Friday, May 17, 2013

Why Join LA Fellows?

It’s a fair question for people considering applying for LA Fellows to ask: What’s in it for me? If I spend those 140 hours in classes, and that 100 hours at a non-profit organization doing volunteer work, what do I get out of it? It takes away from spending that time actually looking for a job, doesn’t it?
As a graduate of Cohort 7 I can tell you LA Fellows is well worth the time spent.
Prior to starting the program, I was spending hours every day hunched over my laptop scanning for job postings and sending out resumes, with nary an interview to show for it. I assumed it was the economy, the fact that hundreds of resumes are received for every job posted. I went to the Work Source centers and invariably found myself in line next to someone looking sad and defeated who said, as if scripted, “I’ve been out of work for over a year.” I had begun to believe that that was just the reality in 2013. I had begun to believe that I would have to continue on this way until, as if by magic, some soulless employer with a job that paid even less than my previous one, and had nothing to do with my goals in life, called and agreed to let me serve a portion of my existence in their employ.
It seemed pretty bleak.
Through LA Fellows, I found that I was only doing 25% of what I could have been doing to find a job. Yes, the internet is one tool that everyone should use, but it’s not the only tool and certainly not as effective overall as other things one could be doing. The instructors de-mystified things like social media (Did you know you can get a job through Twitter?) and taught me about building my online brand as a job searcher. I learned that networking is not a four-letter word (I used to be so much better at spelling and math – what happened?) and it’s not as intimidating as it sounds, especially if you bring a friend. And I never would have thought to “bother” a stranger by calling/emailing them to ask to tap into their expertise through a short informational interview. All of these things help to make an individual more the known candidate, tap into the hidden job market and cut through the suck effect of the black hole that is the internet job search.
In addition, I got help on my resume. Prior to starting the program, I had gotten lots of free advice on what I should say and how I should format it. But many of the “experts” in person, in print and online, gave conflicting information. No version seemed markedly better than another. In class, Lynnette gave us sensible counsel on what the resume should look like and why. As a group, we got to know what each person’s experience was, what their strengths are, and where they wanted to take their careers; we helped each other translate that for potential hiring managers. I learned to stop advertising what I wasn’t selling, but to instead focus the document to play up the strengths I *did* want to use in my next position. We learned to change bullet-pointed duties to actual accomplishments, even when we took it for granted that we had none.

In LA Fellows, I met and got to know amazing people that I hope I stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Seeing myself through their eyes was a revelation, and a boost to my sometimes-lagging self-esteem. My spirits were raised because we laughed a LOT. When we struggled, or broke down in tears (yes, that’s how close we got), there was always a strong shoulder, Kleenex and help to move forward. Unlike before I joined, I no longer feel alone in this journey; they understand even better than family and friends because they’re right there on the path next to me. I frequently send job leads to my classmates that seem to match what they’re looking for, and they do the same for me. Did I mention we laugh a lot too?

I see the results of working the program, even now so soon after our graduation: Fellows landing jobs, getting more interviews, meeting interesting and influential people, finding the career path they want instead of the one they went down because it was there. I don’t panic when others succeed because I know it will happen for me too, thanks to everything we learned and thanks to the support of the program, the instructors and my fellow Fellows.
One caveat: you have to be willing to say “yes” to the opportunities offered and do the work. It’s a chance to learn (free for you!) a better way to job search. You just have to be open to it, and give it a try. If some part doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to keep using it, but you’ll have that resource if you need it.
So, will we see YOU at the next orientation?

Mary Turner
LA Fellows, Cohort 7

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