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Covid-19 has upended both our lives and our livelihoods.

It was reported in June 2020 that 1 in 4 Singaporeans lost their jobs due to Covid-19, according to a JobStreet survey.

In the past year or two, many have struggled with unemployment woes. Some have undergone retraining and switched careers in order to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace.

You may know someone who’s been looking for a job. Sometimes, it can feel difficult to be around them. How would I know?

Well, I’m one of them – the job seeker who hasn’t been able to find a job. I’ve been looking for a job for the past seven months.

I’m aware of how difficult I can come across to friends. In our conversations, I seem somber and dull.

If you’re a friend or family member of a job seeker today, here’s what you can do to help them.

Why is it important?

Covid-19 Unemployment
Image source: Shutterstock / imtmphoto

Why bother helping someone with his job hunt? It’s not your problem, right? It’s his job, not your job anyway.

You might ask: Why should you bother helping a friend or family member when he is experiencing a difficult time? Why invest your time and effort to help when you could be binging on Netflix or doing something better with your time?

The answer: It’s not for your own benefit, but because that’s what being a good friend is – being there for them when they need us.

In this article, I don’t want to tell you what to do. Instead, I’m going to share what has not been helpful to me as a job seeker, and finally, what has.

Don’t ask “How’s the job search?”

Most of my friends know that I’ve been looking for a job. Whenever people meet me and ask me, “how is your job search?”, I confess I get irritated.

Why? Because asking me this question is not helpful.

People are more than just their job titles and jobs.

People are more than what they do. They are human beings, not human doings. There’s more to life than getting a job. Asking people how their job search is going may seem to you like an act of showing concern.

But rather than starting your conversations in this way, wouldn’t it be better to relate first to how the person is doing, job hunt aside?

To job seekers, finding a job can be a touchy topic. They may have been rejected from yet another interview. Or they may have been sending out application after application and have not heard back from recruiters over the past week.

Covid-19 Unemployment Job Interview
Image source: Shutterstock / Dragon Images

Starting a conversation with something that has a high possibility of going pear-shaped may not be the best. If the person has obtained a new job, he would be happy to tell you. But if he hasn’t, he would probably not want to talk about it.

Instead of starting a conversation with a problem, start with possibility.

For example, talk about what the person is passionate about.

Some questions include:

  • What have you been excited about these few weeks?
  • What have you been up to these days?
  • How’s your family?
  • How has your hobby been going?

Don’t fix the problem.

Sometimes, we feel like Bob the Builder.

You know the rhyme?

Bob, the builder…

can we fix it?

Bob the builder… yes we can!

Yes you can fix your friend… but he may not want to be fixed. Not immediately at least.

I remember meeting some friends in April this year. We had a conversation about where we were in life and where we wanted to go.

Just like me, one of my friends was also in between jobs. He didn’t seem fussed about it. But our friends seemed more anxious than he was.

They were giving suggestions, opinions and solutions.

“Have you tried…

Why don’t you try…

I think you should…”

From my conversations with people over the past few months, people seem to assume that not having a job is a problem.

Yes, it can be a problem.

But for others in that job search, it can be a point in their lives where they are figuring out what they want to do. They may not know yet and are taking time to find out, whether it be going for courses to upgrade their skills or dipping their toes into a new area of work.

Trying to tell them where to go may prompt greater anxieties within them.

Take time to listen as a friend. Not to coach them, fix them, or counsel them. But just be a friend.

Covid-19 Unemployment
Image source: Shutterstock / Tom Wang

Take time to understand where they are at. Approach them where they are, rather than where you think they should be. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes bring our own agendas and expectations into the conversations we have with friends?

Be conscious when you start asking close-ended questions like:

  • Did you do…
  • Have you…

These close-ended questions only have a single answer – yes or no.

They don’t invite both of you to explore the journey ahead. Instead, it limits the conversation.

Use open-ended questions or statements that invite mutual understanding. Show that you understand by reflecting what the other person has said.

  • Tell me more…
  • Help me understand this. Do you mean…?

As a coach, I’ve made the mistake of giving advice without being asked, which has unintentionally offended clients.

Don’t.

What I find helpful is to ask: “Are you hoping for me to listen, or to give you some advice?”

You may think that this sounds too professional for a conversation between friends. But we don’t know what our friends are looking for. Asking is the first step to finding out.

Simply ask: “Can I give you some advice?” before you continue.

Waiting for their positive response before leaping into advice-giving mode allows for the other person to be more receptive to your advice. He doesn’t end up feeling that you’re giving unwanted advice without even bothering to understand where he’s at.

My biggest frustrations come when people make assumptions about what I have or have not done before even understanding what has happened.

For example, thinking that:

  • I’m being choosy about my job (and asking me to be more open)
  • I’m not sending out enough CVs (and telling me to make more applications)
  • I’m being lazy at home (and asking me where money is going to come from)
  • I’m being content with a few hundred dollars a month with side gigs (and advising me to think about my long term future)

These assumptions can be discouraging. If you’re friends and family of someone who’s looking for a job, be sensitive.

Don’t assume. Simply listen. Understand.

Don’t leave them alone

Covid-19 Unemployment
Sometimes, the job search can be a long and lonely journey. Image source: John Lim

Don’t leave job seekers alone. Job seekers may face the same frustrating routine everyday of sending applications, writing cover letters, and waiting for the phone to ring.

It can be lonely to sit at home alone, whilst seeing their peers work and progress in their careers.

You may think that leaving them alone will give them time to process. Or that giving them space will allow them to do their job search in peace. But leaving them alone can be harmful, too.

As a job seeker, the most difficult times have come when I’ve been alone, feeling that no one cares about me. It can be easy to throw a pity party for myself, thinking about how bad the world is and how no one can help.

Show kindness by asking them out for dinner or coffee. But be sensitive to dining options as their lack of income may make it difficult for them to afford $15 meals at restaurants.

Why not offer to cook for them?

It may be difficult to take a somber-looking friend out. But be patient with them. Their momentary suffering will not be forever.

They need support during this time. They need to know that someone cares about them as a person, and not just as a productive being of the economic system.

Show kindness

Covid-19 Unemployment
Help your friend see the end of the rainbow. Image source: John Lim

After I graduated, I started my first job search. It was the most difficult time of my life.

Graduating brought greater fears rather than possibilities.

The busyness of university had filled my life with activity. But now, most of my time was spent at home, looking at the computer, going through job portals and trying to sell myself.

The emptiness led me to fall into depression.

Throughout this whole time, I found comfort in a weekly support group. They accepted me for who I was. Each week, they invited me to share in their meals, their songs, and their sharing. They didn’t expect me to pay a single cent. They didn’t expect me to talk or contribute. They just drew out a chair for me, and invited me to have a seat.

I didn’t get better when I found a job. I got better when I found John again.

The people around me led me to find John again. The John that mattered not because of what he did, but because of who he was.

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It can be a trying time supporting a friend or family member in their job search.

You may find yourself struggling to understand them or how to support them during this time.

When all else fails, just sit with them. Seek to understand them. Say: “You matter, not because of what you do, but because of who you are.

You are more than your job search.”

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