Misery loves company - and finds moral support at free Career Transitions group

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:27

    We came from all walks of life - the veritable butcher, baker, and candlestick maker - except that at the Warwick Career Transitions Group, our job descriptions were financial analyst, graphic artist, massage therapist, purchasing agent, nurse … and me, the journalist. Held weekly since the beginning of September at Warwick’s Christ Church Fellowship Hall, the free two-hour sessions have become a lifeline to sanity in the frustrating and demoralizing world of job hunting. “When we were approached by a parishioner about starting a group for folks who are unemployed or underemployed, we knew it was a great idea,” said the Rev. E. Suzanne Wille, the assistant priest at Christ Church. “Many of our parishioners are looking for work, and we later learned that there aren’t any career groups like this in Orange County. We hoped starting the Warwick Career Transition Group would be a way to offer hope and to support the larger community during this difficult economic period.” Common threads A recent article in the October issue of the AARP Bulletin reported a similar surge in career support groups that were starting at churches, but were open to anyone regardless of affiliation. And although there is the option of a short prayer service prior to the meeting, it is absolutely not required nor is the gathering “religious” in any way. “This group is a great resource and a welcoming place for those who are out of work, looking for work, and/or considering a career change,” added Wille. “We share stories, techniques, resources and thankfully, laughs.” And humor, believe me is key to the success of the meetings. With anywhere from five to 20 attending the meetings, the diverse group thrives on being able to share their stories, laugh and cry. “There’s a common thread among us,” said one man, a 40-something graphic designer with Fortune 500 credentials. “Everyone has a similar story. We’ve been shortchanged, we’re angry, and we’re under appreciated. This group is a way to connect, vent, learn and grow.” And whether we made $80K or $8 an hour, the results are the same - we’re all in the same unemployment boat. With coffee mugs brimming and a bagel or muffin in hand, the group adheres to a weekly agenda allowing time however for informal discussion and guest speakers, like psychologist Barbara Priestner-Werte, who recently added her professional perspective to the meeting. “Learning how to be resilient is key to one’s emotional health,” explained Priestner-Werte, who is also has a private practice in Warwick. “In the midst of a transformational experience like this, people need to find meaning and purpose and cultivate a new positive psychology for themselves. “We need to transcend our story, break the tape, and don’t project our anxiety forward.” Another presenter was Tracey Lemon, a marketing consultant and coach with more than 15 years experience in strategic planning. Lemon, who also worked as an executive recruiter in the architecture industry, has now taken on the role as weekly facilitator of the group. “During these difficult economic times almost everyone is seeing deep changes in their lives,” Lemon said. “This group offers a place where people can start to reframe how they’ll deal with those changes brought on by job loss or transition. It’s easy to feel isolated and here we can share stories with others and know we’re not alone.” War stories can be healing Among the group, we share the diversity of talent - as well as the despair. It is simply tough out there with literally hundreds or thousands of applicants inundating every job posting. Telling our war stories together can be healing. “I barely walked in and I could tell they didn’t even want to talk to me,” said another participant, an industrial designer with an exceptional and highly specific background who feels he encountered ageism in his profession. “Unfortunately, I felt that interview was over before it started. But at least now I’m not just sitting home saying, ‘woe is me.’” Another group member is an accomplished massage therapist and teacher, but felt that her physical appearance sometimes affected whether she would be hired. An injury has now forced her to follow a completely different career path. “That was my wake-up call,” she said. “And thanks to this group, I can see how I made mistakes. I was thinking small, just survival - but now I’ve expanded my perspective.” Résume remains the critical tool One of the best things to come out of the group is just a plain old-fashioned feeling of helping your neighbor. One woman with experience in the pharmaceutical industry and cheerleader-like enthusiasm has shared tons of informative job-related documents she had amassed. And in my own job searches, when I came across a graphic design position, I passed it on to my fellow group member. It may not have been what he was looking for, but as they say about the Lotto - “Hey, you never know.” According to Lemon, the résumé is probably the most critical tool in one’s job arsenal. Her advice admonished us to remove passive verbs, show exactly how we cut costs, generated revenue and solved problems. “Employers want to know what you accomplished or contributed in past jobs,” Lemon. “You may have taken many of your accomplishments for granted. Now is the time to remind yourself of all the projects you worked on, problems you solved and outcomes of your work. Results are an important part of defining your past success and a real indicator of future potential.” Social networks, too Lemon is planning a future session that will look at the ways that social networks like Linked In and Facebook can add value to the job search process. If anything, it proves that it pays to use every resource available. Although looking for a job is in the end a solo task, there has been something rewarding about sharing - both the good and the bad - with strangers (now friends!) and also helping to bolster up someone else at the same time. When someone says they have an upcoming interview, people clap and call out “Good Luck!” Now, that’s the kind of encouragement one may not be getting at home. And the following week, there is a safe and caring place to report the outcome and feel both support and guidance. Although we may not end up with actual jobs, I think most of the participants feel like they are getting something out of it because it’s taking a step in the right direction. “People are getting pushed in today’s economy - pushed into changes that they were putting off or weren’t prepared for,” added Lemon. “A group like this helps people reframe their circumstances - and it makes a difference.” Pip Klein is a freelance writer, musician and job seeker based in Florida, N.Y. She can be reached at pipklein@warwick.net. The worst interview I ever had One of the exercises at the Warwick Career Transitions Group is to share work experiences - the good and the bad. Here is writer Pip Klein’s account of her the worst job interview: My own disaster story happened in the mid 1980s at Time, Inc. in New York City. I was still reeling from the elevator ride up to the gazillionth floor of the skyscraper. After I sat down, I looked across the desk and did not see anyone sitting there. Instead the man who was to interview me was pacing the large office waving around some sort of a long pole in his hand. (Was it a hockey stick, golf club or battering ram?) Suddenly, he shouted his first question at me, in rapid fire voice: “What’s the latest vocabulary word you’ve learned?” I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make this up. Well, I came up with a word (because I had a word-a-day calendar at the time and mentally ruffled through pages … ok, you want to know… the word was “exigency.” But when I finally made it back into the elevator the only word I could muster was “down” as I looked at the panel of dozens of buttons with numbers. Down, I repeated to those sharing the elevator. And out (I thought) and yes, I did not get that job.