what’s going on in their worlds?”
After all, you never know who you might connect with whom.
(You can also search your own LinkedIn profile to find potential people to introduce to your friend with the strategy here. As a professional coach with a broad network, I do this all the time to support my clients and friends.)
#4: DON’T send random postings from generic job sites.
If you want to help your job-searching friend, don’t distract them with job board black holes.
Truth is, their next job will likely NOT come from an online posting. It’ll come from networking (which is why introductions matter).
There are a few exceptions to the job board black holes:
- LinkedIn: this is where the professional recruiters hang out, and if they’re posting at all in a candidate-rich world, they’re likely posting here. More on why LinkedIn matters here.
- Professional association job boards, such as IABC or PRSA for marketing and communication professionals or the Society of Actuaries for actuarial and data pros.
- Industry-specific sites, such as Dice for tech pros.
If you see an opportunity shared inside your LinkedIn network or in your professional/industry community that matches your friend, then it can’t hurt to share that.
But please . . .you’re not helping when you’re sending buckets of Indeed or Zip Recruiter links.
#5: DON’T ask to see their resume.
Most job seekers are wasting too much time fiddling with their resumes. They falsely believe that the “perfect” resume is the golden ticket to their next job.
And well-meaning friends think they’re helping when they say, “Send me your resume.”
But unless you’re someone who’s in their professional field and is similar to the person who’d hire this person, resist the urge to even LOOK at their resume.
When you look at it, you’ll have an opinion.
And I say this with love, but your opinion won’t really matter. 😱
In fact, your opinion can hurt. It has more opportunities to send your dear job-seeking friend into another spiral of doubt.
It’ll send them back to the computer, messing with minor word tweaks and formatting decisions that are just a time-wasting trap.
#6: DO serve as an unabashed reference.
At some point, your friend may ask you to be a reference.
If you’ve agreed to this, you have one job: ONLY present the upside.
This is not the time to offer “constructive” criticism, especially to a company recruiter, hiring manager, or worse, an online survey (which many large companies use today).
These surveys total averages of all respondents, like this:
So rate your friend at the highest number on the scale.
This isn’t the time for “I never give full marks” or “well, no one’s great at everything.”
Your hesitation or slightly wavering words can be enough to push the company to make the offer to the other person.
If you get the opportunity to talk to a live recruiter or hiring manager, and you’re asked, “What are Sarah’s weaknesses?” or “How could Stanley improve?”, take a second and say “Nothing comes to mind right now.”
Then shut up.
The interviewer will move on—after all, she’s got better things to do.
Now, your turn
Those are just a start. If you’re someone who wants to help a job-seeking friend, what’s worked for you? Where have you goofed?
Or, if you’re a job seeker, what do you WISH your friends would know and do?
Be sure to join our Insider Community here, free. where you can respond directly. We’ll keep updating this article with YOUR thoughts and ideas, and together, we can help more friends find the good jobs they deserve.
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