Starting Over: Remaining positive in face of change brings new opportunities for Jennifer Hecht

Jennifer Hecht is a natural “people person.” With her confident approach and animated laughter, Jennifer makes others feel welcome and comfortable in her presence, a useful skill in her 22 years as a licensed massage therapist. In October 2012, Jennifer’s 12-year career at a local spa ended unexpectedly. Unemployed for the first time in decades, Jennifer’s positive attitude was masked by fear, impatience and uncertainty.

“Closure from that situation was a slow, very gradual process,” Jennifer explained. “When I lost my job, I lost my identity.”

At the age of 58, Jennifer pursued a different career path away from commission-based work in a declining economy. Less than one year after her employment journey started, Jennifer began a new career with a renewed sense of confidence. CareerSource North Central Florida, the regional workforce board for Alachua and Bradford counties, helped Jennifer stay positive as she explored new career opportunities.

“My journey was one of change,” she said. “My time being unemployed was the most difficult time of my life. Realistically, it helped me face myself.”

Despite the despair and uncertainty Jennifer felt during her job search, she reminded herself, “This is who I am. I have skills. I want to do a career change because I want to have a regular paycheck with benefits with a respectable group.”

Eager to work, Jennifer attended every CareerSource NCFL employability workshop and networked with staff and fellow job seekers. It was there at the career center where Career Developer Vivian Lang urged Jennifer to attend a meeting for CONNECT, a professional networking group for individuals with an associates degree or higher and/or five years experience in a career field.

Launched in 2009, CONNECT is a partnership between CareerSource NCFL, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and the North Central Florida Society of Human Resource Managers. Through CONNECT, participants attend employer presentations and network with employers face-to-face in a professional setting. As of February 2014, CONNECT has placed 246 professionals representing $6,558,517 in salaries.

Jennifer Hecht meets Donna Bruens
Jennifer Hecht (right) met Donna Bruens, CareerSource NCFL placement specialist, for the first time in October 2013. Donna called and emailed Jennifer during her job search and made the referral to The Arc of Alachua County.

In the unfamiliar territory of job searching, Jennifer felt comforted by one familiar face: Joe Johnson, director of Business Services and lead facilitator of CONNECT. She found Joe’s connections to the Gainesville Chamber and CareerSource NCFL invaluable.

“When I went to job fairs, he was there. When I went to meetings, he was there. He was (at the career center) a lot,” said Jennifer. “He remembered me by name. I felt like I had some importance.”

Joe instantly recognized a spark in Jennifer. “That positive attitude was something I haven’t seen in many people,” Joe said of Jennifer’s constant smile.

In fact, Joe thinks many unemployed job seekers can learn from Jennifer’s positivity. “A lot of job seekers are displaced because of the economy, but it is important to get out, network more and stay positive,” he advised. “When job seekers arrive for interviews with a defeated look on their faces, it’s hard for employers to communicate with them. Body language and positive attitude are key.”

Jennifer’s advice for job seekers in similar situations is “Don’t give up hope, just go to the right place.”

“The Miracle on 13th Street!” as she calls the CareerSource NCFL career center in Gainesville, 4800 SW 13th St.

Jennifer attributes her recent personal and professional success to the programs and staff at CareerSource North Central Florida. “(CareerSource NCFL is) an association that never gave up on me, even when I had almost given up on myself,” Jennifer said.

CareerSource NCFL workshops, including Interviewing Skills and Dress for Success, reinforced the need to stay positive. Jennifer credits her achievement to her initiative to take advantage of the educational opportunities, networking and speakers of the professional networking group along with workshops offered at the career center.

With these resources, Jennifer was able to overcome her obstacles and secure employment in July 2013 when she received an email from Placement Specialist Donna Bruens. Donna is part of the CareerSource NCFL placement team, a group of employment professionals dedicated to matching job seekers with employers. Donna referred Jennifer to a part-time position with The Arc of Alachua County, a service provider for the developmentally disabled.

“This was the only company I applied for that didn’t require a resume,” said Jennifer. “That’s how much I think they valued (CareerSource NCFL).”

Shortly after starting, Jennifer was offered a second part-time position with The Arc, which led to her full-time position. Within 11 months of Jennifer’s massage therapist career abruptly ending, she started a new career as an Administrative Support Specialist with a salary and benefits at The Arc.

“I love it!” Jennifer said of her front desk position where she greets visitors. Her favorite part of the job is working at a firm that serves and caters to the public, and of course, working with people.

“All of my successes are a result of my associations with (CareerSource NCFL),” she said of the face-to-face interaction, expertise and positive attitude she received from career center staff. “It was the people thing.”