Near the end of A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean’s novella of a family in Montana in the early part of the twentieth century, the author’s father, reflects on his adult son Paul, who has failed to live up to his promise.

“It is those we live with and love and we should know who elude us”, the father, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, says. Paul is an expert fly fisherman and fine writer, but cannot avoid the gambling and drinking that leads to his death. His brother and father want to help him, but do not find a way to do so.

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 7.14.18 AMSo it can be in trying to help those closest to us in their job searches, especially friends and family. We want to be of assistance. But we do not always know how to do so: what is the right approach, how to help others avoid the mistakes we’ve made, to profit from our experiences.

Marty Nemko, the dean of California’s job coaches, has several decades of experience in addressing this challenge. He seeks to draw out the job seeker, listen to his or her words, and react with specific actions to help.

As Marty explains, “First, start the conversation. If you wait for the job seeker to do so, you may be waiting for Godot.” In A River Runs Through It, Paul’s drinking and fighting are not openly addressed. Job search can be an awkward topic, but avoiding it is rarely the best approach.

Second, telling someone who is struggling what to do rarely succeeds. “Nobody wants advice. Giving advice is not empowering. Rather than say, ‘I think you should do x’, you might say to a family member or relative, ‘Tell me about what you’d like do, if anything.’” Again, listen to their words.

Third, if the job seeker doesn’t come up with sufficient ideas on his or her own, put forward specific offers of assistance. “Is there any part of your career search in which I can be of assistance to you? Can I help with job leads, a fresh pair of eyes on your resume, help to gather additional career information?”

“If the job seeker is stuck, you might inquire, ‘Do you want to mainly work with your hands, in office administration, with people? Do you want to work in a large or small company? Do you want to start your own business?”

Fourth, if the job seeker is following a route that appears unrealistic or illusory, don’t hesitate to urge reconsideration. “You might say, ‘I can understand why you’d want to do this, but might you want to consider other paths, other ways of pursuing your interests that involve, say, less risk.’”

Marty with a smile calls his approach, “California Couching”. He has found this approach to be more successful than trying to tell someone what to do, especially a family member or friend.Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 7.15.00 AM

Michael Kelly, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs coaches mid-career job seekers on economic and workforce trends. He notes that for many of these job seekers, especially friends and family, it is difficult to balance providing encouragement, when needed, with honest feedback about the realities of today’s job market.

“Most employers looking to hire mid career professionals rely on their personal networks and/or their human resources departments to collect and cull through hundreds of resumes, in some cases, in order to find 5-6 candidates. At that point they usually choose someone whose personality matches the culture of the organization or its management style. As some of my friends have discovered that does not always mean that the most talented or experienced candidate gets the job. They get passed over and without feedback, they are left scratching their heads.”

“The best advice I can give to them after a while is to find something they love and then find someone who is willing to pay them to do it. That requires doing almost anything to prove to an employer and/or client that you are adaptable and resourceful, which are two critical skill sets that propel the most successful careers. Michael Eisner illustrated this point well in his autobiography Work in Progress, when he was the CEO of the Walt Disney Company he stood along the ropes with thousands of other families waiting to celebrate a significant Disneyland milestone. He noticed a piece of trash on the parade route, ducked under the rope and picked it up. To him no job was too large or too small.”

“In my network I encourage friends to think beyond the more traditional career opportunities and focus on developing relationships with leaders who are building tomorrow’s great companies and need people who are willing to go under the ropes and adapt to today’s rapidly changing world.”

None of us should worry these days about being too involved with the job searches of family and friends. Paul’s brother and father stand back from getting involved in his life. We don’t want to make the same mistake. We will want to act, if we can assist in the job searches of those closest to us.Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 7.16.01 AM

“I am haunted by waters” is the well-known final line of A River Runs Through It.  However, equally poetic and perhaps relevant is the previous paragraph:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”