Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Maureen McHale in Lake Mary Life Magazine

ProNet Career Resources: A hire calling
Howie Appel’s nonprofit is devoted to helping the unemployed

as seen in Lake Mary Life Magazine January/February 2010 issue, Pages 14 and 15

By Peter Reilly

It’s 5:30 p.m. Time for Howie Appel to go to work. He raises his arms and calls the monthly meeting of ProNet Career Resources to order in a loud voice. For the next two hours, the 62-year-old dynamo will move at a pace that most 20-somethings would find hard to keep up with. Partcheerleader, part-coach, part-instructor, the executive director of this nonprofit unemployment support group, encourages, advises, and critiques his way around the room of jobseekers. Gesturing at his Power Point presentation one moment, taking questions the next, he is on a mission to help the unemployed find meaningful employment.

“My heart is in ProNet,” he says. “I’m passionate about helping people.”

Howie, who lives in Lake Mary with Marla, his wife of 32 years, started running the local chapter of ProNet in 2003. At the time, most of the networking was done online. In June 2008, members started asking him to hold an in-person monthly meeting because an increasing number of people were out of work. Because of his day job, he scheduled the meeting at night.

And then his life changed. The hardest working man in job placement suddenly found himself a victim of the recession. A recruiter who specializes in hiring engineers, Howie was laid off almost a year ago. But knowing that people are counting on him, he has continued running ProNet, while conducting his own job search.

The father of two grown children is taking the same advice he gives other folks who get downsized – don’t dwell on the past. Be motivated and proactive, and use ProNet to start building your future.

Membership in the group is free. ProNet, which has about 500 members, exists solely on donations, and is in the process of establishing 501(c)(3) tax exempt status so that the organization can apply for grant money.

On the night Lake Mary Life attended the monthly meeting, about 40 unemployed and underemployed people –mostly professionals in the over-50 age group – came to the meeting room at the Central Branch Library in Casselberry looking for support, advice, and information. Howie, and the 15 dedicated volunteer members of the steering committee who help him run the program, were more than equal to the task.

During the meeting, Howie urged participants to modernize their approach to job searching. He recommends the online business network LinkedIn as a resource for contacting and being seen by potential employers.

“It’s not who you know,” he says. “It’s who knows you. You’ve got to be unique. You’ve got to stand out.”

Jobseekers also eagerly participated in the resume breakout session. During this time the group broke into smaller groups led by human resource professionals who helped applicants improve their resumes. Some of the tips included: making sure resumes are free of typos and abbreviations, avoiding use of the word I, and starting off with a summary of how you can help the company instead of listing your objective.

“The company doesn’t care what you want to do,” says Howie. “They want to know what you’re going to do for them.”

The meeting ended after guest speaker Inez N. Rodriguez, a career management consultant, gave attendees information about parlaying volunteer work into a career. Then Howie held a gas money 50/50 drawing and raffled off donated burrito and ice cream coupons as door prizes to encourage cash-strapped visitors to return to the next meeting. The truth is he doesn’t have to. Each month attendance increases. Most come because of word of mouth, but many are so grateful for Howie’s help; they keep returning as volunteers even after they are employed. Lake Mary resident Ray Shedden was out of work for six months before Howie and the ProNet team gave him the tools to land a new job as director of sales and marketing with Multicom in Longwood.

“Volunteering is very important to me,” says Ray, an engineer by trade. “ProNet helps on a number of different levels. First, it gets you out of the house. Some people give up. It’s so easy to get down. If you get out, you start thinking about options. You meet with positive people. You get an emotional and mental recharge. You network and slowly but surely people are finding jobs.”

Public relations and marketing professional Maureen McHale of Longwood says Howie showed her how to see herself in a new light after she left her most recent job. She started marketing her skills and became a freelancer with several clients.

“I have a lot of reason to be thankful to Howie and ProNet,” she says. “He provided the motivation, support, and knowledge at a turning point in my life.”

If you think ProNet might be able to help you, Howie suggests searching for ProNet on LinkedIn or Facebook and visiting Then come to the January 25 meeting.

“ProNet’s whole team and even its members really embrace newcomers,” adds Maureen. “That first night I left with three leads. But, what’s more important, during the meeting listening to Howie and the others speak about tactics and tips and tell some jokes, it really did make me smile, relax, and remember that I was a skilled professional…and that I would get a job.”