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News & Stories: 2009-10

Calvin's HR angelJuly 2, 2009

Her name is Deirdre Honner, but many at Calvin College call her Dee or Dee Dee. She's happy to answer to any of them.

Deirdre Honner, associate director of human resources at Calvin College"Deirdre seems to be a name people have a hard time saying," she noted with a smile. "So Dee or Dee Dee works too."

But for thousands of people online she's neither Deirdre nor Dee nor Dee Dee. She's simply an angel.

That's because when she is not busy at Calvin as the associate director of human resources (a role that sees her fill a multitude of functions, including intimate involvement in college job searches), Honner works as a volunteer for a worldwide online effort that matches job seekers with people, often HR professionals, willing to lend a hand at no charge.

Using Twitter to assist the unemployed

The effort is known as JobAngels and its primary connection tool is Twitter. That fast-growing Web site allows users to create posts "tweets of up to 140 characters, which are made available to anyone who subscribes to their updates.

Twitter feed screenshot"JobAngels began in January 2009 with a tweet from someone named Mark Stelzner,” said Honner, “someone I follow on Twitter. He was asking for people (in HR) willing  to help just one person, find a job. I DMed (direct messaged) him and said 'I'm in.' That's how it all began."

Honner actually was one of 700 or so people following Stelzner, whose firm works with the HR industry. But she was one of the first to reply to his tweet and one of the first to get actively involved with what Stelzner began calling JobAngels. Soon after that first tweet, word quickly spread about this new online effort to help people find jobs.

Now, just six months later, JobAngels is represented on its own Web site, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and counts some 10,000 followers on its Twitter account. It also has been covered by Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and CNN, which called its story "Unemployed 'tweet' for work."

Honner is founding member of JobAngels

Honner remains one of the founding members of JobAngels, holding the title of chief connection officer. She smiles when asked about her somewhat tongue-in-cheek title, but is serious, and committed, to the JobAngels mission.

"It's not complicated," she said. "Our goal is for each person involved (in JobAngels) to help just one person find gainful employment."

The JobAngels mission statement puts it this way: "JobAngels members are innovative and passionate about driving a new generation of talent networking that is both meaningful and results-oriented."

Building bridges using technology

For Honner social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and blogging are a natural outgrowth of her fascination with technology.

She still recalls when she and her husband Paul, a lifelong Navy man now retired, took out a loan to buy their first computer. That was the first in a long line of PCs owned by the couple, and Honner is now comfortable enough to build her own machines.

"I love technology," she said with a broad smile.

But she also loves what technology allows, the bridges that can be built and relationships that can be formed when people use computers in the right ways.

"The value of Twitter," she said, "is not content but the capacity to broadcast and rebroadcast, to retweet. With Twitter people can send a note asking for assistance and other people can get back to that person directly and begin a relationship. Or they can send that note on via their Twitter stream and basically rebroadcast that original request for help to hundreds and sometimes thousands of other people. And then the people who get that tweet can take it and send it on. The rebroadcasting, sometimes many times over again, is what makes the tool so powerful in the job search."

Basics of job search and more

Honner admits though that managing the project can be a lot of work.

When she first began her involvement with JobAngels, Honner was spending 20-25 hours a week on the project. Now, as the effort attracts more volunteers she has been able to reduce the number of hours she is volunteering, although she still spends a good 5-10 hours a week at it.

The need for the site, she said, has continued to rise as nationwide unemployment continues to hover at record levels.

"There are obviously a lot of people out there in need of a job," she said.

The JobAngels program, she added, is not just about finding vacancies at companies and connecting job seekers to those openings. It also assists with many of the basics of the job search, basics with which some job seekers need help.

"People often need a little hand with what we who work every day in HR would consider some pretty basic things," she said. "Stuff like good cover letters geared towards the industry you're applying in, resume review, networking connections, that sort of thing."

"I've probably touched at least a hundred people in the last six months through JobAngels," she said. "Some of that is making connections between job seekers and employers, some of it is reading resumes and cover letters and making suggestions, some of it is one-on-one advice over e-mail."

Honner knows of at least three people she has helped secure jobs as a result of her involvement in JobAngels.

Drawing on staffing, social work backgrounds

Helping people feels good for Honner, whose college degree is in social work and whose work background prior to coming to Calvin was in the staffing industry.

"What I miss about the staffing industry," she said, "is helping people find employment. My work at Calvin has a different feel to it. Sometimes I get those calls—'I need you to help me get into Calvin' —and that's not my role. My role here is to help Calvin find the best people for the jobs we have open. So what I'm doing with JobAngels brings me back a little to my roots as a staffing person and that feels good."

But, Honner added, she also believes that her work for JobAngels helps her as a Calvin employee.

"I think being involved in something like this ties me closer to the mission of the college," she said, "and reminds me of how important it is to give generously.  It reminds me of why I work here."

~by Phil de Haan, communications and marketing

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Get involved

Honner says that Calvin staff, faculty and alumni are welcome to join the JobAngels effort, either in a volunteer, advice-giving capacity or as jobseekers.

The JobAngels Web site has more information, as do the JobAngels sites on Facebook, Twitter.

Or contact Honner: You also can sign up for the JobAngels "Taking Flight" newsletter at JobAngels.