| March 19, 2013

In an uncertain economy and with roughly 12 million Americans unemployed, we may find ourselves faced with comforting an out-of-work friend.

Of course, you can offer the standard “I’m sorry to hear about your job loss,” condolence, but if you really want to help your friend, there are several things you can do to open up a productive discussion that may help them land a new job:

  1. The elephant in the room. Losing a job and being out of work for an extended period of time is a reality for many. And while the biggest benefit of being employed is a steady paycheck, there are other advantages including increased self-esteem, having structure to the day, and a solid sense of identification. "Being unemployed can be psychologically paralyzing," says organizational psychologist Mike Woodward. "It’s important to let your friend know you’re there when they’re ready to talk." Everyone is unique and handles problems differently, so pay attention to their signals when it comes to starting a discussion.
  2. Get to the point. When offering support to an unemployed friend, don’t be vague about the ways you can help. This can discourage the job-seeker from asking for your input. “Job loss can hurt more things than just a wallet, and certainly, the end goal when interacting with a victim of job loss is to keep their spirits up and their goals clearly in view,” says communication coach David Parnell. Be specific and set a date for a brainstorming session to review their resume or go over contacts. If you see your friend becoming withdrawn, suggest setting a regular time each week for coffee to help them get back into a routine.
  3. Two-way street. Open up a conversation with your friend on topics other than employment. “One of the best ways to level the playing field is by asking them for help or advice, first," Parnell adds. "Proactively, this will this create a more level and safer platform for them to communicate on.” Talking out problems also encourages critical thinking and opens the door for further discussion about their current state of unemployment and job search.
  4. Don’t forget to network. Review your contacts and networks you think would be a good resource for your friend. Networking is the single most effective way of finding a new job, says Woodward, so a simple phone call or email could be the first step to a successful match. “You have more contacts than you realize," Woodward says. "The idea is to create triggers in people’s minds so they think of you when an opportunity becomes available.”

Hopefully your friend's unemployment period will be short lived. In the meantime, don't underestimate the importance of being there for them as a sounding board.