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Job Clubs: Group Therapy for the Unemployed

"I want everyone to say to themselves, this is a game and I can play it," said career coach Ruth Robbins to a group of some 50 job seekers in a crowded Manhattan conference room. "With hard work, you'll get a job. Say it to yourself and believe it."

It might seems hard for an outsider to sit through a lecture on getting the most out of contacts for job seekers. But for the men and women of the 5 O'Clock Club, this Monday night gathering was what they wanted to hear.

Simply put, the 5 O'Clock Club is a career coaching and outplacement service that holds weekly meetings in New York City for its paying members.

Russell Drehen has been listening to counselors like Robbins since May of last year when he was laid off from his web development job.

Drehen's ex-firm hired the 5 O'Clock Club to help in his job search.

"Coming here has forced me to look at myself and figure out what I want to be doing," says Drehen who has started his own web and video development company last October but is still job hunting. "The tasks they have you do really make you work at finding work."

Robbins' one hour presentation was part motivational, part specific planning. At one point she encouraged the group to think 'out of the box.' "Go beyond the usual to get to someone who can actually hire you," Robbins said. "You might even send your resume the old fashioned way, by regular mail. What a surprise that would be."

Job clubs growing

Whether it's the 5 O'Clock Club or groups formed in local communities by churches, colleges or activist groups, regular meetings of job seekers in today's economy are growing, according to Nancy Wajler, administrator of the Professional Advancement and Learning Center at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.

"People are going to job clubs for many reasons these days," says Wajler. "Some need to feel wanted and needed, while others come to the realization that they need a change but don't know how to do it."

"They are sprouting up everywhere," says David Lewis, president of OperationsInc, a human resources consulting firm. "I speak at local job groups and there's an incredible demand for people like me."

Lewis holds a weekly meeting of unemployed and employed execs himself every Monday morning for breakfast. "With the right attitude, the group can guide you to a better job."

Warnings from some

While they may be growing, some industry experts express caution over what a job club can actually do. "People need to to do due diligence of know the reputation of such a club," says Any Freidman, CEO of Partners in Human Resources International. "Get out of a club if it turns into just a venting experience."

And there's the type of support a job seeker gets that worries John Salveson, co-founder of Salveson Stetson Group, an executive research firm. Salveson says the groups can be beneficial but warns, "Members of these clubs could be giving bad advice. Most people don't know how to find a job and they can steer a job seeker in wrong direction."

But if people go in with their eyes open, job clubs can help, says Wajler. "They're worth it to stay connected and feel like you are doing something positive," says Wajler.

A graduate course in job hunting

For those expecting an easy time as a club member, David Madison, SVP Director of The Guild for the Five O'Clock Club, says they will be disappointed. "What we do is create a graduate course in job searching," says Madison. "It's a full time job to find a job."

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Along with attending weekly lectures and group meetings, members are encouraged to read a series of books from the club on the techniques of job searching, resume formatting, interviewing and networking.

Basic membership comes at a fee of $49 a year with individual session prices depending on the amount of a member's previous income if they are unemployed, tops being $70 a session. Based in New York City, the club offers telephone sessions and group meetings for those living across the U.S.

Breaking it down

After Robbins finished her talk, job seekers broke down into groups of 7 or 8 people with a counselor leading the discussion in smaller rooms. Here is where the more personal attention begins. Often the groups are set up for practicing interview techniques or focusing on networking do's and don'ts.

In one small group Monday night, each person had to tell what they did that week to further their job search, going over names of people at firms they contacted and the result of each contact.

For each person, the counselor would offer advice on how to follow up or offer encouragement if the results were negative or the counselor would offer a possible job contact.

Other members would also offer advice and possible leads. Everyone seemed to have made contact with at least two to three companies, but each had run into some roadblocks.

"How do I get beyond someone telling me I don't have enough experience in a particular area," one man asked. "Tell him he probably has someone with enough experience and you can offer something different," the counselor advised.

One job seeker went through his list of contacts that included a couple of financial firms and a hospital, indicating he was seeking a middle management position. Nothing came of them yet but he was encouraged to keep trying.

But he ended on an upbeat note, telling the group he had gotten a 'surprise' job offer from a major online job posting firm.

"What was it," someone asked.

"I didn't bother with it," he said.

"Why not?"

"It was a bartender job."

The group broke out in laughter.

"The pay wasn't what I had in mind."

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