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LinkedIn offers job-search help for the homeless

A group of 55 homeless people paid a visit to LinkedIn's Mountain View headquarters Friday where dozens of LinkedIn employees helped them with their LinkedIn profiles.

The group was brought in from various local homeless shelters by InnvVision Shelter Network. The group, wearing their best clothes, lined up to have professional head-shots taken for their LinkedIn profiles. Most seemed to be inspired to be at LinkedIn's headquarters, as they enjoyed the free food and ping-pong tables in the cafeteria.

"I am so computer illiterate, this world to me is like I'm on another planet," said an older out-of-work construction worker who seemed to be moving towards an uncertain future with a laugh and a smile on his face. He added, "What do I got to lose?"

Among the group was an older man who said it had been tough to find a job even though he'd he'd just finished school to become an X-ray technician. He didn't want to keep imposing on friends by sleeping on their couches, so he started staying at the InnVision shelter on Maple Street in Redwood City.

"To get your resume professionally reviewed could cost anywhere from $50 to $200," he said, calling the event "a win-win situation."

He reflected on how much times had changed. In the past, "I'd sit across from a man at a desk, and we'd talk, shook hands and I got the job. Nowadays you got resumes with your picture, and media sites chronicling your life that companies review. There's pictures going onto resumes, which is astounding to me." Despite his troubles, he seemed sure that he'd prevail. "It's just matter of time," he said.

Another attendee was a former operations manager who blamed her situation in part on a drug addiction, from which she is recovering.

"The hardest part of doing a job search these days is doing another application that just goes into cyberspace," she said. "You can apply for 30 jobs and you might get nothing back."

A group of 40 LinkedIn employees and a 15 other volunteers hoped to change the odds by volunteering to help the group stand out among LinkedIn's 300 million members. Sitting around tables with laptop computers, folks were helped one by one, as new LinkedIn profiles were created and others were improved. The group was led through how to create professional identity, find connections to build a network, how to get recommended and how to research jobs on the site.

Creating a profile allows you to "control who you are and control your identity" online, said Ryan McDougal, LinkedIn's marketing manager. Create a good profile and "you can have an unfair advantage in the job market. If you don't have a professional identity, LinkedIn can't work for you, it can't create that unfair advantage for you."

The group was encouraged to add volunteer work they've done to their profiles. "Half of all managers consider volunteer work equivalent to paid work," McDougal said.

The group was also encouraged to connect with potential employers on LinkedIn, where many have profiles, and to use the site to network with existing employees at those companies.

InnVision has been partnering with young employees at LinkedIn and other tech companies to form NextGen, an advisory board of so-called millenials who have a sense of how new technology could help the InnVision's clients, primarily through building resumes and using the Internet to find jobs, said InnVision CEO Karae Lisle.

"You give somebody a job, then they have the money they need to find a place to rent and get back on their feet," McDougal said, explaining why he was on the board. Not just finding a job, but the right job to allow career progression, he added.

"The purpose of the advisory board was to be young because of the way they see the world," said Lisle, who is over 50. "My age group does silent auctions and galas and things like that to help people. This generation says, 'We're going to create a mobile app to help you find a job.'"

One homeless couple had received not just job training, but a job opportunity. LinkedIn's kitchen manager heard that they both had an interest in climbing the ranks in the food service industry and gave them both job applications. Despite income from Ronnie Martinez's part-time work as a cook and his partner Arianna Pena's financial aid from studying hospitality in college, the couple can't afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, and they are one of the first couples to be allowed to live together in an InnVision shelter, where men and women usually live separately.

"We want to go to work," said Martinez about himself and Pena. He said he loves to cook, but finding enough work and at decent pay has been tough, he said. He was offered an assistant manager job at $10 an hour, but, "You can't even survive off $10 an hour."

He said he was excited about the opportunity of possibly working in the kitchen at LinkedIn, saying "I want to feel like I'm in a great place."

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