by John Fitzgerald, Associate Editor, The Five O’Clock News
When new members first come to The Five O’Clock Club and begin working with one of our career coaches, our aim is not to help them find merely any position that they might be qualified for, but rather to help them develop a targeted job search strategy that focuses them on applying for positions that truly further their long-term goals. Whether a member already has a clear idea of what they want their next job to be—or whether it’s something that they discover through our assessment process—The Five O’Clock Club methodology provides the most effective tools that members can use to propel them in the right direction toward a fulfilling new job, or even an entirely new career. These stories from successful job hunters reveal how members are using the methodology to effectively target jobs on a career path that they are passionate about—even when the odds seem against them.
Case Study: Carol
Addressing the Employer’s Needs
Carol had been out of work for nearly a year before coming to The Five O’Clock Club. A former administrator at a college on the East Coast, she was very shocked when a restructuring caused her to lose her position of nine years, and says she basically had to go through a period of “mourning” before she could even begin to process everything and figure out what she wanted to do next in her career. She stayed connected to the college by doing some part-time work in the evenings, but she really needed a full-time position again.
After a year of looking around and getting the occasional interview, Carol decided she needed to make a change. “I decided I’m not going to do this on my own,” she says, “I can’t do this on my own—there’s something lacking.” Carol needed assistance in three particular areas: she needed to present herself better when writing a cover letter; she needed to present herself better in front of search committees; and she needed help with writing effective influencing letters to follow up with a potential employer after an interview. Networking was also something that she had been having difficulty with.
After a year of unemployment before coming to the Club, Carol had a new position within just ten weekly small-group sessions.
The first thing that Carol did after coming to The Five O’Clock Club was work on her pitch—how she was promoting herself. “I could list all of my accomplishments,” Carol says, “but it means nothing to the employer unless you can make the connection between what you have to offer and what they need.” Her Five O’Clock Club coach, Nancy Deering, helped her decide what part of her background she wanted to put forward in presenting herself to a potential employer. Nancy also helped her with writing cover letters and influencing letters, and Carol also learned to focus more during interviews, paying close attention to what the interviewer was saying (and not saying).
“When you go on an interview,” Carol notes, “the interviewer does not have to know that you’re following a strategy. Like a good artist, like a good performer, you are able to present well and come across in a very natural way—they don’t know what’s behind it.”
Carol significantly increased her networking activity at the beginning of the summer, and Nancy helped her with writing effective outreach letters. Everyone she contacted agreed to see her, with the exception of one person who gave her a phone interview.
All of her outreach efforts paid off by July. One of her contacts from where she worked previously sent her a blurb about an opening at a nearby college. At the end of the email, there was correspondence between her former colleague and the director of human resources at the college where she was encouraging Carol to put in a job application. The message from the HR director was asking Carol’s former colleague if she knew of anyone who could fill an opening they had at the college. “We really need someone,” the message read. “I’m sure you don’t know anyone, but . . . .”
Carol saw an opportunity. “I figured if they’re that desperate,” she says, “I had a chance.” She reworked her cover letter with her coach, hit all the right points, and got an interview. Carol was very methodical in the interview. She articulated the pitch she had rehearsed about herself, but she didn’t break it all out at once, instead letting it come out in parts in response to different questions that she was asked, giving the interview a very natural flow.
One of the members of the search committee who interviewed her knew one of her references and placed a call to him after the interview. “I don’t know what Carol did,” he said, “but there was something different about the way she presented herself.” Her reference then contacted her to tell her what a great impression she had made during the interview.
Shortly after her interview, Carol was referred to the dean of the college and was offered the position. But she had also just been offered a teaching position at the university where she worked previously. The teaching position would require her to teach three nights a week at the university. Carol explained to the dean that she was very interested in the position that they were offering, but that she would have to leave a little early three days a week in order to fulfill the obligations she had in her other position. Of course, she risked losing the offer as a result of putting this condition on it, but she already had a strong sense that they really wanted her.
She got the job and was tasked with overseeing a significant grant program for the college.
Her coach, Nancy, says that preparation was one of the main factors in Carol’s success. Even during the weekly small-group meetings at the Club, Carol would show up with questions that she had prepared for her next interview, and would share them with the group to get the group’s feedback. “She would always give positive feedback to others in the group,” Nancy notes, “she would always see the good in things, and she stuck to her search.”
Though the new position she took overseeing a grant program has resulted in a much longer commute for her, Carol says that you have to be flexible and be willing to compromise on certain things. Over time, the commute has become easier, and the important thing is that she is happy in the position. After a year of unemployment before coming to The Five O’Clock Club and re-igniting her job search, “I’m very happy to be on this side of the fence,” she says.
