Annette Guzman-Torres was feeling discouraged and frustrated, her anxiety fueled by the uncertainty of a bleak job market during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 44-year-old married mother of two boys is close to finishing the capstone project for her doctorate from Capella University. She has a 3.77 GPA, is a member of The National Society of Leadership and Success and has big professional dreams.
But Guzman-Torres was furloughed from her government job in March after the pandemic began and still hasn’t been able to return. She also found no leads for employment after her upcoming graduation.
“I was like, I have no job, nowhere to go, nothing to do,” said the resident of Bloomfield, New Jersey. “My fears, I was kind of letting them get to me.”
So, Guzman-Torres needed help — and found it, thanks to a collaboration between the New York Jets and Dress For Success Northern New Jersey-10 Counties.
Last Tuesday, 27 of the National Football League team’s female employees participated in an online mentoring program for women run by the affiliate of the non-profit Dress For Success. The global organization is known for providing professional attire for women, but also helps build job search and interview skills with no-cost seminars and programs.
“It was a breath of fresh air, this event, because I felt like, OK, I see things a little clearer now,” Guzman-Torres said. “I can actually feel comfortable sending out my resumé.”
‘People excited to be part of this’
Guzman-Torres was one of 11 women mentored during the event, with the concept conceived during the pandemic through weekly meetings between Jessica Mandler, the Jets’ vice-president of human resources and administration and the team’s three other female VPs — Jessica Ciccone (content strategy and marketing); Jill Kelley (legal affairs) and Jennifer Linn (partner management and sponsorships) — about what they could do as an organization to help encourage and empower women.
Mandler recalled being impressed by the impact a Dress For Success program had while she was working for the NBA several years ago. So, she connected with the affiliate in Madison — five minutes from the Jets’ facility in Florham Park — and traded ideas with Kim Iozzi, Dress For Success Northern New Jersey’s executive director.
“When I brought it back to the organization as a whole, they couldn’t have supported us any more,” Mandler said. “It was the first event like this that we had ever done. We had 27 women sign up right away, which was a huge win for us. … You almost got a little bit emotional at how excited people were and how much people wanted to be a part of this.”
Iozzi and the Jets huddled up to create a game plan that would benefit those participating as clients, such as Guzman-Torres, and those serving as mentors.
“They came at it with the right approach,” Iozzi said of the Jets. “They didn’t want a fluff program. They wanted to do something that was meaningful.”
The program included the Jets employees using Zoom breakout rooms to review and improve the clients’ resumes and cover letters, as well as holding mock interviews and offering tips for their LinkedIn accounts and suggestions about searching for employment opportunities.
“They were amazing,” Guzman-Torres said. “They really took the time.”
‘We wanted to share our experiences’
Sandy Osipowitz, the Jets’ senior director of corporate partnership activation, felt she was relatable to a lot of them as a mother of three who has been managing her work-from-home life while also balancing the responsibilities of parenthood.
“We wanted to share our experiences and do everything we can to help them,” Osipowitz said. “They’re out of work and looking for some guidance and some additional help with getting their resumes or interview skills to a certain place to help them feel confident.”
Dress For Success was founded by Nancy Lublin in 1997 and has expanded to almost 150 cities in 25 countries. Iozzi’s affiliate, with a staff of three and several volunteers, serves 10 counties in northern New Jersey and has helped nearly 1,000 women since the pandemic began.
“To have a stranger do something so nice for you and reach out and really want to make that connection because they can and because they care, it’s really overwhelming, I think, for our clients to come to terms with the fact there are people out there like that,” Iozzi said. “It’s very humbling.”
While many of Dress For Success’ clients come from low-income brackets, several are women over 50 who had 20 or more years of professional experience and whose companies downsized and didn’t rehire. Others are simply looking to further their careers.
“Basically, if you’re a woman who needs to be suited with confidence, we’re the go-to,” Iozzi said. “You might be underemployed, unemployed, you may be newly employed and still just trying to figure out, OK, what does that mean now? How do I budget? How can I get my family to be in a better position? So, we work with a woman continually through that journey.”
The Jets hope to be there along the way, too, to continue to encourage and assist women through similar collaborations.
“It just helps the community and it really helps our employees overall in their career development and while they’re home, it helps them in their personal development,” Mandler said. “I mean, it just hit so many things for us internally and organizationally that it just felt so good all around.”