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Midweek meetings give Hub pros opportunity to network

Robin Hamilton

It happens every other Wednesday of the month. Just off Beacon Hill, in the basement of the Paulist Center, applause and murmurs of encouragement emanate from the auditorium.

“Who has a success story today?” a bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair asked the group during one recent meeting.

One woman stood and said, “Well, I have been looking for three months, and now have two interviews. Both of those interviews I got from talking to people, telling them I’m looking for work.”

As people clapped, the man replied, “That is the power of networking.”

Considering the current state of the workforce, this is a support group in the truest sense of the word. This is WIND, or Wednesday Is Networking Day. The man who heads it, Larry Elle, has been facilitating the program for more than 10 years. In today’s economic climate, he says, it is more important than ever to network.

“The whole idea with networking is that you’re connecting, even if there isn’t a job opening,” Elle said. “You’re building allies for yourself in the future.”

For $10 a meeting, WIND acts as a place where people from all fields can meet and exchange contacts. Inside the auditorium, five tables divide the room, with roughly a dozen people at each. During introductions, every person must say what field they previously worked in, and where they’d like to work next.

At one table, a man introduced himself as a former marketing executive looking to move into public relations. The woman seated across from him piped in: “I heard that the Divinity School is looking for someone. You may want to check it out.” He scribbled a few notes on a pad, and the meeting continued.

Most people who attend WIND meetings are between jobs and actively looking for a new position. As a result, Elle has had to answer to critics who wonder how effective it is to network with other people who are out of work — questions along the lines of, “Isn’t that like the blind leading the blind?”

He disagrees, emphasizing the spirit of camaraderie often present in these meetings and how important that can be for attendees.

“People help each other,” he said. “People will hear about things they otherwise wouldn’t hear about.”

Attendee Kathleen Fink agrees. “A lot of it is listening and attitude,” she said.

Formerly employed in the financial services sector, Fink has both facilitated networking groups and used them. While a job lead may not come out of these meetings immediately, Fink says she believes it is essential to have people around during the search.

“Just having people supportive of you and telling you to hang in there” is important, she said.

Bill Pankey, the only African American in attendance at the recent meeting, concurs. “This is a great resource,” he said.

Pankey was a former director of the Central New England chapter of INROADS, a mentoring program for underrepresented minority college students. He wants to continue to work in education in some capacity, and was given several leads during the meeting. He insists that isolating yourself will only make the job search worse.

“The key is to get out of the house,” Pankey said.

Kathy Robinson, a career coach who runs the Boston-based firm Turning Point, said that talking to people can do nothing but help.

“People know where the open jobs are,” Robinson said. “You just have to be focused when networking and know what you’re saying.”

As Robinson sees it, the more clear job seekers are about where they want to work, the better their chances of finding positions that will be a solid match. She says she believes that support groups like WIND are great, too, because someone in attendance may be holding onto a contact outside their field that could help someone else.

“The No. 1 rule of networking is to help other people first,” Robinson said.

She says it can be easier to employ this strategy after getting hired: “Their job is when they get a job, to help someone else.”

As the meeting came to a close, attendees exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

“Remember,” Elle said to the group, “friends don’t let friends job-hunt alone.”

WIND meetings take place at noon on every second Wednesday of the month, and the organization has chapters throughout New England. For more information, visit http://www.windnetworking.net.