Case Study: Stephen
The Path from Estate Tax Lawyer to Language Teacher
After years working as an estate tax lawyer, Stephen realized he needed a major change in his career trajectory. “It was not my thing,” he says of estate tax law. “I like dealing with people. I like speaking with people.” Stephen wanted to transition into teaching English. He had co-authored a book about his father’s experiences in the Second World War, and had also been doing some freelance writing, and now wanted to more fully give way to his passion for writing and books by becoming an English teacher.
Though Stephen believed his verbal skills would make him excel at teaching English, he encountered a number of difficulties when he initially tried finding work in the public school system. “I tried to teach in the public schools,” he says, “and I may still do that, but the competition is fierce in alternative certification programs, and people who have a lot of teaching experience are at a tremendous advantage.”
At one point, he had to turn down some assignments because of scheduling conflicts —a good position to be in.
Stephen came to The Five O’Clock Club to help get focused in his job search. Sharon Small, his coach, worked with him to develop a list of new targets that he could pursue that would specifically help him gain more teaching experience. He also enrolled in a certification program at a local college to get the necessary credentials to teach English to foreign students. The program resulted in good networking opportunities as well, and one of his fellow students in the certification course gave him the names of two language schools where he would have a good chance of finding a position. Both schools offered summer programs, which would be a good stepping-stone to a full-time teaching job throughout the year.
Stephen soon applied at both language schools, went through a grammar test, and convinced the hiring managers that the certification process he was then going through was helping him gain valuable language-teaching experience. During this time Stephen also interviewed at another language institute in the area and was received very favorably by the institute’s director. Though the language institute did not have any immediate openings for a teacher, they referred Stephen to another school close by.
In the end, Stephen was actually finding himself having to turn down some work because of scheduling conflicts at each of the schools that he had begun teaching at—a good position to be in, he considered. Though the hourly rate he was making as a new language instructor wasn’t great, he was finally moving in the direction that he wanted to go in and he was happy with the transition that he had made.
Stephen has been teaching high-school age kids. “I think it’s a good way to get my feet wet,” he says, “because these kids are from overseas and you don’t have some of the discipline problems you have in the New York public schools.”
Sharon says that Stephen was focused on his ESL target for quite some time and, though he experienced some challenges, he kept getting himself out there, kept networking, and kept going on interviews. “He was very persistent,” Sharon emphasizes. He was also very persistent in showing up for his weekly Five O’Clock Club meetings, attending over twenty sessions with his coach since joining the Club. The group meetings helped him focus and stay on track.
A World War II buff, Stephen is somewhat reminded of the classic postwar film, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), when he thinks about how his job search has progressed. In the film, Dana Andrews plays a displaced veteran who is down on his luck and can’t seem to get a job, until he eventually takes work as a scrap-metal dealer before marrying his sweetheart. “It’s not much, but it’s a start,” he expresses at the end of the film.
“I feel kind of that way,” Stephen says, while admitting he is doing a lot better than working in scrap metal. It’s very easy to find yourself trapped in a career that you are not passionate about, and now Stephen has found new opportunities to begin on a path toward a teaching career that he finds fulfilling. “I’m having a good time, it’s hard work, and it’s tiring,” he says, “but I’m learning a lot and I’m at a place where I want to be.”
Case Study: Audrey
A Former TV Producer and Teacher
Finds Her Dream Career in Marrakesh
Like Stephen, Audrey had wanted to transition out of the career track that she had been on in the hope of finding a new position as a teacher. Audrey had been an associate producer for many years for a prominent national program on a major network, before eventually finding part-time work teaching art in a public high school. It was a fulfilling job that she truly enjoyed. But then budget cuts forced the school district to jettison the arts program that she taught in. “So my great job that I had had for five years was gone,” she says.
Audrey was also going through a divorce at around the same time as losing her teaching position. Things seemed to be falling apart and she realized that she needed another change in her life—something major. “I’d been married for thirty years,” says Audrey. “I lived in the city my whole life. I didn’t want to do the same thing anymore. I didn’t want a conservative lifestyle. I wanted to travel around the world and spend my life having adventures and painting.”
When she came to The Five O’Clock Club for the first time, Audrey already knew that she wanted to teach art at an international school in another part of the world. She had a very clear vision of what she wanted to do next. What she needed help with was in turning that vision into a reality.
Ruth Robbins was her Five O’Clock Club coach. “Audrey is tenacious,” Ruth says. “She had faced so many lows, and there was a lot of emotion there too.” But there was also a palpable drive to move forward into something completely different.
“Coming here and getting the support was very helpful,” Audrey says about joining The Five O’Clock Club. “When I met with Ruth, we wrote many résumés and did a lot of research because I really didn’t know anything about finding a job overseas.” Ruth also helped her come up with a Two-Minute Pitch that Audrey found very valuable to use at the international job fairs she was increasingly attending, often having to sell herself very quickly before a recruiter or potential employer.
