LEWISTON – Joyce Paradis was absolutely beaming.
“I found my job,” she said to 15 people gathered in a conference room who instantly applauded and cheered the news. “You can’t imagine how excited I was when I got the call yesterday.”
“I wanted to be a success story,” said Paradis, smiling.
Her colleagues at the Unemployed Professionals Group share the same goal. Since January, a loose coalition of people meet every Friday to network, share job-search tips and support as they look for work.
They gather at the CareerCenter, where other Maine Department of Labor resources are available. The program attempts to match unemployed professionals with available jobs, to keep skilled people in the local labor pool.
“L-A is booming,” said Aime Parker, the group’s facilitator who shares her business expertise and her warm personality. “There is a need for more professionals and we don’t want the ones we have to leave.”
The three-hour-plus sessions follow a format. Following coffee and snacks, participants talk a little about their backgrounds and the type of work they are looking for. About 40 people have joined the group since it started, reflecting a breadth of experience. On this day there were music teachers, environmental engineers, office managers, newscasters and others.
Marc Metzger is a typical participant. An electronics technician in the Navy, he left the service in 1998 and held a series of jobs for which he was overqualified. Now he’s looking for a career change.
“A lot of the jobs I considered didn’t work out because of my skills … they would have had to pay me too much,” he said.
After introductions, the group breaks for a half hour of networking. People trade leads, gossip, contacts. There’s a loud buzz in the air.
Parker brings them all back to the table, to tell them of a workshop they might be interested in that involves presenting themselves at job fairs. She also mentions discounted tickets to hear motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.
Then she cedes the floor to Paradis, who wants to share some of the lessons she learned while looking for work. She had come three or four times to the group before she landed her dream job with JetBlue as a customer service rep.
“This group has been awesome,” she said. “Surrounding yourself with positive people is the most important thing.”
Formerly a director of volunteer services at St. Mary’s Regional Hospital and membership director of the local Chamber of Commerce, Paradis said a lot of prospective employers thought she was overqualified for the positions she sought. Plus, she was older than other applicants.
“I went to the interview with JetBlue and knew I was the oldest person in the room,” she said, “but I didn’t let that get in my way. I smiled, was friendly and got an offer.”
Louise Ridley, a new member of the group with extensive experience in occupational health and safety, took the floor next as a guest speaker. A high-octane woman, she encouraged people to get out of their comfort zones. To help identify those zones, she passed around personality tests.
“No cheating,” she quipped.
Each person discovered whether they were an introvert or extrovert (nearly half and half) then whether they were intuitive, judgmental and other personality traits. The answers formed a personality profile that could help them identify potential jobs they would have dismissed otherwise.
“When you’re looking for a job, you may need to get out of your comfort zone,” said Ridley.
She followed that with a NASA-based exercise on team building then a rousing game of Employee Feud, based on the game show Family Feud.
At the session’s end, people were laughing and encouraged for another round of job seeking.
“Employers need to know about this group,” said Ridley. “There’s a huge volume of skills here.”