The job-seekers began streaming into a Shoney's near the state line before 8 a.m. one morning last week. Minutes later, nearly 40 people were packed around the tables, sharing coffee and career stories.
Most were silver-haired professionals in khaki pants and dress shirts. There was a lawyer who lost his job 10 months ago and wants to start his own business. A woman looking for engineering work after 18 years as a stay-at-home mom. Accountants, technology workers – all members of the Charlotte Professionals job-search group, all seeking advice and the support of those in a similar tight spot.
With unemployment rates reaching highs not seen in decades, career experts say networking has become more important than ever. In the Charlotte region, new networking and support groups are springing up, and old ones are seeing new life. Employment experts estimate that more than 70 percent of jobs are found through personal contacts, such as those found at networking groups.
Of course, few companies are hiring nowadays. At local networking groups, there are few tales of quick success landing a new job.
But those who attend say the networks offer leads, tips, motivation and, most importantly, hope in tough times.
"I hear ideas that I would never have thought of by myself," said Dale Seng, 49, an IT professional who has been out of work for a few months. "That sharing motivates us and moves us a rung above all the people who are just sitting at home."
Last week, the Labor Department said the nation's jobless rate rose to 7.6 percent in January, the highest in 16 years. The jobless rates in the Carolinas are even higher than the national average, with news of layoffs in sectors such as manufacturing, finance, construction and real estate trickling out almost daily.
Bill Crigger, a career consultant who leads Charlotte Professionals, has seen attendance at his group rise into the 30s in recent weeks, up from 18 to 24 last year.
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