Over the next several months, Bridgette Lacy will write twice monthly about the skills needed and the challenges facing those returning to the job market. Lacy, a former N&O features writer, most recently worked for the N.C. Arts Council.
Virginia Conlon is an out-of-work meeting and event planner.
When the Raleigh resident was first laid off two years ago, she was able to find contract work through word of mouth. But in the past year, that avenue has started to dry up. Now the 55-year-old is ready to try more modern networking: LinkedIn.
Conlon opened a LinkedIn account two years ago but never put more than minuscule information in her profile.
So on a recent hot and humid Friday morning, she was attending "LinkedIn Training," an introductory course to the online professional networking site.
Most people come to the course with only 25 percent of their profile done, meaning they have typed in their names, current - or last - job title and then stopped.
William Blackmon, a Wake Technical Community College instructor and himself a laid-off Sony Ericsson technical project manager, explains to students step-by-step how to complete the LinkedIn profile and how to use the site and even how to pick an appropriate photograph.
"LinkedIn allows you to showcase your professional skill sets, build your reputation and search for jobs," he stresses.
"Relationships matter," he adds. "Relationships equal leverage."
He breaks it down. In the new work force, applying for jobs translates into filling out applications online and uploading resumes.
But while the days of pens and paper are gone, networking is still vital.
LinkedIn stretches your connections further than ever before, allowing people you've never met to see your profile and your potential simply because you have shared connections.
Blackmon demystifies the Linked In process for those of us in our late 40s and older who lack an online presence and just didn't understand the impact of this networking engine.
Since taking Blackmon's class, Conlon has completed 80 percent of her profile and has been inviting people to join her network. "People have been sending me job announcements," she says.
Patricia G. Moore, a human services specialist from Carrboro, also has taken Blackmon's class and is busy filling out her profile. She has uploaded a photograph and added descriptions of her work experience.
"It's helped me hone in on who I am and what I'm offering," she says.
Blackmon suggests telling potential employers what you can offer their company rather than saying you're "seeking" work.
Moore, 40, is focused on enhancing her skills and rebranding herself. She decided to take the LinkedIn class after taking a Durham Tech class called "Job Strategies for Mature Professionals."
Moore says she learned how to write a good summary for her LinkedIn account during that course. Participants scripted short stories that had three elements: situation, involvement and results (SIR) to showcase their strengths and skills in the workplace.
While Conlon and Moore are still working on their profiles, others who have taken Blackmon's class have successfully used LinkedIn to find work.
Hillsborough resident Benjamin W. Sallard is one such LinkedIn graduate. Sallard describes himself as "Ben ofmany trades." He's worked as a clinical project manager, a scientist, and a technical and software development manager. He's also sole proprietor of TEP Consulting Services, which offers a range of various technical services. TEP stands for The Essential Peripheral.
Sallard, 52, recognized several years ago that contract work was often easier to acquire than a full-time position. Contract work allows him the flexibility to spend more time with his 12- and 8-year-old sons.
"I had always used traditional methods of finding work, career sites and recruiters," he says.
But last fall, he took two of Blackmon's LinkedIn classes, the introductory course and a more in-depth one. "The basic course was marvelous," he said. The classes were good for both those who use Linked In and those who underused it, he says.
Since he completed his profile, Sallard says he's gotten more job leads because of it and credits his last assignment to LinkedIn.
The employer had reviewed Sallard's resume through Linked In and contacted him. Sallard then used LinkedIn to review the profiles of the two vice presidents of the company who would interview him.
Once he saw who they knew in common, he contacted those people to find out what the two were like and what they looked for in a job candidate.
"I gained firsthand information that was effective in the interviewing process," he says.
Sallard tailored his interview to address each person's style. The retired military man was interested in his performance and what skills he would bring to the task.
The professional woman, who was also a mother of two young boys, wanted to know more about his personality and how he would fit into the organization.
"As a result of finding them through networking, it reduced the possibility of surprise during the interview process," he says.
"I won the contract on the spot. I didn't have to go worry and wait."
Bridgette A. Lacy can be reached at RIFworker@gmail.com.