By Ron Leir
Marie Mendes likes the individual attention she’s getting on formulating her resume.
For Lenora Jones, it’s the professional guidance in “learning to sell myself” to prospective employers.
Others appreciate the instruction they get in updating their computer skills.
It’s all part of the services offered at the Career Counseling & Learning Center at Goodwill Industries’ New Jersey headquarters in Harrison which, since it opened in late August 2013, has seen about 60 clients, said Goodwill Northern NJ Division Vice President Lori Friedman.
With a statewide unemployment rate hovering at close to 8% and some 90,000 Garden State residents registered for jobless benefits, Goodwill is doing what it can to offer a road map to those who haven’t given up the struggle.
The CCLC operates out of second floor offices at the Harrison facility at 400 Supor Blvd. three days a week, with a $50,000 grant from the Bank of New York Mellon Foundation funding personnel and computer software costs, Friedman said.
“The CCLC offers free career assistance and online computer training to individuals who are unemployed, are looking for a job, want to re-enter the job market or advance in their career,” a Goodwill website posting explains.
“Services include: online learning for typing and Office Suite, resume building, interview preparation, one-onone career counseling, career development workshops, effective job search skills, networking technique and social media for job search.”
Many of the center’s clients are repeat visitors, who check its continually updated bulletin board for job leads in the region and a resource table chock-full of information on a range of support services, from food banks to emergency shelters to job fairs to social media as a tool for job networking.
Nearly half of the clients come to upgrade their computer skills and thereby enhance their employability prospects.
CCLC Counselor Robin Garris, a Verona resident who has spent many years as a public sector metro-area career services director and human resources manager, also helps clients create or update resumes.
Clients, pretty much equally divided by gender, range from their early 20s to retirees, Garris said. “We have veterans, people with disabilities, everyday people who’ve lost their jobs,” she said.
Periodically, Garris invites experts to the center to speak to clients on various job-related topics. Recently, Barbara Kimmich, executive director of Lloyd Staffing, a Parsippany- based job recruiting agency, came to speak about the interviewing process – which many find daunting.
Like Irvington resident Lenora Jones, who served as an administrative assistant with the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Germany from 1979 to 1986, but insists she’s “scared to be interviewed” by a prospective employer.
But Jones says she’s learning, gradually, to overcome that feeling with her counselor’s help. “I have to sell myself,” she says.
And she’s building her confidence with a newly revised resume now configured to fit one page that lists her prior service as a “floater” for Bell Communications and as secretary for 3M Co., along with her work for the military.
She’s been jobless for nearly a year, having last worked as an IT contractor but having left voluntarily because “I got tired of it, no benefits, no stability. And I have my two boys to consider: one is 23 in college, the other is 16 in high school.”
Then there is Harrison’s Marie Mendes who had the misfortune to lose an administrative position with an international firm in 2011 when the company “had to return to their native country, Portugal,” and found a job with another company, only to see that outfit close in the following year.
Mendes started doing job searches at the Harrison Public Library but she said she “needed a faster computer,” and “the library referred me [to the CCLC] and I landed here in October. I love the individual attention. Robin is my personal teacher, my secretary, and, I hope, my friend.”
Armed with those personal tutorials, Mendes says she’s begun to overcome “the barrier of language” in job interviews – and composing a cover letter to accompany a resume. “That’s been a big problem,” she says.
Her hard work seems to be paying off, though. “Robin is teaching me how to approach employers and I got several interviews,” Mendes notes proudly. “So, at least things are moving … little by little. Because I got help from my ‘family’.”
Jones is optimistic, too. “I just interviewed for a position with the SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) at Rutgers University (at the School of Environmental and Biological Science) and for an office manager opening in the New York theater district,” she says.
“Coming here, I feel good – you’re not by yourself and it’s better than going to a temp agency because here, they make you feel supported,” Jones adds.
So far, Garris says, three of her clients have found jobs.
An Essex County man in his mid-20s who was taking janitorial classes landed a job with Costco, a retail merchandiser, in North Plainfield. He’d been out of work for more than two years.
A Union County woman in her early 30s and a college graduate who had lost a job in the retail trade did a lot of preparation with her resume and interview practice, and she was hired as an executive assistant with Sanofi Pharmaceuticals.
And a Bergen County man in his late 50s who took early retirement from an executive position when his company downsized decided to pursue an avocation that had always been his “dream job” and succeeded by getting hired by an area YMCA as a karate instructor. “He’s enjoying every second of it,” Garris said.
“The Career Counseling & Learning Center has become a catalyst for hope for so many people — some who’ve hit rock bottom, others who’ve had great, steady jobs but lost them when their companies merged or closed and some whose unemployment benefits have been exhausted,” Garris said.
Hours at the CCLC are: Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday, 2 to 7 p.m.; and Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Job seekers are invited to register by calling 973-481-2300 or e-mailing CCLC@goodwillnynj. org.
For more information about the program, contact Lisa Fiore, Goodwill director of rehabilitation services, at 973-474-2023 or LFiore@goodwillny.org.