Those laid off as a result of the recent economic downturn have cause for hope, thanks to a free, but not widely-known career counseling service that offers everything from resume help to valuable networking opportunities.
ProMatch, located adjacent to the state Employment Development Department next to the Sunnyvale Public Library, offers a range of services designed for professionals - those with bachelor's or advanced degrees. ProMatch, funded by California, is part of the Connect Business and Career campus, which includes several service providers geared to getting people back to work.
"What we do, between all of us on this campus, and what ProMatch offers is a really unique center for the business professional, both at management level and individual contributors," said director Kitty Wilson, a Los Altos resident.
ProMatch offers career counseling, training in interviewing, using the Internet to find jobs, workshops on managing career transitions and use of computers, printers, fax machines and copiers. But perhaps the most important element the agency offers is a meeting place for diverse professionals with like minds - people who all have lost their jobs and have sympathetic ears for one another.
"We have a suite of rooms where they can talk," Wilson said. "They pass leads to each other and teach each other software tips. (Meeting and networking) keeps people's morale up tremendously and broadens the web of influence on contacts."
The networking function is especially important, Wilson said, considering tech professionals are typically more introverted.
"The worst thing that can happen when you're laid off is isolation," Wilson said. Using the Web exclusively to find jobs isn't such a good idea, either, she indicated.
"E-mailed resumes work as well as snail-mail resumes," Wilson said, if they are fired off without way of introduction or through knowing somebody.
"What we find is the way people at this level find their positions best is by somebody they know," Wilson said. "Job postings are usually the last resort. By the time a position is posted, there are already so many internal prospects at hand. So many get filled before they're ever posted. It's all in who you know and who knows you."
Currently, approximately 130 people are working with ProMatch services, but that number has been 240 or more in the past, Wilson said.
Though services are free, some people choose not to opt for ProMatch. To use the agency, applicants must agree to attend an all-day Thursday enrollment workshop. They must also help out in the office a few hours a week, Wilson said.
"We can't run everything that needs running here based on our small staff," Wilson said. "It's (the required help) what's keeping ProMatch operating. It doesn't intrude on the work search."
She said ProMatch clients are invited to attend two meetings each week, with the weekly membership meeting for networking and sharing information, and usually featuring a guest speaker. Weekly orientation meetings are every Friday at 10 a.m.
Wilson said she has seen an increase in ProMatch use the past few months. "For the first time (in a while), they're coming from the tech world, dot-com shutdowns, the semiconductor industry," she said.
ProMatch is an outgrowth of a state EDD program begun in the 1950s called Experience Unlimited. The idea was to offer opportunities for highly educated people that the normal job postings at EDD offices were not satisfying.
Wilson first joined ProMatch in 1985. Program Director Don Jevons, also of Los Altos, originally came to ProMatch as a client.
Los Altos resident Karon Hatler enjoyed her experience with ProMatch last year after being laid off from a job.
"The real benefits of going there are networking because there are a lot of people there doing the same thing as you are," she said. Hatler also praised the supportive staff and said she was given "the opportunity to practice leadership skills."
"I found (ProMatch) to be very positive and nurturing," she said.
ProMatch is located at 505 W. Olive Ave., Suite 200, Sunnyvale. For more information, call (408) 736-2391.