Recently a girlfriend of mine asked me to have dinner. “I’m thinking of leaving my job,” she said. “I think it’s just time to go, and I thought you would know what to do.”
And I did! I immediately started thinking of open positions I had heard of and which of my contacts might be a relevant introduction. I was rattling off names and next step strategies when I noticed the look on her face. She didn’t have to say a word, but I knew I was moving too fast.
When friends need help, our instinct is to do whatever we can to “fix” the problem. But, when it comes to something as big, personal, and stressful as looking for a new job, this isn’t always the best approach. Instead, it takes listening to her, understanding where she is in the process, and employing a whole lot of tact. Read on for some smart strategies for really helping a friend with her job search.
1. Listen First
First, remember you’re her friend—not her job search consultant. So allow her to vent her frustration or express her concerns uninterrupted. Validate her feelings, offer acknowledgement, understanding, and support, and let her know that you’re present in the moment.
Then, ask some questions to make sure you clearly understand your friend’s goal. Is she simply blowing off steam from a bad day? Or is she really ready to get started on an organized job search?
Assuming it’s the latter, ask her questions to see where she’s at in the process, like “How long have you been thinking about this?” and “What do you think you’re looking for?” Does she want to stay in the same type of position or industry, or is she looking for a new career altogether?
Again, do a lot of listening, and don’t assume that what you would do in her circumstances is necessarily your friend’s game plan, too.
2. Know Your Role
Once you know what your friend is looking for, don’t start rattling off ideas just yet. First, ask questions to see how best you can help, like “Is your job search public knowledge or am I keeping it quiet?” and “How can I be most helpful to you?”
Then, gently offer a couple of suggestions, starting with, “would it be helpful if I…” and see how she responds. Depending on where she is in the process, you might offer to:
3. Reach Out to Your Contacts
More likely than not, if you and your friend are in even a remotely related field, she’ll want to know if you have contacts who could help. If you do, you can offer to send her resume out to people in your network, introduce her to specific people who might be helpful, or recommend her to a hiring manager.
That said, remember that recommending a friend is a direct reflection on you. Before recommending someone, ask yourself: "How would this person represent me?" and "Do I vouch for this person's ability or professionalism?"
If the answer is no, or for whatever reason you don't want to introduce your friend to your contacts, don't. You don't need to offer it as an option or give an explanation for why you can't—simply draw attention to how you can offer assistance. And if your friend specifically requests the introductions, try "Although I can't help you with introductions, I'm happy to look at your resume" or, "I'm not in a position to make an introduction, but can I help you research potential employers."
4. Manage Expectations
Most importantly, think about what you’re willing and able to do to assist your friend. Verbalize your commitment to help her, but be careful not to over promise. If you don’t know anyone in your friend’s industry or can’t make an introduction or recommendation, don’t offer to “see who you know.” It gets her expectations and hopes up, puts you in an awkward situation, and risks leaving a negative impression all around.
5. Don’t Take it Personally
Finally, remember that if your friend doesn’t follow your advice, take you up on your offers, or update you on her progress, don’t be offended—it’s nothing personal. The job search is a long, painstaking, and personal process, and her pace may be different than how you would approach it. Just be there when she needs you, and remember—your roles may be reversed somewhere down the line.