Although her life seemed to be falling apart, Audrey developed a clear vision of what she wanted and needed help turning it into a reality.
Audrey came up against a number of obstacles in looking for jobs outside of the United States. Culturally, she noticed that age seemed to be more of a factor in hiring in other countries than it was in America. In order to get a better sense of what she was up against, Audrey called the U.S. Department of State and obtained a report on hiring practices in countries around the world with respect to age limits. These statistics were not as reliable as they seemed, however. For example, when she interviewed for a position in Thailand and cited a statistic that indicated job applicants over the age of 60 were not generally hired in that country, the interviewer told her, “Oh, I’m not too sure about that.” Her response gave Audrey a glimmer of hope that perhaps age would not be as much of a limitation as she thought in applying for jobs overseas.
“So when I went to job fairs,” Audrey says, “I didn’t go too much by what the bottom line said about age.” The fact that one interviewer she met with had been dismissive of age limitations meant that others might have a similar attitude.
Ignoring cautionary advice about age restrictions from recruiters, Audrey pressed forward in her search with the determination to find the teaching position that she dreamed about. She continued attending international job fairs, only to later realize that many other applicants were circumventing the job fairs altogether by setting up interviews directly with recruiters overseas via Skype. Nonetheless, Audrey still had a few possibilities in the works based on the job fairs that she had been attending.
“So I went on the interviews,” Audrey notes, “and at the end of the three days, the first-choice school that I wanted was the international school in Marrakesh.” Audrey was offered a one-year assignment that would allow her to develop a brand new arts curriculum for students in grades K – 12, teaching the basics of figure drawing and painting to younger students, and color theory, drawing style, and art history to upper level students. She had been selected from over forty other teachers that the school had been considering for the position.
Audrey attributes part of her success to coming to The Five O’Clock Club regularly in the beginning stages of her search when she most needed help with taking what was a seemingly far-off ambition that she had and making the first concrete steps toward realizing that ambition.
“So, time passes by and, you know, I’m thrilled,” Audrey says, “because I took what was a fantasy and a dream and made it a reality.”
Case Study: Lauren
Transitioning in an Industry in Transition
When Lauren was laid off from her position at a prominent news magazine, she came up against the same job search obstacle that Audrey had faced: she was “a woman of certain age,” and was concerned that this would make finding a new position that much more difficult in the industry that she was targeting. To add to her difficulties, the industry that she was targeting was publishing—“a moribund industry,” Lauren notes, referring to the extensive losses that have been experienced in publishing since the rise of digital publishing, including the industry’s transition to online newspapers and magazines, as well as e-books. Publishing, however, was the industry that Lauren had built her career in and she wanted to apply the skills that she had developed in a position where they would be utilized effectively.
Lauren attended approximately twenty sessions at The Five O’Clock Club and worked with two of the Club’s senior coaches, Renee Rosenberg and Win Sheffield. One of the first things that she received help with was creating a targeted résumé. She had thought her own résumé was wonderful, but soon realized that it was really a mess. Working with her coach, she made it shorter, including a selected list of her articles and removing portions where she had gone on excessively about the clients she had worked with. “That really helped,” she says, “because I think people go through my résumé quickly.”
Perhaps the most important tool that Lauren picked up from The Five O’Clock Club methodology was the Two-Minute Pitch, which she describes as “invaluable.” The Two-Minute Pitch, she says, allows you to “have in your mind the key points that you want to make. Sometimes I strung out these points throughout the interview, depending on the situation.”
Yes, magazine publishing was retrenching, but Lauren got back in, something that seemed impossible at the beginning of her search.
Lauren was also greatly helped by regularly attending The Five O’Clock Club’s weekly small-group strategy sessions. Particularly during the difficult periods of her job search, being able to discuss the progress of her search with other group members was tremendously helpful both in terms of strategy and in terms of maintaining her confidence. “A couple of times I came to the Club practically in tears,” she admits. “I remember when I didn’t get a second interview for a job that I thought I was going to nail—people were really helpful and I always left feeling better.”
Her coach, Win, helped her organize her search and advised her on strategy, particularly helping her focus on jobs that she could really be passionate about (instead of responding aimlessly to ads, as she had been doing previously).
After much persistence, Lauren landed a new position at another prominent national magazine—something that had seemed almost impossible to her at the beginning of her search. Getting the job wasn’t easy, and negotiations near the end almost broke down, but she stayed connected to her coach throughout the process to help with strategy. “Anytime you can get more information from people, do so,” she says, looking back on a stressful episode in her search. “It really helps you know what the hell you’re doing.”
Having found exactly the kind of job she was targeting, Lauren remains cautiously optimistic. She is happy in her new position, but the future of the industry is uncertain. “My worry is that I could be totally broke next week and back here for my next Five O’Clock Club session,” she says. But she now also has the confidence that, whatever happens, she has the tools that she needs to carry out an effective job search again in the future with The Five O’Clock Club as her guide.
