how can you make a profound difference in the life of an unemployed friend?
One year after the start of the global pandemic, over 10 million Americans are still unemployed and are struggling to get back on their feet. The $1.9 trillion relief plan is a welcome stop-gap, but for true recovery to happen, it’s essential to get everyone back to work. Here are some steps you can take to lend a hand with simple but committed actions, rather than donations.
The Covid-19 relief package is more than just a “relief” for millions of Americans. It’s a life-line. People who have always lived pay-check to pay-check, and many who had modest savings have been stretched to the limit, as the 1-year anniversary of the shut-down approaches. The unprecedented $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan,” which nearly 50% of congress vehemently opposed will mean the difference for many Americans between celebrating a birthday indoors or on the streets in 2021.
Haves and Have-Nots
The COVID relief bill has one purpose: to get America and the millions of Americans who have been brutally impacted by the pandemic back on their feet. The word “Empathy” has taken center stage in the media during this time. The “haves” are being encouraged to have more empathy than ever for the “have-nots.” I’d like to endorse that plea wholeheartedly by asking those who “have” a job to do their best to assist the “have-nots” in landing a job. The sooner we all get back to work, the sooner our country and our economy will heal and our children will be able to once again look forward to contributing their hard work to improve the world they will inherit.
As of March 2021, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 6.2%, a significant improvement over April, 2020, when it reached 14.7%, due to the global Coronavirus Pandemic (the highest level since the Great Depression). The steady decline in the unemployment rate since April of last year is a welcome trend which provides hope to the 10+ million Americans who are currently unable to find work. But to my knowledge, most job seekers are not relying solely on hope.
What We’re Doing
Everyone I’ve met during my time in “career transition” has been very proactive in their job search strategy to a large degree. Every day is spent plugging away, doing a variety of activities, including:
- searching through job posting alert emails
- reading articles about unemployment statistics and uplifting job success stories
- posting industry-related comments on LinkedIn to attract attention as a thought leader
- continuously modifying LinkedIn profiles to include certain important keywords to attract the ‘bots’
- trying new ways to stand out, including posting 60-second videos
- scouring through pages of first and second-degree connections and requesting informational calls
- updating resumes and cover letter with nearly every application
- applying for jobs, re-entering information because data from uploaded resumes is often incorrect
- conducting networking calls
- taking online courses and assessments to improve and legitimize skill sets
- attending support groups to give and receive advice and help with accountability
- reading self-help books and articles
- practicing elevator pitches in zoom meetings and in front of the mirror
- consulting expert coaches when financially feasible
- volunteering to stay active and engaged
- exercising a few times a week or more
… and the lucky ones have actual interviews with recruiters and hiring managers
Looking for a job is a full-time job, requiring well over 40 hours a week. And the stress which grows exponentially as the months drag on is ever-present. Sleep becomes challenging. Anxiety attacks are not uncommon. Expenses must be cut to a bare minimum, especially as unemployment checks dry up.
Every time a homeless person walks by, the mind asks “will that be me…will anyone help me?”
Why You Should Care
With 10+ million Americans out of work (785,900+ in PA, NJ and DE) the chances are pretty high that you have a neighbor or a friend who is unemployed at this time. They may have children, they may have aging parents, they may be single, they may have a mortgage, or they may have rent bills. They all need to eat, and they all deserve a roof over their head. Your heart goes out to them. You want to be supportive, but you feel there’s nothing you can do to help. But there is. In fact, your help can be so instrumental right now that it may impact the rest of their lives and they will never forget what you did for them. Below is a list of some ways in which your non-financial help will change the lives of your friends.
Being unemployed for months on-end can be brutal for a person’s self-esteem. Feelings of shame and embarrassment over not being able to make ends meet or having to severely curtail all non-essential activities can often lead to isolation from friends and family. Friends who have jobs are likely busier than ever, having to pull double-duty at work, since so many companies have had extended hiring freezes. These trends mean that your friend would probably appreciate you reaching out. Here are a few suggested “do’s” and “don’ts” to consider.
