A great New York Times piece discussed how people deal with the shame of being out of work. The best part is the section about how one marketing executive responds to people’s sympathy in an empowered way:
“And so by last weekend, merely two days after Bob Adler’s finale as a market research analyst at a Fortune 200 insurance company, some people in Montclair, N.J., already knew, largely due to the efforts of the gregarious Mr. Adler.
“‘I understand you’re sorry, so am I, but that doesn’t do me any good,’ Mr. Adler, who starts paying college tuition this fall, is telling those offering condolences. ‘If you really want to help, tell me what you think I do well, who you know, and where you think my skills fit best. And they were grateful for being given that option and I was glad I could redirect the nature of the conversation pretty much on a dime.'”
Note the specificity of his request – that’s very important. You have to help people to help you. A lot of networking fails because it’s too generalized and unstrategic. And a lot of people probably want to help you, but don’t know how.
One person quoted also notes a gender discrepancy in the responses she got when she told people she was jobless:
“When Janette La Vigne, an insurance company executive from Clinton Township, N.J., was laid off 10 days ago, she immediately told fellow lacrosse moms. The women were empathetic and bracing, particularly those whose husbands had been through layoffs, said Ms. La Vigne, who had been with the same company for 21 years.
“‘But the guys are speechless,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle it. Their body language says, ‘Eww, I’m so glad I’m not you right now.'”
If you are currently between jobs, you might want to pay attention to which responses you get from which people, and how those responses make you feel. Then, really work to avoid those people who bring you down, while spending as much time as possible with those who make you feel supported. Being out of work is hard enough without dealing with people who are unsupportive or who project their own insecurities onto you.