09/17/2013 05:18 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

Your Jobless Friend or Child

If the jobs crisis hasn't touched you directly, chances are its touched someone you know. Perhaps a friend or a child. You want to help. You're not sure how. The natural inclination is to offer advice. To start asking questions. But the problem is that in these times of crisis, the old standby advice no longer works for everyone. For example:

Have you thought about school? They have. Just like they've thought about food for dinner.

Maybe you should broaden your search? Maybe not. Narrowing the search could also work. Because today every search is different. Perhaps the way you found your last job was to send a resume to a stranger. That doesn't work anymore.

Ageism is illegal. Sexism and racism are also illegal. Think they've left us? And there is data suggesting that ageism is now an even bigger obstacle.

You just need a better resume. Or perhaps a better lottery ticket.

How badly do you want the job? Perhaps your friend doesn't need to be motivated. Maybe having no paycheck is motivation enough?

Don't find a job. Find your passion. Sounds so good on TV or the self-help book. Your jobless friend might be able to imagine a world where this advice would help -- but it's not the world they live in now.

You must be doing something wrong. Chances are, that's a song already playing in your jobless friend's head. Sometimes they hear it. Sometimes they block it out. But it's there.

You sure give up easily. Can you answer for your jobless friend: length of unemployment? Number of hours a day spent looking for work? Number of rejections? Exactly what they have given up as they look for work? Real life lessons learned in the search? Bad advice received? If not, easing up on your judgment might be a better option for your jobless friend or child.

What's your dream job? Like all of these points, the question might be well-intentioned. But it's only one part of the puzzle facing the unemployed. And the abstract nature of the question often gets in the way of more immediate concerns. For example, my dream job might be a lion tamer or talk show host or golf pro. But then the reality of survival pokes its ugly head in the picture.

You need to network more. There is a sliver of truth in this grand pronouncement. But forcing the act of meeting strangers on some individuals often doesn't help anybody. For some people, it's like saying, "Be taller." Logic says that the more people you meet, the more potential you have to find work. But in today's market, that logic can crumble. Networking can also be as watered down with the advent of "virtual friends." The value of personal contact gets lost. When everyone has their own definition of what "networking" means, the word becomes meaningless. Just another cliché.

You gotta KNOW someone. In today's market, often that's not enough. Jobs go to people who are already inside a community. Where you used to have to know someone, today you need to already be part of a community. And there is in many communities, an iron wall of resumes read by computers and a culture of anonymity that makes "knowing someone" more than difficult.

Toughest thing about each of these? They are most often uttered by well-intentioned folks who simply don't know what else to say. People who want to help.

At the root of all this is the very idea of "Job Search Advice." The idea that there is a formula that is somehow transferrable from one person to another. That "if you just do what I did, it'll work for you like it worked for me."

But when advice goes beyond the obvious, that's where the problems start. What becomes lost is this:

Finding work is a journey that is different for every single human being. Cookie cutter advice usually doesn't help past the stages of not misspelling words on the job application. Every single soul's work search is different.

What's required isn't more or better advice. What's required is thinking differently about finding work. Not better or worse. Just different. Which is perhaps the hardest part of all. It's much easier to rely on clichés like "follow your passion," or quick checklists that tell you what to do. And in the face of having to think differently and find work all at once. the temptation to become bitter, lash out in anger or give up is always a possibility.

So where do you start? Ask your child or friend, "How can I help?" Then let them tell you their answer. And be ready for their answer to change as their search unfolds.

There was a time when expert advice on finding work meant self assessment, presentation and networking with a handshake. Those times are gone. Now the task becomes not just all of these basics, but also prompting each individual to both think and act differently in forging their own path. That prompting can come from anywhere or anything. For example, the power of a story. Or a principle put into action. But the first step comes with the question you ask your jobless child or friend. . . .

How can I help?