Resumes and refinancing: ‘Boot Camp’ offers help to unemployed, indebted

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

— Stan Nowell of Garner, in school and between jobs, is in the market to start a new career for the first time in a long time after a 16-years running his own business. Former co-workers Cynthia Perry of Wake Forest and Paulette Burt of Raleigh lost their jobs when the Tuttle Child Care center on Tarboro Road closed in September. Hernandez Hall, originally from Jamaica, lost his manufacturing job in 2012 and has struggled to find work since.

All of them, and more, came to the Garner Center for Performing Arts Tuesday, hoping to glean some tips on improving their employment situation through a “Job Search Boot Camp” conducted by job search specialist Damian Birkel.

The event also featured a presentation by the Housing Finance Agency about the federally-funded, state administered Foreclosure Prevention Fund, a program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure after a financial loss that was no fault of their own.

The stories and goals of various participants varied, but the common bond linked them; the 150 that attended one of two sessions sought methods to better their financial situation. Only 22 percent of those were employed full-time, according to a press release from the town, which hosted the event. More than half were unemployed.

Perry and Burt already knew about the fund; each of them applied upon losing their jobs and were approved in November and December respectively. The program gets homeowners over a 3-year hump of a financial loss (job loss, death or divorce of a breadwinner, reduction of income, honorable discharge from the military) with a no-interest loan up to $36,000 -- The only way that loan must be paid back is if the person sells the home and proceeds are enough to pay.

“It’s a heaven-sent, really,” said Perry, who like Burt had been in her current home for over a decade.

The program requires participants to have a good payment history leading up to the job loss and less than $300,000 due on the mortgage of their primary residence; 42 percent in the program start the program with no delinquent payments at all, according to Housing Finance Agency chief financial officer Betsy Rozakis.

Since they’ve already benefited from the fund, it was the Boot Camp that drew the two former co-workers to Garner. They left pleased by the tips provided by Birkel on refining resumes, honing the job search, and selling themselves.

Refining search tactics

Birkel teaches at Forsyth Tech, and though he’s long worked with people on their job searches Garner represented the first such Boot Camp outside Winston Salem. He has written a book, “The Job Search Checklist,” and runs the nonprofit Professionals in Transition Support Group he started in 1992.

“I think that the first thing is to acknowledge that the job search is emotional. Most people don’t want to talk about it,” Birkel said.

Birkel stressed interactivity, making sure he answered the audience’s questions rather than provide a canned one-size-fits-all presentation. He talked about quantifying accomplishments on resumes at the session and stressed techniques for refining the search for jobs.

Ultimately, Binkel said the goal is simple.

“Be the answer. Be the answer to the employers’ needs,” Birkel said. “The most fixable part of a job search is helping people choose a methodology. There are certainly more than one, but there are common attributes to a successful job search.”

He touted indeed.com as a “vacuum cleaner for jobs” that pulls from other job search sites and advanced search functions that can winnow down jobs effectively to a manageable number of jobs that actually fit their skills.

He also teaches a technique to refine resumes for a type of job to include various key words that he says employers use to winnow down resumes in automated systems.

“What students tell me is that when they utilize this strategy, their hit rate goes from two to three percent to over 50 percent. And the amount of jobs they have to apply for drops dramatically,” Birkel said.

Attendees said they found his pointers valuable. Nowell wanted to do something different. He is taking business classes at Cambell University, and said he liked Birkel’s points about not listening to everyone regarding resumes, which had left him “paranoid.”

A majority of the patrons seemed to come from beyond Garner.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been out in the field,” said Pamela Stuffel of Wendell, who is looking for work after losing her inside sales job of seven years after a company reorganization early this month. “I was impressed, there were good working tools and helpful hints.”

Some stayed after to ask Birkel for advice. Hall, an afternoon session attendee, asked a question about an employer he feels is black-balling him. The Jamaican-born Hall said he never received a performance review or promotion in 15 years in a manufacturing job before losing it in 2012.

Birkel said he had nothing to be ashamed of and advised him to find another reference he trusts from the company. He also pointed out, as Hall proclaimed his love of opportunity in America, that statistics indicated foreign-born workers have great work ethics and that many employers recognize that.

“You live and enjoy freedom, and do not have a fear of hard work,” Birkel said before a nodding Hall finished his thought for him: “Because they are used to more harsh and unstable environments.”

Hall thanked him for the advice from the session and afterward, and was the last attendee to walk out of the GPAC.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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