Thursday, October 24, 2013

The LA Fellows Experience by Jonathan Berger

At the informational orientations that are held to introduce people to the LA Fellows program, former Fellows come in and share their experience in the program to give job seekers who are considering applying the inside scoop on what they can expect. Jonathan Berger of Cohort 8 spoke at a recent session and agreed to share his thoughts for the blog as well:

Why did you apply for the LA Fellows program?
I am an attorney. I went to UCLA undergrad and then USC Law School.  I even did a semester at Notre Dame.  So I always have someone to root for on a Saturday afternoon.  In my career I’ve worked for several large hospital and healthcare companies, most recently a 12-year stint with a large pharmaceutical company.  Everything was going quite well for me until the division that I was working for was closed down by the parent company.  I was laid off, and went on unemployment for the first time in my life.

In many ways I was very lucky.  I was given a generous severance package in light of my length of service, and I was even brought back for a time as a consultant to help with the wind down.  I was provided “outplacement” services including a private coach for interviewing skills and job search strategies, a resume consultant to revise and improve my resume, and similar services.  It was a great “package” – but it didn’t work!

I thought that I was doing all the right things, sending out resumes, using the job boards like Indeed, Monster and Simply Hired. I was going to some networking meetings and things like that.   I had some interviews with some good organizations here in Los Angeles, up in the Bay Area, even Arizona.  I came close several times, but nothing clicked.  Over time I settled into a routine of half-heartedly applying for jobs that I didn’t expect to get.  Getting comfortable with being unemployed.  Finding things to occupy my time but not really getting anywhere.

Then I heard about the LA Fellows.  I came to an Orientation to find out more about the program.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had a feeling that this program was what I needed to get myself back on track.  There’s a famous saying that goes:  “90% of success is showing up”.  I showed up!

What you gained from the training portion of LA Fellows?
It may be a cliché that we’re tired of hearing:  “You only get out of something what you put in” – but that sums up the LA Fellows program very well.  Allison Silver and her team have assembled one of the best groups of instructors that I’ve ever seen and put together a series of classes that are more than simply a job search boot camp, they actually provide an education on not only how to be the candidate that will be selected, but how keep that job and continue to build your skills and your network to prepare you for the job after that, and the job after that, and so on. 

What were the benefits of being a part of Cohort 8?
There were twenty-two Fellows in Cohort 8.  It wasn’t quite the cast of the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” but we were a very diverse group.  We did, however, have a few things in common: We’re serious about improving ourselves professionally and we look out for one another!  We are willing to learn, and we are willing to help each other.  Whether it was looking over each other’s resume, conducting practice interviews, staying after class to help with setting up a LinkedIn profile or sharing job leads, the Crazy Eights work as a team.  It was nice to be part of a team again.

It was also really good to have a regular schedule.  It may seem strange to say, but having things to do, assignments with due dates, etc., are exactly what we needed to get our minds back in shape.  The instructors know that there’d be nothing worse for us than to land a job and then fall flat on our faces on a task, or have attendance problems with being late.

The class schedule is rigorous.  The days are long and the breaks were short.  But that’s what the “real world” is like, isn’t it?  This program will get you in shape – believe me.

Where did you volunteer and what did gain from your nonprofit volunteer experience?
I came from the for profit sector.  I didn’t have much experience with nonprofits, at least not with how they operate and what the internal dynamics are like.  As part of the LA Fellows program, and in return for the education and training that LA Fellows receive, they are required to perform 100 hours of service for a nonprofit organization.   The LA Fellows program has a network of nonprofit organizations that are eager to have bright, motivated folks work as interns to gain work experience and make connections.

In order to get your internship you have to apply for the jobs the same way you would a “real” job. I got valuable experience applying for the internship positions, tailoring and sending resumes, scheduling interviews, showing up for interviews, being on time, not spilling my coffee, having a spare resume with me and remembering what it says, all that good stuff.

How did being an LA Fellows help you land your job/get more interviews, etc.?
The nonprofit internship interviews were a very positive experience.  In particular, it felt nice to be “wanted” and for it to be more of a “two-way street”, where I was actually interviewing the nonprofit and deciding if it was a good fit for me. 

My volunteer work was done at The Center for Nonprofit Management in downtown LA.  It is a “capacity builder” helping other nonprofits in Southern California with management and organization strategies, consulting services and executive coaching.  My work there has given me valuable experience in my sector, healthcare, and it has given me something real and current to talk about in interviews, networking conversations, etc.

So, did the LA Fellows work for you?
Yes, it worked!  Just recently, I had a three-hour interview with a small law firm downtown.  It  was great to feel so prepared and confident.  I used my STAR stories (where one gives an example of a “Situation, Task, Action and Result” that demonstrates one’s skills and experience) and I presented a strong and well-reasoned case for how the hiring manager would be glad to hire me.  So, I was delighted to be offered a job as an attorney working on healthcare and corporate transactions, which is exactly the kind of work that I wanted to do! The job is starting out as a part-time position, which is actually good so that I can ease into it.  But I get the feeling that it’s going to be full-time fairly soon.

