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Where laid-off CEOs (and everyone else) can get job search help

Out of work? Join the club. That is, Danville's Job Connections, which helps everyone, from store clerks to corporate executives, strategize job searches, network, and stay positive.

A recent Job Connections meeting at the Community Presbyterian Church. Out of camera view are more than 60 new members standing in line to share their 30-second introductions.

Courtesy of Rod Ford-Smith

Every Saturday morning, a growing number of men and women gather at the Community Presbyterian Church in Danville. They have not come for a religious service but for help from Job Connections, a non-fee job referral program sponsored by the church.

Those flocking to Job Connections’ regular Saturday meetings come from all sectors of the recently employed: laid-off Mervyns clerks, mortgage brokers, refugees of once hard-charging high-tech companies, and corporate executives, including CFOs and CEOs.

As the economy spiraled downward this fall, and the rolls of the East Bay’s unemployed grew to 9.2 percent in February, the numbers of people finding their way to Job Connections has swelled.

“It has basically tripled,” says Rod Ford-Smith, one of the group’s leaders. Back in October, he says, each Saturday meeting attracted around 50 to 100 people. Recent meetings have hosted up to 350 people in the church’s sanctuary, more people than might attend a typical Sunday service, Ford-Smith says he heard from one of the church deacons.

The good news is that Job Connections is helping people find work. In the past month, Ford-Smith has learned of 10 people who have secured jobs through Job Connections, including someone who was hired for a high-level marketing position.

Job Connections participants enjoy a combination of services. At the Saturday meetings, newcomers learn about the program, then introduce themselves. All attendees participate in group discussions and listen to guest speakers share tips, techniques, and advice on looking for work.

Members can also meet up in smaller “Success Teams” of six to eight people. These teams, which meet once or more a week, might be made up of people from the same industry or from different industries, and they provide one another with help in clarifying career goals and strategizing job searches. Ford-Smith said some people have found jobs through these Success Teams because someone on their team knows someone who is hiring.

Job Connections also helps job seekers clean up their resumes and brush up on their interview skills. Ford-Smith said even seasoned executives and CEOs need help presenting themselves well in job interviews. Overall, Job Connections wants to do what it can to help job seekers stay positive and network, network, network.

Often, members realize it is time to switch professions, and the group can help them navigate that process as well. Ford-Smith said he himself switched careers, going from a high-pressure job in high-tech to selling insurance.

“Selling insurance is a huge change for me,” he says. “I was in high-tech 14 to 15 years. Selling insurance is a whole different mindset. It’s more oriented towards solving problems for other people.”

Job Connections meets every Saturday 9–11:30 a.m. at the Community Presbyterian Church, 222 W. El Pintado, Danville. If you are a newcomer, you must attend an introductory session that starts promptly at 9 a.m. before you can join the group. For more information about Job Connections and how it works, and for directions to the meeting, visit jobconnections.org.