Since September 2012, The Job Help Center at the Middletown Township Public Library has expanded the assistance it offers those in career transition (including unemployed or underemployed individuals and recent college graduates as well as people re-entering the job market) by working with Neighbors Helping Neighbors (“NnN”), a job search support and networking group founded in January 2011. The positive results of partnering with NhN have been dramatic. In fact, at least 12 people attending the Middletown library NhN sessions have landed jobs since the meetings began here at the library. That’s 12 local people hired in less than 10 months! This success reflects the vibrant community of job seekers, library staff, and NhN leaders and meeting coordinators who have worked with diligence and optimism to help find work opportunities in the worst job market in decades.
As part of NhN’s “pay it forward” philosophy, those who’ve landed jobs look for ways to help others still in the job search. Many facilitate meetings, mentor others, and look for other ways to give back to the community. Given this perspective, I asked some of the Middletown Township Public Library NhN members who landed jobs in recent months if they were willing to be interviewed, so that they could share the insights gained through their job search. What they revealed to me in their interviews may not only help those in a job search, but also provide insight into the job search process for the families and friends of those going through the demanding and stressful time. Here are selections from my discussions with William Joel (“WJ”), Beth Galella (“BG”), Christine Dykeman (“CD”), and Terry Egan (“TE”):
AR: What was the most difficult aspect of the job search for you, personally? What did you do to help cope with this difficult aspect?
WJ: When you are in a job search, first you need to accept the situation. You need to decide whether you want to stay in the industry you were in, and if so, ask yourself if you have the skills to stay in that industry. You need to do a self-analysis, and then do your homework. You need to network in your industry or target industry to identify the things people are looking for, such as new or higher level skills, certifications, other training, etc.; you need to know what is in demand today as opposed to what was in demand in the past. One has to keep up-to-date with the industry— reading newsletters and other materials, participating in associations and target industry groups, etc. For me, I added skills by getting certified in Lean 6 Sigma. Also, as a facilitator at NnN, I kept my management and coordination skills sharp.
CD: The most difficult aspect of the job search is waiting for someone to recognize my usefulness in society. When you are competing with hundreds of candidates for the same position, it is sometimes difficult to “set yourself apart” on a piece of paper (resume) to get called in for an interview. You begin to feel useless and down on yourself that no one recognizes the good things that you bring to the table that can "help" an organization. Positive reinforcement from both my family and from NhN has helped me cope with this. They bring you up when you are down, and sometimes, you have the chance to bring up someone else that is down, with that positive reinforcement.
BG: For me the most difficult part of the job search was staying focused. I made a commitment to attend weekly NhN meetings. Members at these meetings kept me focused on my search, gave me a forum to discuss best practices for job seeking and supported me during this difficult time. I also made time most days to do a yoga practice. Yoga helped me manage the stress and uncertainty during my job searching.
TE: I had not been a job applicant in a few years, and was shocked at how much job searching had changed and how much I had to learn/unlearn. One of the things that had changed radically in just 3 years was the response rate/time. That is, I was used to getting at least a courtesy acknowledgment of an application, and responses within a couple of weeks, at the longest. This time around I found that any responses I did receive were few and far between. I was fortunate enough to find Middletown NhN and the techniques, moral support and resources had an immediate impact. The group taught me to practice turning negatives into opportunities. Move past the lack of response. Send a short follow up email or call to the recruiters, even when you’re rejected; you never know what other openings are in their pile!
AR: Has the job search process changed you? What have you learned about yourself and others through this process?
WJ: I learned how the job search process works. You need to learn to let go— especially of familiar things and ask if you are up to a new challenge. I defined my brand— as an agent for change to help people succeed and help them navigate where they needed to go.
CD: Yes, the job search process has changed me. When I meet someone new, I ask better questions about them to dig deeper. I don't judge as quickly or as harshly as I did in the past. I tell everyone I meet about NhN and the good it can do for them— or anyone they know that is in job search mode. When you take the focus off you and what you need and place it on how you can help others, it can come back to you two-fold.
BG: In the present employment climate, many educated, highly qualified and articulate people have lost jobs or are underemployed. My experiences of losing a job and being underemployed for over a year have taught me not to be too critical of myself.
TE: The job search changed the way I deal with uncertainty and fear. When you're looking at your bills and calculating what you need to survive, faith only takes you so far. Being unemployed after relocating here just before Superstorm Sandy hit was a real test of what I was learning— both about the process and myself. Every day, in every community, there was evidence that reaching out, researching— being engaged— turns faith into momentum.
AR: What is your new job/position? How did you land it?
WJ: My new position is as a consultant for AT&T. I got the position through networking. The initial opportunity was through a referral— that got my resume on the table-- and then it was passed on to human resources. Although you need someone to be your advocate for the position, you also need have a value proposition for the company— you need to show that you can solve their problem. You need to be able answer why you are the best candidate for the position.
CD: I landed a national recruitment position at K. Hovnanian in Red Bank. It is a temp to perm position, through a temp agency, Spherion. Everyone is very nice. I landed this job through a networking group. One of the people attending the group owns a job search firm and he got to know me. He thought of me when he heard of this job. When I went to interview, I met someone else who was a part of another networking group that I am also a part of, so I had many people “in the know” in common.
BG: I am working at a small clinical diagnostic company called Immunostics. Since the company is small, everyone does a variety of work. My position involves working in quality control, quality assurance and regulatory affairs. This fits me well as I enjoy doing different things. There are two keys to my successfully obtaining the position. The first is networking. The job lead came through Bill Joel who is a facilitator with NhN networking group. The second is initiative. About a month after I sent in my resume, I called the hiring manager to check on the status of the position. When the hiring manager returned my call, he said that while I did not have the exact qualifications, he was impressed with my initiative. A month later the hiring manager called me back to interview. I was offered the position the next day.
TE: I am an executive assistant at an Internet services company, which improves the recruitment process on both ends (employer and applicant), thereby helping people connect with jobs. I was found on LinkedIn by the COO, who contacted a mutual connection, Kathleen Santucci, Director of the Jersey Job Club. Kathleen advocated for me, as well as connecting me directly to the COO. Everything I learned about the job search process from NhN and the Middletown Job Help Center, I am able to apply to my work.
AR: What advice can you give others who are in a job search?
WJ: Keep a positive attitude— always be willing to learn something and accept a new challenge. I also say, develop your tool kit. The minute you are in a job search you are in the business of marketing and selling yourself, and this means being prepared: everything from carrying your business cards with you to improving your skills set. Remember that life is full of transitions, and being in a job search is just part of that.
CD: As a human resources professional, and as a recruiter, I see/have seen lots of resumes that are not up to par. They don't match the online application, have spelling errors, or are "outdated." Definitely get your resume up to par with 2013 so you don't go into "the black hole" before someone reads it. For those in job search mode-network-network-network! NHN is a great resource, and I highly recommend it. But there are others out there too. Join them, become active, and let people get to know the real you.
BG: In the current job climate, networking is extremely important. I joined the local NhN networking group whose members are from all professions. In addition, I joined the NJBioPharma networking group which is focused on professionals from the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Be positive and surround yourself with people who will support you as you search for your next position.
TE: Focus and refine. Focus on the greatest value you add not only to companies for which you've worked, but groups, societies— everywhere you engage with people. Really KNOW and believe that value is your greatest strength and then don't be afraid to SHOW IT OFF. Confidence + refined tools + focus = momentum. And for pete's sake, if something you're doing feels like the black hole and has NO history of working for you, then move on— don't be afraid to try something new!