Helping hands in job hunts - Catholic Courier

Helping hands in job hunts

Several years ago, Charlie Newton of Pittsford found himself trying to explain to a news crew from Nikkei, a Japanese financial news service, why several local Catholic churches had banded together to offer free job-search help to anyone who needed it.

“A man who loses a job in Japan loses face, right?” he asked the crew.

Yes, they nodded.

“Well, in America, people who lose their jobs lose face, lose heart, and they lose their spirit,” Newton said. “That’s why we’re doing it.”

More than 15 years since it began, the Employment Network, a ministry of St. Louis Church and Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford and St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mendon, connects people with volunteer job coaches who offer free advice.

The idea was borne of the deep layoffs in the early 1990s at several of Rochester’s major manufacturers, Newton said. The ministry isn’t completely unique in this regard; several other Catholic churches also have hosted employment ministries and job-search support groups. However, the Employment Network attracted national attention several years ago from Fortune Magazine, which prompted the interview with Nikkei, Newton said. Over the years, the job network has helped as many as 600 people, he estimated.

The multiweek program meets periodically whenever demand warrants; most recently it was offered in the fall at St. Louis Church. Only a few participants took part in the fall session, which allowed job coaches to work one-on-one with them on how to handle job transitions, how to plan a job search, how to write a resum{e-acute}, how to network and market skills, and how to interview.

Employment coach Gary Stekloff, one of the program volunteers who has had a 30-year career in human resources, said most of the coaches have had extensive human-resources experience. Many also have done several job searches in their own careers. For example, his resum{e-acute} reads like a Who’s Who of top corporations in Rochester, including stints at IBM, Bausch and Lomb, Hickey Freeman and General Electric. Frequent job searches have become the norm for many workers, he said.

“It’s not a sin to be out of a job,” Stekloff stated. “Nowadays, it’s not unusual, and there’s not a stigma.”

On one November night, Stekloff worked with Mike Casey of Henrietta to polish his resum{e-acute} and prepare for a telephone interview the next day. Casey was comptroller of a company that was sold; his position was eliminated.

“It was frustrating in some ways, because of the circumstances,” Casey said.

He said some personal connections were leading him to look for work outside the Rochester area, but if he was forced to move, several family members also would have to move with him.

“Finding a job can lead to tough family decisions,” Stekloff agreed.

In addition to the emotional component of the job search, the job coaches also talk with job seekers about skills such as networking to uncover unadvertised openings. Stekloff said about 85 percent of openings are hidden, such as positions that are being budgeted for or that result from an employee’s planned departure. The way to find these jobs, he said, is by chatting up friends, neighbors, coworkers, secretaries, hairdressers — anyone.

“Everybody you come into contact with is a potential networking contact,” Stekloff said.

When an opening is identified, a tailored resum{e-acute} and cover letter should be sent, he said, adding that recruiters give most resum{e-acute}s only a two-second glance. The first paragraphs are crucial, and resum{e-acute}s should be short on words and long on accomplishments, he said.

Once a resum{e-acute} is plucked out of the pile, the job candidate will be quizzed on its content. Stekloff suggests studying one’s own resum{e-acute}.

“What they have of you is your resum{e-acute},” Stekloff said. “You need to have a story for all of these items.”

Stekloff also suggested that Casey also be prepared to ask questions during the interview. Casey asked if it would be polite to discuss benefit packages at that time, and Stekloff said it would be fine to ask such things during face-to-face interviews.

“Times have changed,” Stekloff said. “People are sometimes more interested in benefit packages than in salaries.”

In addition to the basics, job coaches also help job seekers decide how best to market their skills. Stekloff cited the success the group had at helping a stay-at-home mom who had been out of the workforce for several years to raise a family. She learned how to promote the time-management and budgeting skills she learned as a mother.

Another one learning how to transition his skills was job seeker Richard J. Sypula of Pittsford. Despite counting two patents among his accomplishments, Sypula said he had little luck finding jobs in his specialty, product-development management. He said that’s why he decided, with the help of his job coach, to gear his technical resum{e-acute} toward a technical-sales job. He said he appreciated the major revisions to his resum{e-acute}.

“They are giving me the support and encouragement that yes, I can do it,” said Sypula, who learned about the program from a church bulletin.

The Employment Network got its start at Church of the Transfiguration in the early ’90s, before moving to St. Louis Church several years ago. Job seekers came from each of the three churches, from the community and other churches, including St. Joseph Church in Penfield. News of the program spread through church bulletins and word of mouth.

“A lot of the big companies had outplacement help, but we were picking up smaller firms,” Newton said.

Soon, they began to see people who had been out of work for years. Some had been job hunting so long they had nearly been forced to sell their homes and move. Others had worked at some of the larger corporations and had been out of work so long their outplacement benefits expired.

Newton said need for the service has continued to be steady. He said the job market hasn’t gotten any easier, and job changes have become even more common.

“If you talk to young folks or anybody in (information technology) or (information systems), they are changing jobs from project to project,” Newton said.

José Santana, one of the job coaches who coordinates the program, said he first heard about it from another parishioner at St. Louis Church. Based on his human-resources background at Bausch and Lomb, he decided to begin volunteering with the ministry.

He said one thing the program would like to do in the future is survey its alumni. Informally, the group has heard back from many who have gotten jobs, Santana said.

“We’d like to follow up with alumni to have them tell us where they are at,” said Santana, who himself is hunting for a new human-resources job.

The program has helped many people re-enter the workforce, Stekloff said. It also has helped to solve some of the employment problems that local companies have, and it has helped to improve the overall health of the community and the parishes that host it, he noted.

“The three parishes … are affluent, yet we have people out of work that need jobs,” Stekloff said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For details on upcoming Employment Network sessions, call Gary Stekloff at 585/381-1296 or Jos√© Santana at 585/586-1622.

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