Networking & Support Groups
Searching for a job takes persistence - and it's not always easy to stay optimistic when prospects appear to be on the bleak side. That's why it's crucial not only to reach out to people like recruiters and staffing agents, who can provide you with insights on landing the job you want, but also to connect with other workers who share your struggle and can sympathize with your frustrations. While a support group isn't likely to have direct access to job listings, its members can still give you those periodic energy boosts you need in order to keep searching - and also provide you with tips and strategies you might not have considered. So here's how to get plugged into career support groups in your own local area.
At certain points in your job search, it can feel like you're doing all the right things - networking, sending out resumes and so on - but no promising leads are turning up. At times like these, connectivity with other job seekers can make all the difference between exhaustion and enthusiasm. Plus, it takes guts to join any support group; to sit in a roomful of strangers and share your story. But if you're wondering where you went wrong in your search, where to look for new contacts and how to make the most effective use of your time, a support group can help break you out of that rut and into a more productive job search.
As one support group member recalls in this article, "Though initially nervous about networking... I talked with others who understood what it was like to be unemployed and I felt valued. The speakers presented on topics such as how to network, how to negotiate, interview tips, how to dress, and other topics that would help me in my job search efforts. This experience gave me confidence to continue networking and the volunteers were willing to help guide me in this journey."
Many support group meetings include not only stories from struggling members, but also talks by former members who've gone on to establish themselves in successful careers. Though these people may not be able to provide you with the actual contacts you need, they can still help you understand how to improve your networking skills, how to highlight your experience on your resume and in interviews, how to generate and pursue job leads, and even how to present yourself as a desirable employee. For all these reasons, it's worth your while to check out a support group in your area.
Career support groups don't always advertise widely, but you should be able to track one down without much trouble as long as you know where to look. Your nearest library is a great place to start, as libraries are some of the most common meeting places for groups like these. Groups may post their schedules on the library's bulletin board, or librarians may know when a group meets there. Churches and other houses of worship are also common meeting places for career support groups. Even if you don't belong to a church, you're likely to be welcome at the meeting. College and university career centers are also good places to check.
If you still come up dry after searching in all the places listed above, try looking on the job search support page of Job-Hunt.org. This page lists support groups by state, and also includes contact links for more than 250 company, corporate, military and government alumni groups, as well as more than 1,500 professional associations and societies - all of which can broaden your networking even further. If this page doesn't list a group in your area, just contact a group in a nearby city and ask for a point in the right direction.
Even if no career support groups are meeting anywhere near you, you've still got the option to launch one of your own. Getting a group organized should only take a few hours of your time, and it's likely to pay off in big ways over the next few weeks - in terms of motivation, inspiration and general moral support. With a little planning, you can easily assemble a small group of like-minded job seekers to join you in the quest for a better career.
Size is one important factor to consider when starting a group - you'll want the group to be small enough to remain personal, but still large enough to sustain itself if a few members are absent. Somewhere between two and twelve members is usually ideal. Tracking down other members may be easier than you think - especially if the job market in your area is tough, and no other career support groups are operating near you. Try posting some notices on the bulletin boards of nearby libraries, as well as on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. You can also put out some feelers by searching these sites for online career groups in your region - some members may be glad for the opportunity to join an in-person meeting.
For many more details on organizing and leading group meetings, check out this free guide (in PDF format) from Encore.org. It includes suggestions for discussion topics, ideas for brainstorming exercises, and even sample schedules for each meeting. But whether you stick to this guide's outline or not, what's most important is to keep each meeting moving forward from the last. For example, if your group puts together a list of networking ideas one evening, make a mutual agreement to put those ideas into practice during the week - then use the next meeting to assess the outcome and develop an improved plan for the following week. As long as your group keeps up some forward momentum, it's likely to stick together - not to mention, of course, that you and the other members will keep edging closer to your career goals.
The federal government provides a wide variety of workforce services - including employment training, job centers and resume workshops - at local offices throughout the country. Whether you're looking for a job or just trying to brush up on your interviewing skills, services like these can connect you with the information you need. Even if you're already working with a career support group, these services are still worth checking out for the benefits they can bring to your group.
One of the most user-friendly websites for locating government career services near you is America's Service Locator. Provided by a partnership between Career OneStop, America's Job Bank and America's Career InfoNet, this site connects you to local government offices providing the employment and training services you need in all 50 states plus Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands - including employment info, job search training, and even support for those coping with a job loss. Just enter your zip code or city/state, and you'll get a list of offices in your area, along with each office's contact info.
Another alternative to in-person support group meetings is an online support group. Though these groups can't provide the direct personal interactions of real-world meetings, you can access them from anywhere you are, regardless of whether there's a real-world group in your area. An online discussion can also prove easier to fit into your schedule than a drive to a meeting place would be.
One of the most popular online career support groups is the Job Loss Guide Network, created by a career coach in Tennessee. This website provides a place to share your stories, ask questions, express concerns and to get support from others who understand what you're going through. A more specialized support group is Cancer and Careers, a site designed to help women, their caregivers, their colleagues and their employers deal with cancer by providing a single source for information, news, strategies and support.
