Job won

Prince of Peace program has a reputation as one of the top job clubs in the metro
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by Joyce A. Mitchell

OLATHE — The woman was calling from Independence, Mo., asking directions to Prince of Peace Church here.

Fred Fosnacht, who coordinates the job club for the parish, offered to give her a list of other clubs that would be closer to her home. But she was not interested.

“Everybody knows Prince of Peace’s job club is the best,” she replied.

Her statement validates Fosnacht’s decision to start the St. Joseph Career Transitions Group, a spiritually-based resource for job seekers. He started the group four years ago, when he was retiring voluntarily from a corporate job at 48, and was in search of a second profession.

“I knew I wanted to do something very different for the rest of my career,” said Fosnacht.

“I wanted to take the moment of change and make it into a moment of grace,” he added.

In his search for some sort of spiritual component to his career considerations, he found few job or career development resources factored in the question: “What does God want me to be doing with my life?”

Apparently, what God wanted Fosnacht to do with his life dovetailed very nicely with the as-yet-unforeseen needs of a lot of people. Fosnacht utilized the technology experience he’d acquired in his previous job to found a new company, MyCatholicVoice, an online meeting place for Catholics that combines social networking, music downloads, content from Catholic publishers, and YouTube-type features. Today, he is utilizing what he’s learned from that new career, as well as his previous one, to facilitate the job club at Prince of Peace.

NETWORK, NETWORK

The job club the Independence woman was calling about used to draw some 12 to 20 people in its early years; as the economy has worsened, the number has grown.

Now 50 people come to the Wednesday sessions, held from 7 to 8:30 a.m. at the church. About half are Catholic, said Fosnacht.

“Job club is the best thing that could happen to anybody because most of us are not experts in hunting for a job,” says Jodi Kersten, a Prince of Peace member.

But Fosnacht has developed ways to use the technology of his new career to help others find a way into theirs.

“We use quite a bit of technology because of my background, and MyCatholicVoice as a platform for supporting the job club,” Fosnacht said.

For example, with the help of MyCatholic Voice.com technology, job hunters can record their “elevator speeches” and study the video later to find ways to improve it.

“An elevator speech,” explained Kersten, “is an individual’s quick pitch: ‘Tell who you are and what you do in 30 seconds.””

At the job club, participants are encouraged to polish theirs until it shines.

“We rehearsed it and did it over and over,” she said.

But that’s just one of the ways the Prince of Peace group helps participants.

“Job club is more support than you could ever imagine,” said Kersten.

The job-seekers can ask for specific help — good approaches for a certain question, contacts in a specific industry or company.

“Networking is critical in today’s environment,” added job club alumni Joe Fazzi. “You never know who may be your next contact.”

Jobs are often landed through a recommendation.

In hindsight, said Fazzi, it was a blessing he did not get some of the jobs he applied for during his 10 months of unemployment.

During that time, in order to support his wife and two teenage daughters, he took a “survival income job” for three months at an auto dealership.

While selling cars, he said, he practiced his 30-second pitch.

The practice didn’t immediately pay off.

“The most difficult part was getting rejection letters, especially when you go out and interview in person and still you don’t get the job,” said Fazzi. “You need to learn not to take it personally, but it’s hard not to.”

When he did eventually land a fulfilling job as the vice president of a small not-for-profit print media company, IDEAlliance, Fazzi began giving back. He now serves as a coach for the job club, offering general support and scheduling speakers for the meetings.

SPIRITUAL SUPPORT

Some meetings feature a speaker, while others are devoted to small group activities, like resumé reviews. But always the meetings start and end with a prayer or meditation.

“In terms of motivation and helping me, you can only talk to your spouse so much, so it was a nice support group emotionally,” says Bill Schwingen, who was unemployed for three months. Since finding a position as executive director of The Gardens, a 100-bed assisted living community in Kansas City, Mo., he keeps in touch with the job club by e-mail and, when an opening occurred for an activities director, he notified the group.

Kersten applied for and landed that job.

“The spirituality made you feel more at peace and relaxed and gave a different look about what was going on,” said Kersten.

The 40-year-old was out of work for 15 months, enduring the first lapse of employment in her career.

Richard Palen also found the spiritual aspect of the program an essential ingredient. “The prayerfulness will get me through it and has made it easier,” he said.

Palen, 34, was let go in early March from a small cabinet company where he had worked for a year in sales. He had found that job after being downsized a year-and-a-half before from a similar position with another cabinet-maker.

“The job search can be a little humiliating,” Palen says. “It’s helpful to know I’m not the only one.”

TRAINING FOR THE BIG GAME

Interviewing is not usually a spectator sport, but on the first Saturday of the month at the job club, job-seekers practice for that all-important interview. In March, Susan Santcoeur of Olathe faced interviewer Lori Wittman, with several job club participants looking on from the other end of the conference room table. When the interview is over, they will critique the 30-minute simulation, which is being recorded.

Like the elevator speech, it can be reviewed later online.

Wittman, a vice president at FreightQuote.com in Lenexa, regularly screens people for positions at the company. She based the interview on a real position Santcoeur had applied for. A self-described “single mom looking in a bad market,” the former Sprint employee has been out of work for a year and appreciated the practical advice at the careers group.

“To have a group watching and knowing they would comment was awful,” Santcoeur acknowledged after the mock interview, but she knows a good interview is crucial to landing the job.

Did the answer to the “weaknesses” question bounce off the rim, fall way short or swoosh through the net?

It was a slam dunk, the panel tells her, and her inquiry about how the president’s stimulus plan will affect the firm was excellent. Customize the elevator speech for the “tell me about yourself” part, they suggest.

GOOD LORD, IT’S MORNING

Theresa Cogswell was one of the Prince of Peace parishioners offering feedback at the mock interview. She contacted Fosnacht after he spoke at Masses last fall inviting parishioners to be informational resources for the job club.

Two years ago, Cogswell voluntarily left a 15-year position with Interstate Bakeries Corp., where she was a vice president but no longer enjoyed her work. She set out “to find a job where you say ‘Good morning Lord,’ not ‘Good Lord, it’s morning,’” Cogswell explained.

She started working on her own as a baking-industry consultant and now finds herself billing more hours than she expected. But more importantly, she’s actually enjoying life and her career.

In addition to helping participants find the right job for them, the job club has also helped integrate some parishioners more fully in their parish.

Fazzi had relocated here from New York, but it wasn’t until he was laid off 15 months later that he realized how few people he knew outside of work.

Prince of Peace pastor Father Frank Burger suggested he join the job club — for more reasons than one.

“That’s where I wound up being much more integrated into the community,” said the 47-year-old Fazzi . The careers group led to his joining the Knights of Columbus as well.

Palen started attending the club three months ago when he could see signs that his newest position might not last. Like Fazzi, he soon found himself involved in other parish activities as well. He signed up to sponsor his girlfriend (now fiancée Sarah Dare) in the RCIA program and began singing with the 5 p.m. Sunday choir. With the extra time he has, he also is volunteering for Catholic Charities.

As a bachelor, he doesn’t have the pressure of a family to support, but he’s put the house he bought last May on the market. He and his fiancée would like to get married this fall, but are waiting to make plans until he has a position.

Until then, he’ll persevere — with the prayer and support of the career transitions group.

“Other job clubs are about ‘Get the job, get the job,’” Palen said.

But at Prince of Peace, Palen said, “There is more to it than that.”

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