Jobless HR Pros Using Their Skills for Good in Bad Economy

By Adrienne Fox Jul 28, 2009
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HR professionals are coaches, organizers and connectors in their jobs, so it’s no surprise that they would exercise those skills while unemployed. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, laid-off HR professionals are helping others find jobs by putting on career events, starting networking groups and providing one-on-one coaching.

Milwaukee-based recruiter Angela Harris is an example of how passion for HR and ingenuity can help a community. After being laid off in January 2009 from Pinstripe Talent, an outsourcing firm, Harris started thinking about how to use her recruiting experience and connections to help others improve their job-search skills.

Still in the beginning stages of putting together a career event, a former boss sent her a news release about Milwaukee JobCamp. "At first I was mad that someone else had my idea, but then I decided to call the founder to see how I could help," she recalled.

Harris now serves—unpaid—as chief executive director of Milwaukee JobCamp, with two events in the Milwaukee area under her belt.

The July event drew more than 1,000 attendees with 60 HR volunteers who conducted 340 mock interviews, reviewed resumes and answered questions about online social networking. Harris arranged for a professional photographer to take free photos for candidates. Manpower sponsored and helped staff the event while a local casino provided space at a discount. Admission was free for the mostly highly educated, professional attendees, who brought in canned food goods for local shelters.

While rewarding emotionally, it still doesn’t pay the bills, noted Harris, who laughed when asked if this unpaid position will lead to a paid one. “We’re trying to work something out,” she said.

Paying It Forward

Kim Bair, PHR, is a recruitment and HR manager at Effectur Inc., a tax resolution firm in Greensboro, N.C. She has the Triangle Society for Human Resource Management members in transition (MIT) group to thank for helping her land that position after being laid off in 2008 from Liquidia Technologies in Durham, N.C.

In an effort to pay it forward, she joined the HR Management Association of Greensboro (HRMAG) and created its MIT group, which she chairs. Since April 2009, the MIT group has grown from four members to 18. MIT volunteers have backgrounds in recruiting, which Bair noted is helpful to HR professionals who aren’t recruiters and are unfamiliar with the latest job-seeking tools and strategies.

Now, people like Vicki Winston, who lost her senior HR manager position at Dell Corp. in March 2009, are benefiting from the group Bair started.

"It has been a great support system," said Winston. "I sat for the first couple of days in shock, not sure what to do next. This group has helped me get focused and understand what I need to be doing to land my next position."

Winston is also paying it forward by managing a new LinkedIn group, which gives HRMAG MIT members leads and connects them with HR volunteers.

Using Talent for Good

While listening to her pastor deliver a sermon on not wasting one’s talents, then-employed Rosemary Kurtz, SPHR, got the idea to start a networking group for unemployed and underemployed parishioners, counseling them on the basics of resume writing and interviewing. Little did she know she’d be joining the group’s ranks a few months later when she lost her job as employee relations director at security firm Brink’s in Philadelphia.

Kurtz has since reached out to other laid-off Brink’s employees and has been coaching them, some on a weekly basis.

Until June 2009, Lelia Kelleher-Heinricks served as the sole HR practitioner for fashion designer Zac Posen’s House of Z in New York. With the high-fashion retail industry hit hard in this recession, she’s had a lot of opportunities to help former colleagues who also were laid off.

“I’m coaching young people who have little experience interviewing, and I’m helping more experienced people who haven’t been in the job market for a long time,” said Kelleher-Heinricks. The latter group, which hasn’t job searched in five years or longer, she added, needs guidance on online job searching and social networking sites like

“The most important thing you can take with you when you get laid off is your reputation,” noted Kelleher-Heinricks. “I know eventually my volunteering will lead to a permanent position, but the main motivation is just to connect with other people and see how I can help them. It’s rewarding.”

Helping Others, Help Yourself

Rick Lustig lost his job in January 2009 as a senior talent acquisition manager at Avon Products Inc. in New York. Since then, he has spent his time coaching people he meets at networking events on resume writing, interviewing and marketing. “Networking is about a value exchange,” Lustig explained. “I give advice, and, hopefully, those I help will help me down the line.”

Lustig is doing a little “pro bono” recruiting by connecting the people he counsels with recruiters he has worked with over the years. “If I help the recruiters, they’ll remember me when something opens up that fits my profile,” said Lustig.

Some of his counseling has been more personal than professional. “I’ve spoken to spouses who are very nervous and don’t have realistic expectations about the time it takes to find a job,” said Lustig. “I say to them, ‘try not to criticize; they’re doing the right things’ ” to find a job.

Part-mediator, part-labor market soothsayer: It’s all part of life as an HR professional—employed or not.

Adrienne Fox is a freelance business writer in Alexandria, Va., and former managing editor of HR Magazine.

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