Many of the same social-networking websites you already use to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues are also ideal places to find career support groups. Facebook and LinkedIn both offer a wide variety of career and networking groups, many of which would be glad to have you as a member. For example, Facebook groups like "Employment Support" and "Unemployed," and LinkedIn groups like "Unemployment Support Group" and "Unemployed? Need a Job?" are all home to hundreds or even thousands of members. You can find even more groups by using the advanced search functions on Facebook and LinkedIn to locate groups in your area, or that include (or don't include) people in your network.
Two other online communities that specialize in career networking are NetworkingForProfessionals.com and Ryze.com. Both these sites require you to apply for a membership, but they promise access to exclusive communities of career-oriented professionals - as well as high-speed networking events, career seminars and other bonuses. The main advantage of sites like these is that they're more exclusive and less well-known than Facebook and LinkedIn, which means you won't have to filter through as much irrelevant content to get to the real meat.
As you scan groups you think you might like to join, a few simple tip-offs can tell you whether a given group is actually worth your time. Do many members post, or just the same few, over and over again? Do discussions flourish for days, or do they peter out after an hour or so? Signs like these can keep you from wasting your time with a useless group - but one sign hat should never discourage you is the fact that a group is marked "closed" or "private." Just send the admins a join request and see how they respond. If they say yes, you may gain access to a community of professionals who you'd never have met otherwise.
Whether you're looking for a support group or just trying to expand your real-world network, nationwide organizations can help you connect with other professionals in your area, find career counselling, and even get help with your own job search. While some of these groups welcome career-builders of all ranks and types, others focus on a particular segment of the population - executive-level workers, for instance; or women, or people of a certain religion - which means these can be worth investigating for opportunities applicable to your own demographic.
The Crossroads Career Network, for example, caters to Christians in search of career opportunities. The Downtown Women's Club provides a social and professional network for businesswomen. Executives Network connects executives with one another. Las Comadres Para las Americas focuses on helping Latina women build their careers. 40 Plus is dedicated to helping currently available managers, executives and other professionals over 40 years of age find jobs. The Jewish Vocational Service, on the other hand, provides career connections to people of all affiliations - as does The Five O'Clock Club. All these organizations have chapters around the country, so check their websites to find out if a meeting is happening near you.
If you're looking for career support groups in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C. or West Virginia, this section is for you.
In Massachusetts, Acton Networkers serves as a volunteer networking group for people in job transition; CareerPoint offers workshops and networking meet-ups in both English and Spanish; and CareerPlace helps customers find current job openings, assess their skill levels and interests, and enter education and training programs. In Vermont, the SMARTvt Job Club features a structured coaching program designed to transform professionals into effective solutions providers offering the mentoring, skills and tools essential for every successful business leader.
Rhode Islanders Networking To Open Doors To Jobs (RINODtoJobs) meets in Warwick, Rhode Island. For New Yorkers, FaceToFaceNetworking hosts speed-networking events for business professionals on Long Island and in NYC, and The August Group helps people in the Rochester area find jobs. JobSeekers is one of the most active support groups in the Princeton, New Jersey area. The Pennsylvania Professional Employment Network (PAPEN) helps Pittsburgh-area members advance their careers. And in the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area, Beltway Networking, the Washington Network Group and WorkCenter all provide career support meetings and services.
For networking and career support opportunities in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington or Wyoming, you've come to the right section.
In Arizona, the Southwest Job Network (formerly the Scottsdale Job Network) has expanded to offer monthly career-building meetings throughout the greater Phoenix and Scottsdale areas. California's GraceWorks organization aims to provide "spiritual, technical, and operational resources" for people in the process of career transition. And in Colorado, Collectivenet provides job seekers with a central location for contacts, leads and other useful information.
This section is the place to be for career-building resources in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
LinkingMichiana connects job seekers with employers in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. CareerPlace in Barrington, Illinois offers a range of job search and networking services, and their website also includes a list of links to other resources. In St. Louis, Businesspersons Between Jobs (BBJ) serves as a volunteer support group for professionals in career transition. And in Ohio, the Job Seekers Group at Fairhaven Church in Centerville, as well as the Chagrin Valley Job Seekers group, provide guidance and networking opportunities to people in between jobs.
Take a look at this section for info on career services in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In the North Carolina Triad region, the Professionals in Transition Support Group provides meetings and informational resources to job seekers. In Georgia, Alpharetta's Christ Centered Career Group (C3G) and Marrietta's JobSeekers Employment Network both provide places to meet with other job seekers and learn from their stories. In Tennessee, Memphis's Networking Round Table and Brentwood Methodist Church's Career Transition Support Group both offer meetings, presentations and networking events designed to get people into stable careers.
Be Open, Be Brave, Be Strong (A Success Story) -- The story of one man's struggle to find a job, and of the success he found with the help of a career support group.
Job Search Support by State -- A searchable database of career support groups, organized by state.
Transition Group Guide -- A free, detailed guide to launching and running your own career support group, in PDF format.