Faith-Based Networking Can Enrich a Job Search

Published: Mar 10, 2009

Topics: Networking       
When Amber Edwina Hampton began searching for her first post-college job last spring, she turned to a higher power for help and says her prayers were quickly answered. <p>But Ms. Hampton, a recent convert to Islam, hadn't left everything in God's hands. She also took advantage of her religious connections to network. Thus, a classmate at an Islamic school told Ms. Hampton about a job opening at the NYU School of Medicine. The classmate, already an employee at the medical school, also agreed to hand Ms. Hampton's resume to the hiring manager. Three weeks later, the 24-year-old was hired as a program associate.<p>If you're searching for work, consider reaching out to fellow congregants, spiritual leaders and others in your religious circle. These folks are often eager to help like-minded believers. What's more, many nonsecular institutions provide free job-search resources that are available to anyone.<p>Successful networkers say they often secure leads from their faith-based connections by bringing up their employment status in casual conversations about their lives. These conversations can take place after services, at holiday parties or at other religious gatherings, they say. <p>Mary Stutts, an associate pastor at Revival Center Ministries in Vallejo, Calif., says she regularly spreads the word about local job opportunities to worshippers before and after services. "In the last month, I've given out four job referrals," she says. Ms. Stutts even announces job opportunities from the pulpit when interesting ones open up locally. She learns of most openings from church members and through her work outside the church as a business-relationship consultant, she says. <p>Some religious groups use email and online forums to share job leads, facilitate networking and channel career advice. An example is the University of Washington's chapter of Hillel, a global foundation for Jewish students. It puts out a weekly email newsletter featuring ads for jobs and networking events in the Seattle area, says Josh Furman, a program coordinator for the group. <p>Alicia Post of New York says her rabbi regularly blasts emails about job opportunities in her area to current and past members of his synagogue who sign up for them. This past summer, an email describing an opening for an executive director at a Jewish nonprofit caught her eye. At the time, Ms. Post was in her seventh year at a similar organization and was craving a new and more challenging role. She expressed interest in the job to the rabbi, and he forwarded her resume to the nonprofit's chief executive officer. The 29-year-old Ms. Post landed the job in July.<p>Between Jobs Ministry, a group launched 15 years ago by a pastor at Northwest Bible Church in Spring, Texas, offers job-search assistance meetings weekly. The sessions are typically led by retired career experts and professionals, says Ed Bacon, a director at the ministry and a retired finance executive. The volunteers give talks on job-search topics, facilitate networking among members, critique resumes, organize mock interviews and provide emotional and spiritual support, he says. <p>Church membership and religious devotion aren't required, but attendees can expect the group to recite a Christian devotional during meetings, adds Mr. Bacon.<p>In 2006, Michael Schaffner joined the Between Jobs Ministry after being laid off from a position as chief information officer at an oil-field equipment company. A member introduced him to an executive recruiter who later got him an interview for a job as a director of information technology at a similar employer.<p>Ahead of the meeting, Mr. Schaffner was put in touch with a past member of the ministry who worked for the potential employer. This was helpful, he says, because he learned that the company uses Six Sigma, a business methodology he was familiar with. As a result, he added more details about his Six Sigma experience to his resume and listed it higher on the page. Mr. Schaffner, 57 years old, landed the job in April.<p>While many job seekers may rely on prayer for support and success, career experts warn against discussing faith when meeting with hiring managers or executive recruiters. "You don't want to turn it into a religious conversation," says Kevin Zwetsch, a partner with the law firm Fowler White Boggs Banker in Tampa, Fla. "You're veering off the path of what you're there for."<p>An exception might be if your involvement in religion can promote your candidacy, adds Mr. Zwetsch. For example, if you mention that you are a deacon at a church during a job interview, "that demonstrates leadership and community involvement," he says. But he warns that "if you go any further, employers will get skittish," because recruiters are prohibited by law from asking candidates questions about their religious beliefs unless they pertain to the job at hand. "[Religion] is one of those taboo topics," he says.<p>