Online friends can be lifelines for the unemployed
Web networking among the unemployed is surging, but experts stress that human contact matters as much as online friends.
Last July, Jenny Hong of Columbia, S.C., realized that being unemployed was very isolating. She would send out résumés and apply for jobs online, but sometimes long periods would go by without much human contact, other than with her immediate family.Skip to next paragraph
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She decided to start a website called Unemployed-Friends.com so other people in the same position could talk with one another. Now, Ms. Hong has more than 3,000 registered users and thousands of "guests" who visit each day.
"The goal of the site is to keep a positive attitude, to stick together and support each other," Hong says. "But I didn't think it would grow like this."
With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent and the number of long-term unemployed at record levels, the Web and social media are becoming a new lifeline – sometimes a medium through which the jobless can bolster one another and sometimes a way that potential employers can see a person's skills and talents. Compared with the last recession in 2001, there are now many more ways for the jobless to electronically hang out, tweet their US representative to ask for expanded benefits, or monitor job boards.
It's important that the unemployed flock together to keep their spirits up or even vent their frustrations, job experts say. Many have been through difficult job cutbacks, and after months of unemployment, some struggle with a loss of confidence.
"After we've lost a job, we turn inward on ourselves and wonder what we could have done differently, and feel that part of our lives have been taken away from us," says Leslie Hild, a vice president at Right Management in New York, a career-management division of Manpower Inc. "So being able to talk to other people in the same situation helps you understand you're not the only one this is happening to. Interaction is really important."
Chat sites on the Internet field plenty of cries for help from the unemployed. In December, on a forum on Yelp.com, a Chicago-area woman named "Andrea" remarked that since she had lost her job, which had been some time before, all her friends had disappeared.
"I don't have money to go out anymore and I guess I'm a downer," she writes. "My Facebook posts consist of me saying, 'Hey, I'm still out of work, keep me in mind.' "
Andrea's comment resulted in a long "conversation" on the website, which is better known for its consumer reviews. Some participants admonished her to try to be more positive, while others said she should blame the economy, not her friends. The conversation string ended with Andrea saying she was trying to stay positive, but was finding it hard to smile when things were bad – "like can't-pay-your-rent bad."