Helping / Living With The Unemployed

If you or someone you know is apathetic about finding employment; really not caring one way or the other if work is found or not, the only way to get them moving is to identify that one thing. “That one thing?”, you ask. Yes, that one thing that makes wanting to find work more meaningful than not caring.

For a family member, friend or professional working with an unemployed individual, this is a tremendous challenge. You are also likely to find that the longer a person has been unemployed, the greater the effort will be to shift their thinking sufficiently to get them started.

Be forewarned, you can’t motivate someone else. Oh you can help them, support them and encourage them, but you cannot motivate someone else to want something they don’t want themselves. All you’ll get if they don’t want it bad enough is a token effort, and the first time they run into a barrier, they’ll pack it in and go back to what was comfortable; not bothering to look. Unfortunately, they may reason that they can be unemployed and struggling to find work or unemployed and taking it easy. For many, a simple choice.

The frustrating part for those around the unemployed person is failing to understand why they’ve become so disinterested and why they seemingly won’t put in the effort to find work. It’s highly likely that there’s been a major shift in their values; and the values they currently hold differ from those around them to such an extent they’ve become difficult to be around. There may be an increase in friction and tension, more arguments, less things to talk about, or the conversation about work might be one they insist is off the table.

There are far too many factors that could be in play in any individual case for me to accurately know what’s behind a person’s apathy, but here’s one possibility that may be going on. After having become recently unemployed, the person took some time to self-heal mentally. This is especially true after having been fired, let go, or quit a job they found problematic. At this point, they wanted to find work, and planned on doing so soon. When they felt ready, they began to look. That period of time to, ‘get ready’ may have been anything from a week to over a year – hard as that might be for someone else to understand.

As this person started to look for a job, they found it harder to get one than they had in the past. Perhaps because of technology and having to use computers to apply online, or having a poor resume, they kept getting nowhere on their applications. Interviews weren’t happening, or when they did, no job offers came. From the person’s point of view, they’ve left a job on bad terms, can’t get interviews, aren’t sure really how to compete against so many other people now applying for the same jobs, and their psychological state is becoming increasingly fragile.

Without being able to articulate what they are experiencing and how they really feel, they retreat rather than engage, and withdraw into themselves. Socializing becomes a huge outpouring of effort and only having so much energy to get through a day, they choose to stay in the relative comfort and safety of their home or a room in their home. This isolation skews their thinking; they become anxious beyond their safety zone, perhaps more irritable and easily frustrated. Whereas they used to be happy and good to be around, they are now a constant source of worry for others and an ever-present and growing concern.

How they see themselves has changed dramatically. Once productive and self-reliant, they had dignity and a healthy view of their ability to provide. Now they feel dependent, reliant on family or friends – and when that dependency becomes too hard to live with, they remove themselves and turn to the broader society at large to support them. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate and it’s not uncommon.

Of course they – or you, never used to feel or be this way. Once purposeful and hopeful, things have changed. It’s understandable why so many might self-medicate with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs. With the ever-present thoughts of failure, disappointment and regret, anything that takes that thinking away, even for a short time is appealing.

Suddenly, just telling someone to get a job and expecting them to respond accordingly doesn’t sound at all realistic. Getting a job is transferring our own value of employment onto this other person who doesn’t share our value system as they might once have done. Yes, they genuinely want work perhaps, but they haven’t the energy, focus, willpower and motivation to make any real progress on their own. None, until that is, they find that one thing that they want more than they want the way things are. And no, you can’t find it for them.

Conversations are good; talk that draws someone out once the trust is established that allows them to go deeper and unload the ‘big’ stuff. Some are never going to work again, some may and others will. All three types will need support however, and the nature of the support they receive will vary depending on the individual.

Sure it’s challenging for family, friends and those who work with this population. Do what you can; know your limitations.


One thing I try to do for those I help with finding, maintaining or exploring employment opportunities is give them the gift of empowerment. Whether that’s mine to give in the first place I acknowledge could be a point of irony as it turns out for some readers.

However that aside, it’s empowerment that’s up for discussion and pondering. Empowerment is less about what you can do for someone and more about what you can help them learn to do for themselves. This is usually accomplished by sharing skills, supporting the person through their first attempts and weaning yourself off as a dependency. Eventually the person gets to the point where they master the skill or skills you’ve shared and they can readily call upon them themselves with confidence and critically, competence.

Now of course, not everybody wants to be empowered. If you stop and think about this, you will possibly be able to think of situations in which you yourself would rather employ and pay for the services someone else has mastered rather than invest the time, energy and money required to gain the skill. Need help thinking of some? You may take your car in to change over your tires from All – seasons to Winter and back again rather than doing it yourself. You might call in a Plumber, an Electrician or a Painter when their services are required. For even though you could do a little research and learn how to change your tires yourself, get advice at a paint store or learn how to install that new kitchen faucet yourself, many leave the jobs to the professionals.

And how often does the Plumber or the Mechanic call you over and ask if you’d like to watch them work and they’ll tell you how to do this yourself in the future? Probably never; they’d eventually lose many of their customers and might lose their own incomes.

It seems to me however, that when it comes to job searching, writing resumes and cover letters and going to job interviews, that many people who haven’t mastered these skills tend to think they have nonetheless. I couldn’t tell you the number of times someone puts a poorly written document in my hands and does so feeling I’ll give it a passing grade.

