Sisters in Search: Improving Job Search Outcomes through Job Club Peer Support
By Anne Nowak
Too often, the job search is a lonely activity characterized by a “fend for yourself” attitude, which can lead to “there are just no jobs out there for me” exasperation. To combat the feelings of defeat and isolation while job searching, the Baton Rouge Public Library’s Career Center revived the tried-and-true concept of job search groups aka, job clubs.
History of Job Clubs
The concept of job clubs and job search groups is not new. It was first developed and successfully applied by behavioral psychologist Nathan Azrin in the 1970s. In his initial study with a variety of job seekers from different occupations and income levels, results showed that of the job club participants, 90% found a job within four weeks, whereas only 55% of the control group were successful in the same time frame (Azrin, Flores & Kaplan, 1975). In later studies on the usefulness of job clubs for executive job seekers, Christopher Kondo (2009) reports similar results. Executive outplacement clients who belonged to job clubs found employment 20% faster than those that did not. In particular, they reported benefitting from group learning, increased accountability, networking opportunities, emotional support, helping other members and lower levels of frustration (Kondo 2009). In their comprehensive publication on group career counseling practices, Richard Pyle and Seth Hayden (2015) confirmed findings that participation in small groups reduces fear and group/peer feedback plays a major role in building participant insight.
Reviving the Concept
The largest group of career coaching clients at the Baton Rouge Public Library’s Career Center have traditionally been mid-career job seekers, most with a professional background. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, this group, not used to being unemployed for longer periods of time, found it very difficult to find adequate job opportunities. Most often, middle management jobs had seemingly vanished, while academic institutions and state agencies had also scaled down their staffs. After months of unemployment, these individuals started facing life issues they never thought they would encounter: loss of retirement plans, foreclosure, bad credit and associated repercussions.
Based on this known dilemma, when the local branch of the national non-profit Dress for Success approached the Career Center about conducting job search training, the idea to revive the job club concept was born. Due to the large number of women with professional and middle management backgrounds reaching out for assistance, the Career Center team focused this particular job club on women in white collar careers. As the job search is too often a lonely activity, advisors wanted to provide a safe, supportive space and fellowship for like-minded women. The hope was that participants would be able to share experiences, network, encourage and be accountable to each other, and learn the latest job search techniques led by a trained facilitator.
Piloting the Idea
The job club was planned for ten consecutive weeks of meetings, each scheduled to last two and a half hours. Each meeting would start with a check-in, where the participants shared their job search activities of the past week, including successes and missteps. This provided an opportunity for participants to vent frustrations, share joys, and ask each other for both advice and networking leads. This approach quickly created a community of “sisters in search.” The last hour of each session involved a presentation and discussion of the “topic of the week.” Topics included: Job Search Strategy, Interviewing, Networking and Informational Interviews, Personal Branding and Elevator Pitch, Social Media for the Job Search, Managing Personal Finances, Dealing with Rejection, Salary Negotiation, and Starting your Own Business.
The primary key to successful outcomes in a job search group like this was adherence to certain ground rules: this was not a therapy group. Those present were committed to listening, but not giving advice unless explicitly asked for by a participant. Any kind of derogatory and discriminatory remarks were not tolerated. Everybody had the chance to speak once before discussion was opened up further. Nobody had to share, and it was perfectly acceptable to “pass” on providing an update or comment. Adherence to these rules, coupled with a skilled facilitator, guaranteed success of the group.
After 10 weeks, participants walked away with resumes, elevator pitches, interview and networking strategies, active LinkedIn profiles and Twitter accounts, and greater financial literacy. But most importantly, they had established a true professional support system and even some new friends. Group members knew they were not alone in facing unemployment and job search. In fact, the pilot group found the weekly sessions so valuable that they kept meeting after the organized phase of the job club was over, first bi-weekly, later monthly. Nine months later, every participant that had been actively looking for a job had found one. Even those individuals that owned their own businesses had consciously realigned its focus and/or grown the business. The only critical feedback provided to facilitators was that 10 weeks was not long enough.
As stated, the initial group consisted of women only, based on Dress for Success’ established clientele. After expiration of the grant, the Baton Rouge Public Library Career Center decided to expand the reach of the program to include men, and lengthened duration to 12 weeks. The Career Center also ran a group with participants that brought a more diverse mix of qualifications and experiences. Each of these formats has proven effective, and future plans include experimenting with rolling admission/start dates, to fill the spaces left by participants that found employment during the course of the series, and to provide a more permanent resource available to clients at any stage of their search.
Using the framework presented here, the same outcomes can be replicated with other groups, such as college students in their senior year, veterans, women returning to the workforce, ex-offenders, encore career seekers, welfare to work individuals, etc. The topics of the week can easily be tailored to each group’s specific needs. To close, a testimonial from one of the Baton Rouge Public Library’s initial job club participants sums up the potential power of a job search club experience: “The topics have been valuable, but the group support has been great. It has been a confidence builder. It has been helpful, when brainstorming, to give back to the others too…..We were sisters in search.”
Azrin, N. H., Flores, T., & Kaplan, S. J. (1975). Job-finding club: A group-assisted program for obtaining employment, Behavior Research & Therapy, 13, 17-27.
Kondo, C. (2009). Benefits of job clubs for executive job seekers: A tale of hares and tortoises. Journal of Employment Counseling, 46, 27-37.
Pyle, K. R. & Hayden, S. C. W. (2015). Group career counseling: Practices and principles (2nd ed.) Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.
Anne Nowak, MA, JCTC, ACRW is a Career Coach and Program Director at the Career Center of the Baton Rouge Public Library. She provides one-on-one career coaching, facilitates group workshops, and directs the programming and staff of the Career Center serving the job search and career needs of the Greater Baton Rouge Community. Anowak@careercenterbr.com, www.careercenterbr.com