How Mentors Can Help in Your Job Search, with Ellen Recko

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Have you been trying to find a job with little success? Perhaps it’s time to ask someone to help you. In this episode, Find Your Dream Job guest Ellen Recko shares why it’s a poor strategy to job search alone. Job search mentors can offer more than just available openings; they can help you find clarity in what you want in your next position, as well as boost your confidence in what you have to offer. Ellen says one of the best ways to speed up your job search is to reach out to people who can help. That can be a formal mentor, a friend, or a paid career coach. 

About Our Guest:

Ellen Recko is a career coach with Lake Grove Job Seekers.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you’re going through a job transition and you need help clearing the mind clutter, learn how Ellen and her team can help you through their website at
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers.


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 433:

How Mentors Can Help in Your Job Search, with Ellen Recko

Airdate: January 17, 2024

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today.

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Looking for a job is a team sport.

You can’t do it alone.

And every job search team needs one or more mentors.

Ellen Recko is here to talk about how mentors can help in your job search.

She’s a career coach with Lake Grove Job Seekers.

It’s a nonprofit that helps with career transition.

Ellen joins us from Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Well, let’s get going, Ellen. Why do you need mentors at all when you do a job search?

Ellen Recko:

Well, I actually loved your first sentence: never search alone. Because that’s a hundred percent what I believe, as well. This notion of looking for a job or transitioning careers can be extremely overwhelming for people. It’s complicated, and it’s gotten more complicated as time goes by, and because it’s such a black box, it’s extremely anxiety-producing, and then when you add financial pressure on top of that, it’s understandably quite difficult for people to navigate on their own.

And so, they need help. And that’s where a mentor or a job coach can be very helpful. We can help in a number of ways, and I would put it in three buckets. One is the practical, and that’s nuts and bolts; what steps should I take? What content do I need to have? What’s the best way to do a, b, or c? That’s one.

Two would be offering perspective and objectivity because it’s very easy to both get confused by the black box nature but also get discouraged by some of the rejection. And so, we can help people step back a little bit.

The third component that I think we help a lot in is emotional support. Both helping people when the chips are down, being a cheerleader when things are going well, and, in general, helping job seekers stay motivated throughout the process.

Mac Prichard:

I’m so glad you outlined those three areas where mentors can help, and I want to walk through them one by one later in the conversation.

But, I’m curious, Ellen, you have been with Lake Grove Job Seekers, I think you were saying before the recording, for six years. Every week, you’re meeting with candidates and helping them. What have you seen happen if people going through a job search don’t work with mentors? What is that job search like if you do, indeed, try to do it alone?

Ellen Recko:

Well, actually, we survey our participants, and in general, they do start it alone before they come to us. And what tends to happen is they start to apply for jobs, and they do what some people call spray and pray, where they apply for a number of different jobs, and they have varying degrees of success. But eventually, they decide, shoot, this isn’t working for me, and I do need some help. Sometimes, they’re very specific, and they think it’s my resume, or it’s my LinkedIn profile, or something like that.

Other times, they realize I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. There’s too much information coming at me. I just need help. And so, that’s how they find us.

Mac Prichard:

So they’re facing strategic challenges. They’re not quite sure how to manage that search, but also they might have some specific tactical areas, like LinkedIn or their resume, where they’re looking for help.

Do you find that most candidates work with mentors, or is this something that they come to after trying to do it all?

Ellen Recko:

I think it’s definitely the latter, partly because of lack of awareness. I didn’t even know the job club that I work at that I volunteer for was even available until I retired and started looking around for where I can volunteer. And I also know that folks come to us through word of mouth, and before they came, they often tell us, we never knew your organization existed. So I think it’s just not known how many resources, potentially, there are out there until you’re either unemployed or you just take a moment to actively search and look around for them.

Mac Prichard:

And while you’re in Lake Oswego, Oregon, Ellen, there are job clubs across the United States and even across the world, aren’t there?

Ellen Recko:

Yes, absolutely, and there are resources that are available online where you can find them by your zip code or by your location. And there are also starting to be some matching resources for people to find other job seekers, so that they can participate online in an online or a virtual job club.

