How To Help A Job Seeker

On my 10 hour job search post there is an interesting discussion about how to do a job search, and keeping your chin up, motivation, advice, etc.  Here’s a snippet from Doug, asking those who are not unemployed to have more consideration when trying to help a job seeker:

…  treat those that are out of work with care and as the intelligent, motivated and well-educated individuals we are. Do not insult our intelligence. Do not think we haven’t tried the standard options. We have. Unlike those in a payrolled position, those without jobs are focused on doing the best they can to stay positive, somehow survive and work to develop increased employable skills — all without compensation, leadership or external motivation.

This reminded me of a frustrating experience I had during my job search.  I was a few months into my job search.  At church, an older lady approached me in the hallway with a paper that had a bunch of job openings, all of which were about 33% less than I needed to make (not what I wanted to make – I was beyond that, but I would have to have two jobs in order to pay the bills if I took one of those jobs).

She seemed insistent that I simply take that list, apply to the jobs, and then accept the one that offered me a role.

This was months into my job search, and I had spent way too much time online looking at and applying to job postings.  I had realized by that time that job postings were something of a farce …. that is, they weren’t real. Perhaps they were already filled, or the process to hire could be months and month, or I was over- or under-qualified.  I had come to view job postings as unreal, even artificial.

Getting this list shoved in front of me by someone who hadn’t been in a job search for decades was *almost* comical.  It was offensive and hurtful.  Did she really think I couldn’t go to monster and find other outdated, artificial postings?

Did people really think I hadn’t tried the “standard options?”  When she put that list in front of me, one thought I had was “oh, these are all outdated – I’ve been scouring the job boards and I know these aren’t open anymore – I RECOGNIZE ALL OF THEM!!”

Doug says to remember that we are “intelligent, motivated and well-educated” people.  Indeed we are.  It was a huge realization for me when I figured out I not was inadequate to live in this world of working people, rather I just had a different status than my working peers.  I was still a professional, still knowledgeable, competent, capable, willing, etc.  Just like them. They were just more fortunate than I was at the time, with their regular paycheck and health insurance.

Let me share five things you can do, if you are employed (including self-employed), to help a job seeker.  All of these are tactical ideas, but keep in mind it’s essential that you treat us, the unemployed, with the respect we deserve.

Thing 1: Get to know me. I may not be good at communicating who I am and what I do (or want to do)… this is a hard time for me and I’ve never had to talk about myself in this way (elevator pitches and all that).  But try and get to know me on a deeper level, and as you get to know me you’ll see how you might be able to help me.  I remember having lunch with someone I thought I knew (we were both in the job search) and during lunch I learned so much more about him, I was blown away.  Once I got to know him at a deeper level I could (and did) go back to my network and make more proper, more meaningful connections.  This only happened because I took the time to get to know him better.

Thing 2: Offer to help me with something specific. I hated the “is there anything I could do?” or “if I can do anything, let me know.”  I would answer “not now,” but I really wanted to say “help me get a job!”  Look for opportunities to help me.  For example, ask me what companies I want to work at.  Hopefully I can give you a list of 3 – 5 target companies – when I can tell you, then dig into your network to try and help me network into that company.  Maybe you facilitate an introduction, or go to a lunch with me and a company insider… but this is something much more specific, and quite meaningful, in my job search.

Thing 3: Open your network. I don’t mean open your black book of contacts, and give them all to me. Perhaps you aren’t comfortable with that yet.  But could you at least introduce me to ONE person?  Just one person… and if I handle it well then perhaps you can introduce me to more.  Here’s a bonus idea: Read Never Eat Alone, and think about how YOU can play a significant role in your own career, as well as the lives/careers of those around you.

Thing 4: Inspire and motivate me. Don’t do it artificially, but if you have had an experience where you were out of work and lived to tell about it, perhaps share what you learned, or what strengthened you.  I don’t need your sympathy, but I can use your encouragement and help to see the big picture.  In my job search I was dumbfounded by the number of friends and neighbors who had been unemployed, some for longer than a year, who shared very personal experiences and feelings with us.  We could know, with their support, that indeed we could make it through.

