6 Things Your Unemployed Friends Want You To Know
Unemployment is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. It can cause increases in anxiety. It can trigger depression. It can heighten insecurity and feelings of unworthiness. For many, the instability that unemployment causes can be life-altering. As of September 2019, 36.9% of people in the United States currently experience unemployment for a period of 15 weeks or longer. As of my first day on the job this past Tuesday, my last period of unemployment lasted almost six months.
Not having a job during during this period was difficult in a number of ways, and I've had some interactions that made me realize not everyone knows how to speak to or treat someone who has lost their job or is in-between jobs. People assume a lot about those of us who are unemployed, so on behalf of anyone experiencing this moment I'm sharing some important things you need to know.
1. We don't want to talk about our job search or unemployment every time we speak with you.
Starting off a conversation with "how's the job search?" is arguably a bit inappropriate. In my own experience, I often spent 5-6 hours a day filling out job application. I was getting rejection letters daily. After moving to a new town, I was alienated from my friends. So imagine how frustrating it was to have someone text you with "how's the job search?" as their conversation opener. My best advice is to just ask you're friends how they're doing. Send them a funny meme or joke. Tell them you're proud of them. Let them be the ones to bring up their situation if need be. Don't assume that the only thing they'll want to talk about is their job search (or that they even want to discuss it with you at all.)
2. Just because we haven't found a job yet doesn't mean we're not doing everything we can.
Remember earlier when I mentioned how long it takes to find a job on average? On top of being unemployed for long periods of time, it can be super frustrating to have people question your job search method. The constant "have you tried ____?" and "have you searched ____" questions when you're literally doing all you can do not make things any easier. I can't speak for everyone, but just know that when someone is unemployed for a longer period that's just the nature of the job market. It doesn't mean that person isn't applying to every job, all day, all the time.
3. Bringing up my finances is not okay, ever.
Asking someone about their finances in general is inappropriate. So bringing up an unemployed person's financial situation in casual conversation is a definite no-go. If you're making plans and want to invite someone who is unemployed there is literally no need to preface your invite with "I don't know about your finances but..."
If finances will make it difficult for your unemployed friend to join you, they'll tell you in whatever way feels comfortable for them. After my first few months of not working, people had brought up my finances so much that I started publicly joking about "being broke" to ease the awkwardness. (PS. Being unemployed doesn't always mean you're broke or struggling. Some of us are lucky to have help and savings.)
4. Unless someone asks you for help with their resume or job search, don't insist on helping.
This advice may depend on the type of relationship you have. For example, if a mentor or close friend who was in a position to help me in my search offered help by reviewing my resume or sending it to someone relevant, I'd be open to it. This year however, I had a lot of people who I didn't speak to regularly straight up telling me to send them my resume. They lived in different states and worked in different industries, and while I know that doesn't necessarily mean they couldn't help - I would've preferred they not cross that boundary. At the very least if you're going to offer help, specify how you're going to help. Nobody wants to just send their resume to a practical stranger (after all...if I'm unemployed that's what I do all day every day.)
5. Not applying for fast-food or retail jobs while unemployed doesn't mean someone is lazy or unwilling to work.
I had a friend insinuate a few weeks ago that I was unwilling to apply for fast-food or retail jobs because I thought I was "better" than the people who work there. This couldn't be further from the truth. I have a ton of respect for service workers, fast-food workers and retail workers. I think their jobs are just as respectable as anyone else's, BUT, I also have back problems that prevent me from working jobs that require long periods of standing. I even had to take pain medication to work at my previous job where I sat for long periods and had a lumbar support chair. My job allowed me to go for walks around the office and during my lunch breaks, something I wouldn't have time to do if I was working on a sales floor in a retail job or preparing food at a restaurant. This is why I avoid applying for jobs that I know I physically can't do.
When you wonder why someone hasn't applied to jobs that you think would be an obvious choice, there's probably a really good reason for it.
6. A lot of us are experiencing depression at severe levels, be kind.
Unemployment doesn't just mean you have nothing to do, and little to no money to spend. It also means you lose access to things like health insurance, the ability to travel, and savings that were intended for emergencies. Your debts continue to pile up, because many of them won't wait for your next paycheck. That is a monumental amount of stress to deal with at any age and at any time. When I transitioned to Arizona, I had just graduated from grad school. I had also just turned 26, and officially was no longer old enough to be a beneficiary of my parents' insurance. I lost my access to birth control, doctors visits, and my therapist within a few weeks.
I tried to be okay about it for quite some time, but experiencing unemployment, getting a real look at my student loan balance, and experiencing changes in my body all at the same time was mentally devastating. This means that while I know some of the comments and conversations I've had during these last few months may have been from people who meant no harm, many of those moments were deeply hurtful because I was already hurting.
This post is written not to chastise anyone who may have simply tried to help a friend in their job search, but to remind you that this experience is incredibly difficult. Your friends need your kindness, love and support much more than they need assistance with their resume or job search. Odds are, they more than likely will find a position that works for them soon. In the meantime, they could use all the kindness they could get from the people who care about them the most.
A former unemployed employed person.