Get to know... Kristen Mitrakis and Leonaura Rhodes
Published 12:00 am, Thursday, October 6, 2016
NEW CANAAN — Unemployment is a scary, frustrating reality at any stage in life.
To make matters worse, the monotony of job boards and online applications, often filed from the isolation of home, can be detrimental to one’s mental health, according to Kristen Mitrakis and Leonaura Rhodes of New Canaan Career and Transition Services.
CATS is a volunteer-run career transition support group that hosts regular meetings to draw job seekers out of their homes and off their computers and helps them to build a job-seeking strategy. Through Dec. 15, Mitrakis and Rhodes, who recently took the reins at the group from Mitrakis’ husband, Nick, will lead a free, six-session informational course to help people find work.
Rhodes is a former doctor, an author and, for the past seven years, a life coach, speaking occasionally at CATS sessions. Mitrakis is a writer and graphic designer who, with her husband, founded Project: Job Search while living in London two years ago. They’ve since developed a program to assist job-seekers, which Matrikas and Rhodes will present for the benefit of members of CATS.
Q: When and how did CATS start?
New Canaan CATS meets the first and third Thursday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m.
LR: CATS has been going since 1989 and it was started by volunteers at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and the First Presbyterian Church in New Canaan. It was at a time when a lot of people locally were finding themselves out of a job and really needing support. Of course, since 1989, we’ve gone through a bit of a roller coaster with the economy and with the job situation.
Q: What do these classes offer job seekers?
LR: The workshops will present this program that Nick and Kristen designed together called Project: Job Search, which is a very strategic, step-by-step guide to getting a new job, so that people don’t leave any stone unturned.
I think a problem people have in job searching is they take a bit of a scatter gun approach and people are really finding that the world’s changed a lot.
The first half of the course is very much about the tools for job seeking. Then the second half is about the actual process of going out and finding jobs, which are often not on job boards. People go on Indeed and think that all jobs are posted, but they’re not.
KM: What we add to this is the human factor. People appreciate the in person discussion. Every meeting is a different group of people, so there are new stories coming in, new advice, new experiences.
Q: How has the world of job searching changed since CATS was founded in 1989?
LR: The last time I applied for a job, I submitted a handwritten cover letter and sent off my resume. A real person would look at it and send a letter back thanking you for your resume.
That doesn’t happen anymore. it’s all digital.
Of course, since 1999, we’ve gone through a bit of a roller coaster with the economy and with the job situation. Fairfield County has been very hard hit by that. There are people who had high power jobs who have been out of work for years and lost their homes. CATS was there through all of that, with various people running it at different times.
Q: Who do you find is coming to meetings?
KM: I’d say it’s Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. It’s people who have been in the work force for awhile and find themselves between jobs. And it tends to be people with college educations.
Currently, Fordham University’s Alumni Services is rolling out our Project: Job Search as one of their offerings. It will support their Career Services Department for their alumni association members. They’ve mentioned that they’d like to roll it out to the general student population as well.
LR: I think there’s still a problem with stigma when it comes to job seeking. I’ve met people who’ve been looking who say, “I could never come to something like that, I’d be too embarrassed.’ It’s kind of sad that people feel that way.
Q: Is CATS solely for New Canaan residents?
KM: CATS is open to everybody, not just New Canaanites. And if it’s somebody who’s just curious about it and is maybe thinking about a career change, or maybe a stay-at-home parent whose kids are grown and is ready to get back into the work force — they’re welcome.
LR: There was one lady who was traveling an hour-and-a-quarter to come to this. She came to four or five meetings and she’s landed a job. Because it’s on meetup.com, people from far and wide can hear about it. And we’d really like to have more people. I think it’s a shame if people are sitting at home feeling lonely and don’t know what to do. When people come they usually really appreciate it.
Q: Job boards like Indeed have a remarkably low success rate. How can people make better use of their time while looking for jobs, rather than sitting at home and sending out applications?
KM: People tend to revert back to the job boards, which they do all day, every day. That’s just not how people get their jobs. It’s not something that you shouldn’t do at all, but it’s not something that you should spend all day, every day doing. There are so many more productive, more fun things to do with your time.
LR: We talk a lot about networking in the course. You never know when you’re about to meet that person who might know of a job, or know somebody. We talk about how to get that conversation going. You don’t go up to everybody you meet and ask, “Do you have a job?’ That tends to turn people off. But you can work it into the conversation subtly.
Most people land jobs through connections. That’s the more interesting bit of job searching: networking and getting out to parties and events and talking to people. Especially when it comes to interviews, keeping those interpersonal skills up and being able to have a natural conversation are important. That way when you go into an interview you don’t clam up.
KM: Most people have a misconception of what networking is. It’s about striking up a conversation, get to know the person and making a personal connection. That person will naturally ask you about yourself and things will flow from there.
Q: Is there one simple tip you would give to somebody who’s out of work and might be frustrated with his or her situation?
LR: I think you have to take action.
KM: And persevere. That’s the one word answer. You hang in there and you keep pushing and if one thing isn’t working, try something a little different. Eventually you’ll hit on the right combination.
And be thorough, use a program like CATS , or Project: Job Search — something that ensures you’re hitting all the important things and that you’re also balancing your time correctly. Don’t put all your eggs in the job board basket, look at your other options and make sure you’re really maxing them out.