Tuesday, November 26, 2013

“So, What Do You Do?”

By Danny Syto, Cohort 8

I was very fortunate to have worked for a boss who allowed me to create my own job title just as long as it does not have the word “Chief” in it. So I claimed the title “Emperor of Project Management.”  It was amusing at that time and sure to get a chuckle when I was asked “What do you do?” whether it is in the office or in networking events.

However, things changed when I was laid off.  First of all, I do not like the phrase “laid off”.  It has such a negative connotation. I wish there was another word for it.  The corporate world use the polite term “Reduction in Force” but then people changed it into a verb by saying “I was RIFed”.  I would rather use the term “Job Seeker.” 

Things changed when I became a Job Seeker.  Inevitably, during one of the functions I was attending with my kids and other parents, I was asked the question “So, what do you do?”  I felt like I had a big neon sign on my back that said “laid off” and I could not tell them that I was still the “Emperor.”  The best I could do is mumble the words “I’m in transition” while looking down at the floor. 

I felt like I was subhuman because I know what’s behind that seemingly innocuous first question we often ask of strangers.  It meant “How much money do you make? What is your socioeconomic status? How do I compare to you? Are you worth my time?”

A couple of times I tried to dodge the question by saying “I’m a Dad of three boys and we like to go fishing and hang out together.”  I still get in a tight spot when they follow up with a more direct “Where exactly do you work?”  Whenever I encounter these questions I often end up writing an entire page in my journal with reflections of why I felt like dirt.  I remember gathering my kids to tell them that if anyone asks what I do, tell them I’m retired.  “I used to be a Rocket Scientist, but I’m now retired, get it?” “Dad, I didn’t know you were a Rocket Scientist, can we still buy that video game?”   Later on, I found that this could backfire and hinder my chances of getting employed.

Since joining the LA Fellows I learned that I can control how to respond to these situations. There are times when strangers just want to strike up a conversation or engage in small talk.  I see the possibility of networking. These days, I respond according to the situation.  I really enjoy volunteering for my nonprofit and there was a time when I confidently said “I’m a Grant Writer” looking at them straight in the eye.  It even surprised some people who were close to me knowing that I’m not employed, - or am I?  In that particular situation, I found out that the other person was also a job seeker.

The best response however, is just telling them that I’m a Project Management Professional looking for better opportunities.  It’s a fact, these days people who are employed will need to continually look for better opportunities.  It’s also a matter of which small voice in my head I choose listen to: Am I a victim of the situation? Am I the captain of my ship?

Next time someone asks you the question, “What do you do?” Tell them what you are passionate about.

I’m passionate about sharing what I know.  As an LA Fellow, I continue to learn and challenge myself. Most of all, I am an active job seeker, that’s what I do. 
By the way, I’m no longer the Emperor; I’m here to serve you.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

LA Fellows Getting More Attention Online

All of us here at the LA Fellows program are excited to see the online press pick up on the story we previously posted about, which ran on NextAvenue.com. This article has since been reposted on Forbes.com and referenced and linked to in an article on jobs.aol.com. We are very proud of the difference we are making and happy that the world is hearing about the work we do.

To see the additional articles, click on the following links:


If you know anyone in the Los Angeles area who is looking for a job, please have them read these articles and come to one of our orientations. Also, please retweet, like, and share on all of your social media accounts - LA Fellows is making a difference!


New Dates and Location: LA Fellows Program is Seeking Unemployed Job Seekers for Free Training and Networking Opportunities

Los Angeles Valley College Job Training is searching for unemployed men and women for the LA Fellows program. The program will provide unemployed 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.

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

LA Fellows Informational Sessions:
Wednesday, December 11, 9:00am
Tuesday, December 17, 9:00am
Los Angeles Valley College
5800 Fulton Avenue
Valley Glen, CA 91401-4096
Building:   Library
Room:       200 A, 2nd Floor
Free parking in Lot B at the corner of Oxnard St. and Fulton Ave. Parking tickets will not be issued during the informational sessions.

An additional orientation will be held:

Friday, December 6, 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: www.lafellows.org or call 818.947.2941.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

LA Fellows is Making National News

Most of our readers are well past their Sesame Street years, but did you know that PBS has created a place for us just around the corner? Their website, Next Avenue, is a place where "grown-ups keep growing." There is a whole section on Work and Purpose with lots of informative articles that job seekers could find useful.

Next Avenue reporter Elizabeth Isele spoke to LA Fellows Program Director Allison Silver and two of our many LA Fellows graduates, Nicholas Koutouras of Cohort 2 and Christine Stenberg of Cohort 1 about our unique, award-winning program. Their stories are heavily featured in an article just posted about getting work after long-term unemployment. Check out the original story here:

Next Avenue Logo

or read on...

Programs and Tips to Help the Long-Term Unemployed

How workers over 50 can land a position, even if they've been jobless for months

More than 4 million Americans today make up the nation’s “long-term unemployed,” those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. That’s down from 5 million a year ago, but still an enormous number.

About the only good news for these people, often in their 50s or 60s, is that there are some innovative public/private collaborative programs successfully getting the long-term unemployed back to work.

If you’re 50+ and have been
looking for a job for awhile or know someone like that, these programs are worth a look.

Workforce agencies across the country are reaching out to help thousands of displaced boomers, according to
Yvette Chocolaad, employment and training director for the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. Exacerbating the challenge is the increased complexity of job searches today. People looking for work now need social media marketing and personal branding skills as well as an ability to craft their resumes to include the right keywords and meet employers’ needs.

