How do I help my brother get over his unemployment slump?
January 12, 2014 10:30 PM   Subscribe

My little brother graduated with a degree in marketing last spring, and has since been living at my parents' house doing...absolutely nothing. He is interested in applying to jobs, and understands the steps involved, but seems to have no motivation to start that process. How can I help him?

Throughout high school and college my brother was very studious and independent and career-oriented -- he even has draft resumes and cover letters he completed in college, to prepare him for this very moment -- but he now seems to be wrought with so much anxiety about the prospect of job hunting that he can't even bring himself to open those documents on his own.

So far, he has not applied anywhere or reached out to any of his professional/college contacts.

I have tried helping him try to see it in baby steps (e.g., "today all we need to do is work on this section of the resume, then we'll take the next step as it comes") but I'm afraid my patience is running thin. He easily comes up with excuses to delay the next "step" for as long as possible.

I understand that this is a big, scary, adult thing for him. But I also want him to kick his butt into gear because it's time for him to start paying his student loans, which are too big a cost for my parents to bear.

How can I be the best life/career coach for him right now? If you were in his position, what would you want to hear from your older sibling that would ease your anxieties and give you the confidence to take control of the situation?
posted by mellophone to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm unemployed (well, underemployed for an engineer), but I'm pushing forty. Know what I want to hear from my parents and relatives about finding a job?

Nothing. I know they're trying to be helpful but they're not.

Has your brother actually asked for your help?

Sounds like he needs to get his head in order first. Perhaps a check-up and a referral from his PCP for a shrink.
posted by notsnot at 10:55 PM on January 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have been in your brother's position - jobhunting was a paralysing mess. What helped for me was people laying off the pressure - he likely KNOWS that he's got student loans to pay off, breathing down his neck would just add to the anxiety and feeling of failure.

Is he burnt out from having tried previously with no success?

Maybe instead of telling him what to do, ask him more about where he's coming from. What part of the jobhunt is paralysing him? Does he need to do something completely different for a while? What does he wish he could have other people do?

For me one thing that helped was that my boyfriend at the time, as well as another friend, helped go through my work experience and find things that fit job descriptions. I got really stuck on resumes (having done multiple versions and still not getting anywhere with my jobhunt for YEARS) and at one point needed to have my then-bf do draft cover letters and resumes for me so I could pick up where he left off. Seems silly, I know, but it helped break a part of that anxiety.
posted by divabat at 10:59 PM on January 12, 2014

If he were looking for work I'd agree with all the advice to lay off him.

Since he isn't, my suggestion is to lay off him for a while, say three to six months.

If he still isn't looking for work after that, I don't know what anyone can do about it. It might help if your parents were to give him notice to either start repaying his loans plus rent, or move out. And then follow through, obviously.

That's really all they can do. He's an adult who knows how to look for work and is responsible for doing so, and all they can do is remember that they are adults with responsibilities too and draw the line at what they will and won't enable. He will have to figure out his reponse for himself, and if that includes getting help for the anxiety so he can start meeting some of his responsibilities, so be it.

I p know how bad the job market is, but there is no excuse for not even *looking* for work. It's unacceptable that this has been going on since last spring - at least seven months - with no applications, not even bullshit ones. Before anyone tells me I don't know what the job market is like or I don't know what anxiety is like - I do. Know what makes anxiety worse? Having a huge problem and not taking any action to try to solve it.

I also don't want to come across like some sort of hardass who advocates kicking baby birdies out of the nest. On the contrary, I'm a pathetic excuse for an adult. But outside of full-time study I haven't gone a week since I was 18 when I wasn't either working or looking for work.
posted by tel3path at 1:48 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why should he get a job? He has a place to live and food.

You don't need to do anything, your parents need to tell him that, if, in six months, he doesn't have a job and is paying them a reasonable rent/boarding cost, he'll have to move out.
posted by HuronBob at 3:04 AM on January 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm finishing a degree and job hunting at the moment and finding it totally paralysing. My answer is books from the library.

