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Resume Coach Lends a Hand in Frustrating Job Market

July 9, 2013

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When Marcia LaReau was laid off from the human resources job she'd held at Cigna
for five years, co-workers who knew her asked: "Will you help me find a good
job?"

LaReau had specialized in coaching new hires who weren't integrating well, as
she diplomatically puts it, and co-workers knew that meant she could help people
figure out exactly what kinds of jobs played to their strengths.

LaReau initially thought the business she founded because of those requests
would be built around helping fresh college graduates figure out what direction
they should go. But as the economy tanked in 2008, she found her year-old
coaching business, Forward Motion, shifting to displaced mid-career workers, and
that's still true five years later.

Generally, the people who come to her are not having near-misses, where they are
getting to in-person interviews for advertised openings but the company ends up
going with another candidate. Most of her clients are applying to jobs through
online systems and hearing nothing back. "Everyone finds it as this black hole,"
she said.

LaReau helps them expand and rewrite their resumes, and she talks to HR workers
around the region to figure out the filters. She even gets permission from them
to submit mock resumes to see which ones result in a call for a phone interview.

The business world has tried to turn hiring into an automated, industrial
process, but it's not very good at it, she said. "They want the perfect person.
That's not how it works."

She develops relationships with HR officials, telling them she will help them
find the right person faster, and with outside recruiters, telling them she will
help them build their reputations.

But the relationships she develops with her clients are most critical. "They
feel like a failure because they lost a job. They feel like a failure because
they don't have a job," LaReau said. She said many of her clients tell her: "I
never needed help to get a job before."

So she said her first task is "putting that person back together."

One example of her ability to do that is this concrete advice on how to fight
the feelings of hopelessness that unemployment can bring.

LaReau said that, on average, a client spends three months working with her
before he or she finds work. The cost is often $2,200 to $2,500, but she allows
rank-and-file unemployed people to pay some of it after they get back to work.
(About 35 percent of her clients are in jobs and trying to figure out a better
career path, and 30 percent of the unemployed workers were high-level
executives.)

While gaps in employment can knock candidates out of the running, LaReau said
they are not a problem when candidates explain how they have used the time.

"Every single individual has a reason not to hire them. They have to be handled
on the cover letter and the resume, or they're not going to get a job."

For instance, she helped a recent graduate with below a 2.0 grade point average
land a career-track job. He explained his poor grades by showing how he threw
himself into theater productions, and how that prepared him for the work world.

LaReau has lived the career transitions that she shepherds clients through. She
was a music professor and an orchestra conductor before becoming a software
quality tester, and then a trainer at major insurance companies. She hopscotched
from a $23,000 job in testing, to a middle-class job to The Hartford, to a
six-figure salary at Cigna.

She said the outplacement firm working with people laid off from The Hartford
thought she was crazy to shoot for a six-figure salary. After eight interviews
for a job at Cigna, she told them the pay she wanted. And she got it.

"I wasn't asking top of the pay grade," LaReau said. "Knowing market value is
critical."

After her clients get offers, she helps them negotiate salary, and 75 percent
get more than the initial offer, usually 5 percent to 10 percent more, she said.

"Most have never negotiated for salary before," LaReau said. "In this economy,
they don't want to jinx it." But LaReau said offers are coming in low, and the
HR officials know it.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

Al Grimm, 58, hired LaReau in 2008 after he was laid off from of his computer
teaching job at a Christian school in Simsbury, Conn. He said he was offered a
job as an IT manager 10 months after he lost his job, at $42,000, about $6,000
more than he'd made as a teacher. With LaReau's help, he negotiated, and
received $47,000.

"I would've accepted what they offered," he said, so he more than made up what
he had paid her.

After four years with that agency, he took another IT consulting job for
$52,000.

"Marcia is probably better than anybody I've ever seen do it in interviewing
you," he said. "She can really put you on the spot."

LaReau said it has taken her six years to nearly reach her income goals for her
business.

"I never thought it would be this hard," she said, and she had to dip into her
retirement savings as, for several years, she earned a quarter to a third of
what she used to make at Cigna.

She said she often thought: "Should I be doing this?" But she said as of the
past six to eight months, "I'm finally seeing I'm going to make it."

___

(c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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Source: Copyright Hartford Courant (CT) 2013

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