Sunday, September 30, 2012

Article: Job seekers need a solid game plan

September 21, 2012 12:15 am

In her former life, Roni Chambers was a human resources manager whose expertise included tactics and procedures for laying off employees.

Today, she’s the executive director of Go! Network – a St. Louis nonprofit that helps the unemployed find new jobs. Go! Network was founded by the St. Patrick Center in early 2009, shortly after the layoffs of hundreds of employees at what was then called the Anheuser-Busch Co.

Go! Network, which has struggled to raise sustainable financing, receives free office space in St. Patrick Center, and its meetings take place there on Tuesdays. In recent months, Go! Network also has received donations from Boeing, Centene and smaller companies.

“We teach people how to use the tools to find a job in today’s world,” said Chambers, explaining that sessions include teaching people how to build a network of friends and former colleagues with tools such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

“Hope and encouragement is a big piece of this,” she said. “If we can shorten the time that a person is unemployed, because they know what to do, we have a healthier community.”

Chambers said that St. Louis has a glut of laid-off workers in the manufacturing sector, and that new jobs are springing up in the medical field, including long-term care facilities.

Since 2009, Go! Network programs have been free. But the nonprofit is transitioning to a fee-based system in which job seekers will be asked to pay sliding-scale fees of up to $100. “People have to have some skin in the game,” she said.

Chambers sat down with the Post-Dispatch recently for a brief interview about Go! Network, the St. Louis area job market and ways to find work.

What's the difference between Go! Network and corporate outplacement services?
I believe that the difference is the hope and encouragement that we infuse in the skills and training that we do, along with the fact that it’s a large community – it’s 65 to 120 people who come together every Tuesday and they share information.

What's a good basic strategy for finding work if you've been laid off?
A great basic strategy is to lay out a game plan, and that’s to mourn the loss of your job; it’s to take some time to discover who you are, it’s to build a brand around that discovery; it’s to do the research necessary to target the next industry or business; it’s to network using your tools in that next industry or business; it’s to deliver a great interview, and negotiate your next offer.

How do you boost the morale of clients who have been out of the workforce for a long time?
By listening. By sharing yourself, your experiences. By connecting them with the right places where they can find the hope and encouragement that they need. In many cases, they’ve been spinning their wheels because they haven’t put together a good strategy. So you teach the strategy, you make the connections, and you listen to them.

Are there enough opportunities for the unemployed to retrain and gain skills in another field?
I believe they are coming. I don’t believe that up to now there have been. But it’s clear now that the gap between the jobs that we have today and the workforce that we have today can be bridged through retraining, and that is beginning to happen all across the country. For example, St. Louis Community College is beginning to offer some retraining opportunities. It’s the soft skills -- communication skills, leadership skills -- that we’re missing. Much of that comes from the fact that they’re long-term unemployed and losing the skills that are necessary.

How should job applicants prepare for interviews?
Practice, practice, practice. There are hundreds of tools out there that list the 50 of the most asked questions… Practicing with your family, or your neighbors, or the community of Go! Network or any of those communities where you are being supported. It is about tightening the words and delivering them effectively so that the company interviewing you makes the offer.

Position: Executive director of Go! Network
Age: 57
Marital status: Single (divorced). The mother of three children and five grandchildren.
Residence: De Soto
Previous employment: Director of human resources for sales division at Anheuser-Busch
Education: Bachelor's degree in business management from Maryville University

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