I liked this book, though it's aimed at current college students and is all 'think about getting an internship one summer', so he might read it as a long list of things he hasn't done that he was supposed to. (I'm a grad student, which I think makes it easier to say 'nope, don't care what he tells 19 year olds to do' and skip that section.)

I generally liked the Martin Yate Knock 'em Dead books, though I didn't like the one specifically about interviewing.

My library only had the Career Coward's Guide to Interviewing and nothing else in the series, but I liked that one. It's very much in the vein of 'Here's something you should probably do. No, really, it's not that hard. If that's too much, at least try and do [this other thing].'

All of these made looking for a job seem like something I could actually do without being someone who can talk in buzzwords without rolling their eyes. This may be better than 'Let's sit down and work on your resume now'. If you've got an ongoing conversation about jobs going on (and he's not just shutting down entirely), saying "You don't have to put up with me, here's a book." might work.
posted by hoyland at 4:49 AM on January 13, 2014

Your parents should be insisting that he pay rent and his student loans. He's mooching off of them and it's time for him to get out there and make something happen.

He doesn't have to work in marketing, but he does have to work. So he needs to start putting applications in to every place in the neighborhood. The grocery store, Starbucks, McDonalds, whatever.

Even if he can't get a full time job, he needs to go out every day and do something. So volunteering, interning, etc. There's no excuse for him sitting around the house all day. None.

He needs to get out there and get active. Activity breeds activity. I suspect that once he starts waking up in the morning and getting up, dressed and out the door, that he'll suddenly have a real interest in finding a job that pays enough money so that he can be independant.

Right now, your parents have created an environment that is allowing your brother to lounge, and reflect and do nothing.

You don't have any "standing" here. It's not your house or your money that he's using, it's your parents's. Have a sit down with them and get them on-board. Then support them while they tell your brother, "It's time, you need to be out of the house for at least 8 hours a day."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:44 AM on January 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm going to take a contrarian view and say he needs more not less pressure. He's mooching off your parents - so he's not doing anything because he has anxieties and it's easier to do nothing because he doesn't have to do anything. What he needs is what I would call a virtual kick in the ass from your parents. A serious talking to, explaining that if he doesn't jump on the job hunt train now, it's going to get harder and harder because hiring companies will focus on the next wave of graduates.
posted by Dansaman at 6:19 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think your parents are the key here. They need to insist that he at least apply for a certain number of jobs or take other real steps (reach out to contacts etc.), or else they stop supporting him financially.

Maybe he's afraid of failure or starting grown up life or something else. But a real incentive would surely help, unless he has greater psychological issues that mean he really needs a therapist.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

You aren't his life/career coach, you are his sibling. His parents are not his life/career coaches, they are his parents. I think this is kind of taking on some inappropriate roles, here; you can help him if he asks for help, but the thing about coaching is that someone has gone out and actually made arrangements to receive coaching. If your brother did not initiate this, you aren't his coach, you are a nagging sibling, and your feedback is going to be received accordingly.

I think the one thing you can do without just being a nag is encourage him to find some kind of counseling and/or medical assistance with his anxiety, because it is a real mental health problem and there are real ways to treat it and life is about a million times easier when you've done that part first.
posted by Sequence at 7:00 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

It sounds like he has totally psyched himself out. Assuming he WANTS your help, what would help me in that situation would be for someone to sit down with me all weekend and churn out a few applications.
posted by salvia at 7:35 AM on January 13, 2014

I had a paralysing fear for years, not of the job market, but still a very real and life altering issue. People pushing me to do the thing that I was afraid were not helpful. It didn't push me to overcome my fear, only feel more shameful about it. Worse, he's partially right, the job market is terrifying and dehumanizing, so it's not as if it's entirely irrational for him to be overwhelmed.

