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Rep. Kennedy hears the stories of unemployed professionals

First thing every Monday morning, a changing group of unemployed men and women with decades of professional job experience and impressive credentials meets at the Newton Needham Chamber of Commerce to network and strategize about their ongoing job searches.

This week the youngest among the group of 11 was 47 years old, and others were in their 50s and early 60s. There were doctorates and advanced degrees from prestigious universities, and years of experience in public relations, marketing, project management, scientific research, water management, and law, among other areas.

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There was even a former zoo keeper looking for work at a museum.

And according to US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who attended Monday’s gathering, they don’t fit the narrative of the unemployed being written by some in Washington, D.C.

“This is an eye-opening discussion for me,” he said.

“It was sobering to meet so many folks with extensive experience, folks who are really taking the initiative to find work who are still being caught in an economic shift that is leaving them unemployed,” he said. “It’s not for a lack of effort.”

Certainly not, according to the group’s facilitator, Newton resident Joe Sanroma, who is looking for full- or part-time work as a project manager in information-technology-related fields.

‘This is an eye-opening discussion for me.’

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“We are a stubborn group of people who are out of work,” he said. “We are stubborn because we keep looking.”

Despite an improving economy, there are still 250,000 unemployed people in Massachusetts, and 160,000 job openings, according to Kennedy, who said he is still pushing to get extended unemployment benefits restored.

Those attending the group say there are a number of factors seemingly conspiring against them. First, they say, is that their experience is often seen as a liability.

“There’s an assumption you’ll be too expensive,” Sanroma said. “How can we convince people that they can learn from our experience?”

Another problem the group talked about is the difficulty in getting their resume to a person who can actually hire them.

With all the outsourcing, they said, resumes are often sorted by people who don’t even work in the target company’s hiring office.

If their resume doesn’t fit a checklist, they said, they’ll never get a chance to speak with someone to describe how their experience may actually be a perfect fit for a particular position.

And to complicate things, when they do get an interview, they’re often talking with someone much younger than they are.

“If it’s important to be the right fit, to have a connection, how do you, they connect with someone their father’s age?” asked Howie Sholkin .

Sholkin, a Newton resident who was laid off from his job three months ago, is a graduate of Syracuse University and has 30 years experience as a marketing consultant.

“I can help a company increase their profits,” he said. “But you don’t see many full-time offerings for someone with 20 to 30 years experience.”

So, he said, instead of looking for a permanent job, he’s trying to establish a consulting business.

This week the participants went through their weekly routine, in which they go around the table and report what they did last week, and what they’re planning for the coming week.

For Jack Egan, who has looked for work in energy and water conservation for the past six months, it was sending out five resumes to companies that ranged from a start-up to one in business since 1884. He also tried unsuccessfully to reach three people whom he said had reached out to him.

Citing growth in the field of water conservation and energy management, Kennedy asked him about the challenges he is facing, saying, “Is it just not growing fast enough?”

Egan said that if he were an auditor or engineer, “I’d have a job tomorrow.”

Instead, Egan’s expertise is sales and business development. Those people are not being added, he said.

Everyone in the group said they relied heavily on social media sites, particularly LinkedIn, spent time sending out resumes and making follow-up calls, contacted former co-workers, attended networking events, and joined professional organizations.

They e-mailed each other, made connections with people in their field, contacted alumni from the schools they attended, tweeted about their job search, went on interviews, retooled their resumes, and looked into attending Meetup events.

“It used to be that you’d join the Rotary Club, now it’s LinkedIn,” Sholkin said. “It’s as important to be found as it is to go out and find a job.”

The group was started by Greg Reibman when he took over the Newton Needham business organization in 2012 after he found himself out of work. At the time, Sanroma was leading a similar group at the Newton Free Library. Now Sanroma leads the chamber’s group as a volunteer.

Many members of the group find jobs and “graduate,” but others have trouble finding positions with compensation comparable to their previous jobs.

Harriet Mermes Costa was at the meeting, but also gave Kennedy a letter detailing her situation.

“I have many skills and can get interviews, unlike some,” Mermes Costa wrote in the letter. “Due to the competitive environment with numerous applicants for one job, I could not get an equivalent or any job even close to the level I was at to support myself.”

Costa, of Dedham, has been looking for an IT project management job for the past 10 months.

For lawyer Bryan Kydd, a litigator in private practice who wants to move to a more advisory role in a government agency, school, or a nonprofit, the group reminds him to keep his job search “front and center.”

For Arlington resident Linda Schwartz, the former zookeeper who is looking for a position at a museum, the group keeps her moving forward.

“I’m in a spot where my get up and go has left, so this keeps me going,” she said.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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