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Where HR pros go to learn about job seeker

(August 9, 2010)
He is part Tony Robbins, part Robin Williams and part scolding schoolmarm. But Steve Browne's monthly schtick appears to be working in the ongoing battle to get people new jobs.

What started 12 years ago purely for area human resource experts and professionals to network and get better at their jobs has turned into one of the area's hottest spots to find work - even as unemployment continues to hover near 10 percent and the time spent between jobs remains near record highs..

And the monthly HR Roundtable meetings here at Scarlet Oaks career development center could the be the site of a bit of a revolution within local HR circles.

"I've been in transition twice in my life and I certainly know it's no fun," says Brown, 46, who serves as executive director of human resources for the Westwood-based LaRosa's pizza chain. "The roundtable certainly has changed over the last few years as the economy has soured, but I feel that human resource professionals should be champions for those in transition and between jobs. Just because we may not have a lot of openings at my office does not mean I shouldn't use my talents to help people find a job."

That's where the roundtable comes in. Browne has strict rules about no business cards and keeping the topics away from job-hunting and about more HR oriented fodder. But there is still a table filled with resumes from job seekers from all walks of life. And the casual environment allows HR pros who may be hiring to interact with potential candidates in a non-interview environment.

"It is like an informal interview process, but more than that, it also helps us as HR practitioners see the other side and deal with folks who may be going to through the job hunting process themselves," says Kevin Prock, human resources manager for the Hillman Group, a Springfield Township-based hardware distribution firm.

The mix is now about 50 percent job-seekers, Browne says, adding that at least 6 to 8 regular attendees find work each month. But at the head of it all is Browne, a gregarious and funny showman who also remembers every name in the crowd of about 130 attendees.

"It sounds like a cliche, but it is important that you know people by name - that is their entire identity," Browne says. "My parents instilled that in me long long ago. So now when I first meet you, I will say your name at least three times, although you won't know I'm doing it."

As for the topics, Browne treats the hour-long session as professional development - "allowing professional people to be professional ... whether they have a job or in transition."

But the topics are far from the usual job search group subject matter, all with a dash of humor - although Browne will occasionally get a bit fired up when stressing the importance of using social network sites such as Twitter, at times inspiring those in the audience and at others waving a disapproving finger at them.

"Being more organic and in a conversation allows people to let their guard down and think about stuff other than looking for a job for awhile," Browne says. "It also allows people to see how you behave in a professional environment.

"And being funny only comes from being willing to talk about myself and be honest. That's how I try to get everyone to relax."

One long-term veteran of the meetings has used it to recruit - and now is looking for a job himself.

"The relationships I built over the years here are really coming in handy," says Stan Adams, a long-time HR executive from Pleasant Ridge who was laid off in May - his third such job loss in 10 years. "I'm getting all kinds of calls offering their help through people I met here."

Browne and others also says the meetings can help demystify the HR process to job seekers frustrated by new online application forms or the lack of any responses. But Browne's biggest hope is that the continued roundtables help change the HR profession as much as they help people find work, especially since they are the gatekeepers for those looking for jobs as well as the last face someone sees when getting laid off.

"What HR should be about is being human first," Browne says. "And what we're seeing in the industry is that people who are going be only transactional are going to be irrelevant very soon. HR has to be more than that ... actually it always has but we're just catching up."

Follow Steve on Twitter

Originally printed in the Cincinnati News, Written by James Pilcher,

Colleen Gildea

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