Thing 5: Remember me after our first meeting. One thing we all hate about networking is how superficial it is.  Having an initial meeting and then not doing anything after that is part of this superficiality.  I know why it happens, but please consider the job seeker as someone who you need to follow up with regularly.  In my job search it was easy to be lonely, and people treated me with kid gloves because they didn’t know what to say… usually they didn’t say anything at all. Which meant I was left alone in my failed job search.  How powerful it is to get a constant reminder, whether it’s a phone call, an email, a regular lunch date, or something like that, where I can feel your encouragement and communicate my needs – not once, but regularly.

Bonus Thing 6: Give me money. Wow, that feels weird even writing it, and I’m not advocating on behalf of all unemployed people that we want your money.  We most certainly do not want your money. However, I will say that there were a few instances where anonymous friends, neighbors and probably family gave us money in different ways.  Some left fruits and vegetables on our porch. Someone left gift cards for the local grocery store in our mail box with a very kind and inspirational note.  Someone paid our water bill for a few months. I would have never asked for these things, but out of the kindness of their hearts, these good people helped us in a way that was more significant than the amount of money they gave.  Oh yeah, I should mention, for proud people like me, it’s better to do this anonymously than outright give it to me… 😉

As I write this I think about a related post, Religion’s Role in the Job Search… it might be applicable to you.

What do you think?  What has someone done for you that was significant?  If you have helped a job seeker, what have you done that has made a big impact?

11 thoughts on “How To Help A Job Seeker”

  1. A scary scenario no doubt – a job search when all you hear on the news is job cut numbers. Even when times are good, a job search is a vulnerable time. I see it in the eyes of people when I speak at and other places geared to the unemployed. Fear. I notice the difference between the confident and excited and those who come off as desperate in their search is preparedness. Being prepared equals confidence and companies/people buy confidence of what you can do moving forward.

    I have been told and see the impact I make speaking to these groups with tough love motivation. So I guess that is what I offer. So does my new teleseminar partner, Maria Elena Duron. Her energy is a gift when times are scary. She and I do teleseminars on Wednesdays and the 1st Wed of the month is free so we can take our tough love to more people. I hope that helps people and I know it helps us. If you are looking (or not and proactive!) Check it out. I hope you don’t mind, Jason, I share the link for people to contact me today?:

  2. Great article Jason!

    I want to share a story with you about my job search. I was doing all the traditional and untraditional search strategies. The untraditional one is the one that secured me my last job.

    What was it? Well, I’m a member of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI). (I’m a PMI certified Project Management Professional.) Because we need to keep our education current, the chapter set up a book review to earn education credits for maintaining our certification.

    During the 30 day project, I loaned a book to a fellow chapter member. He ended up holding on to my book for an additional 60 days and said “I feel bad. What can I do to make it up to you?” I remember smiling and saying, tong in cheek: “You could get me a job!”

    I was somewhat startled when his reply was “OK.” Then he told me to look at his company’s job site and let him know if I liked any of the jobs. I found a job and contacted him.

    I fully expected him to simply take my resume and send it to HR and collect the internal referral fee. That’s NOT what happened!

    This wonderful, kind, savior, of a man went so far above and beyond the call of ‘making it up to me’ that I just tear up every time I think about it.

    Here’s what he did and what I am trying to do when I pay it forward:

    1. met with me several times to help me roll play the interview,
    2. told me what phrases and terms were taboo in this company and for this team,
    3. helped me understand the reporting and pay structure
    4. met with me to debrief after my phone interview and my in person interview
    5. met with me to review the offer and provided tactical feedback so I was confident and prepared for that final acceptance meeting.
    6. After I got the job, he continued to meet with me to make sure I was doing OK.

    He only asked that I do the same thing for someone else when I was in a position to do so. I ask that everyone be as generous as he was with his time and energy.

