Monday, January 27, 2014

8 Things Not to Say to Someone Who's Looking for a Job

Let me put it to you this way: looking for a job is insanely stressful. I've been telling people for months now, "Oh, I don't feel stressed or worried or anxious about not having a job yet/ the possibility of being unemployed/ etc." LIES. How could I NOT feel stressed and worried and anxious about it? I essentially have 3 months to find a job (not counting the summer, because when you're studying 12 hours a day for the bar exam, you don't have time to look for a job) or face the reality of being an unemployed law grad with a fair amount of debt. I'm stressed about it all the time. And seriously, no one is hiring right now! Or at least, no one is hiring brand-new grads who have less than a year's worth of experience.

I believe that God will provide for my needs. I believe that stuff will work out. But I don't know how, or when, that will happen, or how difficult the road may be before things do fall into place, because just because I want to follow God's leading does not guarantee me employment. I know it's wrong to let anxiety get in the way of trusting the Lord, but it is truly hard to turn off all feelings of panic when you don't know what you'll be doing OR where you'll be living in just a couple months. So I've put together this handy little guide for how the families and friends of job seekers like me can help support them--specifically, those things that, in my experience, you should NOT say to someone who's looking for a job and why, and then a few things you should say instead:

1) "What do you have lined up? I'm absolutely sure you have something great." Me: "No, I don't have anything yet." "You have GOT to be kidding me!" You should avoid saying this because it's like, well, no, I'm not kidding. I realize that I have significant work experience/ have done well in school/ had this great clerkship 1L year/ whatever the case may be, but that doesn't always equate to automatically getting a job. Plus, if I had one and you are an important part of my life, I would tell you. I will volunteer updates as they happen, but the job market affects everyone regardless of credentials, and few of us just automatically have something lined up.

2) Me: "I'm thinking about applying for _____ or pursuing ______." Other person: "But you don't want to do that." Um, you don't get to tell me what I want to do with my life. You don't even get to tell me what I should/ have to do since I'm an adult, but you especially don't get to tell me what my subjective, personal desires and goals are. Other statements that fall into this category: "But you've never wanted to do that before!" or "But you've always wanted to do X, not Y." No one but you really knows everything you want and don't want--and sometimes, even you are not sure.

3) "If you do X instead of Y, your law degree will be a waste." This one's self-explanatory, even though I've had several people either say it or definitely imply it.

4) Me: "I'm legitimately fearful of being unemployed for several months after graduation, having to move back home, and not being able to pay off loans." Other person: "You're jumping to conclusions!" Well, no, not really. The legal job market has been affected tremendously by the recession, and a very significant percentage of graduates from my law school (and many other law schools) are unemployed for an average of 9 months after graduation. These are statistics and facts, not unsubstantiated conclusions. Plus, I'll just be honest--when a job seeker tells you what they're afraid of or how they honestly feel, acknowledge their fear; don't discredit it. Tell them that you understand why they are afraid and will do what you can to help.

5) "I'm 100% sure you'll find something." I know people who say this mean well. But when you say this, all the job seeker can think about is that they haven't found something yet and that no one has offered to help them and that career services isn't as good of a resource as it should be and that they're worried about having to live on tuna fish and Ramen.

6) "You're not working hard enough to find a job." No. Just no. You don't know all the things a job seeker does to find a job. Most of us are searching online every single day, submitting applications several times a week, and going to networking events as often as possible. We can't work on it 24 hours a day, but we are doing the best we can.

7) "I just got a great job and they're going to pay me $140,000 a year!! But ugh, think of all the money that's going to come out in taxes. And they want me to do some work in the business litigation group, and I HATE business litigation. And I already have a place to live but my commute's going to be crazy." If you have a job, it's fine to tell your friends about it, but be very sensitive about how and what you tell your friends who are still looking. Bottom line? Even if it's not your dream job, you are incredibly lucky to have a job at all, and none of your unemployed friends want to hear you complain about any aspect of your job.

8) "I'll help you find something! I have all these great connections!" . . . but then they do nothing and don't follow up and don't do what they said they would do. I'm not talking about busy people who wait a week or two to respond to emails, because that's to be expected. I'm talking about the person who, for example, tells you that they have some great contact and you ask them about it several times and months pass and they never get it to you. If you can't help me, that's totally fine, but just don't SAY you will if you won't.

Things you should say instead:

  • "I'll help you." And then do it. 
  • "I'm praying for you."
  • "God has a plan for your life." This may seem cliched, but it's truly calming to hear this reminder.
  • "I will support you in whatever you choose to do." THIS. There is nothing you can say that's better than this. Because no job-seeker wants to handle the stress of worrying that whatever they choose, they'll be disappointing people they love. 
  • "Here's somewhere else to look. Have you tried _____? Have you contacted ______?" This may seem like an annoying thing you shouldn't say, because chances are good the job seeker has done so. But maybe they haven't, and even if they have, it shows you're trying to help and that you care. One caveat: keep your suggestions at least generally in the realm of what you know they're looking for. If you know the job seeker wants to work in a certain city and you're constantly recommending others, it feels like you're not listening.
I hope these suggestions help!

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