It’s been about two years since computer programmer David Schuchman has had full-time work. But when his next interview comes up, and the employer asks him, “what have you been doing since your last job?” he will have a better reply than “looking for work.”

Schuchman was a project manager for TRAC Intermodal, a transportation company based on College Road East. When that company re-organized in 2012, eliminating his position, Schuchman got busy looking for his next gig. Since then he has managed application development for Radiology Affiliates Imaging, a Kuser Road-based company, volunteered for the nonprofit Millhill Child and Family Development, done small projects for companies like Netiquette IQ, and given free tech training seminars at the Princeton Public Library.

He also writes a tech blog (techtopics4u.com) and sends out a newsletter. All of this has done much more than avert boredom. It has kept him abreast of the latest trends in his industry, while keeping his name in front of potential employers.

Not coincidentally, Schuchman also serves as executive chairman of Professional Services Group of Mercer County, an organization that is dedicated to helping professional workers find jobs. The PSG meets every Friday at 10 a.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Its meetings are free, and there is always a speaker there to present career hunting tips. The next session is Friday, August 15. For more information, visit www.psgofmercercounty.blogspot.com.

The PSG was once affiliated with and funded by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development (a.k.a. the unemployment office.) The state’s 11 groups used to operate out of 11 career centers and were staffed by volunteers, but managed by the Department of Labor. But in 2012 the state cut funding for the groups. They have survived on their own as independent organizations. The Mercer County PSG operates with a budget of zero. It meets at the library, which provides its conference room to PSG free of charge.

Schuchman says about half of each meeting is devoted to a presentation, and the other half is devoted to networking. But what’s the point of networking with other unemployed people? “Even though we are attended mostly by unemployed people, they all come from other companies, and it could be that one person who is looking to get access to another company might meet someone who is from that company and still has contacts there,” he says. “It’s a great networking opportunity.

As of August, about 40 to 50 people regularly attend each meeting, Schuchman says. The group also provides documents on its website, such as sample resumes and cover letters, and documents related to the various expert presentations. The site is built and maintained by community centers. Schuchman himself has given such presentations, most recently on the topic of “The Hidden Job Market.”

The hidden job market is huge. According to Schuchman, about 70 percent of jobs are never advertised. This is for a variety of reasons. It could be that hiring directors lack the budget for posting open positions. It could be that company brass has yet to officially approve certain jobs, and greenlight advertising for them. Or it could be that the company wants to recruit internally before going public with the position.

No matter the reason, Schuchman says, about 10 to 20 percent of the workforce of a medium-sized company will know about any given job. It could be that the hiring manager, and people in their department know about the opening in addition to workers down the line who notice an empty desk in their corner of the office.

The conclusion, he says, is that it pays to know people at many different companies. After all, you can’t apply for jobs you don’t know about.

“The job seeker is a little bit handicapped in finding jobs available if the job seeker does not know how to find jobs on the hidden job market,” he says.

Networking is key The exchange of information between people to develop a productive business relationship, or networking, is the key to finding these hidden jobs. It’s what the PSG does for half of its meetings, and Schuchmann advises people to take advantage of every networking opportunity.

It’s not just giving someone a business card and then forgetting about them, he says. “Stay in touch with the people you meet,” he says. “Call once in a while and send an E-mail if you see an interesting article, or a business meeting, or a conference coming up you think they should know about. Hopefully it reinforces a professional relationship.”

It doesn’t pay to play. There are recruiting companies that charge jobseekers, sometimes thousands of dollars, to access this hidden job market. Schuchman says he believes that in most cases, it’s not worth the investment. “I know of only one person who did that, and they basically got nothing from it in the end,” he says. “I’ve been called by those kinds of companies, and haven’t pursued it myself.”

Stay busy. Schuchman has kept active by participating in the PSG as well as many other projects. Even the unpaid projects, he says, have been useful. In volunteering for Millhill Child and Family Development, Schuchman evaluated several different electronic health records software suites and recommended the best choice for that nonprofit group. In doing so, he gained familiarity with some of the latest software.

Schuchman found the Millhill project using Volunteer Connect, a service that matches skilled volunteers with nonprofit groups that need people to do work. For more information, visit www.volunteerconnectnj.org.

“Keep active within your vocation,” he says.

Schuchman grew up in Long Island in a middle class family, and earned a bachelor’s degree in science from Hofstra, graduating in 1982. Until 2000 he was a programmer for various companies, changing jobs in that year to become manager of software development. From 2000 until 2012, he worked as a project manager for TRAC until his position was eliminated.

Schuchman found PSG and Volunteer Connect that same year. Since then, he has focused on volunteering, freelance projects (always worth it, even for “pocket change,” he says), and has become an active member in several career groups.

“The basic idea is, you want to be able to answer the question, ‘what have you been doing since you lost your job?’”, he says. “While it’s obvious people are job hunting, a stronger answer is how they’ve used their professional skills.”

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