I have seen thousands of job seekers benefit from participating in job search support groups, or job clubs. So it drives me crazy to hear anyone make a statement to the effect of; “What could I possibly gain by networking with a bunch of unemployed people?” One of the best answers I ever heard to that question comes from Jason Alba, CEO of JibberJobber.com and Author of I’m on LinkedIn, Now What? Jason simply states that unemployed people make excellent networking sources, because they know where the job openings are.
Beyond learning about job leads, job clubs offer much needed opportunities for interpersonal contact. One of the many struggles unemployed job seekers describe is the isolation that comes with a job loss. Many unemployed individuals agree that finding a job, even in a strong economy, can rank among the most difficult projects they ever work on in their career. When you think about difficult projects that you have worked on throughout your career, remember how valuable you found the interaction with team members tackling the same project. In the case of a job search, such interactions will come from fellow job seekers. No one understands the challenges you face each day as well as someone facing the same ones.
A successful group does not need to be specific to a particular field, as job seekers face many universal issues. Examples include navigating job boards and online applications, job interview strategies, handling the frustration of job search and rejection, dealing with growing financial pressures, there is no shortage of potential topics for the meetings. A reality I regularly point out is that most people never learn about the changes in job search strategies until faced with a search. As a result, they have to catch up on a great deal of new information once the search begins. One sign of a strong job search group is a good variety of topics scheduled for each meeting.
Finding such groups is quite easy. Most local area one-stop career centers will have information about possible groups. Career related web sites also list such groups, for example Job-Hunt.org lists more than 800 groups broken down by state. As a sign of the times, quite often professional associations and other community, business or worship-oriented organizations may sponsor these groups. Check out local news lines or business journals for possibilities.
Identify multiple groups when possible, and visit each to see which has the most to offer. Pay close attention to the strength of the leadership and how well structured the meetings are. Gatherings of people facing something as stressful as a job search will attract people in negative mindsets. Make certain that facilitators keep the focus of the group sessions positive, while accommodating needs for members to vent frustration. I understand the need to for job seekers to vent, but too much complaining can turn a meeting into a “whine festival,” so to speak. Attendees will then leave without much positive energy, decreasing the likelihood they will return.