, ,

If you know people who are out of work, let me suggest two things that you should do and two that you shouldn’t. I speak as someone who’s been caught in three mass layoffs (twice due to outsourcing, once to new tech) and who’s known others who’ve suffered similar pains.

DO invite your friend.

I was working at the Walt Disney Company when the management shut down my division and laid off the staff. On my last afternoon, I felt awful.

My friends and fellow Disney alumni David and Bobbi Weiss were in the office, offering us layoff victims their hopes and wishes for a prosperous future. When David and Bobbi saw how lousy I felt, they immediately invited me to their home, where they made me dinner, commiserated with me, and showed me a hilarious video of Robin Williams goofing with and on Billy Crystal.

I left their home feeling much better. (Sorry, I don’t have a link to the video.)

Invite your jobless friend to spend time with you. Someone who doesn’t have a job also doesn’t have the daily presence of workplace colleagues, so your companionship is probably even more welcome than usual.

What’s more, your jobless friend could use temporary freedom from the endless frustration of writing applications and cover letters, and flinging them out into the uncaring void. And since his finances are undoubtedly shrinking, your friend may appreciate a meal that he doesn’t have to pay for, whether it’s in your home or at a restaurant.

Be careful, though. As you may know from your own experience, no one wants to feel like a charity case, even (or especially) if he really needs charity.

Allow your friend the dignity of contributing to the meal if he wants to. If it’s in your home, maybe he can bring wine or dessert. At a restaurant, you can say something like, “I’ll pick up the tab this time. When you get a job, we’ll go out to celebrate, and you can pay for dinner then.”

DO get in touch.

“I was just thinking about you. How’re you doing?” There were times when I would rather have heard those words than “I am a supermodel. Have me.”

Note: These conversations can be awkward, especially if you’re more successful than your unemployed buddy.

On the day when one employer announced that it was laying off me and a few dozen others, I told the whole sad story to someone I’ve known for decades. After I got tired of talking about myself, I asked how she was doing. She told me about, among other things, her job: She was very successful, and she was becoming wealthier than she’d ever been.

She wasn’t trying to be insensitive. I had asked her about herself, and she told me. But at that moment, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

If you’re in her position, be careful about what you say. If your unemployed friend asks you what’s new, and the truth is that you’re about to go on a luxury cruise, acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation and change the subject. Surely you have other things to discuss that won’t make your friend feel bad.

DON’T give unwanted advice.

If your unemployed buddy asks for advice on how to find a new job, give it. If he doesn’t ask, he may not want it.

He may feel so fraught or fragile that he doesn’t want anyone giving him marching orders. Or he may not need the advice, since he probably knows more about job-hunting in his industry than you do (unless you’re in the same industry).

If you have information that you think he needs, ask something like “Do you mind if I give you some advice?” before you start making suggestions.

Think of your pal’s mind as his home: You know that you’re always welcome there, but he probably doesn’t want you barging in unannounced. Asking for permission to give advice is like knocking on the front door and letting him open it before you enter. It’ll make him more willing to accept whatever you bring inside.

DON’T refer your friend to job openings unless you read them carefully.

A friend e-mailed me a link to a job that she said would be perfect for me. I was excited until I got to the part of the job description mentioning that I’d have to move to New York — 3,000 miles from my home.

Another friend referred me to a job that sounded good; but under “Qualifications,” the listing called for fluency in Spanish, which I don’t have.

My friends hadn’t read the listings thoroughly. If they had, they wouldn’t have wasted my time or theirs.

I know, I know: They were only trying to help. And I appreciated their good intentions, I really did.

But offering a job listing without vetting it is like giving a little girl a wrapped present shaped like her favorite Disney princess when it’s actually a no-name off-brand generic fake. You’ll just disappoint her.

One last thing

Eventually, your friend will probably get a new job. Save this column against the day when you (may it never happen) might become unemployed.

Then pass it on to your friend. He or she may need it.