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Job seekers expand contacts at ‘speed networking’ session
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Job seekers expand contacts at ‘speed networking’ session

JFS workshop helps unemployed with ‘elevator speech’

People interested in expanding their work contact met for a “speed-networking” session in Scotch Plains run by the JFS Economic Response Initiative. Photos by Elaine Durbach
People interested in expanding their work contact met for a “speed-networking” session in Scotch Plains run by the JFS Economic Response Initiative. Photos by Elaine Durbach

Usually her approach is gentler, but on Wednesday night, July 7, in Scotch Plains, Carol Einhorn was all business. With stopwatch in hand and whistle in mouth, she kept a group of 16 job seekers hard at work, “speed-networking.”

The eight men and eight women faced each other across a long table at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus, and in four minutes flat strove to tell each other what they do professionally, and what kind of work they would like to secure. At the next whistle blast, they all moved one seat to their left, and tackled that daunting task all over again with their next partner.

Einhorn conducted the group together with Sheri Brown. The two women run the Economic Response Initiative of Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, a program funded with help from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. They run workshops and support groups for job seekers, in addition to providing individual counseling on resume preparation, interviewing skills, and financial issues.

The crux of the July 7 event was developing the skills to deliver an effective “elevator speech” — a quick summary of your experience and goals and the qualities you can offer an employer. Brown said, “Networking provides 80 to 85 percent of successful job contacts. That’s why we place so much emphasis on it.”

Though there weren’t potential employers present, she said, it was still a valuable chance for the participants to connect with others and practice “selling” themselves successfully. “You never know who might know someone — a friend or a relative or a neighbor who’s in the industry you’re interested in, or who owns their own business,” said Brown.

Just as important, she stressed, is what help you can offer others, even while dealing with the stress of changing jobs or looking for employment. Brown said, “We talk about the concept of ‘netweaving.’ What goes around comes around. If you help as many people as you can, eventually it comes back to you.”

‘A stressful process’

Some of the participants were members of the JFS groups; others were newcomers. A number had worked in finance, others in communications or design. All seemed intensely motivated. Half-way through, Brown asked if they wanted a water and bathroom break. There was a chorus of “no.” Everyone wanted to keep right on talking. When the logistics got tangled because of two latecomers, the participants insisted on rejigging the arrangement, to make sure they got to speak to everyone present.

“A number of us knew each other already, but that was fine too,” one of the regulars said. “It was a pretty stressful process, so it was a relief to face someone familiar and be able to shmooze for a moment.”

On his feedback sheet, one man wrote afterward, “I thought it was a great way to meet a lot of people in a very short amount of time.” Those who wanted to make more substantial connection exchanged cards or arranged to meet again.

The process definitely wasn’t for everyone. One woman came away mopping her forehead. “It was too hot, and the whole thing was too fast for me,” she said. “I’ve done so many things, I really can’t sum it all up in a couple of minutes.”

But that, Einhorn and Brown stressed, was the point of the exercise. Though the participants were mostly in their 40s and 50s, and most have an array of interests and skills, if they can “sell” themselves quickly, they can make the most even of fleeting encounters — for instance, during a chance meeting with a CEO of a company.

Hilary King, who lives in Fanwood, had as hard a time as anyone summing up what kind of work she wants. King has a degree in fine art and has worked in stone and wood carving, but she has also worked in a restaurant and a dentist’s office. She said she is willing to consider a range of jobs. But talking things over — just as Einhorn and Brown encourage their clients to do — she began to clarify her goal. “I like dealing with people and I’m empathetic,” she said. “I’d really like to work in sales, in a gallery, or in a store that sells art or jewelry.”

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