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St. Paul’s Networking Group

Shortly after 9/11, parishioners came knocking on Msgr. Walter Nolan’s door. Pastor of St. Paul’s church on Nassau Street in Princeton, he was greeted with pleas for help. "I’ve lost my job," some said. "I don’t want to go back to New York. I’m terrified," said others.

Mary Anne Kennedy relates the story. She was pulled into finding a solution to the problem early on, and more recently has helped with similar issues at St. Gregory the Great church in Hamilton.

Msgr. Nolan had called Steve McCarthy, parishioner and owner of Today’s Staffing, for advice. McCarthy quickly got in touch with Kennedy. Although now living in Millstone, she had been a member of St. Paul’s church for many years.

She and McCarthy have a lot in common. Both have children who attended St. Paul’s school. Both are busy with successful careers and are active in their communities. And both have been through the challenges of unemployment.

They brainstormed, and came up with the idea for a job networking group. The first meeting was held on November 17, 2001, and eight people came. "We now have a database of 310 people," says Kennedy. "Forty-five to fifty people come on a Saturday morning." The free meetings are held on the first and third Saturdays of the month at 8:30 a.m. The topic of the next meeting, on April 17, is "Consulting as an Option." The speaker is Joel Smith of the People Source Group. Full information on the group is available on St. Paul’s website at www.stpaulsprinceton.org/ministry_jobs.

Kennedy, director of strategic staffing for technology operations at Bristol-Myers Squibb, is the oldest girl in a family of 13 children. Landed with the job of "mini-mother" early on, she describes herself as an "old soul." She doesn’t sound like one, though. Vivacious, energetic, and upbeat, she recounts the circuitous route she traveled to her current job.

Her father had been a coal miner, but his father-in-law insisted that he earn a college degree. After commuting to Seton Hall to earn his degree at night, he worked at Puraltor for 42 years, rising to become the company’s credit manager. Unable to provide college educations for his brood, "he worried sick," says Kennedy. Her mother, meanwhile, insisted that the kids would be just fine.

And they are. They have one Ph.D., five college degrees, and seven successful entrepreneurial careers among them.

Kennedy is proud of the photo that shows her standing in cap and gown between two of her three children. She earned her degree, from Thomas Edison, right after her daughter Chris graduated from Catholic University and right before her daughter Laura graduated from Muhlenberg. Her third child, Jamie, will soon graduate from Rutgers.

Until several years ago, Kennedy was happily working as HR manager at Herman Miller. Then the furniture company consolidated, and she was out of a job. She was given a package that included outplacement counseling at Lee Hecht Harrison. There she learned about the Five O’Clock Club. She attended meetings in New York City, and she says "the experience changed my life."

She found the group’s no nonsense approach to job hunting bracing. She was told to stop looking back. The message was "don’t feel sorry for yourself. Keep moving; get to the point."

Instead of shoulders to cry on, she found a group of people who told her, "`You’ve lost your job? So what.’"

While she embraced the message, her salary had been helping to put three children through school. Her husband of 32 years, Robert Kennedy, is an IT professional whose profession was entering rough water. She needed to get a job. She didn’t, not right away, but through the Five O’Clock Club she found something better. Contacts she made there led her to agencies that hire HR professionals for contract work.

At first she was reluctant to be her own boss, to run an operation without the support of a company. "I was terrified," she says. "I was so structured." But she quickly took to the alternative work style. It had all kinds of advantages: "I made more money than I ever made at Herman Miller," she says of one.

An agency put her in touch with Prudential, where she did one year of contract work before moving on to Unilever and an 18-month contract. She then worked for start-ups before accepting an 18-month contract as a recruiter for Bristol-Myers Squibb. At the end of that time, she was offered a director position. The work paid substantially less than her contract assignments, but she decided that the opportunity to make a difference as part of a team was worth the trade off.

She emphasizes to the job hunters she meets at the St. Paul’s group that neither her contract assignments nor her job landed in her lap as the result of luck.

"I didn’t just send resumes," she says. "I drove to New York and to Connecticut, and got in touch in person." It’s important to deliver a resume by hand, and to grab at least a few minutes of a decision maker’s time. "Then," she says, "they know who you are, and what you look like. They know you’re sharp, and you’ll do a good job working for them."

Job hunters need to be aware that results are rarely immediate. "It was six months to a year before a Connecticut agency looked me up and told me about the Bristol-Myers job," she says. "It can take two or three years."

Another tip is to cover all bases. Kennedy didn’t stop after getting an assignment from one agency, but she kept networking until she was well known to three agencies.

McCarthy, her partner in the St. Paul’s job group, has also been through unemployment. He had worked for Family Publishing, a Time Warner division, for 19 years, rising to the level of CFO. After a downsizing he decided that he had had enough of the corporate life. Along with his wife, Chris, he now heads the employment firm Today’s Office Staffing, which has offices in Edison and in Parsippany.

Kennedy and McCarthy are on hand to lead every St. Paul’s job group meeting. A third facilitator is Tim Joyce. A longtime Bristol-Myers Squibb employee whose children attended St. Paul’s school with the McCarthy and Kennedy children, he never misses a meeting. "He’s the only one of us who has never been unemployed," says Kennedy.

The format of the meetings, says Kennedy, is modeled on the principles of the Five O’Clock Club and includes advice from a speaker on topics such as resume preparation, interviewing skills, and the pros and cons of starting a business. Each attendee is given time to stand up and make a brief presentation. But not anything goes. Attempts at self-pity are quickly shut down.

