By Joyce Gannon Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
After she left college because of financial difficulties, Wendy Lloyd, 27, worked a string of jobs ranging from coffeehouse barista to administrative assistant.
As she sought full-time employment, she figured her solid record of volunteer experience with the AmeriCorps program and the University of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms might boost her credentials.
But mostly, she sent applications to online job sites and never received a reply.
What she craved was personal, one-on-one input about her skills.
Because she had dropped out of school, Lloyd said, "College internships and professional organizations were opportunities I didn't have. I wanted someone to lay eyes on my resume."
She found that person in June at a downtown Pittsburgh coffee bar.
Through a mentorship initiative called 3 Cups of Coffee, Lloyd met Kristi Heidkamp, 26, who had volunteered to be a mentor for the program that connects professional females with women seeking to launch or reshape their careers.
Heidkamp, who works in wealth management recruiting for BNY Mellon, reviewed Lloyd's resume, gave her tips on tailoring cover letters for different positions, and urged her to broaden her search by rethinking her talents and applying for positions that might not call for her specific skill set.
The pair kept in touch by email in between coffee meetings and in November, Lloyd interviewed for a position in check services at BNY Mellon. She landed the job and started work Dec. 1.
Because they now work for the same company, although in different buildings, Lloyd and Heidkamp have bumped into each other and admit they will probably remain connected through email and over an occasional lunch or coffee.
Unlike many mentorship initiatives, 3 Cups was designed to be a relatively short-term relationship between the mentor and mentee.
Participants commit to meet three times over six weeks. The coffee shop provides the brew for free through vouchers that are distributed to mentors by Pennsylvania Women Work, a nonprofit that sponsors 3 Cups.
Pennsylvania Women Work "came to us with the idea for the coffee and the setting," said Samantha Stroyne, territory manager for Crazy Mocha, the coffee shop chain involved with the program.
The company agreed to donate beverages, because, "When you come to a coffee shop it's relaxed and you are comfortable talking about things you are struggling with. It's nice to pull (the mentors) out of the corporate element and the (mentees) out of the home. They get to a neutral ground."
For time-strapped professionals who like the idea of helping another woman but who worry about a long-term commitment, the 3 Cups format "is really doable," said Vicki Lish, program manager. "They can give insight and help someone navigate what they navigated in three, one-hour sessions."
The program grew out of Pennsylvania Women Work's New Choices, a series of classes that focuses on job skills and career building for women who are in transition because of job loss, the death of a spouse, divorce or other unexpected circumstances, said Julie Marx, executive director of the statewide organization.
Through 3 Cups, women get "a personal connection to the job world, because you lose professional networks when you are out of the workforce."
Lloyd signed up for 3 Cups after taking the New Choices classes.
BNY Mellon was the first organization to provide mentors, said Lish. There are 40 volunteers from BNY Mellon and 40 from other for-profits and nonprofits. About 70 women have signed up to be mentored, said Lish.
When Marx presented the idea to Pennsylvania Women Work's board of directors in late 2013, Mary Ellen Sullivan, a board member who had recently retired from PNC Bank, liked the idea so much that she volunteered to spend seven months securing money and recruiting volunteers to get the program started.
Funding for the first year totaled $75,000 from the Pittsburgh Foundation and two other foundations that Marx declined to name.
Sullivan, who spent the last two decades of her career in community development banking for PNC, won an award for volunteerism for her efforts to launch 3 Cups.
"It's truly needed," she said. "It gives women confidence and conversation skills and the opportunity to talk to a woman about how they broke into" the job market. "A lot of women are just tenuous about sitting across the desk from someone and doing an interview."
Ami Steinmetz, 47, learned about 3 Cups while seeking a job through Pennsylvania CareerLink, a state-sponsored employment service.
In the late 1990s, Steinmetz was laid off as a county caseworker and since then, has worked part-time as a waitress, housecleaner and emergency school substitute while raising a family.
Now that her children are older and her husband is semi-retired, it was time to rejoin the workforce, said Steinmetz, who studied criminology, sociology and political science at Duquesne University.
By the time 3 Cups paired her with mentor Jennifer Beer, senior director, government affairs for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Steinmetz estimates she had applied for about 30 jobs.
The two met, and Beer, according to Steinmetz, "brought me out of my box and broadened my horizons to other things I could do."
After a couple coffee sessions, Steinmetz said, "Things changed dramatically with my applications and interviews. She gave me great tips on what to say and how to say it. It was just us sitting there talking, woman-to-woman. She was just a very good confidant."
In December, Steinmetz took a job as a case manager at Life's Work, a nonprofit that provides job training and placement for people with disabilities.
For Beer, becoming a mentor was a way to "try and get people to find something they are passionate about. I love my job so if they can find something they enjoy waking up for every day, I'd like to pay that forward."