At JVS event, speed dating meets job hunt

At JVS event, speed dating meets job hunt

In competitive market, finding work requires contacts, says organizer

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Marion Jacobson of West Orange and Amanda Margitich of Rochelle Park had an “aha!” moment together in the middle of a “speed networking” exercise run by the Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest.

Rotating among the more than 30 professionals attending the event, Margitich and Jacobson found themselves face to face, and Margitich started her pitch. “I’m a copy editor,” she began. As Jacobson started asking questions, she suddenly had a startled look. “Hey, I’ve had this idea for ‘takeout tutoring,’” she said. “Maybe we could do it together!”

They exchanged cards and, during a break, found each other for further conversation.

The Jan. 8 event at Pine Brook Jewish Center in Montville brought together the unemployed or underemployed, some who are new to the job market and others who have been cobbling together smaller jobs. They came to share 30-second “elevator pitches,” to practice networking skills, and to share contacts.

“These are highly educated, highly skilled, highly experienced people. They should be employed,” said Beverly Feldman, a JVS job developer. “The job situation out there is improving, but it’s still very competitive. People have to have the right skills — it’s all about building relationships. They have to know how to connect, how to follow up, how to do an instant interview, and how to show their uniqueness so someone will know why they are better than the person next to them with the same skill set.”

Under the direction of Feldman and Dr. Meryl Kanner, JVS career counseling and placement supervisor, participants paired off for exercises. The room buzzed with personal stories and qualifications. “I’m an investment banker.” “I’m an event planner.” “I’m in marketing, mostly for pharmaceuticals.” “I’m an editor.” “Well, I actually trained as an actuary but I’m looking for a job in marketing.”

As they chatted, one pair found they’d gone to high school together. Every now and then, someone had a great contact for the person sitting across from them.

Jacobson, 52, is a musicologist and author with a PhD in her field, but at some point shifted her focus to English as a Second Language and adult education. Margitich, 32, a copy editor and content strategist, has been freelancing more recently. She has a background in academic tutoring as well.

As their conversation progressed, they learned more about each other and grew more hopeful about their proposed venture together. Margitich was thrilled — it was her first JVS event. Jacobson, who has attended other workshops, was equally pleased.

Scott Stein of Millburn, who works with trade associations planning trade shows, said he often goes to similar events run by chambers of commerce to find potential clients. By the time the first break came, he had made a couple of promising connections for himself, and was also able to help a few other people.

“This is my favorite kind of networking,” he said. “If you don’t like someone, you’re moving on in two minutes anyway. If there’s a match, you can carry on the conversation outside, and if it’s really promising, you can leave to do business and no one will know or care.”

Feldman emphasized the importance of networking to the group. “Eighty percent of all jobs are found through networking,” she said. “You might meet someone — at a wedding, at a bar mitzva, or standing on a line at the supermarket — who can help you. You never know, but you have to take a proactive approach to meeting people.”

Her tips for the perfect elevator speech? “Be prepared to say something meaningful and relevant in 30 seconds. That means, tell them who you are and what you do and for whom you do it. Mention your expertise and your target list. What are you after? Who do you need to meet? Who are you looking to meet? Make eye contact, speak slowly, and listen to the other person.”

She expressed some resignation with regard to the turnout, given the number of clients she might have expected, and the fact that many of those who attended were not clients but heard about the event through word of mouth. “There are people who have been out of work a long time. They are losing faith and giving up. Why are there only 30 people here?” she asked.

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