During the Great Recession, Joan Cirillo, president and CEO of Operation A.B.L.E. of Greater Boston, found herself working with everyone from unskilled/low skilled laborers all the way up to unemployed C-Level executives. And today, the demand for services has not let up. Her agency "focuses like a laser on helping people over 45 get back to work." In a typical year, Operation A.B.L.E. aids about 1,000 job seekers, and this year the number is likely to top-out closer to 1,200.
Likewise, New Jersey-based John Fugazzie sees no letup in those seeking employment. He travels the country as the founder and head of Neighbors- helping-Neighbors USA, talking about the fact that the overall crisis of long-term unemployment will not abate until the U.S. produces far more jobs. His organization sponsors community-based rather than age-based networking groups in many cities.
Both Cirillo and Fugazzie recently spoke at "The Crisis of Long-Term Unemployment," an MIT conference for approximately 250 leaders in academia, government, nonprofit support organizations and other employment related professionals. They were interviewed for this article.
While each has their own way of helping people find their way back into the workforce, Cirillo and Fugazzie share a common empathy. Cirillo emphasizes that each candidate needs to figure out what he or she wants, and where the match is likely to occur between his or her interests, skill sets and the marketplace.
Operation A.B.L.E. is funded in large part through grants, and its staff recognizes that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to helping folks who aren't ready, either financially or psychologically, to retire. Accordingly, the organization offers a variety of services: coaching, retraining, networking groups, job leads, job fairs for mature workers and more. Among its specialties: Helping people confront rampant age discrimination. The situation determines the best strategy to use.
For example, when a 28-year-old interviews someone age 60 or older, Cirillo might counsel the candidate to say: "I know you are looking at me and maybe thinking that I'm old enough to be your father. But I want to assure you that I have tons of energy and I love working, and I can't imagine not working. I am very excited about this job opportunity, and I think I can to a terrific job for you." Cirillo and her staff spend a great deal of time developing networks of employers who will look carefully at well-qualified candidates they recommend and make solid matches.
By contrast, Fugazzie is unemployed, his organization doesn't have funding and it's run entirely by volunteers. Nonetheless, he points to considerable success: More than 400 people in his networking groups have landed jobs in a little more than two years. "We educate people as to how the job market has changed, and really the market now is dramatically different than it was five years ago," he says.
There are many types of networking groups for job seekers. Some are faith-based. Others are conducted by and within local public libraries. Some are for people with the same skill-sets or industry background. Their sizes vary from just a few brunch buddies to large gatherings of people. "We are there to support people," Fugazzie says. Ideally, his meetings are structured to have 10 to 15 people and last 90 minutes, and include the following elements:
1. Elevator pitch. "We make people practice their elevator speech so they can say what they are looking for," he says. "You can't do the personal touch with larger groups. In a smaller group, people will open up, and if you can't get someone to open up, you can't help them. It's all about peers, because sometimes peers are better coaches than coaches because they are living it today."
2. Leadership. Companies are so inundated by résumés that many have ceased even publishing the jobs that they're seeking to fill, Fugazzie claims. Companies like people with leadership skills, and he aims to get people to take turns volunteering to lead meetings. "I encourage people to put volunteer leadership experience on their résumé," he says. "When you are attending meetings, you are helping other people in the group even when you are in pretty rough shape yourself. That shows a pretty good character endorsement."
According to Fugazzie, many of the people who assumed leadership roles with Neighbors- helping-Neighbors USA have found jobs, and he continually needs to train new leaders.
3. Accountability round. Every week each attendee is expected to volunteer to answer to the group: "What did you do last week. What are you doing this week?" Fugazzie explains: "It is where they touch base with everybody. It helps on the peer side to get input. People can get feedback. They can ask each other questions like, 'I called this guy ... do you think it is too soon to call him back?' Or, 'I've been working with this recruiter and I haven't heard boo. What do you think?'"
4. Open discussion. Part of each meeting is open-ended brainstorming. People share ideas that may not apply to you directly. "But they get you thinking in a new way, out of the box," Fugazzie explains.
5. Celebrating success -- maintaining hope. "We keep everybody positive, I think that is a big part of it," Fugazzie says. "It is easy to be angry when you are going through the process. When somebody lands, we celebrate it -- not just for them, but to show everyone else that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They see the example of others."
When you're unemployed, there is a natural impulse to turn inward and assume the problem is with yourself. Both Cirillo's and Fugazzie's experiences point to the value of both finding and providing support to others when you're looking for work. Seek groups like theirs in your community, and if you can't find one, start one as Fugazzie did.
By joining a group of job hunters, you gain peers and can develop your own leadership skills. With the advice and support you gain, hopefully your success will shine the light at the end of the tunnel for others.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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