What Goes Around, Comes Around

At New Directions, finance executives who volunteer to teach job-hunting skills have been finding that the benefits are not simply a one-way street.

As you look out the window of Andrew Church’s office — a stately room in a renovated 200-year-old building on Boston’s Long Wharf, with a picturesque view of yachts and whale-watching boats floating serenely on the Atlantic — you might find it hard to imagine getting a lot of work done. But Church commutes every morning on the ferry from Boston’s South Shore, settles in, and hunkers down to the task at hand: finding a permanent position as a chief financial officer.

Church does much of his job-hunting work at the facilities of New Directions, a career-transition firm that counsels senior executives and provides them with an office, a phone line, and secretarial help. Church chose New Directions for other reasons, however. He was impressed with its sense of community, including an extensive alumni network; nearly 40 percent of New Directions clients find new positions through networking with former clients. He was also attracted by its foundation, for which clients volunteer in several community-outreach programs. “Until now, most of my outside activities were professionally related,” says Church. “I wanted to give back.”

Church came to New Directions in January 2003 after leaving his position as chief financial officer of technology consultancy Nurun Inc. He quickly found a temporary assignment as an interim vice president of finance, and now he’s returned to New Directions to search for a permanent CFO position. Meanwhile, he volunteers through the New Directions foundation to share his job-search know-how at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans and to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

The advantages of volunteering, notes New Directions chief executive officer David Corbett, are particularly well suited to counter some of the disadvantages of unemployment. “A lot of individuals, if they’re out of work, hit a brick wall,” says Corbett — especially senior executives, who are accustomed to positions of authority and leadership. Constant rejection is part and parcel of a job search, and it takes its toll on a job hunter’s morale and desire to network. “One thing that motivates clients [to volunteer] is that they feel better about themselves,” explains Corbett. “They’re ‘up’ again, and someone’s listening to them again.”

Another major advantage of volunteering for the foundation is the ability to take advantage of new, less formal settings for networking. “It’s one thing to see other clients at a conference table in their shirts and ties,” says New Directions vice president Michael Jeans, who helped start the Habitat for Humanity program. “But it’s completely different to stand there with a saw and say to them, ‘Hey, could you hold on to this two-by-four for a minute?’”

Learning Through Teaching

At the veterans’ shelter, New Directions clients volunteer to conduct workshops on job-search know-how. One program is a six-week series that takes groups of students through the entire job-search process, from skills assessment and resume writing to going on interviews.

“It’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” says Church. “We really give them the tools to identify their assets and market themselves.” One student with particularly low confidence, he recalls, happened to be a satellite communications expert. “He possessed a lot of very marketable skills,” says Church. “We really wrote a killer resume for this guy.” And through New Directions’ heavy emphasis on networking — in this case, Church’s father-in-law — several meetings later the vet got a job.

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