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A friend of mine, who was one year behind in college and in the same graduate program, will soon graduate and is in the look out for a job. This friend has being asking me for advice (I'm very well employed), but every time I tell him something, he doesn't follow on my recommendations. For example:

  • I provided him with information about job fairs in our area; he didn't attend any.
  • I redirected him to the local employment office and the university counselors; he says he went, but they weren't useful (the account of his interactions are sparse and confused so I doubt he has intentions to truly rely on these resources.)
  • I invited him to a party where the head of recruitment of a company would be; he didn't show up.
  • I set him up for a internship in a branch of our company; he accepted and later declined without providing a convincing excuse (leaving me slightly embarrassed with my higher-ups.)

It could be that I'm expressing myself in a way that is unclear or intimidating, although I think I've done it thoughtfully and tactfully. Also, I suspect my friend hasn't open up about all the personal issues that are affecting his behavior, like fear of moving away and possibly depression, but I can clearly see that he is intimidated by the idea of starting a new stage in his life. In any case, I'm getting convinced that I'm not the right person to provide him with advice. On my side, I have to add that after all I'm not a professional counselor or therapist, and seeing a person I regard highly act so carelessly about his future is starting to take a toll on me.

I sincerely believe my friend is a good person from the interactions we had in the past, although our friendship has stalled for some months. Nonetheless, I still want the best for him. I want to tell him I don't want to give him more advice without hurting what remains of his self-confidence. What is the best way to approach this type of conversation?

  • have you talked to him about what he's done with your previous advice? If so what did he say? He's asking mostly about employment advice? – BKlassen Dec 14 '18 at 19:00
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    @BKlassen I asked, but the answer are vague. "I couldn't leave the city", "I was busy", "I'm finishing my thesis", etc. However, he's been devoting time to sports, hobbies, and parties. His excuses aren't convincing. It's mostly employment advice, but we also talked about job-life balance. – je_b Dec 14 '18 at 19:07
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At this point you can honestly say to your friend that you haven't been successful in getting him employed. Instead of you providing more suggestions, try redirecting him to some local resources, within the college or within the town. Or suggestions with places for him to look to find these job fairs or internships. Approach it not as "I don't want to help you" but rather as "obviously what I'm doing hasn't been effective, here's some other ways to approach the problem".

As you say in your question, you're not a counselor and your friend sounds like he needs more help than you can provide. In fact, ideally if the college has career counseling they may be able to help.

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    I've redirected him to local resources already. He says he has visit them... but the accounts of the interactions he had there are unreliable. (I will add this to the OP) – je_b Dec 14 '18 at 19:26
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Your friend needs some tough love. Specifically, someone needs to confront him (kindly) about the fact that no matter what he says, his actions show that he doesn't actually want a job. If he wanted one, he would have taken the internship you set up for him.

As your reason for not giving him more job search help, focus on the fact that he has to decide what he wants first. Depending on how bad his mental health is, the right advice may be to take some time off and seek treatment. Or the right advice may be to bite the bullet and really square himself to the idea of starting his working life. You may have an opinion on which of those two options is best for him, but if you don't, you can still make it clear to him that this is the choice he has to make. If he wants to continue pretending to search for jobs, there's no point in you helping him out with advice and internships, and you're on firm ground to tell him exactly this.

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Since you're worried about discouraging your friend (or otherwise harming his already low ability to self-motivate), the best approach is probably going to to indirectly ween him off of desiring your advice by making your advice much less useful than it has been.

First of all, avoid bringing up specifics of how he has failed/disappointed/embarrassed you. Instead, focus on positive phrasing and support without actually offering your own resources.

For example, instead of taking your time to offer specific career fairs, party invites, or job offers, try giving shallow (but still sincere) advice that he should already be able to deduce from previous advice you've given him:

"You could try seeing if there are any more job fairs in the area."

or

"You could try checking out Indeed for job listings."

The goal is to not put him on the spot for coming up short historically, while making it clear that your effort at this point is limited. You aren't going to put time and effort into finding specifics for him anymore.

If he prods you for specifics, such as specific job fairs, you can then take it a step further by giving him an alternate source for this information:

"I don't know any off the top of my head, sorry. I would try searching for 'job fairs near me' online, that should pull something up."

Although it may take a few iterations, he will eventually quit asking for so much advice because you aren't offering him anything truly valuable anymore (i.e. doing the searching for him). You've already provided him with tons of ideas, options, and avenues he can take to move forward, it's his decision to actually take the first step to do so. Keep reminding him that the tools are there for him to begin his search any day (and make sure you don't do any of the work for him) and chances are high that he will quit asking you for so much time/effort just to stand you up.


From an answer I wrote for How to tell people I'm not their tech support? which covers many of the same skills suggested above:

Providing your friends and family with information of where they should be looking maintains your ability to still sound helpful and supportive, while training them to be sufficient in finding this info for themselves, without depending on you.

Alternatively, not teaching them how to find the info themselves (saying "I can't help, sorry") will likely leave them feeling like you DO know the answer and just don't want to help (because in their minds you know it all)! This is why walking through the exercise just a few times with them is worth the taken time, even if it's still a but frustrating.

