Help Lisa help job seekers find new careers

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Lisa

For Lisa Melendez, “local” means much more than where she buys her groceries or sees a movie. It’s a way of life, a way of connecting with others, a way of giving back.

“I’m a community activist at heart, and a person who can find and identify opportunities where a lot of people don’t,” she says. “I love bringing people together. I love making conversations happen. I love convening.”Lisa

Lisa was born and raised in East Harlem, NY and has a wide range of experience working on community initiatives. She’s done everything from lobbying local government to change welfare laws to coordinating an international HIV/AIDS panel to matching prospective board members with nonprofits to working in administration at a hospital.

A mother of two, Lisa is now living in upstate NY as a stay-at-home mom. When she’s not taking her kids to extracurricular activities or attending school events, she spends her spare time developing a new organization geared towards matching early childcare providers with local families.

She’s ready to jump back into the workforce, this time with a different focus. Tech companies seeking to improve the quality of life are appealing to her, but she lacks the skillset required for most positions. Still, she’s hopeful and has been applying nonetheless.

“I’m not afraid of first times. Just because I’ve never done this before doesn’t mean I am not capable or shouldn’t do it,” she says.

The idea

Given her experience looking for jobs, and the experience of many in the U.S., Lisa would like to connect prospective job seekers looking to switch industries with the right resources to give them the best chance of success.

Starting with her home state, New York, her target audience is middle-aged, male and female displaced workers.

“We have no real choice here but to begin embracing the notion that your career can begin in one place and end up in another,” Lisa says. “I see it everywhere. People are reinventing themselves all the time.”

She envisions three components:

  1. On-line product/community that includes a search engine, services clearinghouse, emerging industry profiles, career paths, industry-specific skill profiles, and more.
  2. Live tour for candidates who want to meet an actual person and learn about a particular industry from an insider.  This would also be a chance to identify shadowing, returnship, and matching opportunities.
  3. Matching of non-traditional, prospective job seekers for shadowing of established employees in area of interest.

“In a time where so many of us feel as if we are submitting our resumes into the great abyss, we are having to become innovative in how we present ourselves to potential employers,” she says. “Many are asking the question, “How can I get employers to see I can do this job?”



Career paths can be long and winding, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (Photo via allison.hare on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

This is the first time Lisa has shared her idea. Here are the challenges she currently faces:

  1. She doesn’t know where to start.
  2. It’s been hard for her to anticipate the resources – human, financial, and otherwise – she needs to move it forward.

How you can help

  • Besides VocationVacations, which Lisa finds pricey, does this idea exist somewhere else?
  • Has there been any thinking around this issue, and if so, what kind of progress has been made?
  • Who are the key players and organizations she should tap into?
  • Where can she find more information on career transitions?
  • What kinds of expertise would be most helpful in the technical development? Are there low-cost or pro-bono services?
  • For the live tour component, how can she best identify experts who’d be willing to share insider information?
  • Given job competitiveness, would folks even be interested in having somebody shadow them? Why or why not?
  • Regardless of which industry you work in, would people be interested in participating?
  • Would you be interested in talking about or helping out with this idea?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be part of this series, or know someone who would be a good fit, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Comments (7)

  1. Sarah writes:
    January 17, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Dear Lisa,

    We at Trovit know a little bit from job search engines ;) and we send our best wishes to you! Good luck!


  2. Leah writes:
    January 17, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    This sounds like a great idea!

    A couple of things you may or may not have heard of:
    – for technical skills development, has really great offerrings for free, and on subjects such as computer programming, databases, etc. These can be a little advanced, but I’m sure there are other sites like this. Hosting web-based trainings/workshops like this in a group setting can work well also. Idealware/ also offers all free webinars on technical topics, although they are aimed at nonprofits and libraries. There are many training topics offered, however, that are relevant to everyone, such as software training (ie. the microsoft suite).
    – For the shadowing component, I think it may be difficult to coordinate on-the-job training, as the employees themselves may not be in a position to decide whether or not someone else can shadow them at work. I do believe very strongly, however, that if there were a way to make it easy (ie. web video recording platform or something) people very much enjoy teaching others about what they know best. I think there is certainly a way to tap into this!

    One last thing – I have done recruiting in the nonprofit sector, so please do not hesitate to ask if there is some way this knowledge could be useful to you in your endeavor.

    Best of luck, Lisa!

  3. Jay Haapala writes:
    January 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    I do have some suggestions thanks for asking. Please don’t make a new website! Instead, focus your energy on strengthening the systems that already exist to help people build career skills and find jobs. When people and organizations duplicate resources that already exist for this purpose it makes it more difficult for those of us already doing the work! For example, we have to post our internships and volunteer positions in more locations and maintain more partnerships. We could spend more time actually helping people gain skills and find jobs if the structure was less complicated and more coordinated.

    Partner with college career centers and “workforce centers.” There’s a lot of federal money going into organizations and businesses that provide “job coaches” to job seekers – this is a good model. Support existing efforts.

    Help us further promote the understanding that volunteerism is an effective path to employment – see I talk to people all the time who say their clients don’t need to volunteer, they need paying jobs. Well, those clients are competing for jobs with people who volunteer and have more relevant experience because of it.

    Support and partner with organizations like The Workspace that help isolated small business collaborate with each other – see

    This one is a stretch, but it’s a root cause. Support programs and efforts to keep kids in school and don’t blame teachers for student performance. Blame parents that don’t send their kids to school prepared to learn. Blame poverty that puts families in situations in which they can’t send their kids to school ready to learn. Then, stop blaming and support poverty relief efforts… like helping people find employment!

    Again, please don’t create a new resource and encourage others to avoid doing the same.

  4. Jay Haapala writes:
    January 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Leah, I like the Coursera idea – the development and improvement of online learning is a fantastic, growing trend. Alternative forms of credentialing like digital badges are following, and will provide job seekers and employers with new ways to demonstrate and verify knowledge and skills.

    I recently referred a college degree-holding job seeker to our local workforce center. Back when I was job searching with a degree 10 years ago the workforce center was a great resource for me. At least here in Minnesota, it doesn’t seem to be geared toward degree-holders anymore. They couldn’t help her and they seem to be geared toward non-professional careers, in my estimation due to the recession. Coursera could be one solution for people with degrees who need to add specific skills and knowledge to their resume.

  5. Brenna writes:
    January 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I like the idea as I am in this position currently. It’s hard to convince people you can do something even when you have similar experience. I’ve tried to highlight how my proposal writing is similar to grant writing, how my volunteer service writing donation requests adds even more but I’m not getting many hits. I have never been focused on just one thing, and I think that brings a special kind of employee that non-profits need. I don’t know a single person working in a non-profit that only does one job, especially with budgets and donations shrinking. I don’t know how I can convince them that I am willing to take a pay cut, when they ask for salary history. I’d love for you to try and include advice from both sides!

  6. Kim Castke writes:
    January 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I live in a small town in North Carolina, our life style is somewhat primitive. We have no public transportation. A very high percentage of the residents are living on public assistance.

    I am trying to start an Adult Computer Program, because it will assist some of the residents for the work world, and help the seniors how to manage their business electronically.

    The Adult Computer Program, will also enhance their self-esteem and motivate the residents to become creative.

    I am also volunteer with a committee to get affordable public transportation into the area, so some of the residents will have means of transportations, and pursade businesses to invest in our community in hirig the residents.

  7. […] Lisa your expertise on how to best connect job seekers looking to for a new career, and encouraged her […]

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