WorkSource club gives job seekers advice, support

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

Vancouver resident Lori Kimberlin has been out of a job for two years, and she ran out of unemployment benefits in December.

“I’m selling things,” she said of how she’s coping with an economy that, despite all the technical signs that we’re in a recovery, doesn’t feel even remotely healthy.

She’s also renting a room in her house to generate more income.

Information

For more information about WorkSource Vancouver’s job club (also known as Hire U. and the Select Professionals Group), call Teri White, business services consultant for WorkSource, at 360-735-5079. Those who call White should be prepared to discuss their job search skills, their availability and commitment level.

But she’s not adrift. She hasn’t lost hope. And she’s not alone.

She’s part of a newly revamped group -- the Select Professionals Group, also known as “job club” and “Hire U” -- offered by the WorkSource Vancouver office to the most dedicated job seekers among us.

The group’s members share a mission to find jobs despite the dark cloud of high unemployment, and to remain undeterred by choosy employers who’ve got more than a few nerve-jangling interview questions up their sleeves.

Inside an unassuming room filled with computers at the WorkSource office off East Mill Plain Boulevard, Kimberlin joins 16 other Clark County residents every Tuesday morning to move forward together with the project of breaking back into the labor market -- of reclaiming a big part of the foundation of their lives, of who they are and how they see themselves.

Job-seeker tips

Ask members of the Vancouver WorkSource “job club” what tips they would share with other job seekers, and the advice flows:

• Keep a schedule, a routine. Looking for a job is your new job.

• Use the WorkSource programs. Don’t shrug them off. Don’t do a knee-jerk dismissal of the agency as some unfeeling bureaucracy. Meet the people there and ask for help.

• If you think your résumé’s good enough, don’t. It probably needs to be retooled. Big time.

• As you look for a job, become a volunteer. Do something beyond yourself. Get involved in your neighborhood. When an employer asks you what you’ve been up to since you were laid off, don’t say “I’ve been looking for a job.” Be able to tell him or her that you’ve been volunteering, working on projects, getting things done.

• If an employer asks you why you’re interviewing for a lesser position than the one you had, don’t say “Because I have to.” Ever. Take the question and turn it around to your favor: Tell him or her you’re looking forward to bringing your experience to the new position to boost the team and help the company grow.

• Look for ways to build your skills. Take classes.

• Stay connected. Resist the force in your mind that tells you to recede. Get out and meet people. Plug into your friends and family.

It’s not your routine Washington Employment Security Department job-search program, where you ping three employers each week, collect your unemployment insurance and hope for the best.

To get in, you have to take all of the standard WorkSource job-hunt classes. But you also have to be willing to open up to others, to spell out your strengths and weaknesses, and to become a mentor to fellow members of the group.

You have to be willing to hone your elevator speech, that 60-second commercial that aims to capture an employer’s fancy and to never let go.

It’s for those who want to dig deeper to become the most marketable job candidate they can be.

Data show the program is seeing success. More than half of its participants have found jobs in their line of work. Organizers want to get the word out. If more people want in, more like-minded groups could sprout.

‘An uplifting thing’

The group is open to everyone who’s willing to meet the criteria, said Teri White, business services consultant for WorkSource Vancouver who facilitates the Select Professionals Group.

One of the prerequisites is that a person shows dedication to finding a job.

As the Select Professionals Group illustrates, that’s no small task.

Working with other job club members, you pinpoint your blind spot, the thing that trips you up in the presence of an interrogator, also known as a prospective employer. Then you remove it.

You don’t tweak your résumé — you throw it up on a projector for a group critique. You keep working on it until it rings true to your skills and, like a super-focused fighter pilot, locks onto what an employer really wants.

You learn the ins and outs of networking, both in-person and online. You find solace in the fact that others are, like you, dealing with a crummy labor market.

“I’m starting to learn how to market myself, to sell myself,” said Paige Berrigan, a member of the group who’s done management, sales and administrative work.

Kristine Meisner, a former executive assistant for a local property management company, said the group is helping her gain confidence. It’s also a relief to know she’s not alone, that everyone else in the group “is in the same situation.”