    He, and what he did for me, was a HUGE blessing. What I didn’t say earlier is that when this all happened, I had been at ProMatch (Sunnyvale, CA EDD unemployment “job club”) for about 6 months and this had been my 3rd layoff in 4 years. (I’m in high tech.) AND, I had relocated from Southern CA to San Jose, CA about 6 months earlier. I had NO contacts in Silicon Valley and connections are how people get jobs in Silicon Valley; it’s a very small ‘family’ of people who work in this area.

    Now that I am unemployed again, I am working hard to do even a little bit of what he did for me – it was not just the time and information he gave to me that was so powerful. It was his attitude. He WANTED to help me. He knew how to help me by treating me with respect and coaching me through the interview and even my career.

    This man has become a mentor for me and I hope I am able to pay it forward at least half as well as he did for me!

    Thanks for letting me tell my story, Jason. Let’s all pay it forward. You don’t have to be employed. Everyone has something or a connection to someone to offer others. You’ll feel better and you’ll get even more in return!


  3. My very sad experience working with 100s of people in transition is this- When a person is looking for a job and being treated badly by busy and distracted employed people they are attempting to meet/network/talk with they vow they will never treat others the same way. It typically takes 2-3 months after a person is back to work before they abandon their vow.

    Being out of work is a difficult and painful experience. When many people get back to work they want to put the whole experience behind them and they quickly forget how difficult the rejections and delays they experienced were when unemployed.

    Having said the above, there are terrific people that are totally available and spend a lot of time helping the unemployed. Unfortunately, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Maybe one of the good things to come out of this difficult time is more and longer lasting empathy.


    (My connection burped. Please delete the prior comment.)

    Working with my fellow turkeys, I have assembled my thoughts over time into a course for “seekers”. Having been in and out, (out now), I’d like to help some more. This is just a codification of my “turkey farm” but I’d like to use it to create a “job hunt wolfpack”.

    My best experience in being out was a wolf pack that formed at the DB outplacement. We called Delta Beta Mu. And, many people (including me) were helped by it. Sadly, every one soon went their separate ways. Not wanting to remember the “turkey times”. (DBM was the “turkey farm” in our gallows humor. People would arrive insisting it was all a mistake. That’s where I created my line: “It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s them!”)

    This is just another of my free efforts. I’d like a pack to help me find that “08824 CTO”.

    Any way, if someone wants to take a peek, I’ve enable guest access with the key code “jibberjobber”. If folks are seriously interested, we can actually run it.

    Maybe someday it will amount to something,
    the big fat old turkey hisself

  5. What nice stories about someone helping someone find a job. As an HR executive, I consult with individuals to write resumes and do interview skills workshops. I tell everyone that yes, the internet is a powerful place to begin your job search, but many jobs are found the old fashioned way – the friends and family network. As an HR Director, I would 100% of the time interview candidates recommended to me by current employees. Tell everyone you know you are looking for a new position and have them refer you and give you a good word to the hiring manager.
    Best of luck to all of you job seekers! The jobs are there if you know where to look and use your resources.

  6. Jason.

    One of simplest things which I think can be done for those who are between jobs is to put aside pre-conceived notions about unemployment and treat them with some respect.

    There is little excuse for the long held myth that the unemployed are lazy or inferior in some other way, but this is often how I felt treated during periods of unemployment which I have endured.

    It is also critical to avoid the temptation to look down upon those with ‘menial’ part time jobs. At separate stages during the late 90s and earlier in this decade, I personally worked as a door to door collector and a telemarketer on a part time basis whilst otherwise being between jobs. The condescending attitude which many of the people whom I came in contact with during the course of fulfilling my duties in these roles had a significant adverse impact upon my personal self esteem, which was already fairly low at the time.

    So, when dealing with door knockers, telemarketers or other ‘low’ people, we should all be conscious of the fact that they may be otherwise between jobs, and we should respect the fact that these people are taking proactive action as opposed to merely relying upon social security for their upkeep.

  7. Great article, loved it! Thanks so much for sharing it, Jason, I am super-curious as to what you got blown-away exactly by this one guy whom you had a lunch with … Could you elaborate more in terms of how you had gone back working on your then-connections afterwards?

    Thanks alot!

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