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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Help for Downsized HR Professionals

Pity the messengers. Human resources professionals use

their expertise to usher the victims of cost cutting out the door.

But even as they are doing so, even as they listen to sobs and worry

about retaliation from the less stable (or more desperate), they know

that their own paychecks are far from secure.

"The main factor causing a surplus (of human resources professionals)

is mergers and acquisitions," says Jo Leonard, vice president

of development with the Ayers Group, a human resources consulting

group with offices in Carnegie Center. When two companies join forces

there are personnel overlaps, she explains, especially in staff positions.

Human resources employees have two strikes against them in the cost-cutting

game. They do not contribute directly to the bottom line by producing

or selling products or services, and their work sometimes falls into

areas that can be considered luxuries in a soft economy. Helping employees

achieve work/life balance, for example, gets a lot of attention in

a hot economy, but can look like a frill when a company’s stock is

sinking to 10-year lows.

"Human resources professionals are retained during restructuring

to help with outplacement, etc.," says Leonard, "then they

face redundancy." At the moment there are a number of redundant

HR professionals in the greater Princeton area looking for work, and

the Ayers Group has set up a support group to help them do so.

Called the HR Networking Group, this free service is well established

at Ayers’ Connecticut, Parsippany, and New York City offices, and

has just held its first Princeton meeting at the company’s 214 Carnegie

Center offices. The group is open to downsized human resources professionals

at the level of director and above, individuals who were earning at

least $125,000 a year.

"We want to have apples with apples," says Leonard. "If

you have people who were earning $40,000 in with people who were earning

$160,000, the $40,000 people get a lot out of it, but the $160,000

people get nothing."

To join the group — which comes with rigorous expectations —

call Leonard, or her colleagues, Walter O’Neill or Tom Klugewicz

at 609-720-8670. Meetings are held every other Wednesday at 8 a.m.,

and the next one occurs on Wednesday, October 23.

Leonard has been with Ayers — which specializes in staffing, recruitment,

outplacement, IT consulting, and organizational effective consulting

— for just five months. Prior to that time she had been in pharmaceutical

marketing. Her home base was New York City, and her office was in

midtown. On September 11 of last year, she was "close enough to

see the burning buildings."

The experience changed her life. "I re-looked at life," she

says. "I wanted to do something closer to helping people."

She also wanted work which would allow her to spend time on volunteer

work. Sixty-hour, pressure-filled weeks in a job that required substantial

travel suddenly did not seem worth the high salary that went along

with the demands.

Casting about for a more fulfilling life, she thought of her aunt.

"She’s a job counselor in England, and she’s the kind of person

who loves her job," says Leonard. "She always has wonderful

stories to tell."

In short order, Leonard began giving her time to Children with Challenges,

offering her marketing expertise. She moved from New York City to

Lumberville, Pennsylvania, with her cat Melvin, and switched careers.

She visits New York, where her boyfriend lives in a typically-cramped

city apartment, about once a week, and is making do on substantially

less money, but betrays no doubt about the wisdom of her choices.

Leonard, who immigrated to the United States at age 20, is a graduate

of Montclair State (Class of 1992). She travels to England about twice

a year to visit her aunt and her grandparents, and then on to Spain

to visit her mother and father, who retired there after, respectively,

careers as a first grade teacher and the owner of an exclusive hotel

on the south coast of England.

Centered, funny, and upbeat, Leonard becomes serious when speaking

about the HR Networking Group. This is a no-nonsense group, she emphasizes.

Don’t expect a business card exchange. There are lots

of networking groups, says Leonard. At some, members spread business

cards far and wide, and go home. The HR Networking Group operates

at a whole different level.

Make a commitment. The group meets twice a month at 8

a.m. sharp. Members need to be there. Every time. Excuses are accepted,

of course, but they had better be good. The group expects a serious


Bring leads. "Each member is expected to bring two

solid leads to each meeting," says Leonard. And don’t try to get

away with grabbing something off the Internet, either. "This is

the time to open your Rolodex," she says. Renew old acquaintances,

take them out to lunch. Find out what jobs are out there.

Share the wealth. Members who go on interviews, but aren’t

offered the job, or decide not to take it, are expected to let others

know about the opportunities.

Do your homework. The group is autonomous, Leonard stresses.

It uses Ayers’ offices, and Ayers counselors are on hand to help with

role playing, practice interview videotaping, and give a little one-on-one

counseling, but the group is encouraged to set its own agenda. This

is not a place to just sit around, Leonard says. Members of the group

make far better use of their time, in her opinion, by scheduling speakers

and deciding on topics for future meetings well in advance — and

then preparing for those sessions.

Stay involved. Members of the group who land jobs are

expected to remain involved in the group. "They need to stay with

the group, give support, and be committed," Leonard says of HR

Network Group alumni. While the Princeton group is only two weeks

old, members of Ayers’ groups in other cities have taken the obligation

to help others seriously.

A stance that would make Leonard’s aunt proud.

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