Kimberlin, who’s worked as an administrative assistant and who is new to the group, said she’s learning skills from the others. The whole experience, she said, “has been an uplifting thing.”

Neil Day, a transplant from South Africa whose work experience includes administrative support, office management and some sales, has had his résumé displayed and judged.

Sure, it’s difficult to put yourself out there like that, but Day said he’s benefited from it.

He was able to rid his résumé of boring titles and to punch home the important work and projects he’s done over the years.

Eric LaBrant, who’s worked in office management and as a bill collector at a call center, said he prefers the group’s support and honesty in telling him where he needs to improve.

Would you rather find your fatal flaw while sweating in front of a scowling interviewer?

“This is the dry run,” LaBrant said.

‘It really is a loss’

White, the WorkSource Vancouver business services consultant, created today’s job club when she decided to remake a longtime program into something more intensive.

“We had a job club that focused on the routine basics,” she said.

White began realizing job seekers were running into some of the same problems over and over again as the job market underwent drastic changes.

In some cases, people faced multiple interviewers, not just one.

In other cases, employers were simply demanding higher-caliber résumés and dismissing those that didn’t make the grade.

Sometimes, job seekers were hunting entirely in the wrong place -- they needed to recognize the imperative to find work in another field.

And the demand for online social media skills is higher than it has ever been. “Now having those skills can make the difference in whether a person gets a job or not,” White said.

She launched the new program in April 2011.

It’s working.

So far, a total of 43 Clark County residents have been through the club. About 56 percent have found jobs. What’s more, they’ve all found jobs in their respective fields.

A basic demographic profile of the group shows that about two-thirds have college degrees, the age range is 40 to 59, and their occupational backgrounds include office and administrative work, sales and management, computers and math, and business finance.

White has brought in human resource directors to speak to the group. Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt recently visited, she said.

White sees herself as a facilitator, someone who keeps the group on track but who encourages members to take the lead in finding a way to resurrect their careers.

She understands what it means to lose a job. She’s felt the anger and the sadness. She got downsized out of a job as a recruiter for a global corporation. “It really is a loss,” she said.

But she didn’t give up. She got aggressive. She went to the WorkSource Vancouver office and asked to speak to the manager. She said she’d volunteer to help people look for jobs. So that’s what she did, 40 hours a week unpaid.

Now she works for WorkSource. She loves it. It’s the gratification of being a matchmaker, of seeing an employer and a job seeker each find what they’re looking for in the other.

“What better thrill is there than that?” White said.

The ‘interview queen’

It’s a Tuesday morning, and the job club is under way.

Immediately, you can tell members of the group have a lot of affection for each other. Camaraderie is high. They rib each other. They add words if someone’s at a loss.

When it’s Becky Downey’s turn to talk, several of her fellow job seekers pipe up with a description of her: Becky’s the “interview queen,” they said.

They’re not kidding.

She was a top performer in real estate and pharmaceutical sales. Racked up accolades. Then she was laid off. Now she’s doggedly pursuing a new job. She’s been on 16 different interviews with the same company. Sixteen. She’s taking exams. Things look good.

Sitting in a chair, Downey pivoted to address White. “She turned my life around,” Downey said. The group, Downey said, gave her the gumption to put herself out there, to find a path to another job.

A wave of enthusiasm

Members of the group are realists, too. They know they’re up against it. It takes more than individual drive to get a job. You need training. You need education. And you’ve got to have an economy with solid consumer demand, a stable housing market and the kind of business growth that creates a lot of jobs.

Not having the threat of an international financial crisis wouldn’t hurt, either.

But they have each other, and they’re working on getting jobs together.

At one point during the Tuesday morning meeting, Camas resident Glenn Morrisey -- whose work experience is in higher education management, training and sales -- had to leave early to head to a job interview.

He rose from his chair and his fellow job seekers poured on the enthusiasm, clapping and cheering him on. Someone called out his name over and over again: “Glenn!” “Glenn!” “Glenn!”

The wave of enthusiasm followed Morrisey out the door.

Finally, the galvanizing noise died down.

For a while, no one said anything.

They didn’t have to.

They’d delivered their message loud and clear.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.