Dallas Morning News 3/22/09

 

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CareerDFW founder helps the jobless pull together

12:26 PM CDT on Saturday, March 21, 2009
By CHERYL HALL / The Dallas Morning News

 

Jeff Morris wishes his Web site weren't so popular.

Four months ago, he launched www.CareerDFW.org to help people looking for jobs with their search.

It's a simple-stupid site that even I can navigate, with information on seminars, network groups and job fairs around North Texas.

Need to know the nearest location for the Texas Workforce Commission or how to get to a networking meeting? There are maps.

Call it Unemployment Central. And these days, it's a busy place.

It's gotten more than 40,000 page views from more than 8,000 visitors in 24 countries, 43 states and 88 places in Texas. Lately, weekday traffic averages 175 people; weekends, it's 50 or so - twice what it was six weeks ago.

"I never dreamed the economy would take such a nose dive and that so many people would want to use the Web site," Morris says. "I wanted something that was very Google-like - plain, no graphics, simple, click on the link, and you go right to the group. That's how it developed."

In a time when greed and self-promotion are often prime motivators, Jeff Morris is doing this on his own time. He's paid for, built and maintains the site - even though he doesn't have a paying job.

"I want to pay it forward," says the 50-year-old former manufacturing manager who does voluntary career counseling. "I help others, who will help others."

When Morris got laid off 16 months ago for the third time in six years, he decided to be Mr. Mom to his two children, now 14 and soon-to-be 13. His wife, Melanie, had a new boss who had tightened the screws of her once-flexible schedule in national radio sales at Clear Channel Communications Inc.

In his spare time, Morris leads North Dallas Career Focus, a career networking group in Plano.

When he realized there wasn't a central information site for the underemployed and unemployed, he took it upon himself to build one, even though he knew nothing about Internet design.

First he needed a domain name and was stunned to find that www.CareerDFW.org was available.

"I bought the dot-org and the dot-com, so it cost me 20 bucks for two Web sites for a year," says Morris, who also paid $300 for three years of Web hosting. (He doesn't use the dot-com site except to refer back to CareerDFW.org, but he didn't want anyone else to use it, either.)

"Once I had the name, I had to ask my network, 'Has anybody ever built a Web site?' "

Somebody suggested a program that seemed to fit his needs, and he started typing things in. It took more than 200 hours to get the site running in November, and he spends four to 12 hours a week updating it.

"I'm getting information from all sorts of sources," he says. "As I say on the site, 'If you don't see it, send it to me.' "

For several months, he's been attending a Web designers network meeting.

"I go to every meeting with three questions," he says. "They answer them, and then I come home and incorporate what I learned into the Web site the next day."


Referrals

Gayle Bridgeman used the Web site in her search for gainful employment - ironically, as a career consultant and trainer with an outplacement company.

Now she refers her clients to CareerDFW.

"I've had a lot of good feedback from them," says Bridgeman, an "alum" of a network group in Southlake.

She got to know Morris during her 10-month job search. "Jeff is such a giver. He sees a need and does something about it. He's an amazing fellow who is always reaching out to help the job seeker. He's not getting paid to do any of that."

Morris knows what it's like to be a deer in the headlights. He was laid off the first time in 2000 from a video duplication facility where he'd been general manager and director of operations.

"That was quite a shock - working there for 13 years, never having to put together a résumé. I was lost," he says.

The second time, the company he worked for tanked after 9/11, but he was better prepared.

"I see it today with people who've been working for 20 or 25 years," Morris says. "They come out shell-shocked: 'Now what do I do? Hold my hand and help me.' "

So he does. And there are a lot of hands - including his wife's. She was laid off along with 1,850 others in January.

"She says she's lucky to have a personal career coach at home," he says.


LinkedIn

Recently, Morris started a CareerDFW LinkedIn group that has grown to 220 people in eight weeks.

On a recent Friday, 150 people came to his focus group to hear a Texas Workforce Commission representative talk about the ins and outs of unemployment insurance.

Miguel Richards is a member of two career networking groups, including the one hosted by Morris and another in Southlake. He was a senior manager of data center operations for a Web-hosting company until November, when he was laid off along with 25 other people.

"The politically correct term is I'm in transition," says Richards, who had 80 employees reporting to him. "I'm at the senior management level, and the advertising for those positions has dropped way, way off."

He encourages others to use the CareerDFW site. "It's an effort of love and a learn-by- doing by Jeff. He's been doing this little by little, and it's turned out great."