I would advise candidates for the LA Fellows program to take the application very seriously, especially the essay or personal statement portion. Even if writing isn’t your strong suit if you’re honest about who you are and what you want to do then that will come through.  Allison and the LA Fellows team spend many hours on the selection process, and there really are many qualified people who don’t get in – so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get chosen the first time, you can apply again.

I can honestly say that I don’t think that I’d have gotten my new job without the training and support that I received from the LA Fellows program.  If you want to really take your job search to the next level then this is the program for you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Difference Volunteering Makes

In addition to 140 hours of classroom training on job search techniques and executive level professional topics, an important part of the LA Fellows program involves each Fellow volunteering at least 100 hours of their time and talents for a project at a nonprofit organization of their choice. The volunteer component is the piece that sets LA Fellows apart from other programs designed to retrain and get unemployed individuals back to work.

The most recent class (or “Cohort” in Fellow-speak) graduated August 30th and has shown amazing cohesiveness and commitment to staying in touch, supporting each other and making sure they all stay on the path of what they learned in the program until they are re-employed. The “Crazy 8’s,” as LA Fellows Cohort 8 has dubbed themselves, recently gathered for their weekly accountability meeting to check in on their progress, cheer for those who’ve landed jobs so far and chart their plans for the next week. Most of them have now completed their 100 hour commitment to their nonprofits and they reflected on their experiences.

Bruce Elsperger, an experienced live-entertainment management professional, chose to donate his hours to EngAGE, an organization that brings the arts to local senior centers. Bruce spent his hours teaching drama and improv classes for three of their centers around the Los Angeles area. When he started LA Fellows training, he was thinking of finding a career that would allow him to work with baby-boomers making the transition to the next phase of life. According to Bruce, his volunteer internship reaffirmed that passion and made him more sure of the path he wants to pursue.

At one center he taught at, he had a dramatic performance for their last class. On the day of the performance, one of the seniors was taken to the hospital (over protestations that he couldn’t miss the show!) and Bruce had to fill in. That meant someone had to take over the duties of the narrator that Bruce, as the director, would otherwise have done. He asked one of the ladies who came to the group but had not previously participated if she would take over for him. She was honored that he believed she could do it and told him after the show, “You have just fulfilled one of the items on my bucket list.” 

At another site, a small group gathered on their last day to do prepared readings. One woman arrived for the class who had not previously been available to attend. Bruce let her know it was the last day, but asked if she would be willing to do a cold reading with one of the other residents. She agreed, with the disclaimer that she had never done anything like that before. As showbiz folks would say, she killed, she performed like an expert actress. As she returned to her seat showered by applause, she told him “You have fulfilled a 5 year old’s dream.”

As each of the three classes was ending, evaluation forms were passed out to the participants to solicit feedback on the experience. There were many rave reviews, praising his efforts, but Bruce told the other Fellows at the meeting about one particular evaluation that really touched him. After the participant wrote that the best thing about the class was the teacher, the form asked what he/she had learned. The answer was: “to try to live again.”

As Bruce’s experience shows, LA Fellows volunteer component gives participants an opportunity to try new things, keep their existing skills current and test their ideas for transitioning. It also reminds Fellows that they are not defined by their unemployment, they are still professionals, valuable experts who have a lot to contribute.  The organizations Fellows serve, and their clients, benefit in so many meaningful ways.

Of course the most important thing is that LA Fellows helps people get back to work. In addition to all the good he did for others, Bruce got a paying job offer to teach a series of classes for one of the senior centers he worked at. Bravo Bruce! Another LA Fellows success story, in more ways than one.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Become an LA Fellow - Now Recruiting for Cohort 9!

Los Angeles Valley College Job Training is searching for unemployed men and women for the LA Fellows program. The program will provide unemployed mid-career individuals with skills training and volunteer opportunities while they seek full-time positions.

LA Fellows participants will be selected through an application and interview process. They will receive nine weeks of training at Los Angeles Valley College covering executive level topics, including critical thinking, advanced job search skills, and how to generate effective business leads. In return, participants will volunteer their time and talents by sharing their professional expertise through project based roles at local nonprofits.

The LA Fellows participants will acquire new skill sets, encounter countless opportunities to network with professionals, and project a marketable career candidate impression while presenting a community-focused image.

Interested individuals can join us at one of our informational sessions to learn more about the LA Fellows program and application process, and get their questions answered. Job Seekers only need to attend one informational session.

LA Fellows Informational Sessions - Be prepared to stay two hours. There are two locations:

Friday, October 18, 9:00am
Friday, October 25, 9:00am
Wednesday, October 30, 9:00am

Los Angeles Valley College
5800 Fulton Avenue – Job Training Office
Valley Glen, CA 91401-4096
Located in Administration Building

Free parking in available in Lot B at the corner of Oxnard St. and Fulton Ave. Parking tickets will not be issued during the informational sessions. ******************************************************
Tuesday, October 29, 10:00am

Pacoima EDD/WorkSource
11623 Glen Oaks Blvd.
Pacoima, CA 91331

Free parking on site

An application is available online and you are encouraged to fill it out prior to attending the informational session – but it is not required to attend. If you know other job seekers who might be interested in the program, please encourage them to attend one of the informational sessions.

For more information about the LA Fellows program, please visit: or call 818.947.2941.