There are really two kinds of people who I help in the end; the ones who say, “Just do it for me”, and those that are really interested in knowing the reasons behind my suggestions because they are sincerely invested in wanting to be able to produce good documents on their own. And what makes a good document? One that gets results often, not just once for every 50 handed out. That too is interesting; when someone defends with attitude the poor resume they have which got them to the interview stage once back in 2004. Sometimes it’s best to tell someone you’re available if they open themselves up to your help, do it for them and leave it for now.

So what’s in it for me personally when I’m consistently the Employment Counsellor where I work who always takes the longest when working with someone? It’s true of course. Sit the entire team down, each lending a hand to craft a resume and I’ll take the longest every time; you could win money if you bet on that; it’s just how I work. Don’t get me wrong by the way about my peers; good people and they get results too.

I derive happiness out of passing on the knowledge I have and so whenever I’m assisting someone, not only is my brain occupied in the resume construction but it’s also acutely engaged in passing on what I know to the extent the person themselves is both interested and able to take in. After all, even the most invested person can have other things on their mind and only be able to retain so much at one sitting.

My goal as stated earlier is to empower the person to the point where they can make the modifications necessary when targeting their resume to multiple jobs – jobs that may have the exact same job title by the way. As for job interviews, my goal is to help label a persons skills who may not recognize them for what they are, give them some structure to follow so their words use skill-based language and best market their strengths.

Eventually, the bittersweet moment comes when someone knows enough that they no longer need help. I mean it’s obviously the main goal and this is a moment of great personal satisfaction for me as well as them; I’m thrilled for them. Selfishly though, yes there is a part of me that thinks back and really enjoyed all those moments along the way when they internalized and mastered one skill that made learning the next possible.

Empowerment isn’t for everybody when it comes to job searching. Many remain dependent on others to do the work for them and they may get lucky at an early job interview or it may take many interviews to eventually succeed. When a person is receptive to learning, hopefully they seek out the right person to share what they know.

Now what about you? If you’re looking for work, know whether you want to be empowered or not and sharing this with whomever you approach for help is an excellent beginning.

If The Truth Would Help, Do You Want To Hear It?

“Be honest with me; really, I want to know what you think. I can handle it.”

“Okay, here goes. To be honest, you’re ……… and because of that you come across as ………. and it’s keeping you from getting ahead because you’re turning people off”

“What? What makes you think you’ve got all the answers? Who died and made you God? Maybe you should think about what you tell other people and think of their feelings!”


This kind of conversation is one you might recognize because maybe you’ve been one of the two people in the exchange. As an Employment Counsellor, I’ve had a huge number of people ask me for honest feedback because they have come to respect my opinion, and because having got to know me, they’ve come to know that I’ll tell it like it is.

Seeking out feedback from people who are recognized as being knowledgeable in the area you need help in is a sign of wisdom in yourself. After all, no one knows everything there is to know about every topic. In my case, there are many subjects I know very little about; car repairs being one of them. So when there’s an issue with the car, I do what I think is smart and put it in the hands of someone I trust who is qualified to diagnose the problem and fix it.

So if the area you need help in is going from unemployed to employed, it likewise makes sense to seek out the help of someone qualified in that field, and you are wise to do this. So why then is it that many don’t? I think it’s because lifting up the hood on a car is intimidating. It’s not a simple matter of zeroing in on a problem and fixing it, and I know this because I’ve given the engine a look every now and then just to go through the motions of looking like I know what I’m doing. I keep looking for a flashing arrow that says, “The problem is here! Replace the fan belt and get the specs from your driver’s handbook that came with the car when you bought it!”

But looking for a job seems like something anyone should be able to do with very little skill or effort, so many people start by making up a resume and away they go. (Making up a resume isn’t even the first step to getting a job by the way.) They put so much effort and time into doing the best job they can, and they feel pretty good about it when done usually too. And we should all applaud the effort that went into doing the best job they could.

Then many people do something else that’s a good decision; they ask someone to look at it and give them feedback. That too should be applauded. However, the choice of the person to look it over and critique it is often a bad decision. Moms and dads, best friends and relatives aren’t the best people to give you the best feedback on a resume or your job search process anymore than these people are the right for me to ask about some funny noise my car is making. Unless they are Employment Counsellors, job search experts or car mechanics, there are other people better suited to help.

Okay so now you track down someone with expertise and experience and ask them for honest feedback. (Better decision by the way so good for you!) The best thing you can do next is take a deep breath, prepare yourself to hear things you might not expect, and know that after the person is done giving you feedback, your job search process and the resume you send out will be so much better, as will my car’s performance.

Resist the urge to get defensive. Now the person giving you advice is only one person after all, and they are giving you their professional opinion which if acted upon, they believe will result in a more successful job search taking less of your time to get hired and begin working. And that’s your goal isn’t it? Right.

When you are getting feedback, have a pen and paper and take down notes and suggestions. You’re never going to remember all the little bits of advice you’ll be given. If it’s a resume critique, let them mark up your copy. If it’s a complete re-write, give them an electronic copy perhaps to completely overhaul. My advice to ask the person why they recommend what they do as they go, so that you can decide for yourself if you wish to include their changes, and in the future, you’ll be able to incorporate their ideas better if you understand the logic behind their recommendations. The worst thing to do is have someone make your resume for example look awesome for a specific job, then have no idea of how to change it yourself in the future because you still don’t get the process.

Telling someone their resume is terrible or how they are going about looking for work is very ineffective and not likely to succeed can still be delivered with respect for the person receiving the news. Even humour can make the process easier to take in. In the end, you want results; resumes that lead to interviews, and interviews that lead to job offers.