Mac Prichard:

I know one point you’re fond of making is that mentorship can come in many forms. And so, there are excellent job clubs like the one that you volunteer at and help lead. But, mentorship can also be informal. It can be former coworkers, or classmates, or even people that you know personally or professionally. What stops, in your experience, what stops applicants from asking mentors for help during a job search?

Ellen Recko:

I think it’s a couple of things. Again, I think one is just they just don’t think about it. They’re not programmed, especially around a job search. A lot of us think, I’m unemployed, and that’s kind of a badge of shame actually for some people. And it’s difficult for them to just ask for help when they’re feeling so down already. Although, ironically, that’s exactly when they should ask for help.

I think, also, it’s lack of awareness of what’s out there, and it’s not knowing the questions to ask. There’s all kinds of reasons why people just don’t ask. Or they may think it costs money. There could be financial barriers as well. I think there’s a lot of reasons why people don’t even think to ask for help.

We think we have to go it alone. We think we have to be stoic. And this is something where this doesn’t come naturally to any of us, and we all need help. Yet we just don’t – I think people just don’t think of it. I think it’s just not realizing that there are resources out there that can help them a lot.

Mac Prichard:

When candidates do reach out to mentors and ask for help, are there common mistakes you see them make in doing that outreach?

Ellen Recko:

No, I think showing up is the most important thing and actually asking for help. I always tell people that people want to help you. People want to help. If someone were to ask me for help or you for help, more than likely, if you could help, you would. And so, we try to communicate to job seekers that it’s the same for them. That even though they’re in a vulnerable position right now that when they ask for help, if they can make that connection with someone, it’s quite likely that the person will actually want to help.

Not everyone will. Some people will ghost you. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means that they can’t, or they just don’t want to. But I do think that sometimes you’ve just got to ask.

Mac Prichard:

When mentors do say yes to helping job seekers, why do they do that, Ellen? Why does someone who might have a demanding job or someone you’ve never met – why might they say yes to mentoring you when you’re looking for work?

Ellen Recko:

I think that, in general, there’s a kind of, in business, a common understanding about pay it forward. Especially in the last ten to twenty years, pretty much everyone has been out of work.

And, in fact, even in the last ten years, HR people hardly even care about gaps anymore because they know that people are changing jobs way more frequently than they used to and that they were probably in your shoes before, or they know that they will be in your shoes at some point.

And so, there’s this whole notion of we are not alone. I want to help you because I know someone’s gonna help me someday, too, and that’s sort of the spirit of why people want to help.

Mac Prichard:

I wanna take a break, and when we come back, Ellen, I want to walk through those three areas that you outlined at the start of the segment: direction, perspective, and emotional support, where you say mentors can be especially helpful, and I also want to talk about where people can look for mentors. So stay with us. When we return, Ellen Recko will continue to share her advice on how mentors can help in your job search.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ellen Recko.

She’s a career coach with Lake Grove Job Seekers.

It’s a nonprofit that helps with career transition.

Ellen joins us from Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Now, Ellen, we were talking today about how mentors can help with your job search, and one of the things you did at the start of our first segment was talk about three different ways mentors can be helpful: perspective, providing emotional support, and providing direction. Let’s walk through those one by one.

When you talk about perspective and how a mentor can help someone in a job search with a perspective, what do you have in mind there?

Ellen Recko:

Well, one of the things that happens as people go through this process is, understandably, they have questions. And so, a very common example that comes to us all of the time from job seekers is, well, I want to apply for this particular job, but I only have sixty or seventy percent of the qualifications. So, should I apply? Do I need to take a class and get some additional skills? How can I put my best foot forward here?

And sometimes they even say things like, uh oh, I only have sixty. I shouldn’t apply. And so, we try to help them step back and realize, well, which of the qualifications in this job description are most important for the sorts of roles that you’re going for, and then we can talk through which ones do they have or where or how significant their gap might be.