The Platform to Employment Program

One program with proven success is the Connecticut-based
Platform to Employment, profiled by Next Avenue in January and featured on 60 Minutes. Platform to Employment gives jobless people five weeks of training and then places them as interns at local employers — where they generally wind up getting hired.

Lately, Platform to Employment has expanded across the country. This year, the concept has popped up in Dallas, Cincinnati, San Diego, Chicago, Minneapolis, Newark, N.J., and, most recently, Denver. Detroit and Orlando, Fla., are on tap for this winter and San Francisco is expected to follow early next year.

The LA Fellows Program

Chocolaad also gives high marks to the
LA Fellows program. Here's how it works, along with advice for midlife job-seekers from two graduates, Nicholas Koutouras and Christine Stenberg.

Launched in 2010, LA Fellows was created at Los Angeles Valley College, which saw an opportunity to address two pressing community problems: Thousands of highly skilled, middle manager-level men and women looking for work and 30 percent of local nonprofits were in danger of closing because of staffing cutbacks due to the economic climate.

The program was originally funded by Los Angeles’s Community Development Department and is now supported by local WorkSource Centers, plus a variety of government and private partners.

The LA Fellows are selected through an application and interview process just as rigorous as if the candidates were applying for jobs. Project director Allison Silver says she looks for proactive job seekers with a serious commitment and an eagerness to learn.

Once accepted, Fellows receive seven weeks of free training, including sessions on beefing up their computer and
networking skills. Then they’re matched up with nearby nonprofits, where they volunteer their services for 100 hours. The projects range from updating websites to creating marketing plans to event planning to grant writing.

So far, 230 LA Fellows have graduated (each class is called a cohort) and the program has a nearly 70 percent job placement rate in Los Angeles, a city with one of the country's highest unemployment rates: 9.2 percent.

Silver says employers now come to her, asking: "How can I get an LA Fellow to come and work for me?"

Koutouras' Success Story and Advice

Here’s how LA Fellows' graduates Nicholas Koutouras and Christine Stenberg parlayed their training into satisfying, well-paid jobs and the advice they offer to the unemployed:
 LA Fellows graduate Nicholas Koutouras
Koutouras was in his late 40's when he lost his job as senior financial manager at a bank in May 2010. With a master's degree in accounting and information systems, he had built a successful career as a finance exec with large banks, insurers and accounting firms until a corporate merger eliminated his position.

Koutouras knew that hiring managers preferred to offer jobs to people who were currently working and that an LA Fellow volunteering assignment would fill that bill. After being accepted as a Fellow and going through the program's training, he was matched
with the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House to be a grant writer there.

Just prior to starting that volunteer work, however, Koutouras landed a full-time job as a senior vice president at a major national bank. He took the position (and has since been promoted). But eager to honor his Fellows commitment, Koutouras also joined a finance development committee for the Ronald McDonald House's Board of Trustees.

These days, Koutouras continues volunteering in his community — he’s on the board of the Ronald McDonald House and another group — and is an LA Fellows mentor.

Koutouras’ tips for job hunters:

1. Go get your future. "Be proactive. Once you've decided the direction you wish to go, target a company or industry and focus on preparing for your next role there," he says.

2. Join a professional organization. "Don't tell yourself you can't afford the dues; many waive their fees or reduce them for people who are currently unemployed," says Koutouras. "I joined the Financial Professionals International Association and within months I was made vice president of programs. This allowed me to directly interface with more than 300 senior level executives and practice 'my unemployed story' in a safe environment."

3. Don't waste your time sending out blind resumes or scrolling through web job boards. "Tap the hidden job market revealed to you through your network connections," he says. "Through this effort, you will learn about expansion plans at your target companies, job openings due to promotions and turnover and the identities of influential decision makers. Be sure to follow up on any of their
hidden' job tips."

Stenberg's Success Story and Advice

LA Fellows graduate Christine Stenberg

Christine Stenberg, then in her early 50s, endured a traumatic 30 days from mid-April to mid-May in 2010. Her relationship ended, two of her Labrador retrievers died and she was laid off from her IT management position due to a cutback.

Then, Stenberg was chosen for the first LA Fellows class and she has never looked back.

Her Fellows volunteer match was at a WorkSource career development center, where she trained and helped place unemployed individuals in bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies. After 43 hours of volunteering, WorkSource hired her full-time.

She then helped 60 clients find jobs before the poor economy forced the government to slash funding at the center. Sensing layoffs were coming, Stenberg drew on her new found LA Fellows confidence and skills to land a business analyst job at the National Notary Association.

Stenberg, who has since been promoted to IT manager, shares her story with each new LA Fellows class. Her three tips for the unemployed:

1. Stay positive. "Over time, your situation will change," says Stenberg. "I could have been extremely down when I lost my job and dogs. Instead, the day I was laid off, I arrived home to find four offers on my home that I had put up for sale. As a result, I didn’t have to worry about my finances and could focus on my job search."

2. Research your options online. "See what a company you're interested in says about itself," she advises. "But even more importantly, find out what others are saying about that company. What's its culture? Would you feel comfortable working there? Are current employees happy or do you spot a lot of turnover? If you like what you learn, use your networks to find an employee at the company who’d be willing to give you an
informational interview."

3. Don’t let fear hold you back. "On my first day at LA Fellows," Stenberg says, "I expressed my fear of public speaking, which is a skill that’s key to your success in the program. Throughout the training, I took advantage of every opportunity to speak publicly and, as the program concluded, my colleagues selected me as one of our graduation speakers. Now that I’ve overcome this fear, I have spoken to the Los Angeles Mayor's committee and the Los Angeles Community College Board of Directors, among others, about the importance of the LA Fellows program and what it did for me."