We all have pictures in our minds of the unemployed, but for most of us, the important part of the picture is that the unemployed person doesn’t look like us.
Yes, we know in our heads that unemployment hits white collars just as often as it does blue. Those of us who feel safely employed are sure that somehow, if we were in their situation, things would be different. We would not be out of a job for six months, nine months, a year. Our credentials are better. We have better connections. We would just work harder.
It won’t happen to us.
The Jobseekers group, which meets every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 22 Mercer Street, helps dispel that notion. The group has been meeting weekly, except when Christmas and New Year’s fall on Tuesday, since it was founded in 1982. There is no cost for meetings and reservations are not necessary. For more information call Trinity Church at 609-924-2277.
The first thing you notice when entering a Jobseekers meeting is that everyone there really does look just like you. They are middle-income, middle aged, and come from all types of careers. There are engineers, CPAs, academics, business analysts, pharmaceutical researchers, and corporate lawyers.
It’s not too surprising in New Jersey, a state with one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the nation, that everyone in the room has at least one degree. In fact, several had more than one masters or Ph.D. A common topic of conversation is “dumbing down” the resume.
“I’ve taken two degrees and 20 years of experience off my resume,” reports one participant.
“Did it help?” he is asked.
“No,” he admits. “I’m still being told I’m over qualified.”
Joe Levy, one of the facilitators for the group, is also unemployed. A systems engineer and management consultant, he first joined the group as a client in 2003. When Jobseekers founder, Niels Nielsen, died, Levy and a few other alumni stepped in and became facilitators for the group. He has been committed to the group ever since, even when he has had full-time employment.
While Levy has been out of work before, this time it is different, he says. New Jersey has seen its share of mergers, corporate takeovers, downsizing, and layoffs in the past, but this time the number of people being laid off and the variety of industries affected is much more widespread.
R. Greg Wheeler, one of the participants in the group, explains that the tasks of searching for a job and keeping up your spirits are interrelated. “I’m an engineer. Maybe that’s why I approach both as a system,” he explains.
Wheeler received his masters in electrical engineering in 1980 from Clarkson University in New York. He has worked for several companies, large and small, over the years. He’s been a project manager, a director of new product development, and a vice president. He holds several patents. His last job was as director and senior customer programs manager for Motorola.
“I’m really good at putting together high performance teams, working with smart people to take a project from the concept stage all the way through production,” he explains.
Wheeler is a single father with four children, three of whom are still in college. A long-time resident of the area, he has lived in Mercer County for the past 22 years. Luckily, he says, that gives him equity in his home. While so far he has been able to continue the tuition payments for his children, he has decided that he will put his home on the market if that becomes the only way to keep his children in school.
“One of the most difficult things to do is keep up your spirits while seeking a job,” says Wheeler. “It affects so many areas of your life. First and foremost, the sense of self-esteem we feel from having a job is taken away. Second, it is often difficult to measure success during the job search. Finally, there is the knowledge that you are not providing for your family, and the embarrassment of suddenly having to seek unemployment or other assistance.”
Your unique process. “There is no manual out there that gives a step-by-step process that you can follow and guarantee you’ll have a job at the end,” says Wheeler.
Understanding that fact helps keep up a person’s spirits in the early phases of a job search. “The first thing you have to do is develop your own process,” he says. That can include networking, making phone calls, developing several resumes, each tailored to a particular type of job.
The second thing to do: “Acknowledge that it’s tough,” Wheeler says.
Take care of yourself. Wheeler and many of the other participants at the Jobseekers meeting recommend exercise as an important way to keep up your spirits. “Exercise every day if you can, but at least three or four times a week,” says Wheeler.
Not only will exercise help keep you in good shape physically and mentally, exercising with others at a gym, or just something as simple as organizing a walking group, gets you out with other people. After years, maybe even decades, of spending every day with co-workers, the loneliness of being at home can be difficult for many people.
Set daily goals. Finding a way to measure your progress is important in many ways, Wheeler says. “It can be difficult to get away from worrying about the job search. You go to bed at night thinking about, you wake up in the morning thinking about it.”
Setting specific goals — making 10 phone calls, completing and uploading an online resume, attending a networking meeting — makes it easier to stay calm, knowing you have accomplished something specific in your search for a job.
“Once you’ve done that you can relax for an hour and watch a TV show or go to a movie and know that you’ve done something positive for your search,” he says.
Network. Networking is one of the most important parts of any job search. There are several types of networking that anyone seeking a job should do. Networking with others who are also looking for work is invaluable. There are several groups in the area besides Jobseekers, and it never hurts to attend several of them.
While it might seem counter-intuitive to network with others who are also looking for work, Wheeler says that other job seekers can help you navigate the ropes of unemployment benefits and the search for new training, or give you tips on businesses that are hiring.
Knowing others who are in the same boat as you is also one of the best ways to keep up your spirits. You should also be networking trade groups in your industry. “Make sure you that some of your networking includes groups where most of the people are employed,” says Wheeler. These are the people who might be looking to hire someone.
Get a career coach. “Career coaching is a rather new industry that has sprung up because so many people are unemployed,” says Wheeler. Many career coaches have been unemployed themselves at some time and “understand the ropes.”
They can also help you develop a process, explain the details of using websites such as Monster.com, set goals, and give accountability. There are a wide variety of job coaches with a wide variety of price ranges, says Wheeler.
One of the most important things to keep in mind, says Wheeler, Levy, and others who have been unemployed more than once, is that the job market will turn around. Being ready when that happens means that you will have a head start on finding that new job.