Another thing we do is we help them understand that job descriptions often have hiring managers who either write them very poorly, so it’s really hard to tell, or they throw everything in, including the kitchen sink, in terms of what they want, and there’s no human being on earth who could achieve that job description. And so, again, we try to help the job seekers kind of take a closer look at what they may be asking for and what’s more important than not. So they’re not cutting themselves out of an opportunity unnecessarily. That’s the first thing we do in terms of perspective is take a step back; let’s figure out what they’re really looking for. And now, let’s realistically asses, might this be a good fit for you?

Another example is, I sort of alluded to it before, is when a job seeker might get that negative talk in their head going and say things like, another very common one is, oh, I asked my ex-boss for a recommendation, and I haven’t heard back. So, I guess that means they didn’t like the quality of my work, or they’re not comfortable giving me a recommendation. And that one always kills me because we have no information that that’s the case. But oftentimes, when a job seeker is working alone or doesn’t have someone to sort of pull them out of that hole, they reach a conclusion that isn’t helpful for them.

And so, again, we’ll say, wait a second. That person just could be busy on a trip, out sick, whatever, you know, number one. Number two, we’ll say things like, while this is top of mind for you, it may not be the most urgent thing on that person’s list. And we do have to understand that they do have other priorities, and we have to give them the time they need to get to it.

And then we might say, how could we unstick this one? Can we send a reminder note? Can we offer to remind them how we worked together? So they kind of have a tickler about what they could talk about. Or, if you know them well enough, you could even offer to write a draft. And so, these are just two really, really common examples of how we try to help the job seekers get out of their heads, think about another way to look at something, and then get unstuck so they can move forward.

Mac Prichard:

That’s very valuable. In the absence of information, we often make up stories to try to explain what’s happening, and I appreciate your point about how something entirely different, in fact, might be happening. Someone might be on vacation or the like.

Another area that you talked about where mentors can help is with direction. What kind of direction can mentors provide when you’re doing a job search?

Ellen Recko:

A ton.

Mac Prichard:

Haha, let’s unpack that, Ellen.

Ellen Recko:

Here’s the good news. Even though it’s a black box and we don’t know how long this process is gonna end, there are some best practices. There are some skills. There is knowledge that we have and that others have that can help you get through this with your best foot forward.

So, for example, we know that if a job seeker has a clearer idea of what they want, they can do a better job of positioning their resume, positioning their profile, getting an informational interview, or getting help because they can be specific about the ask. That’s a common best practice that we will help someone understand so that they can have more success and move more quickly.

Another one is building a target list. People who have a target list automatically move themselves from reactive – here’s a job online, I’ll apply, to – oh, these are the companies, and these are the roles that I want to go for. So, now let me work my network. Let me try to position my material such that I can get these sorts of roles.

Networking is another example, hugely important in the process, and there are some practices that we can teach them for how to be successful at building their network, so they can find out about jobs or get the inside scoop on jobs that other job seekers maybe not.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve found for job seekers in setting this direction and getting clear about a target list, for example, or understanding you need a resume makeover or that you gotta get out and network? What stops job seekers from doing that?

Ellen Recko:

A couple of things I would say; one is lack of clarity about what they want to do. Some people are really clear about that. But, especially lately, I think what we’re finding is it seems that more and more people want to change, but they’re not a hundred percent sure what kind of change they want. And so, figuring out what they want to do is sort of cornerstone to setting a direction.

And so, we have to help them through that process of figuring out. Even if it’s, I could do A or B. That’s okay. We can come up with a plan for A or B. We just can’t come up with a plan for A through Z because that just is untenable. That’s not a good place to start. So, the first thing is just figuring out what they want.

And then being comfortable letting a few things go. If they have too many things they want, we might say, let’s start with two and see how far we get down that path before we pick up three and four. So that’s one big bucket.

I think another bucket is just, sometimes, they’re plain discouraged and frustrated and just feel like nothing’s gonna work. So they just need that emotion. They need some hope. And they need a direction that helps them understand, okay, maybe I can get through this.

And I would say the last one is there’s so much coming at them; sometimes, they just don’t know where to start.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about emotional support. That’s the third area where you said at the start of our conversation mentors can be helpful. What difference can mentors make with emotional support during a job search?

