Patty Bishop couldn’t escape the news of the unemployment problem in Oakland.

“Just read the headlines about jobs,” she said. “Joblessness is a reality, and the jobs aren’t coming quick enough.”

Bishop, however, is in a place to do something about it. As the director of St. Mary’s College Career Center, she has 16 years of experience, as well as a capable staff, dedicated to helping unemployed college graduates become employed professionals.

“We felt there was a group in career development that have knowledge we share with undergrads,” she said. “We know the realities of the job market, so why not extend beyond campus and give back to those in the community?”

That was when Bishop connected with Jill Marshal, family literacy coordinator at St. Martin de Porres Elementary School, a Catholic school in the Longfellow neighborhood that serves mostly African-American and Latino students from West Oakland. With Marshal’s help, Bishop and her staff created a program tailored to the needs of the schools unemployed parents.

“So many of the parents of their children are without work and college degrees. They are struggling, and don’t have the ability to figure out what to do next,” Bishop said. “These parents are in a different part of their lives than students, so their resumes look slightly different. This challenged us to grow and expand our knowledge base with the goal of taking our skill set and sharing it outside the boarders of St. Mary’s College.”

Bishop and her staff worked to create a program for parents that met them where they are at, talking into account their education and career goals, but also their life experiences and aspirations.

“The parents that attended were so appreciative and shared many of challenges they confronted,” Bishop said.  “We tried to create very safe environment and just sort of do our career counseling piece which opened up conversations that have to deal with their life hopes and dreams in an intimate conversation.”

Parents came to the workshop with interests in a wide range of careers, from retail to restaurants, construction to clerical work, house cleaning to childcare, and Bishop stressed the importance of the little things in job hunting: eye contact, dressing well and following up after an interview just to say thank you.

“We tried to leave them with hope and skills they can put into practice for the rest of their lives, empowering them to sell themselves so an employer can say, ‘I want that person on my team,’” she said. “Second interviews are sometimes decided by who follows up because they know that that person is motivated. It can make all the difference in the world to make you stand out as a candidate.”

Bishop also sought to create storytellers, by teaching the importance of framing answers to interview questions by first stating a problem, describing the action they took and finally showing the results.

“Employers want to hear a story about what struggles and challenges they’ve experienced in their lives, and the work that made them great,” she said.

While Bishop feels the parents who attended the April 25 workshop gained invaluable knowledge and skills that will help them find satisfying employment in a less-than-satisfying job market, it may be Bishop and her staff that benefited the most.

“This is the way we feel when working with students,” Bishop said. “ It’s satisfying working with students who don’t have a clue what they should apply to and watch them gain confidence broken down into little steps. When they come to us in the end it’s just one of those days you walk away and say, ‘This is why I’m here, and this is what I’m meant to do.’”

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