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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

How to Deal With Being the Only Unemployed Friend (Without Biting Anyone's Head Off)

There’s no question that it can take everything you’ve got to muster excitement for the success of others when you yourself feel like a complete failure. When all of your friends are gainfully employed and your applications continue to be met with radio silence, it’s hard not to feel like there’s something wrong with you. Maybe you even feel a damper on your relationships because of the disparity.

Your best pals are still eager to hang with you and meet for happy hour, but when you arrive, it seems like the only thing they can talk about is what’s going on at the office—the funny email the boss sent, the meeting that got interrupted by the fire alarm, the colleagues who are probably, most definitely dating. When the conversation finally turns to you, your business-casual decked friends look at you expectedly and wait for you to tell them your latest news on the job front.

“Did you hear back from the PR company?”
“Did you write to that guy like I told you to?”
“Are you working on your social media stuff?”
“Want me to take a look at your resume again?”
“Your cover letters are tailored, right?”

They mean well, of course, and it wasn’t that long ago that some of them were in your very position, but that doesn’t stop their questions from annoying the crap out of you. The thing is, you’ve sought their advice and help. You even had your writer friend proof your resume. You appreciate the connections they’ve made on your behalf, and the links they used to send you on job openings, but at this point, you’re no longer buoyed by their encouragements and their curious questions. You’ve got this—you just don’t exactly have it yet.

Instead of losing your cool and snapping at them, take a deep breath (or a sip of your drink), and respond with a carefully-crafted spiel. What’s this, you wonder? Why it’s the rehearsed and well-oiled line you deliver whenever someone asks you about something you’re sick of answering based on the fact that your situation hasn’t changed since the last time you were asked.

Years ago when I was working in a restaurant waiting for my big break in publishing, I got so fed up with being interrogated about the status of my “real job” search that finally a close friend suggested I come up with a quick response to shut everyone up and keep calm. Even if you’re overreacting to your friends’ queries, it’s still helpful to find a way to speak to them about your ongoing job search that won’t make you want to bite their pretty, professional heads off.

I went with “I’m finding some great opportunities but haven’t landed on the right one yet. Will keep you posted!”—but here a few options that also do the trick:

  • “Thanks for asking. Nothing’s changed—thank goodness I have that steady dog-walking gig in the meantime!”

  • “Nothing new to report. You’ll be the first person I share the good news with.”

  • “I’m spending some time each day searching for opportunities, but I’m not wasting my time applying to just anything. I promise to let you know when something great comes along!”

If that tactic, your, ahem, spiel, doesn’t work, you may need to take a breather. Assuming you truly have exhausted all of your resources as far as your pals are concerned, it’s totally fine to take a small step back from the friendships. It’s only natural that they’re going to be excited to talk about their experiences working, and it’s also makes sense that you’re not going to want to hear all about it while you remain steadfastly unemployed.

Instead, seek out a like-minded group: job searchers like yourself, full-time freelancers, a group of aspiring artists who don’t have traditional 9-to-5 gigs. Connecting with people who are in a similar position as you might mitigate some of the annoyance you feel about being the only one of your friends without a job.

It’s a good reminder that you’re not actually the only unemployed person out there—only one among your friends, maybe, but that’s a small group in comparison. You might discover that bouncing ideas off of people who find themselves on the same path as you is more helpful than speaking with those who’ve already figured it out.

If you do decide to decrease your friend-time though, give your circle a heads up so that when you are ready to be a full-swing pal again, they’re cool with your sudden reappearance. Just let them know that you’re going to devote even more time to your search and are going to lay low for a bit.

And, as you do go about your hunt, don’t be persuaded to jump at the first thing that comes along if it doesn’t feel like a good match just because you’re eager to join your friends’ professional standing. In the long run, applying for and accepting a position for the sake of getting a job, any job, isn’t good. In fact, you’d probably be better off taking an unrelated side gig such as bartending or babysitting so you have some money coming in and can stress less while you wait for the right thing to happen.

Photo of friends at happy hour courtesy of Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images.