Given that the unemployment rate is hovering around 9%, it's likely that you have a friend or relative who is out of work this holiday season. Unemployment is challenging any time of the year and the enforced merriment of the holidays can make it even more challenging. (And if you are unemployed here's a link to a posting about how to job search over the holidays.)

The topic of unemployment can be one of those awkward moments at a holiday gathering, but gift-giving doesn't have to be. Just take a few minutes to think about what you know about the individual and see if any of these suggestions might help them out:

1. Gift cards for necessities. Budgets are tight, and a card which helps to cover necessities can be a lifesaver. Consider gift cards to grocery stores, gas stations, clothing stores, utilities, and even pharmacies. Basic necessities that can make someone look their best at a job interview (from toothpaste to hair dye) can cost a lot. And a full tank of gas can help a job candidate get to many interviews. Keep in mind that gift cards can look especially festive when attached to a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, or other item.

2. Gift cards for luxuries and pampering. Not only can it help relieve stress, pampering can be valuable for the job search: the self-image boost that comes from a new set of nails or a facial can make a world of difference in the interview. Expensive hair treatments are often taken off an unemployed person's list and it could provide just the emotional boost they need to jump-start their search. Consider gift certificates from beauty salons, massage studios, one-day beauty retreats, etc.

3. Gift cards for distractions and fun. Here's where it will particularly help to know the person's interests outside of the workplace. Consider gift cards for restaurants, movies, local amusement parks, upcoming concerts, etc. If you can afford it, make the amount high enough that the recipient can then invite someone to join them and share the experience and/or gift with someone else. Also, many hobbyists would love to get the latest new "toy" in their field, but just can't spend their own money on it right now.

4. The gift of information. Books, DVD's, and other resources can be helpful. If you're knowledgeable about the best books related to the person's desired employment field, or know a book that was helpful to you when you were in a challenging situation, consider giving it as a gift. Nightengale-Conant offers a lot of inspirational titles in mp3, CD and DVD format. Likewise, you can simply give a gift card to a local bookstore where they can select their own titles in private. Be careful here-- avoid giving books which convey a "should" or a prescriptive about what you want them to do. Try to seek neutral titles and ones which convey a positive approach.

5. The gift of peace and serenity. In this hectic time, we could all use a time-out from phones, computers, etc. If your recipient has children, offer to babysit. Maybe even create a coupon book good for free hours of childcare. Create a "serenity gift pack" with a pretty candle, some relaxing music or meditation CD's, and other items designed to reduce stress. I particularly like Kelly Howell's meditations for relaxation. Look into books related to meditation-- Jon Kabat Zinn produces helpful meditations. Another company which creates a lot of mindful and peace-inducing CD's is Sounds True. If you think it would be well-received, consider a gift of several sessions of beginning yoga or a meditation class series.

6. Professional coaching services. If you know a good local career coach or counselor, contact them and find out if they would be open to offering a gift certificate. Some professionals will not do this for a third-party, and you will also want to see about a refund if your recipient doesn't want the services. But sometimes having an outside coach review your job search materials and help you map out a plan can make a big difference. And it doesn't have to be a major time commitment-- one or two sessions may be all that's needed to help the person get back on track.

7. Membership in a professional association. Professional associations can be one of the most valuable links to the job market-- they often have private networking groups and job listings. And they are expensive. Find out what the key national professional organization is for your recipient's career field and offer to pay for a year's membership. See if there's an additional cost for joining the local chapter and, if you can afford it, offer to pay for that, too. That way the job seeker can take advantage of local networking and other opportunities.

8. Business cards, website assistance, and other help for an entrepreneur. If your recipient is considering starting a business, and needs assistance with their online presence or other parts of the business, look around for training seminars, books related to business start-ups, etc. What could help them get their business going?

9. Phone cards or a one-year phone contract. Cell phones are expensive and a necessity in this job market where candidates must be able to respond quickly to employer calls. Consider gifting a GoPhone, TracFone, or other prepaid service where the candidate can designate that phone and number exclusively to the job search if they want. Even if they have another service, the designated phone will keep their calls organized in one location and they won't have to use valuable minutes on their own plan. If you know their phone plan, then consider a card for extended minutes or data.

10. The gift of you. Your friendship and support mean more than anything during this time. Knowing that you're there and you care is the best gift you can share. Include the person in your plans and don't assume they won't want to participate. Make sure they understand that if you invite them to a party, it's their presence you want, not their gift. Find fun low-cost activities to share, invite them in for dinners or movies and popcorn. Most important, just be there.

 ©2011 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit Flickr Creative Commons

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