By using the direct contact method, Mark put himself in a prime position to be hired for a job that had not even been advertised yet.
Case Study: Mark
He Embraced the Methodology
Mark also came to The Five O’Clock Club after losing his position at a publishing company, but in book publishing. The upside was that the company was paying for his outplacement as part of his severance package, which allowed him to get started working with a Five O’Clock Club coach right away.
“It’s a difficult market out there,” Mark says, “and my industry is book publishing, which has had a very hard time.”
Mark embraced the Five O’Clock Club methodology from the outset of his search and used a variety of strategies, but networking was probably where he was most effective. “I think I probably had about sixty networking meetings over the course of the year,” he says. “I really did a pretty good job of getting to people, trying to get informational meetings, and seeing who they knew who they would be happy to have me talk with. I don’t think I had a single meeting that wasn’t worthwhile.”
With the unemployment rate still officially over eight percent—and estimated to be much higher—almost everybody knows someone who is out of a job. “So people naturally wanted to help,” Mark notes. “If they can spend twenty minutes sitting down and talking with you, if that’s really going to help you, then people were really happy to do that.”
Mark spoke with his job-search buddy every week at the same time, and that also helped him to keep his search active.
Another strategy that Mark found to be particularly effective was the direct mailing approach. “It wasn’t something I would have done if I hadn’t come to the Club,” he says. One HR manager whom he wrote to in September contacted him two months later saying that they had received his résumé and that Mark was potentially what they were looking for regarding an opening they had. The significant point was that the job itself had never been posted. By opting for the direct-contact method, Mark thereby put himself in a prime position to be hired for a job that had not even been advertised yet. “I’m sure everyone knows people who say, ‘Yeah, there are no jobs, I looked through all the ads’” he notes. “And it just kills me that people say that because there are so many jobs that never get posted.”
The next step after a successful direct-contact approach is the interview stage. The interview method that Mark learned at The Five O’Clock Club helped him to shine during the interview process at the company where he ultimately landed a new position. Mark learned how to use questions as prompts to make certain key points that he wanted to make during his interviews, and how to weave in stories from his background that would leave a favorable impression. “It’s so much better than just sitting down and thinking, ‘Well, I’m just going to answer the questions as best I can,’” he says. Instead, Mark took an active approach that allowed him to maintain his focus and control the interview.
Michele Wood was Mark’s Five O’Clock Club coach. She points out that Mark’s interviews had gone so well because of the strategy he employed in “surrounding the hiring manager.” Prior to an interview, Mark would go through his list of contacts to see if anyone had a connection to someone he was interviewing with. For the publishing position that he eventually obtained, Mark had contacted two people he knew who also knew the hiring manager, including a former colleague in Britain and the HR manager’s next door neighbor. Both of his contacts wrote letters of endorsement on his behalf prior to his second interview with the company.
“I see this second interview as if people were sitting around a fire with hot cocoa waiting for Mark to arrive,” Michele says. Mark had so successfully paved the way for his interview that, by the time he actually arrived for the interview itself, a hiring decision had most likely been all but finalized.
Two other techniques that Mark found helpful during his job search included trying to remain active as a consultant and having a job-search buddy.
A “hard sell” approach was not necessary to find consulting work, he realized; instead, just through various informational meetings, he could talk to people and see what kinds of issues they were dealing with in their companies and offer his experience wherever it might seem like a good fit.
Similarly, Mark discovered that the job-search buddy technique was another way of keeping his search active by being able to regularly compare notes with someone else who was using the Five O’Clock Club methodology and was in the same boat that he was in. “We would have a phone call every week at the same time,” Mark says, “and we would just go through what we were doing and what we were planning for the week.” Getting moral support from his job-search buddy was also important. As much as your friends and family love you and want to help you out, Mark notes, they don’t know exactly what you’re going through the way that your job-search buddy does.
Mark mastered the technique of “surrounding the hiring manager.” By the time he actually arrived for the interview, a hiring decision had most likely been all but finalized.
“Mark was a pleasure to work with because he really invites the methodology,” his coach, Michele, points out. Whether it was the Club’s focus on direct-contact approaches, the importance of networking and getting informational meetings, participating in the weekly group sessions, or having a thought-out, methodical approach to the interview process, Mark used all of these techniques successfully. Though his search took longer than average, the extensive work that Mark put in—particularly in obtaining numerous networking meetings—resulted in another publishing position that at the outset of his search might have seemed out of reach.
Mark reported on his success at a subsequent meeting of The Five O’Clock Club, telling other Club members of the strategies that were most effective for him in his search. “I would just say that you’ve got something very valuable here at The Five O’Clock Club,” he added, “and I would take advantage of it.”