Every Wednesday morning at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, a kind of sermon is delivered.
It's not about morality. It's about how laid off workers can network and promote themselves.
"You don't want to lie. You don't want to mislead anyone," volunteer Tom Rubelin tells members of a job support group. "How do you do that? You want to be honest, you want to be genuine. But perky!"
Unemployed workers are flocking to such sessions, and they have good reason to. According to a government report out today, the job market is still pretty stagnant. The national hiring rate didn't budge in December. The job openings rate fell slightly.
Unemployed workers might hear such news and worry all the more about how to land a job in this tough market. But job counselors and networking groups say some strategies are effective. But the winning formula can be hard to predict.
Marilyn Curski knows that well.
Curski, who listened closely at the St. Andrew job meeting, lost her corporate finance job about a year and a half ago. Since then, she's completed a master's degree in organizational leadership. She also widened her job search to include contract work and has considered positions at a lower pay grade than what she's used to.
But Curski, of Eden Prairie, believes networking is what will help her land a job. She says while she hasn't spent enough time on it in the past, she's now working hard to change that, attending meetings like this one.
"I have good credentials and great experience, and I think it will boil down to who I know and how I make those connections."
Career management consultant Sue Nelson agrees.
"What we're finding is really coupling the application process, applying online, with networking, continues to be a good rule of thumb," said Nelson, who works for the Edina office of Right Management, a subsidiary of the Manpower Group of Companies.
Networking should occupy about 75 percent of a job seeker's time, Nelson said.
Here's why: networking gets your name across a hiring manager's desk before a job is posted. Simply applying for open positions is considered a passive approach.
That's just about never effective," said Amy Lindgren, president of Prototype Career Services in St. Paul.
In a tight job market, every posted position will draw loads of applicants, Lindgren said.
"It's going to take forever for them to happen to be the number one candidate," she said. "They're going to have to respond to a gazillion openings."
Lindgren said another common mistake is to devote too much time to a single career objective, which keeps people out of work too long. She said some need to move on or pursue retraining.
"I'd rather have them move into their plan B job six months after they started their search than wait for their plan A job 18 months later," Lindgren said.
But some workers manage to land a job in exactly the way experts say won't succeed.
Jeffrey Bragg, worked hard at networking after he lost his marketing job 18 months ago -- but none of it led to his new job.**
"It usually got you a first interview," said Bragg, of Minneapolis. "But I don't think it really does anything to actually get you the job."
Bragg recently found a job in marketing for Intercultural Student Experiences and Global Citizens Network, two organizations that share the same Minneapolis office and offer international travel experiences.
He managed to stay in his desired field, and found a job that paid more, without networking his way in.
"There are times I go home and say, 'do you really have this job?' " Bragg said. 'It's a dream come true."
Bragg said he had networked like crazy, but found himself putting too much stock in the jobs where he had a networking connection. When they fell through, he felt worse about it.
In the end, Bragg said, his secret weapon was more abstract than networking: he overcame his panic about being unemployed and embraced a Zen philosophy.
"I had an attitude of I'm going to try to just put my best person forward," he said. "I'm not going to try to guess what they're going to ask me and come up with the best answer for it, but to be here now when it actually came time to answer the questions. And I think that communicated a sense of competency and a sense of energy."
That may sounds crazy to some, but Bragg's attitude caught the attention of his new boss, Cindy Murphy Kelly.
"I would say absolutely it was picked up by me and by the whole team," Murphy said. "One of our managers took a deep breath, and she said, 'wow, he is so centered.' So obviously it did work for him."
Some employers say a much more basic approach will do the trick: show that you want the job. That's the view of Shelley Rose, president and chief executive of LogIn, Inc., an online information service provider in St. Paul.
"We have people who don't show up for interviews who don't call," Rose said. "It's absolutely unbelievable."
Rose said despite everything she hears about job seekers, applicants to her company are not hungry enough.