Finding the career shoe that fits

Jeanne Soulier says Bainbrige Island’s isolation can work against job seekers . - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Jeanne Soulier says Bainbrige Island’s isolation can work against job seekers .
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Even in the current economy, it is possible to get your foot in an employer’s door. You just have to be standing outside the right one, says career consultant Jeanne Soulier.

“The challenge for the successful job seeker is to be at the head of the line, not just somewhere in the line,” says Soulier.

“The jobs are out there; it is just a matter of finding them and getting yourself noticed,” she says.

And it’s not just a matter of luck, she says. The skills – and attitudes – required to attract an employer’s notice can be learned.

In 1994, Soulier created Skills Plus, the career counseling service at Helpline House. Since then, hundreds of islanders have worked with Soulier to develop a search strategy, create resumes, and practice interviewing. Fees are based on a client’s ability to pay, and the client can also receive assistance with typing, transportation and appropriate clothing.

Soulier, who started her private counseling practice, A Foot in the Door, in 1998, says she’s seen the profile of Bainbridge job seekers change several times over the years.

In the mid-90s, “most of my work focused on addressing the needs of professional-level workers, and finding employment for people in transition,” Soulier recalls.

“As the economy improved, those numbers dropped off, and the focus became people just entering the job market, those with a number of barriers to getting started.”

These days, however, career planning again is taking a back seat to helping newly out-of-work professionals. Since the downturn in the economy last year, Soulier’s client list has doubled.

For many of the newly unemployed, seeking assistance is extremely difficult, says Soulier.“When clients come to Helpline, they’ll say, ‘I’ve always given to this organization; I didn’t expect I’d be the one needing the help.”

“The loss of a job is like a death, in a way; you need to go through a grieving process,” she adds.

In her work both at Helpline, where Soulier can be found 20-25 hours a week, and her private practice, Soulier offers the same message: stay active and assertive.

She also advises clients to be ready for a long haul.

“You have to be prepared for a search that may last six months to a year,” says Soulier. “That requires a real adjustment to expectations.”

Rather than holding out for the perfect job from the get-go, Soulier encourages clients to take project or seasonal work, even to volunteer, to increase networking opportunities and their exposure to other people.

“When your level of activity, and your contact with people drops, it can really harm your own sense of well-being and your confidence in your job prospects,” she says.

Living on an island increases that isolation – as does the very availability of employment resources and job postings available over the Internet.

“People will think they are conducting a very active job search by sitting at their computer,” she says, “but they aren’t.”

Online resources can be valuable, but a successful search requires person-to-person contact, says Soulier. “That’s how you get to the hiring authority – the person who is actually going to make the decision about you,” she stresses.

She recommends starting with a list of people that you know – the first step in networking. She encourages clients who find picking up the phone and calling even friends difficult to imagine themselves on the other end of the line.

“I ask them, ‘How would you feel?’ Most people love to help others if asked in a respectful way,” she says.

After thirteen years as an island resident, Soulier continues to be impressed by the island’s supportive nature. “The scope of services is really amazing,” she says. “I haven’t come across this in any other community.”

She particularly values working with Helpline, whose breadth of service allows clients’ needs to be considered holistically.

While Helpline, county services like WorkSource, and other private providers offer a good range of career counseling services, Soulier hopes the business community will help work the problem from the other end.

“What I’d like to see is business encouraged to come to the island and grow. I don’t mean Winslow having more shops, but more jobs with higher wages and benefits.”

Despite the state’s 7 percent jobless rate – nearly 1.5 percent above the national average – Soulier continues to be optimistic about the ability of motivated individuals to find employment, both on the island and in the region as a whole.

“Certainly the picture is not very, very bright, but it is brighter than it was four months ago,” she says.

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