Out of Work? Join the Club
Job clubs ease people into the next step as employers hold the line on outplacement services.
They are accountants and research scientists; attorneys and chemical engineers; bankers, marketers, and nursing-home administrators.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
And each Thursday morning, 40 or more of them gather at the First Baptist Church in Foxboro, Mass., with one shared goal: to get a job.
They are members of WIND, a job-search club that stands for Wednesday Is Networking Day. (The club initially met on Wednesdays.)
For four hours, they exchange job leads, critique one anothers' rsums, and fine-tune introductions to potential employers. And equally important, they come for the support and camaraderie during what can be a difficult time.
"When you're trying to job search alone, you can waste a lot of time and energy worrying. This helps maintain your focus," says Michael Gavrity, who has been coming regularly since he left his accounting practice in Albany, N.Y., a year ago and moved to nearby Rhode Island for family reasons.
Even with a strong economy, plenty of professionals still see their jobs disappear in corporate downsizings.
Less help from employers
And companies aren't just cutting jobs. They're also cutting the money they give laid-off workers for career services. And as more people recognize the value of networking in the job-search equation, they're turning to job clubs and career transition clubs for help.
"Companies are feeling less guilty than they did 10 years ago, when the first major downsizings took place," says Kate Wendleton, founder of the Five O'Clock Club, a job-seekers club based in New York, and author of "Job Search Secrets." So outplacement packages are getting smaller.
As a result, job clubs have become "a more accepted weapon in the career arsenal," she says.
Most clubs launched about a decade ago as the recession took hold. Hundreds of them operate in every state. Some are sponsored by churches, universities, state agencies, or community groups. Others, like WIND, are run by career professionals. Some are free; most charge a small fee. (WIND asks for an $8 donation per meeting.)
Started in 1990, WIND now operates two branches and has taught 94,000 people new skills.
The highly structured program is divided into two segments, each two hours long. During the first two hours, attendees congregate in the church recreational hall. The parquet floors and cinder-block walls are a far cry from the plush offices many of these professionals are used to.
Situated around folding tables, participants exchange interviewing success stories (and a few horror stories), proof-read cover letters, and swap information on potential employers. No jeans and sneakers allowed - business attire only.
After this session, members file into a tiny lounge off the church's kitchen arranged with several rows of folding chairs. Part of the meeting is devoted to an outside speaker who talks about a particular aspect of job hunting.
Sharing the good news...
Before the speaker, however, career counselor Laura Powers - who runs this WIND branch - asks for "good news" - in other words: Who's got a job?
On this particular day, two participants raise their hands.
One man, dressed in a plaid suit stands slowly, barely able to keep from smiling: "I won't be here next week because I'll be working," he announces.
The room fills with applause.
He's been a WIND regular for nine weeks, ever since he decided to leave his sales and marketing job of 17 years after a corporate restructuring. His new position is also in sales and marketing, but in a different industry.
Many people here tell a similar story - years devoted to a single company, reduced to a pink slip. Getting past the feeling of abandonment, they concede, is hard. What makes it easier is meeting with others who know the experience.
"The primary value of these groups is no doubt the support aspect," says China Gorman, regional senior vice president of Lee Hecht Harrison in Boston. The outplacement firm has recently instituted a similar, weekly group session for clients.
At WIND, the mood is surprisingly upbeat, in large part because of the tone the facilitator sets.
"If someone is angry, we acknowledge it," says Ms. Powers, and then the group encourages the person to deal with it.