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Ex-GMers Band Together in Job Hunt

October 27, 2009
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Amy Cannello joined General Motors right out of college. In October 2008, 23 years and four months later, she accepted a buyout and left the only employer she had ever known.

“It’s been very difficult for me,” Cannello says. “My résumé wasn’t updated. I hadn’t interviewed in a long time. I hadn’t done a job search since I graduated.”

Cannello, whose most recent job at GM was in global logistics helping to ship materials and products worldwide, soon realized she was not alone in figuring out a new world of job seeking.

In the year since she left GM, the automaker has transformed itself, shedding thousands of workers, many of whom had been with the company for decades. While GM has provided its salaried workers with outplacement job training, many workers have come to rely on one another to help navigate their uncertain futures.

The outplacement services, provided by Lee Hecht Harrison and Right Management, helped former employees update résumés, prepare for interviews and search job banks. But most important, former GM workers say, the service created a community of GM people who could help one another during a time of personal crisis.

After a few weeks, the outplacement training ended, but the need for help did not. Building on their shared experience at GM, where most had worked for 20-plus years, former workers have started “job circles”—small groups of out-of-work GM professionals who meet regularly to help one another on the path to new employment.

Cannello helped start a group that would meet Tuesday mornings. After swelling to a dozen people, the group moved their meeting place from a Starbucks to Cannello’s home in a Detroit suburb.

“I call every Tuesday our group therapy,” Brenda Peinado says. “They can joke about not having a job whereas if others outside the group joked, I’d take offense.” Three weeks after earning a company ring commemorating her 25 years with GM, Peinado was laid off. She says that in addition to emotional support, her peers in the job circle have provided practical advice that she did not get from her outplacement service.

Together they have shared war stories from the job front. The group finds answers to one another’s questions, brainstorms different ways to approach the job hunt and runs participants through mock interviews. They have also taught one another how to best navigate Michigan’s unemployment-claims system.

“We’re thinking of documenting a set of best practices so others can learn from our experience,” says Peinado, who, like her colleagues, is in the habit of applying her training in supply chain management to everyday life. Troy Stinnett, who had 23 “wonderful years” with GM, worked in finance and joined the group to network and share job-searching experiences. He also acts as an intermediary, passing on what he learns to former colleagues outside the group who could use the advice.

Matthew Beatty, who worked for GM for 28 years and is now an independent consultant, says there are at least 50 job circles run by former GM employees. Some of the groups have begun to include non-GM alums who are nonetheless unemployed, producing a “much broader range of input,” Beatty says.

“We’re basically doing the outplacement for each other,” Beatty says.

After years of job security and predictable living, participants have encouraged one another to take risks. That advice has begun to pay off. Of the three participants in Cannello’s job circle who recently found jobs, two—including Cannello—will be leaving Detroit.

Cannello was hired as chief strategist within the business operations team at Navair, the Naval Air Systems Command that is part of the Department of Defense. While packing up her home recently in preparation for her move to Maryland, Cannello said her success in finding a new job has inspired her peers in the job circle.

“They said, ‘Wow, there is hope,’ ” she says.

Workforce Management, October 19, 2009, p. 29 -- Subscribe Now!

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