If one of your friends is making a massive career change, say, ditching their steady Wall Street job to open the bakery of their dreams or, perhaps, leaving a job without a next step planned, it can be nerve-wracking. As their friend, it can be hard to know exactly how to support them.
Should you send them job postings? Set up meetings with potential clients? Or just leave them alone to do their thing?
We wanted to get it right, so we enlisted a career coach and two former career changers to help us determine some rules of the road. (Hint: Saying “You’re nuts!” is not advised.)
In partnership with State Farm, here are 11 ways you can support a friend who is making a career change.
1. Create a “why list.”
Going through a career change is hard -- and scary. So work with your friend to write down all of the reasons why they’re seeking this transition. Melissa Anzman, executive coach and author at Launch Yourself, says that keeping this list close at hand will give them a boost when things get hard.
2. Remind them they’re not defined by their job.
Though it may seem obvious to you, this is an important concept to express to your friend -- especially if they’ve been in their career for a long time.
Samantha Stewart, who left engineering to teach at a public school in New York City, said it was helpful to hear, “my worth and my value are not tied to some job title. I, like many others, felt defined by what I did -- and when that no longer was working out, it felt like an identity crisis.”
3. Brainstorm their talents and skills.
Some career changers may know they’re not satisfied in their current career -- but may not know what else they’d be good at. This is where you come in.
Anzman notes: “Most people have a blind spot here. Having a friend help you solidify your true value in the career market and how it will apply to any job -- especially the one they are career-changing into, will boost their confidence and presence.”
4. Don’t ask how the job search is going.
Even though you’re trying to show you care, constantly asking your friend for job search updates is not a good idea.
According to Anzman, this type of questioning “can feel judgmental and diminish their confidence.” Stewart agrees, saying it was stressful when people questioned what she was looking for -- because “I didn’t quite know myself.”
5. Use your network.
Keep your eyes and ears out for opportunities. Mentally (or physically!) scroll through your contacts -- and if there’s someone who might be able to help your friend, put them in touch.
For a more powerful connection, Anzman suggests taking it beyond email “Become an active ally for your friend... set-up a coffee date or meet-up with a relevant connection or two, to make an informal in-person introduction.”
6. Be sensitive to their financial situation.
After earning a degree in accounting and spending three years in the corporate world, Charles Rotondo left “the cozy confines of office work” to become a carpenter. He took a 40 percent pay cut, and though he’s “never looked back,” it was still a big adjustment.
Whether your friend has left a job and is currently unemployed, or is simply saving up for their next venture, chances are that cash is going to be tight. They may not want to admit their financial situation has changed, so it’s up to you to take the reins. Instead of a fancy dinner out, why not suggest a board game night at your place?
7. Join in.
Stewart says her best advice for career changers is to “Start making minor changes while in your current job. Volunteer in the field you’re interested in, or learn to code, etc.” This is an easy opportunity to metaphorically (or literally!) hold your friend’s hand.
If your friend wants to go into event planning, offer to volunteer at charity events with them. If they want to open an art gallery, go with them to check out potential spaces.
8. Don’t be afraid to be realistic.
Though your duty is to be supportive, it isn’t to paint an unrealistically rosy picture. If you’re familiar with the industry your friend wants to enter, it’s only fair to alert them of the bad as well as the good.
Despite the fact that he holds his carpentry teachers and mentors in the highest regard, Rotondo says: “I wish someone would've told me how difficult union life is... If someone would've sat me down and explained all of that to me in depth, I still would've gone into construction, but I may have taken an alternate route to learn my trade.”
9. Use your skills to help them excel.
If you’re a graphic designer, offer to create your friend’s new company logo. If you’re a grammar nerd, proofread their resume. And even if you don’t have any directly applicable skills, you can always let them practice interviewing with you.
10. Celebrate their wins.
Once your friend makes the leap, their need for your support won’t go away. Make sure you celebrate their successes -- however small they may be.
Landed their first client? Get some cupcakes delivered. Finally got their website up and running? Send out a congratulatory tweet. Your support will be the fuel they need to keep going..
11. Be supportive -- and listen.
In the end, Rotondo says that supporting someone through a career change is “pretty easy.” All you have to do is, “lend them your ear and your shoulder.” Let them know you support them, and that you want them to be happy.
Before leaving the corporate world to become a carpenter, Rotondo asked his grandmother for her blessing. His grandparents had helped pay for his college education, and he wanted assurance that his late grandfather wouldn’t be disappointed by his choice. Rotondo’s grandmother told him his happiness was all that mattered, and as he puts it, “that was all I needed to hear.”
When you need expert advice, always look to a friend. State Farm will be there to help you with every turn your life takes.