If you only do something a few times in your life, you could hardly be considered an expert. Hunting for a job is a skill – a skill most people would rather not have to practice dozens of times.
There is one person who is an expert though: your friendly neighborhood career counselor.
"When you work with a career counselor, you're working with someone who is an expert in job search. What they do 40 hours a week is help people find jobs," says Jennifer Lemes, program supervisor at the NOVA Adult Career Center in Sunnyvale.
"Some people do a job search once, twice, maybe three times in their lifetime, and maybe then they got a job through their buddy next door," says Lemes.
Getting to know what a career counselor can do for you can reduce the time and effort of your job search and may help you find that perfect career. Here are some tips and secrets from three area job counselors.
When you first walk through the door of a career center, "keep an open mind," advises Mario Montes, site supervisor of the Galt Career Center.
"So many times people try to work at something they may not like," Montes observes. "They're just looking for any job out of desperation. We need to find a field that is suited for them and not just a job."
Most centers like his have self-assessment tests that can help you determine which profession is best suited to your personality. If you end up in the wrong kind of job, either you'll be miserable or you may end up quitting or getting fired, and you have to start the job search all over again.
Cards on the Table
"Be open and honest with your career counselor," says Bridget Haley, a case manager at East Bay Works Career Center in Pittsburg.
Fess up if you have a police record, bad credit, domestic problems with your spouse, housing or financial difficulties, or you were fired from a previous job. Full disclosure is the best policy with your career counselor, she says. "Don't be ashamed of anything you've done in your past because we've heard it all."
Lemes says career counselors may not be able to help you directly with some problems that get in the way of your job search, but they can refer you to people who can.
"There are people who not only have career issues, but they may have other things going on in their lives."
Haley says her center helped a woman who had never held a job and had done nothing but sell drugs all her life. She came to them wanting to change her life and get a steady job so she could keep her children
She eventually got a job offer from the organization that helped her kick her drug habit; the problem was she had to be free of drugs for two years. The career center helped her spend a year taking computer classes, so when she got the job, she had all the skills needed.
"She just called me the other day and told me she got a promotion, and she was making the most money she had ever made in her life," Haley says with pride. "It's a great feeling knowing that we do actually make a difference in people's lives."
All Things Considered
There's more to a job search than sending out resumes, and your career counselor is an expert at it. Lemes points out that just sending out a resume to employers only works about five percent of the time.
"Stay open to all the different ways to go about a job search, and multiple strategies," she recommends.
"A lot of people don't want to try different strategies, and they want to keep doing what they're comfortable doing," Lemes believes. But some jobseekers may need to hone their interview skills or learn how to network and do company research.
Montes has many jobseekers coming through his door who have never used the Internet. Skills like this can be learned in free workshops. Interview techniques, how to do an effective job search, to labor market research, and quick demonstrations on how to navigate the Internet are some of the workshops you may want to take.
"If you follow through the process diligently," Montes says, "there's usually a positive outcome."
What's Your Problem?
"People need to be able to take a hard look at themselves," Lemes counsels. If they're having a tough time finding a job, they have to start wondering if there's something about themselves that's coming across badly to employers. Is your resume poorly worded? How do you perform in job interviews?
"In interviews, people may not realize that they're coming across as condescending, uninterested or unmotivated," Lemes has learned. "You need to be open to figuring out what your issues are, and address those instead of expecting things to just happen.
"It's challenging for anybody to see themselves, and that's why it's valuable to have someone like a job counselor with a different perspective, and who has worked with people with the same problems."
A day in the life of a job counselor can be hectic. There's paperwork to fill out, meetings with jobseekers and employers, and they have to spend time keeping up with employment trends.
Basic job-search techniques haven't changed dramatically. The challenge is keeping up with ever-changing job market trends. Companies come and go, some job markets are hot, others are dying, and some are in between and hard to get a bead on.
"It's just like the stock market, things go up and down, up and down, and it's really hard to predict," says Lemes, who has to keep an eye on the notoriously volatile Silicon Valley.
"I don't think people realize that they are not the only person we are working with," Haley feels. "We have to do a lot of juggling; we can't just drop everything to work on one case."
Despite the hard work, job counselors are drawn to the profession because they like to help people. Haley enjoys "seeing a person come in who is really shy and they don't know what they want, and within a few months they might be making more money than me!"
"When they do find that perfect job, the career counselors are very happy," according to Montes. "I even see the career counselors high-five each other when one of their customers finds a job."
Here's a guide to some of the major career centers and job clubs in Northern California:
Bay Area Career Centers
ACCESS One-Stop Career Center
24100 Amador Street, Hayward
One-Stop Career Center
College of Alameda
555 Atlantic Avenue
Bay Area Urban League
2201 Broadway Street, Oakland
University YWCA Turning
Point Career Center
2600 Bancroft, Berkeley
Career Link Employment
3120 Mission Street, San Francisco
Sacramento Career Centers
5523 34th Street, Sacramento
5451 Lemon Hill Ave, Sacramento
6015 Watt Ave, Suite 4, North Highlands
Sacramento Works Career Center
10665 Coloma Rd, #200, Rancho Cordova
Sacramento Urban League
3725 Marysville Blvd, Del Paso Heights
Turning Point Employment Services Program
601 North Market Blvd Suite 300, Sacramento
Central Valley Career Centers
Lodi WorkNet Center
631 East Oak Street, Lodi
Manteca WorkNet Center
1783 West Yosemite Ave, Manteca
Stockton WorkNet Center
850 North Hunter St, Stockton
America's Service Locatsor - ServiceLocator.org
, a database search for jobseeker organizations/clubs by zip code.
Employment Development Department - edd.ca.gov/jscjb.htm
, lists of clubs, one-stop career centers and other jobseeker services throughout the state.
Pleasant Hill: (925) 602-5026
San Francisco: (415) 771-1776
Stockton: (209) 468-3510
Oakland: (510) 337-0790, FortyPlus.org
Peninsula Professional Network
San Mateo: (650) 652-7858
Sunnyvale: (408) 736-2391
Oakland: (510) 563-5310
Sacramento Professional Network - (916) 227-0330
The Riley Guide - RileyGuide.com
, job listings, resources and lists of job clubs throughout the country and on-line.