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The network

Catholic Career Roundtable offers job seekers a chance to network with employers


by John Shultz
Special to the Leaven

SHAWNEE — Downsized. Rightsized. Laid off. Obsolete. Unneeded. A luxury in the current economic climate. Outsourced. Consolidated. Let go. Fired.

Maybe you’re in transition. Maybe you’re starting a new job/career/position/city. Odds are that over the past few years you — or someone you know well — has been there, is there, or is fearful of what may be coming.

The Catholic Career Roundtable was started for someone like you.

“The job search climate is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Dave McClain, one of the facilitators of the local, multi-parish job club. “The old methods of sending out hundreds of resumes and getting five good job offers back — they don’t work anymore.”

McClain, a parishioner of Holy Cross Church in Overland Park, would know. He isn’t just a facilitator. He considers himself a CCR success story.

McClain was downsized Jan. 3, right into the teeth of a remarkably bad job market. He had known for a few months that a layoff was on the horizon. It took him until May to find a new job.

Four months after the Overland Park resident’s good fortune, unemployment still sits at over nine percent. Standing out in a crowded job-seeking market is more important than ever. And the preferred methods espoused by the CCR just might be the best approach, McClain said.

“It’s all about talking to people, networking,” he said. “I was reaching out to everyone I knew.”

Phillip Morgan, a founder and continued driving force behind CCR, stresses the importance of the “who you know” approach.

Currently meeting weekly at Good Shepherd Parish in Shawnee, CCR offers regular guidance sessions on the on the nuts and bolts of the job hunt.

But the real meat of the program is the monthly roundtables where job hunters meet with a panel of employers.

“We tell people it’s all about building relationships,” said Morgan, who belongs to Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in Overland Park.
“Finding a job is 30 percent ‘Are you qualified?’ and 70 percent ‘Do you fit in?’ . . . We tell people the resume is important, the business cards are important, but that’s only 30 percent.”

The Catholic Career Roundtable helps fill in the rest, said Morgan.

“We bring employers in, we bring job seekers in, and we help to start that relationship,” he added.

‘We’re a resource’

Morgan knows a thing or two about job hunting. His own personal economic security took a serious hit with the collapse of telecom giant Worldcom in 2002. He’s tried his hand at several positions and with several start-ups since then, and has been actively seeking work since January.

The CCR occupies a decent amount of his — and other facilitators’ — time.

CCR is a two-and-a-half-year-old venture, launched after the parish leadership at St. Ann in Prairie Village read about the success of the job club at Prince of Peace Parish in Olathe.

“Other parishes started catching on to the idea, because they all saw the need,” said Morgan, who was invited by then-pastor Msgr. Vince Krische and St. Ann parishioner John Caton to start work on a new job club. After all, if an Amish community can band together and raise a barn for a neighbor in need, Morgan wondered, why can’t a Catholic community work together to find their neighbors jobs?

Morgan said that the new club’s leaders wanted to get away from services already offered by many other career counseling outlets and job clubs in town.

So the CCR evolved, in simple terms, into an agent of both employer and job seeker, a go-between that helped connect those needing jobs with those looking to hire.

“We’re about jobs,” said Rick Alvarez, a CCR facilitator who is also from Queen of the Holy Rosary.

Figuring that there was strength in joining forces, CCR quickly grew into a cooperative effort of multiple parishes, including Holy Cross, St. Ann, Good Shepherd, Queen of the Holy Rosary, St. Agnes in Roeland Park, St. Pius X in Mission, and St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood. Participation isn’t limited to members of those parishes. And, of course, the group is open to all, not just Catholics.

Though the church basement job club is fairly ubiquitous in this day and age, a service like CCR is not.

CCR has weekly sessions that focus on the keys of self-promotion. These are the meetings where questions about resumes are welcome, where talk may turn to cover letters. Participants are encouraged to talk about their progress.

But the real identity of the group is the monthly namesake roundtables that routinely draw a crowd of 50, where potential employers — hiring managers, business owners — come in to sell their companies and answer questions.

And, most importantly, they come to talk about available jobs — lots of jobs, in some cases — as some panelists have come with news of over 100 openings.

Employers who’ve made an appearance are a veritable who’s who of local companies, including AMC Entertainment, Black & Veatch, Burns & McDonnell, Cerner, UMB Bank, local hospitals and municipalities, and other companies, large and small.

“We don’t just emphasize the job seeker,” said Alvarez. “We’re also trying to help the employers.”