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    I'm not sure if I'm hitting a culture clash here, but this advice makes my blood boil. Yeah, let's be dishonest and evasive to this person, as if he doesn't have enough problems with evasiveness already. Let's mimic his behaviour, as if we have any reason to, and pretend it's the best we can do. Bah! – reinierpost Dec 14 '18 at 23:11
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    @reinierpost If you don't want to hurt what already remains of his self-confidence, is there something I'm missing with your intended goal? It seems like your aggravation is making you sorta desire some kind of stab at him. – Jess K. Dec 17 '18 at 0:48
  • @reinierpost It must be surely a culture clash. Where do you see the dishonesty in the answer? The OP has clearly stated they don't want to waste more time helping this friend. You could just say bluntly: "I'm not going to help you anymore, you expletive!", but that's not being honest, that's being rude and mean. At most, the answer could be more clear by first stating that "I've already did all that I could for you. You can try now xxxx" – Rekesoft Dec 17 '18 at 12:48
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It sounds to me like your friend is playing Eric Berne's Game, "Why don't you..Yes, but.." (WDYYB-- And you're playing a benign version of "I'm only trying to help you." ITHY) page 121 in GPP.

WDYYB happens when one person presents a problem, and others rush to help, are thwarted, and the payoff is, "See, you're not so smart after all!!" Or it could be a version of "Schlemiel," depending on whether he makes a big deal of saying he's sorry.

After you: "invited him to a party where the head of recruitment of a company would be; he didn't show up. I set him up for a internship in a branch of our company; he accepted and later declined without providing a convincing excuse (leaving me slightly embarrassed with my higher-ups.)"
he's showing that getting a job is not his big goal. WDYYB is much more likely.

The counter to WDYYB is simply to let him fall flat. "Gosh, it sounds like you really do have a problem. What are you going to do about it?" And just stop. Repeat as needed, but don't try to solve problems for someone who doesn't want your solutions!

Take a look at "Games People Play." It's an oldie but a goodie!

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First I want to reassure you : from what you've explained, his job search hasn't failed because of you. You cannot job search in place of your friend. He has to do the work, and right now he's not doing it. Not because you didn't help enough or well enough or said the wrong thing, but because of his own issues. He might have mental health problems, or he might be just lazy, who knows. But don't beat yourself up over it.

To me, the best way to tell him you're not up discussing his job search anymore is by being kindly honest. Next time he asks you for your advice, just tell him you've already given him all the advice and resources you could think of, and it hasn't worked for him. Than give him one last time some resources (like the local employment office and the university counselors) as a starting point to find help elsewhere.

If you're not good of thinking of what to say on the spot, the best way to have this talk in an effective and positive way is by having prepared a script and rehearse it a bit. When the time comes, you'll know exactly what to say. Since you won't be scrambling to find your words, you'll be able to say all this in a calm and confident manner. People take their cues from you, so if you're calm and warm instead of nervous and negative, you won't turn this awkward conversation in a horrible one.

If after this he comes back to you for advice again, just ask him "Have you gone to xxx office ?". When he says no or something vague, just say "I'm sorry, like I said I'm out of ideas, that's why I recommended you some places which helped me in my job search. I can't help you".

One last thing : personally, I would flat out tell a friend I cannot help them anymore after they let me down with that internship. I'd still wish the best for them, even send them job openings if I see any, but would tell them I'm not vouching for them anymore. I'd explain how their actions reflected badly on me at my current job, and I don't want to take the risk again. I know you don't want your friend to feel bad and keep things positive, but knowing how his behavior impacts others might be a good lesson (and motivator) for him.

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Sounds as though he might not necessarily be asking for job or career advice at all.

Perhaps he only wants attention from you; there's a hint of him actually looking up to you.

The best way for him to know that you're seriously paying attention, is the lengths to which you go to actually obtain constructive means for solving the problem he presents.

The reason for asking your advice about this specifically, is your proficiency in being well employed; he's probably trying to compliment you as being an expert, if it's not sort of the only way he can think of to get you involved. You've mentioned that you regard him highly; he probably knows that, but tests it by asking you repeatedly for the same thing, since he also knows that you'd feel responsible and act on his carelessness concerning his future.

It reminds of the saying that if you want a friend, ask him for help.

You don't give an indication of the nature of your friendship, but if you'd want to maintain the friendship, you could pursue some joint activity, besides getting this frustration out of the way. Actually, if he's only seeking attention, getting involved with him on another level, might simultaneously solve the problem you have with his inquiries, which then isn't the reason for him constantly asking you for help.

Although you're not a therapist or a counselor, your involvement with him might do wonders for his self-confidence and probably contribute to him getting his life on course.

About thirty years ago, a colleague who'd been going through a particularly nasty divorce, has followed exactly this tactic. Although it was quite clear what's going on, I've simply played along. Knowing nothing about girls or relationships, let alone marriages, the nonsense "advice" which I've dreamed up, and he wisely ignored, gave him the chance to vent all his confusion and uncertainty, and his sorrow about his children.

Ten years later, he told me what it meant to have someone to merely talk to, who he knew actually cared and didn't act out of obligation as a therapist of sorts, someone who was constantly available and who didn't mind him weeping fifteen minutes into a conversation almost every time.

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