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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking for work? Join the club

Regina program for immigrants draws on the power of the group

Read article at Ottawa Citizen News

Here's a challenge: Cross your arms in front of you. Hold that for a second.

Now, take the top arm and put it beneath the other arm.

Feels strange, no? Gail Vandebeek uses that little exercise to make an important point: You sometimes must break out of familiar routines.

It's one of the points she's getting across to a "job-finding club" she and colleagues from Dragon 9 Training are overseeing for the Regina Open Door Society, which works with immigrants.

"It's a numbers game," says Vandebeek.

"The more calls, the more interviews you get - and the more your chances of getting a job.

"If you just stay at home, and watch TV, you're not going to work. Their job here is to find a job."

Hanging over everything, fellow instructor Rick Urbanski tells the dozen or so students in a sunfilled classroom another statistic: Only 20 per cent of job openings are advertised publicly - that is, on a website or in a newspaper.

The challenge facing the job seeker is to make calls and contacts that find those other jobs.

The membership of the club is cosmopolitan: Philippines, South Korea, Ethiopia, from India via England, Nigeria, Bhutan, Jordan and Kuwait. It's well-educated, too, with university degrees galore.

This two-week class involves not only learning how to make cold calls on potential employers, but also charting them on a wall chart that everybody can see, along with the number of letters and resumes sent out.

Attendance is taken and everybody signs "commitment sheets." That emphasizes what Vandebeek calls the power of the group - the synergy that comes from working together and sharing ideas and life lessons.

"They become mentors for each other," she says.

There's also role-playing, instruction on writing a resume and a cover letter, plus what Urbanski calls "the most important element: " writing a thank-you letter after every meeting with a potential employer.

There are also some interesting tactics, like doing research into an organization by asking its managers about what makes a good employee.

Urbanski says what often "seals the deal" is asking those managers how they got their own job, as experience has shown that people like to talk about what they've learned. And if job seekers can swing it, they should consider volunteering for a short, unpaid internship at an organization, so they can showcase their skills, he says.

Urbanski is keen to have job seekers realize they don't have to be passive, that they have the power to present themselves to potential employers, "It's not the employer just finding you; it's your job to find the employer."

In turn, employers need to know new arrivals bring energy and, often, considerable education and experience and the determination that brought them here in the first place.

"I don't think employers realize what these people can bring to them, to the workplace and to their employees."

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