Millions of Americans have faced the grim spectre of job loss in recent years.
Even now, five years after the official end of the Great Recession, those in Illinois face lingering higher-than-average unemployment rates, standing at 7.9 percent in April, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
For those whose titles have included director, vice president or C-level acronyms like CEO or CFO, a far narrower range of openings makes competition especially fierce. Add to the mix age discrimination, and the well-seasoned executive can face a long, frustrating search, said Marty Gilbert of Lincolnshire.
Networking and know-how, said Gilbert, who along with a handful of others founded the NorthShore Executive Networking Group, or NSENG, in late 2010.
Gilbert, who is 60, knows first-hand the trials and tribulations that unemployed executives face when they re-enter a challenging job market.
“I was a CEO for a firm. I’d held many positions, such as vice president of marketing and vice president of business development or sales. I’d managed groups as big as 400 people,” he said. “But suddenly you wake up one morning, and you’re on the outside looking in. You’re one of those numbers of the unemployed.”
Gilbert is now vice president of marketing for Oakbrook Terrace-based Vision Solutions Inc., but when he lost his job he started his own consulting business to bring in some income while he searched. He also checked out various business networking groups, but found none in the Chicago area that he believed suited the needs of higher-level executives looking for their next fit.
“People who are more advanced in their careers need to network with other people who are more well-established,” he said, adding that NSENG has grown from an initial six members to more than 300 men and women, the majority of whom are between the ages of 45 and 60. Members meet alternate Mondays at the Glenview Public Library.
Manny Rivera, who was one of the original six, now is senior vice president of marketing for Aon Affinity. Having once sat in their seat, Rivera was the featured speaker at NSENG’s May 12 meeting, talking to roughly 65 people about personal branding.
“You don’t forget what you’ve gone through and you’re trying to help others who are going through it,” Rivera said before the meeting. “If you think about it, let’s say there are 10,000 jobs at 500 companies. Out of those, maybe 12 are senior executive jobs. Multiply that by how many senior executives there are out in the marketplace, and people can spend a year to three years being unemployed.”
Rivera and Gilbert said that though such executives may reap well into six-figure salaries or higher while working, their financial devastation is just as dire when the income stops.
“They often have kids entering college or in college, and we all know the costs associated with a college education,” Gilbert said. “When you’re unemployed, having to pay your own insurance and bearing a college expense of $45,000 to $50,000 a year per child, it creates a very strong challenge for folks.”
Gilbert has donated roughly 1,000 hours toward NSENG. Both he and Rivera said they see it as a pay-it-forward organization. Its chief value to those who regularly attend is, in a word, connections.
“We all know that the end game is to get a job, but it’s the relationships that are going to get you there,” Rivera said.
Connections lead to introductions, and face time often means the difference between a résumé languishing in a pile or arriving on a decision-maker’s desk.
Steve Langer of Buffalo Grove is among NSENG’s newer members. He began attending meetings in January, after he lost his position as vice president of sales and marketing for a software company.
“Your next position most likely is going to happen through networking,” Langer said. “NSENG is that kind of forum. I would recommend it to anyone who’s out there looking.”