Ken Won has read the many stories about the discouraged and growing ranks of the long-term unemployed.
Tales of despair and dejection. Stories of futile searches for new careers or even safety jobs that will at least bring in a little money. Narratives about the hundreds of thousands of “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for work altogether.
In short, he’s familiar with the idea those who’ve gone without work for months and months have become a community of mopes.
But Won has different stories, a whole Web site full. The laid-off marketing man launched the site this summer, inspired by his long-term journey through joblessness.
“What struck me was how people help each other so much,” Won, 47, says of his fellow unemployed. “You talk to people you don’t even know and they offer to help. And you think,
‘Wow, what a wonderful thing.’ ”
There is not much wonderful about being out of work. Won knows. In February, he lost his job as a senior marketing director at SGI, a company that sold itself to Rackable Systems in the spring. He’s married, with three kids and a mortgage. He’s faced the fear of not being able to pay the bills.
The SGI layoff was Won’s second in three years. This time, he says, things are markedly tougher. More people are out of work, making for more competition. He’s convinced fewer jobs are being advertised. That could be because there are fewer jobs to be had, but also because hiring managers are relying more heavily on social-networking tools, such as LinkedIn, that weren’t as prevalent three years ago.
Won is attacking the challenge by power networking. He hits the job-hunting mixers, such as the Pink Slip gatherings that regularly bring job-seekers together in San Jose. He’s a member of ProMatch, a Sunnyvale, Calif., program in which out-of-work professionals meet regularly to organize and attend seminars to polish job-hunting skills. Members act as each other’s eyes and ears, looking out for potential opportunities that might be a good fit for group members.
At these and other events, Won found himself asking other unemployed networkers what they were doing to find work. And the conversation would branch out into what they were doing to keep their sanity and their skills sharp. He was struck by the energy, passion and inventiveness of those who suddenly had time on their hands.
“I don’t find anyone sitting around on their couch watching TV all day long,” he says. “I just think there is so much talent and these people’s brains are running at 100 miles an hour.”
One man he met is organizing a neighborhood watch on his block. There was another volunteering at church and a person who was giving his time to help with an organization working on economic development in Africa. And, of course, they were all diligently looking for work.
It was uplifting, Won says, just being around them.
And so, Won wanted to give back. He started asking those in his network if they knew of people finding jobs. And so-and-so would put him on to so-and-so, and suddenly he’d find himself interviewing a successful job hunter.
In late spring he began building the site, www.jobsuccessstories.com, teaching himself Web development as he went. In June, the site went live with stories of people, many using pseudonyms, who retrained themselves or started businesses or successfully found jobs similar to the ones they had lost. The lessons are sound, if not earth shattering: Network, don’t be afraid to invest in education, follow your passion, find a connection to personally deliver your resume to a hiring manager.
One unexpected benefit to the site, Won says, is it’s helped him stay positive. Each milestone -launching the site, receiving his first positive feedback – has encouraged him to press ahead with the site and with his job search.
Though Won never envisioned the site as a moneymaker, he’s added advertisements to its pages and a small amount of revenue is trickling in. Not even close to enough revenue for him to give up his search for a day job.
And so he will continue to look. Along with thousands and thousands of others, some of whom he hopes he’s providing with a little direction and some comfort.