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   02.11    

02.11

Employment Networks Can Enhance Your Job Search

By IEEE-USA Staff

Employment networks (also known as job clubs or job networks) are small groups of individuals who come together in face-to-face meetings or electronically to help each other’s employment search. Ideally, an employment network allows participants to talk candidly about job searching and career advancement with the shared goal of supporting the success of all members. Typical activities include networking, information-sharing, coaching, training and cheerleading.

The concept of a job club is usually attributed to Dr. Nathan Azrin, a clinical psychologist, who co-authored a book entitled Job Club Counselor’s Manual: A Behavioral Approach to Vocational Counseling, published in 1981. Azrin studied various groups that existed, assessed how they worked and what made them successful, and then captured the results and his recommendations in the form of a how-to manual for job club counselors.

An effective employment network offers a variety of benefits to its participants, including:

·         Positive feedbacks and encouragement can help build a sense of optimism that makes job-seekers more proactive and more marketable

·         Structured activities give participants a sense of purpose and personal accountability to the group that will help keep the job searcher focused and engaged in their search

·         Participants can learn from the successes and mistakes of others, and put that knowledge to work in their own job search

·         Networks can provide participants with a forum to share information and/or to hear from knowledgeable speakers on hiring trends, job leads, company cultures, management interviewing styles, resume dos and don’ts, and search strategies

·         Emotional support and encouragement from peers helps when the job hunt is longer or harder than you expected

·         Career coaching and mentoring from respected peers

The basic job club model outlined by Nathan Azrin assumes a group of no more than 30 people who meet weekly to do the following:

1.       The meeting starts with each member sharing any results and accomplishments from the previous week’s job search

2.       After everyone reports, members are then invited to individually ask the group for support in specific areas. They can ask for advice, leads, ideas, strategies, and other types of assistance. The response should typically be at a group level, involving problem-solving or brain-storming. Someone within the group should be tasked to facilitate the discussion (and/or a professional facilitator could be engaged).

3.       Once the requests for help have been discussed, the meeting ends with each member stating his or her job-search goals for the coming week(s). Goals should be capable of being accomplished by the time of the next meeting. Use of benchmarks is encouraged, such as setting a specific number of new contacts that members should strive to establish in a given time period.

Azrin’s research also showed that job clubs tend to be more productive if the participants come to their network meetings focused and prepared. Successful clubs have a high percentage of members who:

1.       already have a good idea of what kind of job they want and have a specific goal or focus for their job search

2.       are able to articulate their own skills, abilities, and interests, verbally and in writing

3.       have done research on and are knowledgeable about the employers they wish to approach

The job club model has been successful and widely emulated by job seekers in various fields of employment. The U.S. government has even sanctioned “job finding clubs” or “job search workshops” as a permissible form of Trade Adjustment Assistance for U.S. workers displaced as a result of foreign trade. See 19 USCS Sec. 2319(17C).

The basic model outlined by Azrin can be adapted or enhanced in various ways. For example, participants may find the following activities to be valuable additions or alternatives to more traditional network meetings:

·         Social mixer with card exchange and job-lead sharing. Could be done in a meeting room, at a restaurant or bar, as a breakout session at a meeting or conference, or even at a social event

·         Invited Speakers: Business leaders can be invited to speak about their company and its products, and then asked about “employment opportunities at company X,” “what skills are employers looking for?” and/or “your dos and don’ts of a successful interview.” Career counselors, career coaches, resume writers, career book authors, college professors, and other experts can be invited to speak on their respective areas of expertise. Topics might include career assessments, resumes, cover letters, interviewing, job-search follow-up, salary negotiation, Internet job-hunting, and company research. Motivational speakers can help pep up the group and put participants in an optimistic and proactive frame of mind.

·         Resume review session (participants exchange, critique and provide feedback on each other’s resumes).

·         Mock interviews

·         Career assessment exercises

·         Employer research sessions

·         Collaborating to build a shared database of local employers and key contacts

·         Job Search Book Club (members read and discuss books about job-hunting or career management).

·         Presenting/reviewing favorite career Web sites and sharing on-line job search strategies.

·         Field trips to tour companies of mutual interest.

·         A purely social gathering such as a holiday party, ball game, or picnic, where participants can relax and recharge their batteries in the company of sympathetic friends.

A strong employment network is capable of helping its participants find success, but there is no guarantee that all networks will be successful. A poorly functioning network may actually impede your job search. Some things to watch out for:

·         Negativity: Without positive leadership, a proactive agenda, and the right mix of people, Employment Networks can become a breeding ground for negativity. When you attend a Network meeting, assess the attitudes of participants in the room. Do they offer words of encouragement? Are they supportive of your efforts, or do they feed your insecurities? If the meeting leaves you emotionally drained and believing that your chances of landing a job are bleak, then it’s time to find a new support team. Falling into a negative attitude can adversely affect your job search.

·         Overly Large Groups: Employment Network meetings of the type described by Azrin work best in smaller groups, where everyone has the opportunity to actively participate. The group dynamics decrease as the group grows in size, so that in the worst case scenario, participants may feel they are sitting in a room full of strangers. Azrin suggests that groups should be 30 members or less.

·         A “Late Life” Network: Employment and unemployment tends to trend upward and downward in cycles. An active network can thrive during periods of high unemployment. But as employment opportunities improve and network members find jobs and drop-out, the network often shrinks and becomes less useful. The remaining participants may be discouraged, needy, and/or poorly prepared to provide assistance.

Promoting Employment Networks As an IEEE Member Service

Within IEEE, a number of section-level job clubs and employment networks have formed and functioned over the years on an ad hoc basis in response to local member needs.

The IEEE’s Rock River Valley Section organized an employment network this past Fall 2010. The first meeting drew 30 participants, who reviewed IEEE’s career and employment assistance offerings, engaged in some general training on interviewing and networking, heard from a corporate human resource speaker, and engaged in practice sessions. By the second meeting, participants were able to share 17 employment opportunities and were soon asking for weekly meetings. Similar efforts are underway in IEEE Region 3.

Taking inspiration from these efforts, IEEE-USA is working on a new initiative to promote the establishment of local IEEE employment networks in the United States, and by extension throughout all IEEE regions.

IEEE-USA’s effort envisions that local volunteers will step up to form groups in sections whose members are suffering through periods of unemployment and career transition, in much the same way that IEEE members who are consultants or entrepreneurs have joined together to create local networks to promote their business interests. IEEE-USA will provide “how to” training and collect “best practices” materials for volunteer organizers and some support through its PACE professional activities program and funding.

For More Information

U.S. IEEE members looking for help organizing a local employment network should contact Darryl Griffin (d.r.griffin@ieee.org) in the IEEE-USA’s Washington office.

For additional information on the “job club” or employment network concept, see:

·         Job Club Tips from Tory Johnson, ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/JobClub/

·         Katherine Hanson, Ph.D., “For Networking and Support, Join or Start a Job Club”, QuintCareers.Com, http://www.quintcareers.com/job_club.html

·         David Navarro, Gilda Azurdia, and Gayle Hamilton, “A Comparison of Job Club Strategies,” MDRC , http://www.mdrc.org/publications/493/overview.html

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