Ellen Recko:

Well, again, I’m biased, but I think there’s a number of ways that we can help. I think the most obvious one is getting through the very lowest of the low moments. For example, when a job seeker is in the final phases of multiple interviews, and they’re one of two, and they don’t get the job. I mean, that’s a clear gut punch, and people need time to grieve a little bit, and we understand that, and we will share that loss with them.

But then we will also slowly start to help them understand what might have been in their control in this process and what wasn’t. What could we maybe work on to do a little bit differently next time? As we start to kind of make that a softer landing and turn it around. So that’s one thing.

I think another thing is confidence building. When someone, for example, when they get an interview, all of a sudden, they’re hyper-focused on, how do I do well at that interview. And their anxiety ramps up a little bit. And so, we will really say, alright, let’s practice those interview questions. Let’s make sure that you’re so well prepared and we have the kinks out of some of those answers to the most common questions, that you walk into that room much more confident and in a much better position to show the interviewer the true value that you can bring to this particular role.

Another thing we’ll do is we’ll point out stuff to our job seekers that they didn’t realize a hiring manager might value. They’ll answer a question, and we’ll say, well, what about this part of your experience? Or what about that part? That’s also valuable in this context, and don’t forget to talk about it. So they feel better. They get a boost that, oh, I am more valuable than I realized. I do have what it takes to do this role. So that’s a second thing.

And I would just say the third thing to kind of follow on is staying motivated, especially when they get stuck. And so, we’ll try to help them get unstuck by giving them additional ideas, or additional resources, or places to go look, or people to talk to. How can they kind of get that engine running again for what are the things I need to do to start to create these job opportunities for myself?

Mac Prichard:

You lead a job club, and that’s a great place to find mentors. Quickly, Ellen, what are other places you suggest listeners look to find mentors who can help with a job search?

Ellen Recko:

Well, of course, they can pay money for a coach. But if that’s not an option for them, every state has a Department of Employment. In Oregon, it’s called Work Source, and they are a wealth of resources and training and mentoring for people. I would say that probably about a quarter of our referrals come from the Oregon Department of Employment, so that’s one place.

Another place is, as you mentioned at the beginning, previous people that you’ve worked with. Recruiters that you’ve worked with in the past, maybe members of professional associations, these sort of ad hoc mentors.

And then I would say the third thing is job clubs or job support groups. About seventy-five percent of the people who come to us come to us because someone referred them to us, and they share with us how they’ve been supported by either other mentors or by job clubs. And job clubs are great because when you’re around kindred spirits, when you hear the same experiences from someone else, your frustrations get legitimatized, and all of a sudden, you trust what’s going on in that room, you’re more open to learning, you’re more open to trying new things, and again, it gives you a little bit of energy, the energy you need to keep going.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Ellen. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Ellen Recko:

Well, I’m just gonna continue working with Lake Grove Job Seekers. We’re an organization that offers both – we teach people. We bring experts in every week. We have workshops every week. And we also do one-on-one mentoring, and I’ve been doing it for six years, and at this point, I have no plans to stop.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know that listeners can learn more about the work you do at Lake Grove Job Seekers by visiting the organization’s website and that’s We’ll be sure to include that link in the show notes and the website article, as well, and I also know you invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and as always, if they do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Ellen, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how mentors can help in a job search?

Ellen Recko:

I would say, it goes right back to what you said at the beginning, Mac, and that’s never search alone. We all need help, whether it’s from a mentor, or from a job club, or friends. What have you?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help because I firmly believe that it will help you be successful faster when you use the people that are out there that really do want to see you on the path to success again with your job or your career.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Donna McCullough.

She’s the founder of Claravia Consulting.

Donna’s company offers career coaching to individuals, teams, and organizations.

Stories not only engage others, they also stick in a listener’s mind.

If you want to stand out when you meet a hiring manager, you need to tell stories about your career.

And one of the best ways to do this is to use the STAR method.

Join us next Wednesday when Donna McCullough and I talk about how to prepare and use STAR stories in a job interview.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.