At the start of her talk at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus on Feb. 3, Karla Robertson distributed spongy red puzzles to the participants. The disconnected pieces could be reassembled into a cube, bearing words like “think,” “decide,” and “act.”
Her goal was to get the 24 people in attendance — most of them searching for a job — to recognize the habits of thought she calls “stories” and change those that are self-defeating.
It was the first workshop in a new series offered by the Economic Response Initiative of Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, an undertaking sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Central NJ. The events will be held on the first Wednesday of each month through June.
The two women who run the initiative, Carol Einhorn and Sheri Brown, also run a weekly Wednesday morning program out of the JFS Scotch Plains office, and another on Monday mornings in the headquarters in Elizabeth. This week, they also started a new Tuesday series at the Elizabeth venue. The groups are free and open to those looking for work or planning a career transition.
With all their groups, Brown and Einhorn emphasize the importance of creating effective resumes, honing interview skills, and making the most of networking opportunities.
Robertson describes herself as an “executive neurocoach.” At community events, or with her individual clients and with corporate groups, she highlights the mindsets that help or hinder individuals in overcoming such challenges as joblessness.
She urged the Feb. 3 audience to rethink their past experiences in contemporary terms, so they can describe their accomplishments in terminology that is relevant to younger listeners
As important as on-line resources are for job seekers, face-to-face encounters are even more valuable, Robertson said. She told her audience to “get away from your computer and make personal connections. If you’re not good at it, find someone else who is and do it with them. Show up at conferences where your target audience congregates.”
Projecting positive energy is crucial, but as time passes between jobs, it can get harder to keep up. Robertson said she has seen how the sluggishness of the job market is affecting job seekers. “For some of them, this has gone on a long time,” she told NJ Jewish News after the meeting.
One of the workshop participants wondered when it was time “to start negotiating those ‘non-negotiables’” — that is, compromise on money or career goals in the interest of landing a job, any job.
Robertson paused a long time before answering — a technique she had earlier urged people to use in interviews, rather than rush into a possibly mistaken answer. Finally, she said, “There is nothing wrong with accepting something that isn’t quite what you want, and doing something to fill the gap until you do find what you really want.”
That might also mean accepting less money. Robertson said if an interviewer asks why you’re willing to accept a salary lower than you asked for, turn that into a positive. Members of the audience chimed in. One woman drew a ripple of approval when she said, “You can say that, thanks to where you are in your life now, and the financial situation you’ve achieved, you can place a higher priority on working for a company that really appeals to you.”
The JFS team welcomes the camaraderie that has developed between the dozen or so regulars at their weekly groups, and they admit to a contradictory feeling about their successes. “We’ve lost a few people over the weeks,” Brown said, “but, of course, we want to lose many more.”