Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Helping Job Hunters: Recommendations and Resources for Librarians

Forty or fifty librarians met at the Oak Brook Public Library for a program about assisting job seekers in the public library called Helping Job Hunters: Recommendations and Resources for Librarians yesterday. Starting at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 1:30 p.m., this combined DuPage Library/Metropolitan Library systems offering was an oddly-timed two-thirds day workshop (by the time you add travel), but I am glad I did not leave early to eat lunch. The last hour and a half had most of the practical library service suggestions. Besides, there were snacks, including a delicious vegetable tray, to tide us over until lunch.

The main presenter was Diane Shelton, a career counselor whose company is called Follow Your Instinct. She spoke about the emotions of job seekers and the role of librarians helping them. She knew of what she spoke, having been laid off by the University of Chicago Hospitals in March 2009. She said that in many cases receiving a pink slip is a total surprise. In her case, the hospital had assured everyone in her department only two days earlier that there would be no cutbacks. Like many suddenly unemployed people, she then went through the stages of job loss grief. Being a counselor may have tempered her grief, but the sting was still there.

Shelton spoke first about the emotions of the unemployed, who feel that they have lost control of their lives. She explained empathetic/reflective listening skills, which librarians and other professionals utilize to help the jobless. Attentive, non-judgmental listening is the first of the services that we need to provide. Shelton stressed that it is easy to discourage these already fragile clients and provided a long list of things not to say, including:

  • "I know how you feel."
  • "It's part of life's plan."
  • "Look what you have to be thankful for."
  • "This is behind you now: it's time to get on with your life."
  • Statements beginning with "You should" or "You will."

Letting them grieve, you listen and help them with their practical concerns.

Part of the discussion centered on how to help the seemingly "powerless." Several librarians recounted how they have helped people without any computer skills find their way through online job search and application procedures. When to stop "helping" was a big question, as some of these people would like to have constant hand holding. Some would also prefer the library staff do all of their typing and job seeking. Shelton emphasized that we must not enable these people to become burdens on the library. That helps neither the library nor the job seekers, who must ultimately take responsibility for reordering their lives. Teach the jobless to help themselves.

The second half of the program was a panel discussion. Jeanne Friedell spoke about how the Oak Park Public Library started a job club that meets on Tuesdays. Two professional job coaches are managing it for the first four months. Librarians and outside speakers give 30 minute talks, and the participants learn to network.

Jane Klingberg from Triton College discussed their program to help job seekers with their resumes. I learned that a lot has changed since I last put together my own resume. Resumes should be one page; only the most experienced job seekers should venture to use a two-page resume today. She recommended writing in 8-point font to get the content into a nicely formatted single page. Only include work and experiences from the past ten years on your resume. Her place of employment recommends starting the resume with a statement of the job seeker's objective; studies show that half of the employers really want this and the other half do not. The second element on the resume should be a summary of skills aimed at the specific position advertised. She said that resume templates from Microsoft Word should be avoided because 1) they are hard for unskilled computer users to manipulate and 2) employers are tired of looking at the cookie-cutter results.

Fidencio Marbella spoke about programs for job seekers at the Melrose Park Public Library. In workshops at his library, he has incorporated roll playing to make the point that resumes have to look good to be considered. A volunteer plays the employer going through resumes. Fidencio gives that volunteer a stack of sample resumes and five seconds to evaluate each. The point is quickly made that appearance is critical. He also described how his library got grants and solicited funds from area businesses for their job programs. (Fidencio impressed me as a speaker who can draw an audience into his subject. I'd welcome hearing him discuss other topics.)

Chris Schabel, who was once laid off by Sears, described the job resource center that the Aurora Public Library has set up. The room has computers with two-hour sign-ins for job seekers and a collection of career materials. Chris said that she knew from experience that many area employers advise applicants get help with online applications at the public library.

There were numerous website recommendations. was recommended for people seeking low paying jobs, which are often difficult to find in many of the other online job services. Klingberg recommended librarians bookmark the soon-to-be-remodeled, a source put together by the junior colleges of northern Illinois; these Chicago area job listings do not often make the national job boards. Several speakers recommended Indeed, a mega-search across many job banks.

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