Are you – or someone you know – afraid to make small talk at parties, because you don’t want to talk about being UNEMPLOYED? Here are some ground rules for addressing long-term unemployment. They come from Anne Curzan, who’s an expert on conversation skills. And we start with some rules for those who still have a job:

  • First: DON’T ask questions like “How’s the job hunt going?” or “Have you found a job yet?” Curzan says those come across as criticism, because they suggest the job-seeker must be doing something wrong if they haven’t found a job by now! Instead, ask something like: “What’s keeping you busy these days?” That way, the person can focus on what they want to talk about – which could be anything from their job search, to a new hobby, or their recent volunteer work.

  • Rule #2 for talking to the unemployed: DON’T give unsolicited advice like: “I heard Starbucks is hiring. Why don’t you apply there?” Believe it or not, Curzan says most long-term job seekers have already tried applying for service jobs and many have been rejected! Like one former CEO we read about, who says he couldn’t even get past the application stage at Starbucks.  So, instead of offering advice, our expert recommends offering support. Just say something like: “I know the job market is tough. I wish you the best”.

  • Also, DON’T make promises to someone who’s out of work that you can’t keep. Like saying, “I’m friends with so-and-so where I used to work. I’ll get you an interview.” Our expert says unless you plan to follow up, promises like that inflate job seekers’ hopes.  And that’s a cruel way to treat people, because studies show that long-term job loss is linked to depression and declining health.