Below is an excerpt of John Fugazzie’s interview for Escape from Unemploymentville:
As I kept applying for jobs, we have what we call the black hole where you just send resumes and you never hear back from anybody.
Basically, as I was finding it more and more difficult, I really started to try and figure out what’s different and what is the solution. I went to a networking group. Some lady had started a networking group. She had four, five friends and what I was learning through this time was, there was a ton of people out of work. Even the ones who were getting jobs were seeing a very serious drop in wages, 70%, 60% of what they should be making.
So basically the meeting idea made sense to share notes. We had a couple of meetings, there was a bunch of this lady’s friends and what happened was, we would get together once a month and they would all complain about how bad it was. Now really, being a positive guy, I remember after the first meeting I left and said, “Man, I feel worse now than I did before I came here.”
They were basically complaining about the conditions. Since the meeting had no structure, it kind of became a fancy bitch session. But the idea of people comparing notes, you could learn from other people. They might have a connection. If you’re in the food business, they may know somebody. So there was a value to the idea but the meeting clearly had to be run better. After about three meetings the woman who was running it said, “Hey, I’m working a part-time job, I don’t have the time to do this.” and she said, “We’re not going to do this anymore.”
I sat there with another gentleman who participated and I said, “You know, there’s definitely an idea here that, if it’s done right, would have a lot of value.”
I called two people I knew, who were in the HR area. I was telling them about the meeting and the idea that I’d like to start something but I want it to be structured, I want it to be positive, I want it to have all the components that will make people work together as a team. I started looking at all of this and it was kind of interesting. The two people I talked to, a friend of mine and another associate, who I had met through networking, said that the key to it is, to do it regularly. This once a month thing is not the way to go.
I chose a timeslot for the weekly meetings and put a flyer together. I went to ask about the local library in River Edge where I was living. At this point I’ve lost my house, lost all my savings. I’ve had to move back into my mother’s house with my family. It was a very difficult time and I had grown up in River Edge where I was moving back to.
So the library director was an interesting guy, he was a Scottish guy and he said, “Yes, we’ll let you use the room on Thursday nights.” He says, “You know when I was a kid my dad was out of work and I know what it’s like.” So he had a compassion for the whole idea. We basically sent out flyers saying, we’re going to have our weekly meeting on Thursday nights in the library to go through job searching, develop networking, to help each other with our resumes, whatever the steps of the process would be.
In the first couple of meetings, we had four or five people come. Some of the people had professional corporate outplacement as part of their severance packages and those people had a tremendous amount of information that they now could share with other job seekers.
In the first two meetings, the one lady said, “You got to do this, you got to do that, you got to do this.” I’m sitting there with my head spinning thinking, “How we’re going to do this every week? We’re going to have to spend an hour going through all the things you got to do.”
So I went back into my managerial mode and said to her, “Hey, could you write this all up on a Word document? Just make a list of all the things you need to do, so that next week when new people come, we can hand out the list and we don’t need to spend a half hour going through all these points.” That was the beginning of job search tips.
The same woman was very adamant about LinkedIn. I joined LinkedIn as soon as it was started. I think it was 2008, I got involved and I went to my Rolodex, which nobody even knows what that is today.
What was interesting is, half of my Rolodex had email addresses, the other half didn’t. They just had phone numbers. For the ones that I had emails, I sent out invites to everybody on LinkedIn. I did that and then I left it alone. To me, it was an electronic Rolodex. But she’s like, “Oh no, there’s groups. You need to do discussions. You need to connect with as many people as you can.
Through LinkedIn I started making connections. I got what you call a hunter’s license where if you make a deal and you can sell something, you’ll get paid a commission. So it’s like a prospect thing. I started and what happened was, when you’re out of work and you go to your whole network, people want to help you but they feel bad that they can’t.
They kind of withdraw from you, so you can’t just keep going back, “Hi, I need a job. Hi, I need a job. Hi, I need a job,” you know, because they do withdraw from you. I was feeling that first hand. I understood that, “Hey, they really do want to help you, but guess what? The market’s a problem. There aren’t the 20 jobs there used to be.”
The group was all volunteer. The concept was, that we’re all going to probably be in different businesses, we’re not going to be chasing the same jobs. But if you knew somebody in food that can help me, I might know somebody in the fashion industry and the idea was to locally base it. That even if you didn’t know the people, you were kind of doing something that’s good for your neighborhood. It wasn’t good for your neighbors to be losing their houses, falling behind not having a job.
Now if you participate, you’re doing good work which is adding to your character. You can show you’re working, even though you’re not getting paid. It’s no different than a job.
We went to the town who was trying to cut the budget for the library. We went to a town meeting because if they had cut the budget we would’ve lost our Thursday night meeting. So a local writer for Patch is there who wrote a story.
He did this story and all of sudden I got called by a girl who ran the adult program up in Cresskill. She says, “Oh, I’ve read the article about the group you have in River Edge, would you consider bringing it here to Cresskill?” So I said, “Sure.” So I’ve set up a night we could have meetings. I basically promoted it on social media. I didn’t even have leaders lined up. We had an agenda that we had built at River Edge. At River Edge, basically within three months, I was back to work.
But what happened was, nobody wanted to take over the leadership of the group. I was very distraught because we still probably had 15 people meeting every week. It’s designed to be a small group because the key to support groups is, people have to feel comfortable to open up and the more they open up the more you can help them.
Honestly, the agenda is built in a very structured manner, that everybody has to participate in it. You go around the table. We did an elevator pitch, is the first step. Everybody had to give their elevator pitch so that everybody would know. What I would always say is even though we’re together every week, that one new person who walks in tonight, could have the networking connections for your next job. So why would you not want to go to your elevator pitch for that person to know who you are and what you’re looking for so they can help network you.
Secondly, you get better at your elevator pitch the more you practice it. We would actually give feedback to people, ” Oh that’s going way too long” you know, or “You shouldn’t say that you should say this.”
So here I am, I get my job at A&P, I’m beside myself. I’m almost in tears but I have this huge desire to keep this group going, so I try to get somebody else to step up and be the leader.
There’s one gentleman George, who was the guy who I started it with, he was in the other group. He said, “Hey, John let me tell you something,” he says, “We don’t really need a leader” he says, ” We have an agenda, we run the same meeting every week,” and he says, “I think it would be a good idea if every member, each week, takes a turn leading the meeting.”
What came forward was the idea of leadership. We were really creating a leadership concept and leadership training and leadership kind of skills development without realizing it. It was amazing.
About the Author:
John R. Fugazzie has become one of the country’s leading jobs advisors and jobs advocates focused on helping solve America’s unemployment crisis.
He founded Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA Inc. in January 2011 and serves as President of this free, all volunteer-led job search networking and support group that is responsible for helping over 550+ members find gainful employment. John and Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA have received coverage from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, National Journal, Guardian, CNN, MSNBC, Business Insider, Al Jazeera, Fox Business, CBS News, and USA Today, NJV, Record, and Star Ledger.
John is the Executive Director for Hudson County/Jersey City Workforce Development Board. He is an adjunct professor at the Petrocelli College at FDU teaching master-level classes in the Puerta al Futuro program teaching leadership, business, nonprofit, and social change courses. He is an adjunct professor at NJIT teaching a new course he has developed, Leadership for Social Change. He is currently teaching, Beginning a Job Search Campaign Job Search 2018.