Career clubs - also known as job clubs, networking clubs or job support groups - have been around for decades. However they have recently re-emerged as a potentially critical tool for people looking to find work in a difficult economy. These clubs provide people who are unemployed, or people who want to make a job change, with a place to gain information, get insight from peers and professionals and learn skills necessary to finding work. (Companies are in need of strategic candidates, not walking resumes. Find out how you can best present yourself in Business Grads, Land Your Dream Job.)
While there is no hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes a career club, most share some common characteristics, and provide participants with:

  • an open forum to ask employment- and career-related questions
  • peer-to-peer feedback
  • an emotional support system during difficult job transitions
  • the structure of regular in-person meetings to help create and reach career-related goals
  • practical tools such as resume critiques and classes in interviewing skills

In addition, some job clubs will offer employment site visits, host career panels featuring local or national employers and present guest lecturers from a wide range of backgrounds and industries to speak on important job search-related topics.

Avoiding Depression and Discouragement
One of the most important benefits of a career club is the positive affect it can have on a participant's emotional health. The companionship of people in a similar position can help alleviate some of the most difficult aspects of finding a new job, and make the process of finding new employment less tedious and lonely. For example, the accountability of knowing that group members will ask about your job search progress can help motivate you to do tasks you might have otherwise put off, such as writing a resume, making cold calls or doing follow-up work after an interview. (Looking to land your dream job? Skip the entry-level position by avoiding the common errors found in, Top Job-Search Mistakes For Finance Grads.)

According to a 2002 study featured in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology author Dr. Richard H. Price of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor found that the financial stress of cascading negative events following a job loss can cause people to "have higher symptoms of depression and a greater perception that they had lost personal control, including lowered self-esteem." According to Price, the study found that many of the negative effects related to job loss "can be prevented… by helping people learn the skills of getting back into the labor market."

Joining a Club
You can find a career club in your area by looking in your local newspaper's business or employment section. Contact a local career center, or a career center affiliated with a nearby college, university or government agency. For example, the Bay Area Career Center (BACC) in San Francisco hosts a weekly job club meeting where people can learn about job search strategies and skills, including resume writing and interviewing. Some employment agencies will help host job clubs, and social service providers, including your local employment office, may also have information about existing clubs.

No career club in your area? One option is to join a virtual club. Websites like Meetup.com offer many opportunities for networking and employment support, in almost every North American city.

Starting a Club
Another option is to simply start a club yourself. It could be as easy as inviting people you know, who are currently out of work or interested in changing jobs, to meet with other job seekers and share ideas at your home for a few hours on a regular basis. If you're a real extrovert, you may want to aim for something bigger and advertise locally for a larger meeting, using free or inexpensive meeting space like your public library. You can limit club membership to a certain population (for example, homemakers wanting to return to the workplace or people looking for work in a certain field, such as healthcare or banking) or benefit from a more heterogeneous group. (Preparation can help you land on your feet after getting the "old heave-ho." Find out more in Planning For Unemployment.)

If you're not comfortable starting a group from scratch there are organizations – like Career Clubs International – that provide turnkey systems and all the necessary materials to help you launch your own club. Once you establish a club, make sure you clearly communicate the group's vision, ground rules and expectations. One key to an effective career club is the ability to manage the group dynamics, and help keep members focused on meeting challenges and moving forward in their job searches. You will lose the interest of motivated job seekers if your club becomes a place for disgruntled workers or job seekers to complain, and if members aren't challenged to generate momentum in making important job changes.

The Bottom Line
Career clubs can be a fantastic motivation and resource to help you in your job search. They can help combat loneliness and provide you with tips and contacts that can speed up the process of finding another job. However, they will only be helpful if you feel comfortable enough with the other members involved to invest the time and energy required. If a group is not working for you, explain that to the leader and move on to find another club that is a better fit. After all, this is time that you're investing in yourself. Make it work to your advantage.

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