Job search is the central activity of a work first program. While individual job search-in which participants are instructed to make job contacts on their own and to report regularly on their progress-is least expensive, structured group job search-commonly known as job club-appears to be more effective. Job clubs generally include three components: a classroom segment, a phone room, and active job search. A job club in which all three of these components are strong can make all the difference in the success of your program.
There is no fixed rule about how large job clubs should be or how long job search should last. However, some generalizations can be made. Skilled facilitators working with groups of approximately 20 participants seem to be able to balance individual attention for those who need it with positive group dynamics. Most job clubs last three to four weeks, with some lasting as long as 12 weeks (see Appendix A for limitations on job search under TANF)-although practitioners agree that after a certain point, if a participant has not found a job, additional job search is not likely to be fruitful. At that point, program administrators may wish to conduct an in-depth assessment (see section 25) to identify barriers and plan alternative employment strategies.
Ten Guidelines for Running Effective Job Clubs
- Make the goal of job search finding a job. Be explicit about the goal of job search-to find a job that the participant can get now. This should not be just an "informational" job search, in which participants learn about employment opportunities to get a sense of what they want to do and to find out what additional training or education may be needed to get there. In addition, be clear about your employment expectations. For example, is only full-time work expected, or should participants take part-time work if that is available? Should participants aim to achieve a certain wage, or should they take the first job they are offered?
- Combine classroom instruction with actual job search. The best job clubs combine classroom activities with actually going out and looking for a job. Some programs have group activities in the morning or afternoon, with participants spending the other half of the day making contacts and interviewing. Alternatively, the classroom segment may be a few days to a week long, followed by active job search and group use of telephone banks. If your program includes job development (see section 27), linking that with job club can make both components more effective.
- Have a well-equipped phone room. Telephones are crucial equipment in job search. A phone room allows participants to apply the skills they learn in the classroom by calling prospective employers, learning about openings, and arranging interviews. Participants should be on the phones making contacts by the end of the first week of job club, if not sooner (some job clubs have people bring in leads and start making phone calls on the second day). Phone rooms should contain resources to help participants identify potential employers, including telephone directories, classified advertisements from local newspapers, and job leads developed by program staff or other participants. There should also be some structure to the phone room component of job club, with an instructor available to offer advice and direction, and opportunities provided for participants to share experiences and brush up on their job search and interviewing skills.
It helps to have enough phones to accommodate not just those in group workshops, but all participants who might need to use them. Having additional phones where participants can retrieve messages can help those who have no phone at home or who would like a professional-sounding message to greet potential employers. Make sure that staff or participants do not answer those phones, and use recorded professional greetings that do not mention the welfare department.
- Use hands-on approaches to teach practical job search skills. Job search skills include: how to find job leads and make job contacts; how to complete job applications; how to conduct a successful interview; how to prepare a résumé and cover letter; and how to identify and market your strengths and talents. The most hands-on techniques are the most effective, including filling out sample applications and practicing mock interviews (even videotaping them so participants can see how they come across to prospective employers).
- Motivate participants in their job search. Motivation and a positive attitude are key job search skills. Remind participants of why they will be better off working, for both financial and other reasons. An enthusiastic instructor can also help to motivate participants. Many participants enter the program with low opinions of their own skills and abilities. They may not feel they are qualified for any available jobs and may not have the confidence needed to make cold calls and approach potential employers. Helping participants identify their strengths, including skills they may not have recognized-such as all the skills associated with caring for a family-can increase motivation and self-esteem and help participants identify job opportunities. (See section 34 for more suggestions on motivating participants.)
The most important motivation in a job club can come from the participants themselves. Often by the third day or so, someone in the group has gotten a job interview. By the end of the first week, someone has gotten a job. As this happens, the mood of the group changes. Participants become more excited about finding a job and more optimistic about their opportunities. They also feel more pressure to succeed as more of their peers find jobs.
- Encourage participants to make numerous job contacts. At the entry level, finding a job is largely a numbers game, so job search is largely about encouraging participants to make as many contacts and apply for as many positions as possible. To support this approach, it makes sense to calculate participation requirements (outside of group activities) in terms of contacts or interviews rather than hours. The number of job contacts required should be ambitious but realistic; requirements in programs that MDRC has observed range from 6 a week to 30 a day, but "contacts" is defined differently in different places. Requirements should emphasize successful outcomes over simply going through the motions. For example, you might give participants the option of completing one of the following each week: 50 cold calls or in-person contacts, 10 leads for actual job openings, or 3 job interviews.
- Treat the job club like a job. The job club is a chance to acclimate participants to the world of work. Attendance requirements get participants in the habit of arriving somewhere on time each morning and ensure that child care and other barriers have been addressed. A dress code can enhance self-confidence and ensure that participants are ready to go to an interview at any time. Group activities can emphasize interpersonal skills and give participants experience in communicating with supervisors and co-workers. In these ways, and by incorporating into the curriculum a discussion of what will happen once participants are working, job search can also enhance job retention (see section 31 for more on retention).
- Help participants learn from each other and from their experiences. Participants should share job leads that they cannot use themselves with the rest of the group. Debrief participants to learn about their job search experiences-what went well and what failed-and to help them improve job search skills. Sharing job search and interview experiences also enables participants to learn from each other.
- Hire an engaging instructor. Perhaps the single most important element of a job club is the instructor. More than any other program staff member, the job club instructor needs to be outgoing, motivating, able to engage participants, and skilled in group facilitation (see section 14, on hiring and training staff). Hiring an instructor with personal experience on welfare (in addition to other qualifications) can work especially well. For example, in one job club in Riverside, California, the instructor, a single parent and former welfare recipient, was able to use her own success story to counter every barrier to work suggested by participants.
- Celebrate success. Publicly recognize the achievements of participants, from arranging job interviews to getting a job. In addition to providing positive reinforcement, publicizing success can encourage and inspire other participants. Many offices post photos of program graduates in public waiting areas. In a Los Angeles office, a bell is rung whenever someone gets a job.