- Text often to find out how they’re doing – keep it unrelated to their job search unless they choose to discuss it
- Engage with them on social media – share funny memes to distract them (chances are, they’re thinking about their condition non-stop and could use a laugh)
- Ask them to go for a walk or grab a coffee (your treat)…an activity that gets them out of the house, but doesn’t require any money
- If you do family or friendly zoom chats, be sure to include them. If they don’t show up, keep inviting them. They may have ups and downs, but it’s always nice to be invited – it shows you’re thinking about them.
- Throw in a compliment every time you connect with them. Telling them they’re great at something (like organizing parties or cooking or keeping track of sports stats) will remind them that they have value, and skills and talents that matter.
- Ask them if they’ve found a job. If they get a job, you’ll definitely know about it. The more often you ask this question, the worse they feel, so it’s best to stay clear of it.
- Tell them what they’re doing wrong. Unless they specifically ask you, don’t volunteer your opinions about how you think they’re not doing what it takes to get a job. They probably read articles and blogs and posts about job search best practices written by experts. Unless you’re a recruiter or a career coach, the most helpful thing you can do is to remind them of everything they’re doing right.
- Tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes. Even if you’ve been unemployed before, being unemployed during a global pandemic is unlike anything you or anyone else in our lifetime has ever experienced. Acknowledge that you don’t know how hard it must be, and tell them how you admire their courage, diligence, strength, etc. This type of support will boost their confidence and give them strength to persist in the face of challenging times.
Job Search Support
Even if your friend or family member is completely unrelated to your profession or your industry, there are several practical ways you can support them in finding a job. You’re not expected to do every one of these things, but if you pick one, and do it with full intention to make a difference, you will have an enormous impact on your friend’s road back to employment. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” in terms of practical steps to take:
- Tell them you want to help them. If you ask them if you can help, they may say no, since they don’t want to impose. But as a supportive friend, you should insist. Get them to tell you specifically how they would like you to help. If they are unclear, make one or more of the following commitments to them.
- Ask them to email you specific information about the jobs, companies and industries they’re looking for. This should include:
- Specific job functions (ex: Marketing, Sales, Accounting)
- Seniority levels they would consider (perhaps they used to be a manager, but might be open to taking a subordinate role to get back in the game)
- Exact company names, if they have some targets in mind
- Target industries (ex: Hospitality or Insurance)
- List of skills and software they know
- Any relevant education or certificates they may have (ex: CPA, Real Estate License, Scrum Master, PMP)
- Exact titles (ex: Director of…)
- Mine your network (personal and professional) for anyone you know who may have a connection to any of the above bullet-points. Keep an open mind. Talk positively about them to friends, without naming them. Someone you know may provide just the introduction they need.
- Talk to your unemployed friend or email them, describing the types of people you know and the companies they work for, and ask if it’s OK if you contact them on their behalf. Prioritize following up with the contacts your friend expresses strong interest in meeting. That’s likely to yield the best results.
- Reach out to those specific people and ask if they have 5 minutes to speak with you. If you tell them you’re trying to find a job for a friend, many will shut you down straight away by saying they don’t know of any opportunities or can’t help. It’s a natural response when people are busy, so here’s a work-around. Just say you’ve been thinking about something and you’d really like their feedback or input. Intrigue will likely get the best of them, and they’ll agree to a 5-minute call. Talking with them and telling them about a fantastic friend who is incredibly talented at XYZ, and asking if it’s OK for that friend to reach out to them will be much more engaging.
- When you do speak with your connection, use an upbeat and positive tone. It won’t do any good if you sound like you’re trying to guilt someone into speaking with a poor friend who’s down on his or her luck. Use the same tone, conviction and confidence you would use if you were pitching your own services to a potential employer. That way, your friend will come across as a serious professional who can add value to an organization. Tell your connection that you would like to have your friend call them to explain what they’re looking for and to ask for some professional advice from an expert in their field. That’s it. You’re not asking your connection to give them a job. Just professional advice. End the call with the ask: Is it alright if I give my friend your number or email so they can contact you directly to set up a 15-minute call? More often than not, they will agree.
- Tell your friend to use you as a reference. If you’ve worked with them, you can provide a very poignant explanation of why they would make a great addition to any team. If you’ve never worked with them professionally, it’s OK to act as a character reference. Give your friend permission to use your work contact information when applying to jobs. The ability to contact you at work will convey a professional sense more than a gmail or yahoo account would.
