When going through a career transition, your friends can be the most valuable resource or the biggest disappointment. As Americans, we tend to make our jobs such a big part of our lives that they affect every element in the rest of our lives. Friendships are no exception. A career transition can leave friendships strained. Friends may feel neglected, unsure, or put on the spot on every aspect of the friendship from vacationing together to job discussions. Every friendship is different, just as every friend is different. However, in these changing economic times, more often we have to deal with career transitions for ourselves and our friends. The following are a few tips to maintain a friendship when you or a friend is in a career transition.
FOR THE FRIEND:
- Expect discomfort. Your friend could be going through a tough time, or your friend could be feeling wonderful about the new opportunity she has. But that’s only one layer of a career transition. She could also be feeling scared about not getting her bills paid, bored with too much time on her hands, jealous that others don’t have to go through this, or depressed from not getting an interview. The best thing you can do is to listen and be there when needed. Many times friends don’t want to deal with the discomfort a transition can bring and drop the friendship. This could destroy a friendship.
- Friends don’t need your money (or your pity), but they may need your help (networking). This is a big fear for friends: being looked at as a ATM. Everyone is different; however, most hard-working people value being able to make their own money, and will not ask you for yours if they lose their job. Don’t assume that’s what your friend wants if they want to contact you. If you want to treat them, do that out of friendship and not pity or because its assumed. However, if a friend is seeing you as an ATM, then be up-front, blunt, and honest with them. Have a frank but calm discussion and express your feelings clearly.
- Networking: Most jobs are filled today through networking. What better way to help a friend than talking them up to a potential hiring manager (who may also be a friend)? Friends should not expect you to find them a job, but a good networking contact can open that door. Be open to networking, giving advice or connecting people you know, when appropriate. Positive word of mouth is the best advertisement for a new entrepreneur. These things goes farther than money any day.
- Sometimes your friend may need to be alone. For whatever reason, your friend will need time to contemplate next steps, deal with emotions, or just be away from a crowd that’s complaining about something they may wish they had. Time alone is not a cry for help. But excessive time alone, unusual despair may be a cry for help. Know how to tell the difference.
- Be understanding and supportive. Again, this is different for everyone. Being understanding may mean making time to do something with a friend that doesn’t cost much (or anything) or on the flip-side inviting them to an event, even though they may not be financially able to come. One of the biggest fears for someone who’s lost a professional job is not being included because the hostess doesn’t think they have the money to participate. Let your invitees decide, job or not. Being supportive may mean buying a product from your new entrepreneurial friend. It may mean just taking their call.
- Be a true friend. When someone has lost a job or is starting on a new career venture, they can be hypersensitive to changes in relationships. True friends weather these transitions without losing the friendship. They don’t change who they are because of circumstances, but they realize that circumstances can change relationships. If you are a true friend, maintain that status with your friend. Stability is important in a time of change.
FOR THE PERSON IN CAREER TRANSITION:
- Expect discomfort. For most people, losing a job or changing a career is a life-altering event (even health insurance companies think so). But unlike something that we know as positive (graduating college) or negative (a loved one’s death), there can be so many positive and negative emotions to deal with in this case. Your friend is not going to know how you feel unless you talk to them. Even then, they may feel at a loss. Don’t just talk to them about the old job, or what you’re doing, but also what having them in your life means to you. Some friends will still not understand your life choices or wish they could have the opportunity you have; do not take negativity to heart.
- Don’t ask friends for money. This is different for everyone, but in most cases, this is good advice: if you did not ask them for money while you were working, don’t ask them for it now. All this will do is put a strain on or break a friendship. Friends understand you may not be able to financially do everything or go everywhere.Saying no is okay. Saying yes, then showing up and asking for money is not. If you are having money problems with basic expenses as a result of a job loss, contact your local unemployment office. They have contact information for state and federal agencies that can help until you get another job.
- Sometimes you will have to be alone. This is true of life in general, but is especially true when in the midst of a transition. People you used to see every day (that you may have called friends), you may not see for weeks because your schedule has changed. I have also heard many times that a good job search should be treated like a full-time job itself, taking 30-40 hours a week. A job in which you are the sole employee. In addition, you may have time on your hands that your friends do not. This can be extensive alone time. When you are not working on your career, work on yourself. Develop positive interests and productive habits (more on that next).
- Make new friends based on interests. Most of our days are spent at work, so a lot of our friends may be from work and may be lost when work is over. During transition is the best time to figure out what your interests are and to make new friends based on those interests. There is a group for everything: gardening clubs, book clubs, Toastmasters, recreational sports and leisure groups. There are also support groups and job search work teams if you need a networking base or are having trouble dealing with a job loss.You can find these locally, online (through sites like Meetup), word of mouth, at church, or through your unemployment office. When you have friends based on personal interests, these friendships are less likely to dissolve with career transition.
- True friends remain the same. Your life may be in an upheaval right now. A true friend will recognize this and do what they can to maintain the friendship. Not all friends are true friends, and not all friends can deal with change or crisis. You could lose some friends temporarily. You could lose some permanently. The important thing to remember is not to lose yourself. Be true to yourself, and true friendship will follow.