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What to do with your Unemployed Friends


Photography: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

It might not have struck you yet, but you can feel it getting closer. It’s one thing to hear about the credit crunch on the news and see the stock footage of Detroit’s production lines, now running on government loans and a promise to build cars that run on recycled sunflowers. It’s quite another when a friend at Sun tells you he just got his P45 or an old classmate asks if there are any jobs going at your place.

If you still haven’t had one of those conversations, expect one soon. According to one outplacement service, the tech sector lost just under 187,000 jobs over the last year, three quarters of them vanishing in the second half of 2008 alone. Sun has already sent home 6,000 of its workers, Microsoft has slashed 5,000 (hopefully, most of them from the team that created Vista) and even Google is said to have discovered that the Googleplex has an exit as well as an entrance, even if it is focusing on support staff – at least for now.

So what do you do when a friend tells you that they have free time and an updated resume?

You can sympathize, of course, and you can make an extra effort to meet when they invite you to join them for a cheap lunch. Saying that you’d love to but you’re super-busy at work is only going to make them feel worse. But there are practical steps you can take to help too.

Make Introductions, not Recommendations

It’s times like these that those social networking sites start to show their value. For years, we’ve been told about how LinkedIn is going to revolutionize job-seeking and how Facebook will make maintaining contacts more powerful than a giant pile of business cards. The ability to see just who knows whom — and how many steps you have to take to reach the employer with the vacancy – should mean that everyone is now at the center of a hub of opportunities.

But delivering those opportunities is not going to be too easy. You may have one friend who is a talented and recently-laid off developer, and another who has a small software firm but there’s no reason to believe that the entrepreneur is hiring or that your best friend is the best candidate for any job that’s available.

The temptation when you’re caught in the middle is to start dishing out recommendations. They’re likely to be most effective at landing your friend a job and they don’t appear to cost anything.

But they do cost something. When you do more than bring two people together – when you actively try to push them together – you place your credibility on the line and you put your relationship with both parties at risk. If your friend with the job decides to go with someone else, you’ve helped one friend deliver an additional punch to the already bruised ego of another friend. Neither is going to thank you for that.

Worse, if the recommendation does result in an offer and the job doesn’t work out, both sides are going to blame you. Instead of making two friends’ lives better, chalking up two favors to be repaid in the future, and deepening your relationship with both of them, you’ve harmed two people, cut two connections and indicated that you’re more enthusiastic than reliable.

A better option is to make the introduction as cursory and as non-committal as possible. When a former colleague hints that he’d love to work at Oracle and he knows that you have a social media connection to someone at the company, don’t say you’ll do what you can. Just ask your friend at Oracle if there’s anything going and suggest that he adds your other friend to his own network. Indicate that he’s someone worth knowing when something does turn up and both sides will feel that they’re getting something out of the introduction. But it will be up to them to turn that introduction into an opportunity.

Re-Tweeting Job Opportunities

It’s not just social media’s connections that are become particularly valuable today though. The information that runs along those connections can be worth a salary too. Both Facebook, with its status updates, and Twitter with its microblogs, provide a way for information about vacancies to bubble to the surface. That might be as obvious as @problogger’s frequent postings of freelance writing jobs but it could also be something as subtle as someone tweeting that they’re mad-busy and can’t cope. Re-tweet even that kind of post to a unemployed pal – or better still, show them how to use Twitter’s search feature to find those kinds of tweets for themselves — and if they’re smart, they’ll get in touch with an offer of help, charged – initially, at least — by the hour.

And you can also apply your skills more directly to help a friend in need. Plenty of writers these days are finding themselves inundated with resumes to review and job applications to look over. This is the time to help not to cash in on friends in need, and that applies to non-writers too.

Website developers can knock up quick templates that their friends can use to post their resumes and portfolios, and write themselves a blog. Making sure that their name appears at the bottom of the pages will ensure that they get some free marketing out of it too. Creative types with ideas but no time to develop them can share their visions with pals with spare hours and few ideas of their own. They might just find that they get to build themselves a brand new business with the help of a currently unpaid partner.

Above all, remember that recessions and unemployment don’t last forever. Your non-busy friends will find new jobs and it’s likely that at least some of them will find them at companies you’d quite like to work for too. Be nice to your unemployed friends now and they’ll be nice to you when you want to move on up – or if the axe falls even closer.

One Comment

  1. Dana Says:

    Another post on the same subject by Penelope Trunk from a while ago http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/02/10/how-to-talk-to-a-friend-whos-been-laid-off/.

    Good post, very timely!

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