Friday, February 19, 2010

To Friends, Spouses, and Parents of Job Seekers Part 3 – Tips for Being Supportive of Your Job Seeker

This multiple part series is not addressed to job seekers. Instead it is directed to the friends, spouses, and parents of job seekers. They want to help their job seeker loved ones and just do not know where to start or, with the kindest intentions, are doing the wrong thing.

Job seekers: Do yourself a favor, and to your circle of support, by forwarding the link or giving a hard copy of this series to your friends, spouse, and / or parents so they will know how to support you in your job search.

Dear friends, spouse, and parents of a current job seeker:

Nothing feels as helpless as wanting to help a loved one in a job search and not knowing where to begin. In the case of the spouse, the job transition impacts you directly as well. Knowledge is strength.

Part 1 shared the realities of the new job market that the job seeker is facing. The job market has drastically changed and the job seeker must adapt in order to successfully land that next job.

Part 2 covered the various approaches used in finding a job and the success rate for each so you know what is required of the job seeker.

In this third and final part, we share ideas on how to (and how not to) be supportive of your job seeker.

Step 1 – Understand the New Realities

The very first thing a person who wants to be supportive of a job seeker needs to know is the new realities of the job market. If you are of the Baby Boomer generation or older, or have not been on the job market recently, you would be shocked how much it has changed. The job seeker didn’t do anything to create this change. It happened and to be successful the job seeker must adapt to the new job market.

Without understanding the reality the job seeker is facing, you cannot really be supportive. Read up on the new realities of the market as outlined in Part 1 of this series.

Step 2 – Understand What the Job Seeker Considers as Supportive

It is important to understand what your job seeker considers supportive. Even though the golden rule is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, people want and need different things. As a senior manager in Information Technology, I learned that the people working for me are all individuals and I could not use the same approach to motivate them all. Some wanted recognition and others would rather die than get public recognition. The same is true of all people. Each person has something that makes him / her feel loved.

A fabulous book on this topic is Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages. The basic principle of the book is that we each have our own “currency” or ways for feeling loved and appreciated.

The five currencies or love languages from Mr Chapman’s book are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. If you have not read his book, I highly suggest you do. The concepts outlined in this book are helpful in all close relationships, business or otherwise.

If your job seeker’s “currency” is not service, your offer to help does not mean as much to him. It would be like offering Monopoly money to someone who is not playing the game. You should determine his “currency”.

Spouses: you have your own “currency” too and the job search impacts you directly. Read The Five Love Languages book together and identify each of your love languages; more on this later.

Tips for Being Supportive

The following are a few ideas on how you can be supportive. We also listed actions that are counterproductive to your job seeker.

There is no shame being in a job transition. In this new job market, most of us will be in a job transition again. Statistically people will have 13+ jobs in a lifetime and 4 careers.

Be intentional about keeping in touch with your job seeker as often, if not more than ever before, while he is in a job transition. There is no shame in being in a job transition so friends and family should not act as if anything is wrong. Do not let any slight discomfort you feel keep you from being a good friend. Your turn to be in a job transition will come and you will realize how important friends and family are.

The RightChanges’ article titled “There is no Shame in Being Unemployed” can be found at:

How to handle finances during the job search. Job seekers need to make adjustments in their spending while they are not bringing in an income. Once a person enters the job transition, the spouse should sit down with the job seeker and develop a financial plan.

When planning events, friends and family should keep in mind that job seekers cannot spend like they did previously. You do not need to pay for the job seeker’s dinners or tickets; instead plan events that do not cost as much or find ways where the job seeker can be responsible for an aspect of the event, like doing the driving.

There may come a time when the job seeker needs help keeping the roof over the head, food on the table, or the car in the driveway. There are organizations that exist to help. You would not hesitate to call 911 if your place was on fire. Even a firefighter would not hesitate to call for help if her place was on fire because we all know there are times we need the help of others. The number 211 is the phone number for the United Way. The United Way has a network of organizations, such as food banks who provide meals and churches who provide rent assistance, to help those who need it. Be sure your job seekers knows about the 211 number and encourage them to call the United Way as soon as they realize they will need assistance. They should not wait until they are desperate; there are more options available for assistance the earlier in the process that they call.

It is important to know how to ask a job seeker how she is doing. Over the years, many job seekers have shared with me that they wished people would simply ask “how are you?” or “how is your day going” or “how can I help you with job leads or contacts?”

Although intending well, asking details about the job search may put the job seeker in the position of feeling like a failure by having to share updates that are less than positive. “Have you had any interviews?”, “Why is it taking so long to find a job?, “How is the job search going?” can be dreaded questions to someone in the job search. It is the equivalent of asking a single person “why aren’t you married yet?” which can be interpreted as “what is wrong with you?” And never show pity in your tone when you ask.

Give them what they need. Going back to The Five Love Languages mentioned above, it is important to give the job seeker what he needs.

If the “currency” is affirmation, bring up previous accomplishments (turning flattery into a sincere compliment) and assure him that even thought the job market is very different and tough, he will find that job and the company will be lucky to have him.

If the “currency” is receiving gifts, a gift card for gas or groceries will probably be appreciated. Another idea for a gift is a gift certificate for dinner for two, for the job seeker and spouse, and offering to sit their kids.

If quality time is the “currency”, schedule some time on the weekend to do something you both consider fun, allowing the job seeker to get away from the job search and get out enjoying the day.

