By Ingrid Schaefer Sprague | Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
Ohio CareerConnect offers monthly networking meetings on the last Wednesday of each month from January through October at the Oak Barrel restaurant in Valley View. Business professionals — employed and unemployed — from various career backgrounds network and provide advice to each other. Those who attend identify their professional experience in a field through color-coded name tags. “That way you can seek out your brothers and sisters in a career field,” Martin says.
However, associating with other professionals from various career paths is also encouraged — either for information about the field itself or to broaden the contact base of potential clients. Martin cites the man who had been looking for a job for eight months before mentioning his search to a neighbor, who hooked him up with a company with an opening in his select career field.
“We create camaraderie,” Conrad says. “We are in it together; it’s us against the world. We don’t sit — we stand at the Oak Barrel. We check in with everyone there. I may notice that Joe and Mary have been talking for two hours and need to meet other people. I’ll introduce them to others.”
Conrad says during the OCC meeting that he and Martin take a break to lift people up and keep it positive. They introduce those who have “landed” and also talk about what opportunities are still available. “Everyone cheers, and Rick and I will take them out to dinner,” Conrad says. “These people are on our website Wall of Fame and LinkedIn profile. It’s about camaraderie. They keep coming back to OCC, even after they landed.”
Occasionally OCC will host speakers who are executive-level professionals and human resources recruiters from leading area companies, such as Steris and Lubrizol, who discuss the latest trends in hiring.
On its website Ohio CareerConnect states that the organization is the founders’ way of “paying it forward.” In February 2011 — in the “heyday of career outplacement,” Martin and Conrad found themselves asking what more they could do to help business professionals who were in career transition. “We thought maybe it would be a good idea to get them together and let them network,” Martin says. “If they were all in the same room, there would be synergy.”
Ohio CareerConnect, which had about 10 to 15 people at its original meeting, soon grew to 20 to 30 people from various career paths, including — but not limited to — business, engineering, information technology, human resources, and marketing. Martin and Conrad know “networking is a big key to getting jobs,” Martin says.
Although Martin, Conrad, and Perry all come from the financial sector, OCC is not a marketing tool for Szarka Financial. Regarding their commitment to helping others find work while maintaining their current occupations, Martin says, “There are things we do to feed our families, and things we do to feed our souls.”
For Conrad, his motivation for paying it forward came from his personal experience as a foster child with his brother in East Cleveland. When he was six years old, his “forever home” happened for him and his brother, who were adopted by his father, a former Bowling Green State University president, and his mother “who was a saint.” “The experience stayed with me — being adopted and for fulfillment,” Conrad says. “It was a second chance. Plenty of people are worthy of that chance in the career transition realm.”
For Martin he says paying it forward meant helping those who had been in a similar situation he has personally experienced. “Let me clarify by saying that all of us have been downsized or outsourced,” Martin says. “We have all experienced what they’re going through. We’re not just saying, ‘I can only imagine.’ Mike Perry does free resume review and coaching on interviewing — getting those between jobs to the next level. He gives an incredible amount of time to do this at home and providing seminars on his own. We’re paying forward; we have felt it.”
Along with the networking group, Conrad and Martin provide career and budgeting advice for professionals in transition. Martin said he helps many in the 50- to 65-year-old range, and Conrad typically assists those in their early 40s to mid 50s. Because of his military experience, Conrad also tends to help those who are veterans.
Martin identifies three major categories of people in career transition: The first group are those that “desperately need to restore” their former job and income. People in the second category are those who still want to work or build a new skill and have financial resources to build an “encore career.” “They don’t need the $90,000 job,” Martin says. “They can live on what they saved — if they are cautious and manage their expenses.” The third category includes those who have retired early from a major corporation and are “more than happy to give up their skill set.”
Martin and Conrad help professionals identify their pathway and passion. “When I sit down with somebody, it’s not as a financial adviser looking to sell,” Conrad says. “I ask, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Or, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ They may tell you about their last 20 years, and I figure out what make them ticks.
Someone may have been in IT at Rockwell for 20 years but says, “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse.” I just advised a woman who at the age of 58 years became a nurse at Cleveland Clinic. What are the dreams of what I wanted as a kid or teen — that’s her encore career. Another who had his job at ITT eliminated says, ‘I’m 54 years old. I know I might be in the same place five years from now. I want to create an IT business in Northeast Ohio and be my own boss.’ That’s his entrepreneurial spirit.”
Ohio CareerConnect has 1,200 people on its mailing list and 546 on its LinkedIn Group. Forty to 60 people come to the meetings. Conrad and Martin are planning for 2015, when meetings will resume. They are dedicated to growing OCC, which will continue to hold face-to-face meetings to build potential jobs and build confidence for professionals in career transition.
For more information: ohiocareerconnect.org
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