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.
As for the benefits to New Directions clients, Church puts the experience on his resume, and he finds that it’s a great talking point in networking meetings and interviews. He also finds that teaching job skills reinforces what he learns as a New Directions client. “When you teach something, you really have to internalize the material,” explains Church. “It’s second nature, now that I teach it.”
Learning by teaching has been especially useful for John Iacobucci, who had held a steady succession of senior-level finance positions and had never needed to network for a job. After a stint as chief financial officer of Nevada Bob’s, a retailer of golf and tennis equipment, he became chief operating officer of Frugal Fannie’s, a Boston-based discount retailer. When Frugal Fannie’s filed for bankruptcy in 2003, Iacobucci joined New Directions, where he attended workshops on networking and learned to “think of myself as a corporation selling a product.” He also volunteered at the veterans’ shelter by running job-seeking seminars, helping write resumes, and giving presentations on networking. “I believe good things happen to people who give back, and New Directions gives opportunities to do that,” says Iacobucci — the newly hired CFO of Namco, a Hartford, Connecticut-based supplier of pool and patio equipment.
For many New Directions clients, the spirit of community outreach stays with them even after they find a job. Larry Dorman, who before joining New Directions was CFO of RM Access, a risk-management consultancy owned by Fidelity Investments, recently became deputy commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It’s a job he landed through doing pro bono work for the state government. He, too, taught at the veterans’ shelter, an experience that enhanced his presentation skills and helped him put his own skills in perspective. Dorman remains among a group of special consultants to the shelter’s CEO, management, and board. “Even if you have a job, you need other activities that bring perspective to what you do,” observes Dorman. “It may or may not be directly related to your work, but it does make you a better person.”
Since New Directions launched its nonprofit foundation four years ago, about 500 of its clients have volunteered their time. For Andrew Church, the experience has led to the discovery that he loves teaching; today he’s pursuing CFO opportunities at educational publishing firms and online learning companies. Church has realized he could “be really passionate” about such a job — a realization, says Church, that he owes to his volunteer work with the veterans.