Few counselors have described the form of job seekers’ support groups (JSSG) they are offering during this recession. To help fill that void for counselors wishing to form such groups, here is a description of our JSSG at St Paul the Apostle Catholic Church (SPA) in Los Angeles.
Commissioned by Father Paul Lannan, C.S.P. in March 2009, its sixth session ended March 10, 2011. Each session consisted of seven to 12 weekly, 1-½ hour meetings. The JSSG is free for Catholics and non-Catholics. Its structure is transportable to other non-profit arenas, such as churches, community programs, recreation clubs, shelters, etc. The senior author and one or both business professionals co-facilitated every meeting to engage participants in helping one another with job search problems. The content of meetings varied to meet the needs of attendees.
Participants. Twenty-nine women and 13 men seeking jobs or fuller employment attended between one and 18 meetings. About 90% were over 40 years of age. Each had impressive work histories in a profession, management, marketing and sales, or executive administrative services. Their unemployment or underemployment ranged from weeks to more than two years. About 75% had unemployment insurance. Approximately 65% were Caucasians, 20% Hispanic, and 15% Asian or African American.
People joined at any meeting. We requested confidentiality, but couldn’t guarantee it, yet believed it was observed because we didn’t hear of breeches. The open group format restrained disclosure but enabled participants to maintain face. Some participants, however, did avoid confronting limitations such as outdated occupational skills and language facility that lessened their employability.
Facilitators. Meetings were co-facilitated by the senior author, a professor emeritus of counselor education, and one or both of the other authors - a retired marketing executive, and an experienced career coach and outplacement specialist for lawyers and paralegals. Their diverse expertise and styles complemented one another in broadening and deepening discussions.
Here is how each facilitator regularly provided support and structured meetings to encourage attendees to help one another:
Author # 1 asked attendees to share their experiences and feelings regarding their search, summarized participants’ situations and the similarities in their challenges, prompted their offering one another recommendations, and asked what they wanted to discuss next meeting.
Author #2 pressed attendees to increase their focus, distinguish strategies and goals, say what they would accomplish by next meeting, and provided referrals for informational interviews.
Author 3 offered ways of improving a resume, interviewing, researching employers, and expanding one’s network.
All authors reflected participant feelings.
Meetings. Each started with introductions and then focused on one person for up to 20 minutes. That participant described what he or she was seeking currently, what he/she had done and intended to do, and what occurred since last meeting. From the get-go participants asked questions that clarified objectives and obstacles, told about on-line resources, assisted in preparing for interviews, provided leads and contacts, and encouraged each other. Competing suggestions were welcomed, and they increased involvement rather than caused confusion.
Frequently discussed issues included:
What modifications in a job objective and descriptions of past jobs would immediately show how the participant met the employer’s needs
Tips on networking
What should comprise the brief statement at the start of a job interview (elevator introduction)
How long to wait before following-up a job interview
How to price oneself and to negotiate salary/benefits
What to say about layoffs or breaks in employment for family care
What online sites provide useful networking aid and job leads
How to market oneself as a consultant.
We had presumed participants were “job search ready”, but quickly realized that all needed some assistance in matters such as specifying their objective, communicating it persuasively, conducting interviews and follow-up, networking, and countering disappointment, search fatigue and lowered confidence, even though nearly all were “job ready”. Most participants focused on reemployment in their recent occupation. Occupational change was discussed at only four of 42 meetings. Although a few explored other work, only a younger member entered training for a new occupation. Three others found and entered programs to upgrade their occupational skills. Many participants, however, broadened their searches to include jobs done previously. Discussions of consulting and business plans aided some increase their limited consulting and some in expanding their businesses.
Participants occasionally requested help outside the meetings. Such free, one-on-one aid from facilitators and participants enabled several to execute plans and obtain desired jobs. To enable sharing beyond the open group format, four participants and author #3 met periodically during a summer recess in a closed group. These meetings enabled one member to recognize how a traumatic work event was blocking her searching and the others to vent frustrations and persevere in searching while doing temporary work.
Outcomes. We did not follow-up participants formally, but most kept us informed. Many said assisting peers strengthened their coping. Our informal tally suggests:
At least 14 secured desired FT or PT employment after persistent searching,
12 PT or FT temporary work,
Four started more education,
Five without work are still looking
In closing, we were able to give much more to the job seekers by working together, and we encourage counselors to consider teaming with a business professional as a way of enriching JSSGs.
Charles Healy, a Professor Emeritus of Education, UCLA, studied and taught career counseling for 38 years. Publications include: “Reforming career appraisals to meet client needs in the 1990s”, The Counseling Psychologist, 1990, 214-226 and “Career development: Counseling through the life stages”. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1982. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James D. Helin was a Founding Partner of JDH Associates, a company focusing on management and strategy consulting and the president of the west coast offices of a company marketing blue chip consumer products and services worldwide. Currently retired, he has served on corporate and community boards of directors and advisory groups pro bono.
Joanne Sliteris founded a leading recruitment and career counseling company that served Fortune 500 Corporations and major law firms for over 20 years. As a graduate of the University of San Francisco in Business Management with emphasis on Organizational Behavior, and UCLA, she is published and has held professional community board of director positions. email@example.com