Hello, My Name Is...

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You know the scene: each week 10 to 12 people meet in a conference room to share their lives. Yet while the introductions initially sound familiar, this is not a typical self-help group. Instead, this is a Job Search Work Team offered through my career transition (outplacement) provider, Lee Hecht Harrison, a talent management solutions company.

"Although there is some emotional support, the main purpose is a productivity team designed to keep job seekers accountable," said Debbie Noe, SPHR, a senior consultant for Career Resources Group, a Lee Hecht Harrison global partner in West Des Moines, Iowa.

During the weekly meeting, members introduce themselves and practice their "elevator speech," a 30-second sound bite something like this: "Hi, I'm Jenny and I'm an accomplished writer and communications professional with expertise in writing, media relations and marketing communications. I've worked for financial services companies and public relations agencies. My unique strength includes the ability to translate complex information into readable language. I'm seeking new opportunities after being downsized from my position with a Fortune 500 corporation."

Target: 30 New Contacts Each Week

After the drill, team members share their productivity numbers including the total number of hours they spent that week on their job search, the number of networking contacts they made and any interviews they had. Highlights and plans for the upcoming week are also briefly discussed. To keep the group on track, facilitator Noe jots down agenda items and questions for discussion by team members.

Members are encouraged to make 30 networking contacts a week. "The idea is that if you make 30 general contacts, that will lead you to two hiring managers," Noe said. "It's not just voice mails or e-mails, but people you actually talk to on the phone or face-to-face. It's important to spend more time networking and less time on job boards."

In general, Noe said, if there is less activity in networking numbers, a person's job search will take longer. However, the length of a search and the ultimate success of landing a job is tied to factors such as a job seeker's background and the economy. While on average the search is taking longer -- six months on up -- "people in the Monday (group) reported that they are seeing changes - there are more job openings appearing on boards," Noe said.

Members Speak

Mike Yearick has been attending the group since mid-2008 and averages 30 networking contacts a week but said they rarely translate into interviews. "I end up with more interviews from search firms." Yearick, who bills himself as a "bilingual IT leader -- I speak both techie and English and can translate between the two," is seeking work as a chief information officer in a mid-sized company in any industry. He believes the biggest challenge he's facing is the "lack of senior leadership jobs in the tech space because the economy is so terrible."

Yearick is a veteran job seeker (six IT industry job searches in the last 10 years by his own count) but notes this time around is quite different. "My recollection is that previously certain sectors were in terrible shape, but not the whole economy. There are no hiding places now."

He relies on the group for accountability in his job search, as well as a certain level of networking help. "It provides a venue for asking questions that are not standard - you can get a real life answer. There's value in getting input from people who are in the same situation I'm in."

Other members, such as Mary Isenhower and Brian Shadle, both project managers who've been attending four months, also laud the value of accountability offered by the group. "It's a good thing to keep me honest," Shadle said. "We help each other." Isenhower said, "It's nice to know others struggle with networking."

Noe said, "We try to have people hold themselves accountable without nagging."

Jenny L. Herring, APR, is a financial writer and public relations professional with experience in both institutional and retail asset management.

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