This isn’t a resume review. (In fact, attendees who’ve attempted to use it as such may face some gentle correction.) It’s a networking event meant to benefit both employer and potential employee.

“We promote it as a resource — free to the job seeker and free to the employer,” Morgan said. “What we’re trying to do is educate the business owner.”

“We’re like a placement agency with no fees,” he continued. “We’re not a group in need. We’re a resource.”

For the job seekers, the networking can sometimes provide that all-important proverbial foot in the door.

“Maybe you apply online. Then what you need is to know someone inside, someone who can move your resume from the stack of 600 to the stack of 20,” said Morgan.

Judy Bond, a CCR facilitator with St. Pius X, adds, “The idea is for the job seeker to be able to send an email, make a phone call, and say to the employer, ‘Hey, I met you at the roundtable.’”

And for some, it’s a very successful resource at that.

‘The process works’

Amber Stanger is a CCR success story.

Stanger, a freelance editor, reached a point where she personally needed more stable and regular income.

“It’s been a while since I’ve gone through a formal job search,” the Shawnee resident and Good Shepherd parishioner said. “The job club was very helpful for me because the job hunt process has changed quite a bit since I was in the formal job hunt mode. It’s important to hear the different processes people are using now to get their feet in the door and find positions and set themselves apart.

“At the roundtable, I learned a lot about the ‘people end’ of things,” she said, adding that she landed an editorial position over the summer.

Stanger is now also a facilitator with CCR, saying that she wanted to help out others who are going through the same process she did.

“There are just so many people needing work, and it can be a very lonely, daunting place to be,” she said. “CCR is nice because you can get a real employer perspective.”

Mary Spencer of Independence is hoping to duplicate Stanger’s success.

On a Saturday in late August, Spencer was at Good Shepherd for CCR’s main monthly roundtable. Just weeks earlier, she was laid off by the Kansas City, Mo., School District, where she worked in public relations.

“It’s challenging,” she said. “But here, there’s always a really positive message. I’ve gotten a lot of really positive networking leads that I’m looking into. It’s good to know that networking is the way to go.”

Joyce Tebbe Troyer — a professional looking to re-enter the workforce, not unlike Stanger — echoed Spencer’s sentiment.

“It’s good to get out and network with people,” she said. “I wish there were even more panelists.”

As the August panel is about to get underway, Morgan instructs the audience about taking advantage of the brief “face time” with employers that follows every panel discussion.

“This is not a job fair,” he cautions the job seekers in attendance. “This is not hand-them-a-resume. . . .  It’s meet ’em and greet ’em, and maybe exchange cards.”

In his talk to the audience, Keith Weidenkeller, chief people officer for AMC, goes a long way toward reinforcing what Morgan and other CCR facilitators have been preaching: a solid resume can be nice, but solid networking and people skills can be a whole lot nicer.

“At AMC, we hire for attitude and train for skills,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter to us if you have the perfect skill set. . . . What we’re looking for is the right mindset, the right enthusiasm.”

“We’re looking for people who want to advance. We’re not focused on how many years you worked here or how many years you worked there,” he added.

Kent Barthol, with the Kansas City Business Journal, encouraged the job seekers to pull their job hunts away from the coffee shops and home offices.

“You have to get out from behind the computer,” he said. “Eighty percent of jobs are found through networking.”

Employers seem to appreciate the services CCR offers almost as much as job seekers.

“Taking in resumes can be like trying to drink from a fire hose,” Weidenkeller said. “Meeting with a group like this can be a great way to tap into a market.”

Bob Roper, who works in human resources for Ferrellgas, seconded that.

“When open positions often have hundreds of applicants, this personal meeting is invaluable for both sides,” he noted.

“After serving as a panelist last fall, I was contacted by over a dozen job seekers,” he said.

“I forwarded their resumes to my local contacts, answered questions and offered advice, and have been praying for them ever since,” Roper added, noting that he knows of at least one job seeker who was hired by his company.

“The process does work,” he concluded.

‘A ministry’

CCR organizers would like to see their efforts continue to grow. They’ve fielded calls from several churches — and denominations — in the metro area, and even received a handful of calls from churches in other states, asking if they planned on branching out.

Naturally, the founders and facilitators hope others try to duplicate their models and efforts.

Anything to get people in need working.

“We look at this as a ministry,” Alvarez said.

Morgan, too, stresses the spiritual aspect of CCR, noting that the group begins and ends each meeting with a prayer.

“For some people, church is from 9 to 10 on Sunday mornings,” he said. “Church is 24/7. And that’s what this job club is.”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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