It was roughly 90 minutes into the Zoom meeting when Kyle Welter unmuted to ask for advice.

“You know, the biggest issue I’m struggling with is just getting people to respond back to me,” said Welter. His recent interview for a human resources job had gone well, and the interviewer had given every indication that an offer would be coming. Then, silence.

“I know that she’s busy, and I’m trying not to, you know, constantly bombard her to the point where she doesn’t want to hire me… I’m just in that weird bubble stage.”

“It sounds like you’re doing everything you should be doing on your end,” assured Matt Aulifff, a RESEA operations manager at IowaWORKS in Cedar Rapids. “I mean, you’re being responsive – you’re timely and getting back to her. If she’s not getting back to you with that same sort of timeliness, then it could be a blessing in disguise. But you’re doing everything right.”

Welcome to the IowaWORKS Virtual Job Club, an online forum where several hundred unemployed Iowans gather weekly with a handful of IowaWORKS experts to discuss the latest in job searching techniques.

Born out of a pandemic-driven need to provide more services online while offices were closed, Virtual Job Club has grown into a repeating 12-week tour of all aspects of searching for work. Auliff and other IowaWORKS experts from around the state take turns offering tips and explaining the resources available to job seekers. Once a month, they bring in a rotating panel of Iowa employers to answer hiring-related questions. Once a quarter, club participants log on to observe three separate online job interviews (IowaWORKS staffers playing roles), then discuss what each participant did or didn’t do well.

“We talk a lot about what resumes should look like, but it’s a lot easier when employers around the state are telling you that this is what they want their resumes to look like,” said Mike Cockrum, operations manager at the IowaWORKS office in Ottumwa. “It’s better than hearing it from us.”

Virtual Job Club is open to any potential job seeker. Since last fall, recipients of unemployment benefits have been required to attend at least four of the sessions if they remain jobless after five weeks. Many start attending out of obligation and stick around for subsequent weeks.

One afternoon in late April, club participants watched as a role-playing job candidate spent several minutes answering a question about his greatest strength and greatest weakness by saying he was “adaptable” and always ready to take on new tasks. Then, he appeared to stumble.

“Was there a second part to that question, or... were you looking for a weakness there?” he asked.

Virtual Job Club participants criticized this in the Zoom chat, but Cockrum later stressed that nervous mistakes usually won’t hurt you with hiring managers.

“It’s way better to ask if there was a second part of the question than it would be to avoid the second part of the question altogether,” he said. “It’s much better to ask than to just kind of let it go and hope for the best.”  

Kyle Welter, who never did get that much-awaited job offer (the position went unfilled), said Virtual Job Club participants will always find something of value.

“There’s some good advice on interviews there,” he said. “Some of it is information that I already knew, but if nothing else, it’s a good refresher.”

Cockrum hopes job seekers will use the “Who Would You Hire?” events to perform better in interviews.

“We kind of want to put them in the perspective of an employer, to look at it from the opposite direction,” he said. “It’s just a different perspective, hopefully, on what we’ve already done with the other classes that we’ve taught.”

For more information, visit the IowaWORKS and click on  "Additional Services" and "Job Readiness Workshops" under the "Job Seekers" column. From there, you’ll be able to register for a variety of virtual and in-person events, including Virtual Job Club.