White Collar Support Groups Gain Momentum

Bob Roeder is used to meeting in high-rise office buildings and corporate boardrooms.

But these days, the project manager and his teammates meet in a church basement outside of Chicago. They are 11 strong, all newly unemployed white collar professionals with a common goal -- get back into the American work force.

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"We are like an executive board of a company, and it just starts the workweek off well because looking for a job is really work itself," co-leader Cathy-Ann Romero said.

Enrollment in groups like Romero's has risen sharply in the last few months. Members sign an official contract to join and adhere to a strict agenda. They attend outside networking events and report on weekly progress.

The group follows a structure outlined in a book called "The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search," written by Orville Pierson. The group calls itself a job search work team or an accountability club instead of support group, choosing to use jargon that is inherently productive and positive.

Roeder reported that he spent 54 hours in job search-related activities and talked with 45 different contacts. Another group member chimed in that he had spent 65 to 70 hours on various job-hunting tasks.

Some say that while this is the worst economic environment they've ever seen, there is some optimism in the wake of President Obama's stimulus package. Some say they're hoping there will eventually be a trickledown effect that results in the creation of new jobs to be filled by people like them.

"The fact of the matter is we all have people counting on us at home," said group member Matt Zimmerman. "The group here, we are really a company that helps us get forward, but at the end of the day it's, you know, going home and looking at your wife and your kids and saying, 'I'm going to keep going.'"

Balancing Job Hunting and Life

Because the cornerstone of the agenda is to focus on the importance of balancing work and life, each teammate is expected to log weekly activities done just for fun.

"I volunteered at a youth camp over the weekend, and then we had some family over for dinner," said Jeff Murray, was laid off since August 2008.

For Tom Nolan, the fun was attending his daughter's baseball game and having a party for the parents afterward.

Though they'd rather be at work, some say they have learned a little more about themselves during the months spent searching for a new job.

"While we are all good at our jobs, our jobs aren't what defines us," Murray said. " It's our families, it's our friends, it's our faith"

It is that newfound wisdom, they say, that gives them the strength to stay focused and believe that, eventually, everyone will succeed.

"We will be back to work one day," group member Jack Elliot said. "We've been through good times and bad times in this country over the course of my lifetime, and there will be a good time again at the end of this."

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