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1/22/2004

Shrinking is good

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It is perhaps the only group in town that applauds newcomers and applauds all the more loudly when they leave.

It is LongNet, the job networking organization for the unemployed that meets at 4:30 p.m. Mondays at Central Presbyterian Church to make introductions, swap leads and listen to a local speaker.

Only about 25 people gathered this week on account of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. But since its inception in November 2001, as many as 60 job seekers have flocked to the church basement, according to founder Bob Bowman.

“We’ve had more people getting positions than joining now,” said Bowman, also president of HRMC, a local career management and human resources consulting company.

In this sense, the group is a microcosm of the economy’s improvement — however incremental.

Besides shrinking slightly, the group also has changed, he continued, for plugging into more networking groups along the Front Range, largely through the Internet.

In town, however, participants share leads the old-fashioned way. They stand, introduce themselves and give a 30- to 45-second spiel about their background and interests before reading off two job openings they have found.

If the speaker can’t share two leads, they donate two canned goods to the church.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get into this group sooner than I did in November,” said Jackie Dawson, 50, a nurse practitioner. In May, she lost her job when her employer, an on-line continuing-education company for registered nurses, folded.

“Besides giving leads, giving your 30-second elevator speech every Monday night is good practice,” she explained. “The more you do it the less fearful you are.”

Getting a perspective on “HR stuff” through visiting speakers has been another practical perk, Dawson said.

This week, Susie Lewis, director of human resources at Displaytech, reminded the group to pay attention to cover letters.

“A good letter will get you more interviews than a good resume,” she said.

Besides offering insights from her desk, she also shared the story of her daughter — an unemployed paralegal in California.

To up her daughter’s chances, mother and daughter invested heavily in polishing a letter Lewis later shared with the group as a model.

“Feel free to plagiarize this to your hearts’ content,” she said.

While leads and job seeker tips help, the social side of the group cannot be underestimated in motivating members, according to John, 51, an out-of-work radio announcer who asked that his last name not be shared.

“Being unemployed does something to you,” he said. “It does affect you in at a very personal level. You have to find a way to rise above it, and that can be tough.”

Marsha Norlan, 59, showed up for the first time this week. She explained that, for her, unemployment from a sales/service job since September had been disorienting.

“I told my priest, ‘This isn’t normal for me. I used to help people and now I need help,’” she explained after the meeting. “There are people who are lazy and don’t want to work. I’m not one of them.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.