Friday, April 9, 2010

Need a job? Your church might be able to help Religious communities aid job seekers on their quest

By Marty Orgel

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- In the current economy many people are turning to churches, temples, mosques and other religious communities to ask for help in finding a job. And religious leaders are responding with networking events and job-search advice.

At Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in the Dallas suburb of Allen, most meetings for job seekers start with a short prayer. Nothing fancy, just a reminder that you are in a house of worship.
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"'All things work together for good to those who love God' -- Romans 8:28 -- is usually a popular example of one of our prayers," said Ryan Ross, a minister at the church. Ross is also a managing director at the executive-search firm Kaye/Bassman International.

As many as 25 people of all faiths meet every other week at the Baptist church that began its program in 2008. They come to talk about current job searches, pray for guidance in upcoming job interviews and share family struggles brought on by prolonged unemployment.

"Our church members come out to support the unemployed," Ross said. "When members know about job openings they make sure our group knows about them. The fellowship we have in our group is one of the strongest aspects of what we do."

With the jobless rate in the United States hovering at 9.7%, this scene is being repeated at churches, synagogues and other houses of worship across the country. It doesn't replace traditional job search strategies but supplements those methods with spiritual guidance thrown into the mix of networking tips and advice on how to spice up a résumé. See story on how older workers may benefit as job market recovers.

In Golden Valley, Minn., Vanessa Dunlop lost her job as a communications specialist and landed a new job five months later as a senior graphic designer at OptumHealth, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group Inc.

She said the meetings she attended at the Crossroads Career ministry at Grace Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., taught her the skills she used to get her new job. "I was really able to address some of the emotional parts of having lost my job, re-evaluate my passions and abilities and learn the necessary tools to help me maximize my opportunities and job-search tactics," Dunlop said.

Brian Ray, founder of the Crossroads Career Network, said the network "has more than 130 member churches in 25 states plus South Africa. We offer prayer, group fellowship and biblically-based career workbooks and resources is an integral part of our events," he said. "We serve all faiths and even those with no religious affiliation."
Offering support, teaching skills

Michael Young is looking for a full-time teaching position, but said the interviewing skills he learned through the employment services offered by Deseret Industries, a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helped him land his current part-time job with the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Most of the meeting is conducted in a secular fashion, though the meetings do begin with a prayer," said Young, from Clearfield, Utah. "Any person is welcome regardless of their faith," he said.

Deseret Industries holds weekly networking meetings where attendees put their contact information and job-search needs on a list. The list is emailed to everyone on the mailing list so participants can correspond with each other when job leads pop up during the week.

Deseret Industries also offers employment workshops and résumé critique sessions, free access to computers and fax machines, and seminars that cover a variety of job-seeking topics. The services are open to the general public regardless of church affiliation.

The idea of learning job-hunting skills from religious communities is no surprise to Douglas Hicks, a professor with the leadership studies and religion department at the University of Richmond, in Virginia. He is also the author of the just-published book, "Money Enough: Everyday Practices for Living Faithfully in the Global Economy."

"Churches and synagogues have long been sources of informal networks that connect people for volunteering, socializing and doing business. During this recession, they have focused on unemployment support, work retraining and job matching," he said.

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