Katie DeVito left Rider University in 2001 with a bachelor’s in fine arts and a choice. She could A.) pursue the potentially rewarding but probably unstable path of fine arts or B.) go into nonprofit management.
She chose B because she felt it would be more stable. For a time it was. But then she got laid off and spent a year out of work. She went to a few seminars, sent out a few resumes, but was not very engaged in the job hunt. But at the end of 2009 she got a job as a communications manager at a nonprofit agency. It was a newly created position at the agency — and one that the agency decided 90 days later that it no longer needed. By February DeVito was out of work again.
The first thing she did this time? She sent a tweet asking how many people in New Jersey had the same kind of story. The response was enormous.
DeVito, who has been a devotee of social media since 2006, turned to her husband and said “I have to do something.” So she started with a social event in the spring, a gathering of other unemployed, hopeful, often frustrated people who did not want to take their situation lying down. Soon DeVito formed NJ Unemployed, a networking group that relies heavily on social media as a means of making contacts and getting work.
But what started out as a social event quickly became a more earnest enterprise. “We do a lot of seminars now,” DeVito says. “We started with social events, but my members wanted more skills and training.”
NJ Unemployed began hosting seminars on social media, networking, and job hunting skills and has rapidly built a collection of members. And in any other month the group would put a business spin on its next event, but since it’s December, DeVito says “It’s the holidays — why not a social event?”
NJ Unemployed will host a social and networking get-together on Thursday, December 9, at 6 p.m. at Princeton Sports Bar & Grill, 128 Nassau Street. The event is free. Visit www.katiedevito.com.
DeVito’s efforts to get noticed worked almost immediately — and not just among the unemployed. National media outlets told her story. Parade magazine chronicled DeVito among a group of five unemployed Americans as they sought work, following her journey from April to July.
In April she appeared on CBS’s Early Show to discuss unemployment and social media. Soon after she appeared on “Kane In Your Corner,” a segment on the News 12 New Jersey cable news channel.
As DeVito and NJ Unemployed got more notice, she found people asking her for more direct help. Someone asked her to help with PR. And then someone else. “When I got my third client I said, ‘I think I’m starting a business here,’” DeVito says. “I said, ‘Forget looking for a job, I’m going to put 110 percent into my business.” She formed Katie DeVito LLC, which she operates from her Hamilton home as a communications and social media marketing firm.
So far, DeVito says, it is going as well as can be expected, but she admits it is not yet a panacea. “Nothing happens overnight,” she says. DeVito and her husband — who was a human resources professional until he too got laid off — live with his parents, a move she defends as necessary and smart.
“We were looking at a house,” DeVito says. “Our lease was up and whether we renewed it depended on whether we got the house.” But then she was laid off, and with both out of work, the couple decided to take up his parents on their long-standing offer to move in with them. “They’d been saying for years that we should move in with them,” DeVito says. Suddenly, the choice seemed obvious. “We’d be stupid not to take it,” she says. “And we’re lucky to have that opportunity. A lot of people don’t even have that.”
Fortunately DeVito and her husband have no children to worry about. She wants them, but says they will wait until things are a little more concrete. On the plus side, she adds, now that she is her own boss, she will be able to build her business from home and be able to spend more time with the kids when she has them.
The relentlessly optimistic DeVito does give a nod to the realities people face. Besides her own struggles, she has met dozens of unemployed people this year who have fought to stay positive through their situations. “It’s a mixed bag,” DeVito says of the mood of the people in her group. “Some people out there have been out of work for two years, they were the bread winner, they have kids in college, and their benefits are about to expire. It’s bad because people start to feel that they’re not worth anything, and that’s just not true.”
On the other hand, she has come across a few success stories. One man was unemployed for just two months before landing a job. DeVito says the man, a sales professional, accomplished the feat by going to at least one networking or business-related function a day and getting at least five business cards. “He’d go home, look them up on LinkedIn, and network.”
Networking, in the old-fashioned, in-person way or through the Internet, is absolutely the top thing anyone unemployed should be doing, DeVito says. Put yourself out there in as many situations as possible. “You never know who knows somebody who can help you,” she says.
Another success story — actually two — comes from two women who had taken part in numerous NJ Unemployed events who just recently found work after several months. “I feel a little like a proud mom,” DeVito says.
DeVito believes in the spirit of those who apply to jobs and keep trying, but she also is frustrated by how the unemployment picture is presented. “I think the situations’s worse than what’s being presented,” she says. New Jersey’s unemployment rate just went from 9.6 percent to 9.8 — and this, she says, probably does not factor in women who have been out of work while raising the kids, nor does it take into account the underemployed.
Making things harder, she says, is the darker side of online job hunting. Sites like Monster.com or CareerBuilder, for example, post thousands of jobs for thousands of employers and the cumulative effect is the numbing sensation that your resume has been sucked into a black hole. “It’s not that you just don’t get the job,” DeVito says. “You’re not hearing anything.”
And compounding this problem is one she just heard of. A friend who posts jobs on Monster for a company stumbled across a job listing that looked wrong. The woman had never heard of this position, so she asked the company whether it was for real. The company admitted it was not, but wanted to posted it anyway. So why would a company pay (as much as $10,000 a year, the going rate for corporate accounts on Monster) to post a job that doesn’t even exist? “The company said ‘To be visible,’” DeVito says. “It was just a marketing tool. It just gives people false hope.”
Devito, however, is working harder for more practical answers. On top of her many speaking engagements, on everything from finding your passion to building a resume, she has taken her fight to Trenton. DeVito has lobbied for the unemployed before the Assembly Labor Committee in an effort to get NJ Unemployed recognized as a legitimate resource.
With the new year on the way, DeVito hopes that companies will be able to configure their budgets and that the new legislature will be open to hearing the realities of the people. “It’s hard on everybody,” DeVito says. “It’s at the point of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is a Job.’”