NOVA Job Center helps redefine place in the job search

San Mateo agency fosters community among job seekers, provides tools for next steps

by Anna Schuessler —
Daily Journal: August 28, 2017

For anyone contemplating a job search, the steps of compiling a resume, networking and preparing for interviews can feel daunting.

But with the added pressure of having just lost a job, starting to search can feel next to impossible, not to mention isolating. This is the position many of the NOVA Job Center’s clients are in when they walk into the nonprofit employment and training agency’s San Mateo office.

By hosting free job search workshops and assigning career counselors to recently laid-off workers or those receiving unemployment and other public benefits, the nonprofit not only makes professional advice available to job seekers but also connects them with each other. Gilda Buyze, manager of the San Mateo office, said meeting others in similar positions and helping each other take their next career steps can be a critical confidence booster for clients.

“It creates a really great bond, and we’re glad that we’re kind of able to create that space for them,” she said.

Since 2015, the Sunnyvale-based nonprofit has offered workshops, career counseling, a resource center, a job board and more in its San Mateo office at 1777 Borel Place. Though the workshops and coaching equip job seekers with practical advice on resume writing and interviewing, the sessions also help them make a mental shift to imagine themselves with new skills or apply ones they have to new fields.

In addition to those who might find themselves unexpectedly looking for a job, Buyze said staff work with those who are employed but looking for better pay or to transition into another field. But a common theme among most of the clients they are working with is that it’s been years since they last looked for a job, much less thought about what’s involved.

“We get a lot of [clients] that are like, ‘I’ve never had to write a resume before, [when] I lost my job, I went next door and then I got another job,’” she said. “That’s how it was back then.”

So the center’s workshops on how to use LinkedIn, sessions on writing resumes tailored to specific employers and on-site interviews with recruiters help people adjust to the tools employers are using to find new hires, Buyze said. There’s also sessions with career counselors, who stay up to date on industry trends and which companies are hiring. Counselors can help a client understand how their skills translate to today’s job market, how to position themselves or train for new employment.

San Mateo resident Eric Carr said he was feeling underemployed as a temporary, part-time worker for a video production company after years of career experience and degrees in multimedia. Though he had tried to search for jobs on his own late last year, working with the career counselors at NOVA, just blocks from his house, pulled him out of a rut to see how valuable his skills could be in other jobs.

“It kind of put it all together,” he said. “I have a bunch of random skills and it helped me organize it to see the benefits of the combination of both my degrees and experience.”

Just last month, Carr landed a job overseeing video and multimedia production for a San Francisco-based education institution in a role he said leverages both his education and previous experience. Though he found it challenging to apply for jobs while working part time, he said interview preparation and other sessions with career counselors helped him stay focused until he found the right opportunity.

Buyze said it’s not uncommon for clients like Carr to work with staff at the center to figure out how to apply the skills they have.

Having started in employment services in Southern California in 2009 when unemployment rates were high, Buyze said working with clients who aren’t as willing to take just any job is the biggest change she’s noticed over the years.

“In this area, there’s a lot of jobs but there’s not a lot of people who are wanting to work those jobs,” she said.

Buyze said openings for low-paying jobs often stay unfilled for longer periods of time, and she has seen clients wait for opportunities that better cover their expenses. At 2.9 percent, San Mateo County’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the state, according to data released by the state’s Employment Development Department in July. Buyze said the center has seen a drop in the number of clients seeking workshops and career counseling, with an estimated 300 coming to the center in its first year and some 200 the following.

But she’s convinced there are many who could use NOVA’s services but don’t know to access them. So her office is expanding outreach to other Bay Area agencies that offer public benefits such as food stamps or other county, state and federal services.

She’s also noticed many clients with jobs in the county live far from their jobs. Finding new employment with better pay is how many job seekers are hoping to cope with the rising cost of living.

Esmeralda Quintero, a career consultant at the center, said she has seen the high cost of living exacerbate the anxiety clients are already feeling about their future. Though the cost of clothing and other daily expenses add to the stress, housing is often the greatest challenge.

“I’ve seen a lot of people who have struggled,” she said. “Housing is definitely at the top.”

Buyze acknowledged the center she oversees can only do so much to help someone secure a new job, and that ultimately the responsibility falls on the individual to do the work to find one. But for Buyze, the feeling when a few words of encouragement or practical advice lifts someone’s spirits keeps her happy at NOVA.

“For me, [it’s] really seeing that my one sentence or one appointment makes a huge impact,” she said.

Visit the San Mateo office of the NOVA Job Center at 1777 Borel Place, Suite 500, or at for more information.