With the national unemployment rate at 6.1%, chances are that you know someone who is jobless. And for someone without money coming in, getting help finding a job, or at least making it less stressful, is the best gift you can give.
As someone who is approaching six months since being laid off, I've learned a few things about what jobless people need. A lot of it is help that you can offer without spending a lot of money. Kind of like the coupons you made when you were a kid to give your parents as gifts -- washing the car, babysitting, making breakfast, the things you can't buy in a store.
So here's my list of Christmas gifts for the unemployed, from the goofy to the practical to the simply fun things to break up the monotony of the job hunt. Like getting socks from your grandma for Christmas, some of these ideas may be a bit too practical, so still consider trivial and fun gifts for the jobless people in your life. But for someone without a steady income, getting something practical that can help them in their job search is probably what they want.
Job search help: This is at the top because it's what's needed most. These include books about how to find a job, write a resume and figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your career. I read the 2008 version of "Knock 'em Dead," a great book by Martin Yate that has all kinds of tips. I know what skills I'm strong in and which profession I'm pursuing, but for people unsure of which way to go, I've always been interested in reading "What Color is Your Parachute."
One job search gift that would be appreciated is a prepaid gift card for coffee shops, where online job searching on the Internet can be done, and they're also great places to host networking meetings. If you can afford it, a laptop computer with wireless access is a top-notch gift.
Personal care: This is a wide topic, so use your imagination. A gift certificate for a clothing store so they can buy a new suit and look good at job interviews should be at the top of every unemployed person's wish list. For men I recommend the Men's Wearhouse, although any quality clothing store will work. Gift certificates for manicures or haircuts are helpful to keep them looking their best in interviews. And if you're skilled in those areas, offer to do it for free, although a gift certificate is less embarrassing for someone without much money who may be shy about taking you up on your offer to cut their hair.
Transportation: Again, prepaid gift cards or gift certificates work perfectly here to help people get to job interviews or informational interviews. They can include gas cards, public transportation fare cards, oil changes and car washes.
Personal help: If you can't spend money, or even if you can, probably the best personal gift you can give is an introduction. It doesn't have to be to someone who can make them a job offer (although that's preferable) but can be to someone in their field who might know someone who knows someone who knows of a job opening. An introduction to someone who can give them an informational interview in an area they're interested in working in can be a big help. Also introduce them to other unemployed people you know in the same field, so they can network together, or to a networking group. I joined one in the San Francisco Bay Area and even started my own smaller group, and it's a great support group and way to learn job hunt techniques.
Also offer your personal skills, such as proof reading (which I've done), cooking dinner, babysitting, tickets to a movie or play they really want to see but don't have the time or money to get to, or a weekly or even daily telephone call to see how they're doing during this stressful time.
Finally, there are some funny gifts to give the unemployed, including a hand-held metal detector to give the illusion of self-employment, or a sleeping bag for the newly homeless. Those likely wouldn't be too helpful, but they might relieve some of the tension. There are also goofy things, such as shirts and other items for freelancers who work at home but are still unemployed.
If you want them to forget about being unemployed, then go ahead and get them something fun, like an i-Pod, toy train set, model airplane, bike or anything else their inner-child desires. After all, what's Christmas if you can't have as much fun as a kid?
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job hunt at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com