5 things never to say to an unemployed graduate


Unemployed graduates are a resilient lot. They can put up with being scapegoated in the media, treated like idiots by job centre staff and staying up until 2am every morning applying for jobs as street fundraisers and asbestos surveyors because they’ve run flat out of ideas. Just don’t ask them to listen to any of the following things…

1. “You interviewed well but others had more experience.”

Said by: Potential employers

For the last time, they know. They’re aware that they haven’t been alive as long as the other people you’ve interviewed. Time travel, gateways to other dimensions or weird Benjamin Button-style ageing disorders aside, there’s really nothing they can do about the fact that the 40-year-old unemployed executive you invited to interview right before them had been on this planet longer. If you have to make the decision based on the length of experience of the candidates, then please lie when you tell the graduates.

What to say instead: “We were looking for someone with a more specific skillset and another candidate was a more direct fit.”

2. “Can’t you just go and live with your parents?”

Said by: Careers advisors, job centre staff members, university support workers, friends of the family

Because Mum and Dad are always absolutely thrilled when their offspring turn up on their doorstep after university, bags at their feet (and even bigger ones under their eyes). I actually had someone say this to me halfway through being let go from a job at a shop and I nearly laughed out loud. It might make you feel better to think that all graduates have got their old rooms still waiting for them, but it’s rarely as simple as that. Relocation, divorce, younger siblings, or the parents just plain not wanting their offspring back can all play a part. Unless you’re willing to pack up your stuff and surprise your own parents/ex-partner/kids by moving in, I wouldn’t suggest it to a graduate.

What to say instead: “It sounds like you’re having a really tough time at the moment. Can your family help you at all?”

3. “It’s no big deal, you’ll find a job in no time.”

Said by: Parents, careers advisors, university support workers, older members of the family

Back in the 1970s, you may well have been able to walk out of one job at lunchtime and land another before dinner but (unless you’ve been living with your head in a bucket for the past five years) you’ll know things aren’t like that anymore. The brightest and best graduates are clubbing each other over the head for the chance of a part-time job in Tesco (that is, if they’re not working for free as an intern to prove they’re worth being paid minimum wage after six months of making coffee for people). The harsh fact is if you’re an unemployed graduate, settle in. It could well be months or even a year before you find work that you actually want.

What to say instead: “You’re doing really well to keep making all of those applications – I know it’s frustrating, but you will find something.”

4. “When I was your age…”

Said by: Potentially anyone over the age of 35

The fact is, you’re not their age anymore. You’re just not. You’ve moved on to a stage of life where (unless you’ve been very unlucky) certain things are not in question. Your professional status, for example. Or where you’ll be living in six months’ time. Whether you’re bemoaning how dreadful everything is for young people at the moment or trying to get a graduate to buck up their ideas because you managed to when you were young, it’s best to just let it go. Graduates don’t want your sympathy – they want your respect. And they need your help.

What to say instead: “I’m sorry things are so hard for you. When you are my age, things will be better.”

5. “I’m having such a nightmare having a new kitchen fitted/renting out my house/planning an unbelievably expensive holiday…”

Said by: Parents, friends of parents, anyone over the age of 35

A silent rule has now passed which decrees that if your problem concerns the fact that you have money, you are not allowed to complain about it. End of. Such conversations should be limited to hushed discussions among people who you know for a fact earn the same amount or more than you. Forbidden topics include: new outfits, holidays, meals out, home improvements, cars and second homes. As soon as you start talking about any of these things, graduates start wanting to throw something heavy at your head. As a guideline, if your conversation is beginning to sound like the Life & Style section of the Guardian, halt it immediately.

What to say instead: “I found a great bargain at a charity shop the other day…”


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