For job seekers who have the “currency” of physical touch, a reassuring touch on the arm, a hug, or a pat on the back will be appreciated.

Nagging, pushing, ordering, and applying guilt are negative approaches used to get someone to do something. For job seekers, who may already feel bad about themselves, these approaches add something negative to an already negative moment in their lives. It takes a good attitude to land that job; doing anything that makes the job seeker feel worse is counterproductive.

Assist but do not take over. I have seen family members, spouses, and friends take over the job search. In a couple of instances the person took the job seeker to a networking meeting and then asked all of the questions, gathered all of the handouts, and did all of the talking. This does not help the job seeker’s self confidence.

Another example happened at a meeting where I was the guest speaker. A job seeker handed me her business card and when I noticed it was printed askew, I asked if she knew about a company that provides professional business cards for free (other than the price of shipping). She said she knew of the company but her boyfriend wanted to help her job search and created the cards for her. Having unprofessional cards does not help.

Remind the job seeker of previous accomplishments and unique skills. In order to sell their talents and get hired, job seekers must identify their competitive advantage: the traits, skills, and prior accomplishments that make them unique.
As humans, we all tend to minimize the skills and traits that come easy to us. We think because it is easy for us, it can’t be anything special. The truth is that others admire us for these skills and wish we were as good at them.

It will help your job seeker by reminding her of her unique skills, abilities, and previous accomplishments. You do not have to wait to be asked before offering up this information; it will help the job seeker’s self confidence to be reminded of them.

Accomplishments should be formatted in STAR format. STAR stands for Situation or Task that you faced, the Actions you took, and the Results you received. For more about capturing STARs, go to:

Actively help the job seeker connect with people you know. You may not have a job to offer but you do know people. You may not even realize that people you know can help or a person they know can. Get from the job seeker his marketing plan which includes the titles of the jobs and the target companies he is pursuing. Place the marketing plan on your refrigerator or someplace where you will see it frequently. When you are at parties or other events, find out if anyone there has a contact at any of the target companies. Even if your contact does not work in the same field the job seeker is pursuing, it is still helpful for them to meet so the job seeker can gather information that will be helpful in the search. This meeting is referred to as an informational interview.

For more information about the marketing plan, go to:

For more information about the informational interview, go to:


Spouses: Job seekers must go to network meetings to develop contacts through which they will get job leads. These networking meetings are essential for the search (see Part 2 of this series if you haven’t already). The downside is that these meetings take away from valuable time with you and the family. It is important to realize and remember that the job search is a temporary situation. Do not make negative comments or show negative body language when your spouse mentions or leaves for these events.

One mistake I saw a spouse make was to accompany the job seeker to a meeting with a young child in tow. The child was disruptive to the meeting for everyone. If the future hiring manager was in attendance, the job seeker blew a chance at getting employed.

As the job seeker’s partner, you need to feel loved as well. Now that you know what your love language is, negotiate for it. For instance, if your “currency” is quality time, then pick a night when there are no important networking meetings and create a date night. There are many special things you, as a couple, can do that do not cost a lot. Realize that during this transition, you will need to give more to your job seeking spouse than you receive. Once the job has been landed, then it is your turn to be the receiver.

What to do when your loved one is not getting results in the job search. It takes longer to find a job during this recession than it did when the economy was booming (or appeared to be booming but ended up busting). When a job seeker has been in a job search for more than a year though, it is usually as a result of one of the following three reasons:

1) The job seeker does not have a good attitude. The job seeker may not have had a good attitude initially before starting the search. Job seekers have to take the time to go through the grieving process and get to the point of acceptance and even get excited about the opportunities that could lie ahead.
The job seeker may have started with a good attitude. If he is not conducting the search correctly, a bad attitude can result from the lack of results.

2) The job seeker has not taken an inventory of his skills, abilities, and accomplishments and learned to articulate his competitive advantage. You would not think about selling a product without knowing the product, how it works, and why it is better than your competition’s. A job seeker can’t sell themselves either without knowing how a company will benefit by hiring him.

3) The job seeker is using the wrong approach in searching for the job. As stated in part 2 of this series, networking is the best approach for finding the job lead and getting the interview. Too many job seekers instead rely on applying for jobs on the internet. Not only is that approach unproductive, it causes the job seeker to spend too much time at home. The job seeker is then cut off from contact with others; he does not get the sunshine he needs to stay positive (vitamin D), and the lack of response from the applications only cause further depression. After a while the job seeker will become immobilized by this depression.

We have already said you can’t do the search for them without further negatively affecting their self confidence. If the depression is so deep it becomes clinical, a professional may need to be consulted. Otherwise, there are a few things you can do.

1) Assure them that the reason they are not having success is not because of them. Let them know that you have discovered how much the job market has changed. Give them the following link so they can read for themselves that they need to adapt a new approach.

2) Your job seeker may need to consult a job search expert. No one would enter a championship round of a sporting event without the right equipment, without a coach for feedback, and without practicing. Yet many people go into a job search, where a livelihood is on the line, without the right equipment (a list of prior accomplishments and powerful marketing materials) and without practicing (interviews). You may consider offering to hire a job search coach to give them that expert assistance and they can arrange to pay you back once they are employed if they prefer.

Your job seeker loved-one needs your support during the job transition and, with the information provided in this series, you can provide the right type of support.

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