‘Don’t give up’: Vernon Hills job networking group offers support, training
Harvey Blender leads a seminar on networking during a monthly job-seekers networking meeting at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 29, 2013 6:05AM
Steve Lasaine found himself in a real conundrum last summer after he and hundreds of co-workers fell victim to corporate downsizing.
The Round Lake man knew the layoffs were coming and that he would receive severance pay. But the real problem, he said, was that he hadn’t interviewed for a job in 26 years.
“It was more inconvenient than unexpected,” Lasaine, 51, said. “I didn’t have up-to-date job hunting skills, and I had a network but didn’t how know to use it effectively.”
Lasaine’s situation is not uncommon. Company cutbacks and closures today affect long-time employees and recent hires alike. Illinois’ unemployment rate at nearly 9 percent remains above the national average as jobs are fewer and farther between. Meanwhile, the country’s workforce is aging.
Securing steady employment in today’s economy requires more than putting in a resume and hoping for the best. Finding work is work, said Art Noparstak of Vernon Hills.
“A job search is a full-time job,” he said.
Noparstak should know: while unemployed for nine months in 2011, he met 280 people through networking, applied for 235 jobs, and interviewed with 35 companies. The end result was two job offers.
With the right attitude and due diligence, others can successfully navigate the bleak job market, too, Noparstak maintains.
Last year Noparstak and his longtime friend Sue Masaracchia-Roberts began organizing networking meetings to help Lake County job seekers sharpen their skills. The meet-ups, held at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, features different work-related presentations each month, such as using social media to network or crafting an “elevator speech” to market oneself.
The goal is to serve as a resource for people who, more often than not, don’t know where to begin when seeking new employment.
“Essentially we’re trying to give another avenue to people who are underemployed, on the verge of losing their jobs, and unemployed,” said Masaracchia-Roberts, of Vernon Hills. “If nothing else it’s to be with people who are in the same boat as you.”
Together they share strategies for seeking out job opportunities and better positioning themselves for employment. Over email they share job leads.
Noparstak, for example, learned that applying to a job takes some self-branding to generate interest from employers, he said.
“You’ve got to convince the owner of that company you are very unique and that you can solve problems and put money on the bottom line,” Noparstak said. “It’s not easy.”
While out of work Lasaine realized he needed a few refreshers to keep current in the informational technology field.
“Skills can become stale,” he said. “Things that I had done 20 years ago or 15 years ago that I’m extremely proud of, or helped me to be the person I am today, are not what companies are looking for.”
So, while unemployed, he took 15 classes online and pursued special certifications.
“The worst thing you could do (when jobless) is sit around and let time slip by and let your skills get soft,” Lasaine said.
Restoring self-confidence is big with the job-networking group, especially for older adults. Masaracchia-Roberts said it’s easy for people to feel dejected and question themselves after losing or being unable to find a job.
Age discrimination is another obstacle some seniors face, she said.
She wants meeting attendees to walk away re-charged about putting their best feet forward.
That’s exactly how Lasaine said he felt after participating in a recent job-networking session. As luck would have it, he began a new job in Chicago late this winter after being unemployed for nearly six months. His advice for other job seekers? Hang in there. There are people and programs, like the job-networking group, that can help.
“If things get rocky, find people to talk to,” he said. “Don’t give up the ship.”
For information about future events contact Sue Masaracchia-Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.