Instead of offering something that your friend might not want (or offering something she wants but not in the way she wants it)—or, alternatively, withdrawing your support entirely—you can try listening to her differently, which will help her engage more openly with you, and that, in turn, will help her hear herself better. Listening well creates a positive feedback loop: People first need to feel seen and understood before they’re able to express themselves honestly, which helps them process their feelings and work through them.
I have a sense that while your friend knows you care about her, she may not feel that you understand her. To remedy this, you may want to start by acknowledging just how hard things are right now. So far, you’ve been approaching her problem as if it can be tackled with a clear solution: Hey, don’t worry! Improve your job-hunting skills and you’ll get a job. And while creating a stronger résumé and cover letter and presenting well in interviews can improve a person’s chance of getting a job, a person can do all of this and still be unemployed for quite some time.
That’s why I want to encourage you to listen to the music under the lyrics. Often when we listen, we hear only the words a person is using. Here, those lyrics might be: I need to get a job. But it’s the music underneath that’s worth listening to: You already have a job and graduate school lined up, so you don’t truly understand my emotional experience.
What you might not get is that along with her anxiety, your friend is steeped in a daily sense of loss—the loss of something she desperately wants but doesn’t have yet. Every day that she wakes up without a job, she experiences ambiguous grief, much like the grief of a person who wants to find a partner and is on all the dating apps but has no idea if or when she’ll find the right person. At this moment, even if your friend does everything “right,” she doesn’t know when she’ll find a job, much less one she truly loves. Like the married person who helps a single friend edit a dating profile and says, “With this great profile, you’ll meet the right person soon,” but has no idea if that’s true, you’re the employed person who helps your friend edit her résumé and says, “With this great résumé, you’ll find something soon,” when you, too, have no idea if that’s true. This is why listening to her experience, instead of simply trying to quell her anxiety, is so important.
When I was training to become a therapist, one of my mentors said to a group of us interns: “You have two ears and one mouth. There’s a reason for that ratio.” We wanted to say something that would help our clients without realizing that what would help them most was truly hearing them. Take some time to ask about your friend’s experience, then instead of inadvertently shutting her down by trying to minimize her worries (or by trying to fix things), imagine for a moment what it’s like to be her. Remember that how you might feel if you were in this situation isn’t relevant—what matters is how she feels. Even if her take on things seems distorted (I’m worthless and nobody will ever want to hire me), let her know that you understand how worried she is, which is different from agreeing with her perspective. You can help a person open up by saying just three words: “Tell me more.”