"We drive toward the positive," says Kennedy. "This is not the place to vent anger." It may feel good to do so, but a visible chip on the shoulder may also torpedo a chance at a great job. "You never know who will be at the meeting," she points out. Someone there may be in a position to hire or to put a job seeker in touch with a good opportunity. Nothing shuts down these avenues more quickly than a negative attitude.

Networking is the name of the game, and intertwined relationships formed through children, church, and volunteer work led to the formation of the job group at St. Gregory the Great in Hamilton Square.

Bob Anthes, a member of the pastoral council, knew that some of his fellow parishioners were out of work and were having a hard time finding a new job. Those in the IT industry had been particularly hard hit. He had recently experienced the power of networking, and thought that forming a job networking group was a fine way to contribute to his parish.

A chemical engineer, Anthes had spent the better part of his adult life working for Mobil. When the company merged with Exxon, he was offered a transfer to Baton Rouge. "I have three kids. It wasn’t right for us," he says. Still, turning down the offer was difficult. "I turned down the job without having another job," he says. He had been extended through the end of 1999. "After the first of the year, it hit hard," he says.

Incredibly, for a specialized engineer in a shrinking industry, Anthes received three job offers right away. The source in every case was networking he had done without ever knowing it.

He accepted a job at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He knows he was fortunate to have an employee singing his praises. "A lot of pharmas don’t want someone with 18 years in oil," he acknowledges. Were it not for his network, there is scant chance that he would have gotten the job.

Knowing that networking works, he set out to tap into the power of the 4,500 families in his parish. He knew he wanted to start a group, but was not quite sure how to do so. Help came from two sources.

He discovered by chance that Kennedy, the founder of the St. Paul’s group, works at the same Bristol-Myers facility, in New Brunswick, at which he works. The two met, and Kennedy has been helping out ever since. She shared her Five O’Clock Club meeting format and her database set-up. She could not commit to attending every St. Gregory meeting, but has often spoken to the group.

Anthes’ partner in founding the group is Pat Trapp. As the networking wheel turns, she knows Kennedy through their children. A financial planner with UBS Financial Services, she had spoken at the St. Paul’s group, and volunteered right away when Anthes advertised for help in forming the St. Gregory’s group.

"I know a lot of people touched by unemployment," says Trapp. "A lot of IT people. A lot of people in sales." Her own family has been affected by job loss. Her husband, who works in sales, lost his job when his company shut down shortly after 9/11. He found a job "he absolutely loves" through networking.

"So many people have faced unemployment," says Trapp, a graduate of St. Francis College in Brooklyn who has lived in Hamilton for 20 years. "That never used to be the case."

Or if it was the case, the people affected were not professionals counting on lifetime employment. For this group, sitting at home all day in front of a computer is not the answer, in Trapp’s view. "Networking really works," she says. "You never know. The person sitting next to you may be instrumental in getting you a job."

The St. Gregory job networking group holds meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, at 7:30 p.m., but note that the group does skip some dates. For a full schedule and more details about the group go to the "church" section of the St. Gregory website, at www.stgregorythegreat.org, and look on the left hand side for the heading "Employment Network Group."

The last meeting, on Wednesday, March 24, featured Kennedy. Yes, the same Kennedy who spends her Saturday mornings at the St. Paul’s networking group. Her topic is networking. It is a subject she knows well.

She is just back from a business trip to Puerto Rico, where she went to interview five candidates for technology jobs with Bristol-Myers Squibb. As everyone knows by now, just getting to the interview stage of the job hunt is a big thing. So, were the candidates ready to shine?

Hardly.

Kennedy asked each of the five what they knew about the company. Four knew very little. One could only say, "’I know you have drugs.’" There is no excuse for this type of sloppy presentation, says Kennedy. So much information about every company of any size is available on the Internet. Anyone who gets as far as the interview stage is beyond foolish not to spend time becoming thoroughly familiar with the company’s mission, products, executive roster, and latest news. But nearly half of the candidates Kennedy sees do not arrive for their interviews armed with company information.

And what, in addition to company knowledge, sets the best candidates apart? "They’re enthusiastic," says Kennedy. "They can articulate who they are, and they understand how they can add value."

Chances are, especially in the current job drought, that the best candidates also have taken the time to form extensive networks. Attending sessions at the St. Paul’s or St. Gregory’s job group can be an excellent way to get plugged in.

Following is contact information for career networking groups:

First Presbyterian Church of Ewing Career Networking Group, 100 Scotch Road, Ewing 08628. Pat Fletcher, founder. 609-882-3673; fax, 609-882-7391. E-mail:espfletcher@msn.net. Meets on fourth Tuesdays at 7 p.m.

Jobseekers, 33 Mercer Street, c/o Trinity Church, Princeton 08540. Niels Nielsen, coordinator. 609-924-2277; fax, 609-924-9140. E-mail: ungersar@trinityprinceton.org. Home page: www.trinityprinceton.org Every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

St. Gregory the Great Career Networking Group, 4620 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square 08690. Pat Trapp and Bob Anthes, co-founders. 609-587-4877. Www.stgregorythegreat.org. Second and fourth Wednesdays, with some exceptions, at 7:30 p.m.

St. Paul’s Career Networking Group, 214 Nassau Street, Princeton 08540. Steve McCarthy and Mary Anne Kennedy, co-founders. 609-924-1743. Www.stpaulsprinceton.org. First and third Saturdays, with some exceptions, at 8 a.m.


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