Career Renewal Opportunities

Parishes Help Job Seekers Pound the Pavement

People wait in line for a job fair in New York's Times Square.
People wait in line for a job fair in New York's Times Square. (photo: CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters)

Six times in the last dozen years, Ted Rozolis has been laid off. This time, the telecommunications specialist has been out of work for nearly two years.

“I always bounce back,” says the Huntington Beach, Calif., resident.

Still, he admits that the job hunt can be discouraging: “A lot of times when you’re looking for a job, you need the support of the community behind you to give you courage and hope.”

That’s why he has been a regular at Sts. Simon and Jude Church’s Career Renewal Ministry meetings. At the Huntington Beach parish, he has learned the eight steps of a successful job search and had lots of networking opportunities. He has made new contacts and learned about newer job-hunting tools like LinkedIn, an online networking site. “It’s all about who you know,” he says. “You’ve got to put yourself out there.”

Across the country, countless people are putting themselves “out there,” struggling to find work in a faltering economy. The process can be terrifying, exhausting and lonely — but these job hunters are not alone. Like Sts. Simon and Jude, many Catholic parishes have established new or revitalized existing job-focused ministries to assist those in career transitions.

In Olathe, Kan., the St. Joseph Career Transition Group at Prince of Peace Catholic Church has been running for about seven years. Participation peaked toward the end of 2009, says co-facilitator Reid Hjelmaas, and has tapered off recently — perhaps the result of many participants landing jobs. Still, numbers are pretty high — about 60 people attend the Wednesday meetings.

Gathering regularly helps participants maintain accountability and stick to their plans for networking or sending out résumés, Hjelmaas adds. Otherwise, it’s too easy for time to pass without job hunters having made any progress. “You can always be busy, but finding the right things to do” is vital, he says.

Spiritual Strength
But the St. Joseph group isn’t merely about networking tips or mock interviews. Hjelmaas notes that the spiritual side of job hunting is every bit as important as the practical side. People who are out of work progress through various emotional stages, akin to the stages of grief: wondering why this is happening to them, feeling angry and feeling hopeless.

“Typically that’s what we’re dealing with: helping people deal with the spiritual-emotional side of the activity, [and] also to help them prepare for the job search through coaching, advice for creating a good résumé [and creating a] 30-second ‘commercial,’” Hjelmaas says.

While meetings always include a networking session during which participants can share leads and contacts, they also always include a meditation, prayer or invitation to the Holy Spirit to help people during this sometimes anguishing process. About half the participants are Catholic, though many are not parishioners at Prince of Peace. “We view it as a ministry of the church,” says Hjelmaas. “Whether or not you happen to be part of our parish, whether or not you happen to be Catholic, we’re there to minister to you in a fashion that suits the need of the time.”

At St. Michael’s Career Transition Group, a ministry of St. Michael Church in Cary, N.C., Bill Taylor — one of four volunteer facilitators — “inherited” his position when he was a member of the group seeking work in his new hometown. (A transplant from Ohio, Taylor was fortunate enough to be in a position to retire when new career opportunities did not show themselves.)

Wake County — home to the state capital of Raleigh — has been very hard hit by the recession, Taylor says, noting that the area had sometimes been dubbed “the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.” Some companies went bankrupt, while others merely shrank, but the end result is an unemployment rate of 8% (as of April 2010).

The St. Michael’s group focuses on the practicalities of successful job hunting, says Taylor — but the essence of the parish-based group is spiritual. “We have people who are out there who are out of work, who are hurting — [and] the core essence of our being is to help other people,” he says. “From my standpoint, that’s the motivation.”

Job transition “can be a spiritual journey,” agrees Chris Sumptor, pastoral administrator of Sts. Simon and Jude. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to just be grace-filled and show the better part of who you are. You are not what you do.”

Tips for a Successful Job Search
1. Become a salesperson. “Like it or not, right now you are selling, and you’re selling the most important product you could ever have to sell: yourself,” says Taylor. “You’ve got to approach it that way.”
2. Work your contacts. Remember that your next-door neighbor may not own a company with an opening that fits you perfectly — but his sister-in-law may be the head of human resources at a company that does have such an opening. Be sure you have a 30-second self-commercial prepared for the moment when an acquaintance asks you what type of position you’re looking for.
3. Identify — and use — new resources. If you’re not familiar with online job-searching opportunities, get familiar with them. LinkedIn is a great place to start; you can create a personal page that will act as a virtual résumé, and you can use the networking site to connect with former and new contacts. You can also join networking groups such as the St. Joseph the Worker National Network.
4. Pray. Remember that you are not in this alone; not only are there thousands of people facing the same struggle you are, the Holy Spirit accompanies you in your search.

Elisabeth Deffner writes from Orange, California.

Prayer for Employment God, our Father, I turn to you seeking your divine help and guidance as I look for suitable employment. I need your wisdom to guide my footsteps along the right path, and to lead me to find the proper things to say and do in this quest. I wish to use the gifts and talents you have given me, but I need the opportunity to do so with gainful employment. Do not abandon me, dear Father, in this search, but rather grant me this favor I seek so that I may return to you with praise and thanksgiving for your gracious assistance. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.