If he is so afraid of job market rejections, why not see if you can hook him up with a temp agency? They probably won't be able to get him a great job, but they may be able to get him an entry level position at a place that he's qualified for.
posted by Shouraku at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

"If you were in his position, what would you want to hear from your older sibling that would ease your anxieties and give you the confidence to take control of the situation?"

I would want my Older Sibling to realize that I have two parents already and I definitely don't want a third. I would want Older Sibling to stay out of my business unless and until I specifically ask for their help. And I would thank them not to get between me and my free meal ticket.

You sound like you mean well, OP, and it's clear you really love your younger brother. It sounds like you might have some fixer tendencies. This actually is not YOUR problem, and it's certainly not the end of the world even if it feels a bit too out of control for you. Take a huge step back. I suspect your efforts are having the exact opposite effect.
posted by hush at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I understand that this is a big, scary, adult thing for him. But I also want him to kick his butt into gear because it's time for him to start paying his student loans, which are too big a cost for my parents to bear.

Wait, are you saying that your parents are paying his student loans? If all his financial needs are being met without question, of course he isn't going to get a job. Needing to pay bills is what motivates most of us to work, and that's absent in his case. Offer to help him apply for jobs and be supportive, but don't expect much to change. Truth is, his choice is a rational one.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by mellophone at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The one thing you can do is talk to your parents and see if they need any help in how (or if) to have the conversations to get him up and out.
posted by CathyG at 9:26 AM on January 13, 2014

Has he asked for your help? If not, lay off. I went through a long period of underemployment and any advice from others just made me feel more unhappy and helpless.

Volunteer work is a good less stressful way to start working. There are volunteer groups that are looking for people with marketing backgrounds. I suggest making an experience out of it together and say something to your brother like, "I'm signing up to volunteer with X organization. Do you want to do it with me? It sounds like it will be a lot of fun."
posted by parakeetdog at 10:35 AM on January 13, 2014

The job market truly does blow. That being said, he does have a "useful" degree and seems prepared to get a job.

I think a balanced approach would help him. Encourage him to see a therapist if there is any element of anxiety, especially if he's on the parents' insurance now. I got booted off recently and boy, do I wish I had taken advantage of my mom's cushy state job insurance more while I had it. A lot of job anxiety comes from familial expectations and guilt... Its very unlikely you will be able to get to him and figure out whats holding him back the way that a trained third party could.

The "tuff love" part would be putting the student loans all on him. Its not the end of the world if he misses payments, but it will make him feel like an adult who has shit to deal with. He might not be ready to move out, and frankly living at home is often a smart move nowadays. He'll probably want to move out soon.

Also, it hasn't been a full year since he graduated. Its very weird to be a student for your entire life and just have an open road all of the sudden. All of those resumes may have made sense in an academic context, but without that structure he might feel completely dumbfounded. Which again, a therapist or perhaps even a job counselor at his undergrad institution could help a lot with.
posted by supernaturelle at 11:14 AM on January 13, 2014

What didn't work for me: pressure (I was anxious enough for everyone!)
What did work for me: My friend found me a job listing that looked good and encouraged me to apply. My parents told me that I had until x date, and then would like me to move out on my own. I knew they wouldn't kick me out and make me homeless, but having the timeline helped.
posted by ldthomps at 12:00 PM on January 13, 2014

It's not a question of "How do I help..." because nearly every adult knows the rudimentary process of finding a job.

It's a question of WHEN. If his bills are are "too big a cost for my parents to bear" (your words), that's getting close to the breaking point in my mind. Older adults typically need a window of time when their kids are done with university and before they retire to cap off their retirement money. Late career is also a time to strategically prepare to downsize. If he's inadvertently wrecking their plans, that's a huge problem because it means your parents will be forced to work longer or retire with less.

Please talk it over with them first, because maybe there is more slack than you realize. But from your question, I think it's about time for you to step in and "HELP" little brother spread his wings. He might feel humiliation or stress. Maybe therapy would help? But sometimes actions are required because the consequences for your parents are potentially even more dire.

Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 1:21 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

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