- Proactively go to your friend’s LinkedIn page (if they have one), and write a reference in the section toward the bottom of their profile. Your friend will get a notice asking if they want to accept the reference, and it won’t be public until they do. They’ll appreciate you taking the initiative. Adding words that relate to your friend’s skills or title will help to provide specific relevant information and will help their profile’s SEO, which will improve their chances of recruiters finding them. Feel free to “endorse” as many of their skills as you can, while you’re on their LinkedIn page.
- Visit your company website for open positions which may be of interest to your friend. Set up an email alert, so you automatically get notified when a new position is posted. Forward any openings to your friend if they fit their criteria. If your friend does apply to a position at your company, they should be sure to indicate that you referred them. That will immediately increase their odds of getting an interview. After they’ve applied, contact your HR department and tell them that you referred a fantastic candidate and that you’d appreciate it if they personally took a look at your friend’s resume. If your friend doesn’t hear from HR in a week, follow up with your rep and ask them politely if they had time to review your friend’s resume because you wouldn’t want the company to miss out on such a great hire.
- Repeat the same steps as above for any of your former companies, as long as you left on good terms. If you know people who are still there, reach out to them and make an introduction. The fact that you worked there means you know their culture and the type of employee who would thrive there. A personal reference from you will hold more weight than none at all.
- Immediately forward your friend’s resume to a contact after reaching out. It’s important that your friend have the opportunity to represent themselves, because only they can state clearly what they’ve done and how they can add value. If you try to act as the messenger, something may get lost in translation. Your contact won’t have a direct sense of who your friend is or what they’re about. It’s best to focus on getting permission for your friend to contact them via phone or email, and let your friend take it from there. It will also put your friend in the driver’s seat, fully accountable for putting their best foot forward.
- Tell them to look at your 3,000 LinkedIn connections and reach out if they find anyone they’d like to get to know. Sifting through pages and pages of strangers and reviewing every profile that is remotely interesting is very time-consuming and not very effective. Since you know your network, you probably don’t have to click on everyone’s profile to recall what they do, as you scroll down the list. You’ll also know how well you know them and whether it’s appropriate for you to reach out to them on behalf of your friend. Your friend, on the other hand, may spend hours to identify five names, only to find out you don’t know them well enough to make the ask.
- Forward articles or job postings about jobs that are outside the criteria your friend provided. If you know your friend well, and you know that they would be able to do a certain job, you may be tempted to inform them about opportunities for which they don’t have the required experience. Your heart is in the right place. But with software designed to select only the most perfect matches for every position, your friend may spend hours trying to customize their resume which a human being will never even see. This creates a vicious cycle. 1) It signals to your friend you are ignoring their criteria, which can be frustrating; 2) It uses up hours of their time which would be better spent on applying to more relevant posts; 3) If your friend does end up applying for a low-probability position, they are likely to be rejected or “ghosted” which will certainly not boost their self-confidence, even if they have thick skin. Stick to the criteria and something good may come of it.
- Forward articles that seem relevant without having read them first. If you’ve read an article, and there’s a paragraph or a chart which you think your friend would benefit from reading, tell them which paragraph it is. Forwarding lots of loosely-relevant articles, saying “this looks interesting – take a look” consumes time and distracts your friend from focusing on improving their chances of finding a job.
We all have the potential to make a real impact in the lives of people we know and respect. You are probably doing this in many ways already. During this historic time, if you have a job, I ask that you focus in a little more than usual on helping someone who doesn’t. Covid has given us a chance to evaluate what is truly important in life. We found out that material things have very little value and that we can live without them quite easily. But when our ability to gather around and meet with our friends and family and to celebrate or mourn together was taken away, we realized very quickly how important our communities are. On behalf of the 10+ million unemployed Americans, I want you to know that now, more than ever, we appreciate having you as a neighbor.
Ken Blakeman is a Global B2B Marketing Director in the Consumer Goods Industry with extensive experience launching US brands overseas and introducing International brands to the US Market. He is currently a board member of the Great Careers Groups, a Philadelphia Area Nonprofit organization dedicated to helping unemployed people upskill, reskill, and network their way to a new job. Become a member!
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/