Advice for the Job Forlorn


An avid reader and commenter (who shall remain unnamed) put us on the trail of a professional who has been guiding yeshiva men entering the workplace. Said professional put together some of his reactions based on his significant experience in helping frum men find positions. After some prodding, said professional revealed his name. It turns out that he, too, is an avid Cross-Currents reader. Daniel Rubin has a Masters in Human Resources from Rochester Institute of Technology and has made the transition from Jewish education to corporate training and development. He has been involved in both of these fields for over a decade each and actively mentors young professionals. We thank him for this contribution, which is must reading for the inexperienced job seeker.

As an employee for a large corporation within a mainstream Jewish community, I’ve had the opportunity to respond to many requests for job search assistance from both individuals and Jewish organizations dedicated to this effort. As a result of this experience, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts on what I believe to be a significant concern. Several of the candidates who have approached me have a number of critical issues they need to address before actually applying for a job. They prepare poorly written resumes which reveal very active Jewish lifestyles, ambiguous advanced degrees, and “work experience” which is debatable and irrelevant. I have tried to delicately communicate the following ideas to these candidates:

• A resume is not a recorded history of extra-curricular activities from 9th grade and onward. Each statement has to send a powerful message that is meaningful to the non-Jewish reader and will make he/she want to distinguish your resume from the other thousand on the pile.

• Identifying yourself as an Orthodox Jew (or a member of any other religious or ethnic group, for that matter) is not to your advantage. It is not wise to encourage the reader to believe you are different than the rest of the world and may have special needs. Either make an accomplishment religiously neutral or exclude it.

• Please face the fact that your degree gives you no skills or experience and market yourself accordingly. Whether you like it or not, you are competing with people who have serious skills and experience in addition to the requisite educational backgrounds, so plan accordingly. (I am not looking to condemn our current educational system but it is important to avoid the negligence of misunderstanding your status in the job market). You may have seen or heard a great deal about drunk, overindulgent degenerates without priorities but these will not be the people you are dealing with to earn a living.

These resumes are embarrassing and would demean any professional who thoughtlessly passed them on. Unfortunately, the situation becomes worse as I try to impart these messages. This is because these candidates choose not to listen. Instead they will usually apply to additional jobs and then e-mail me for assistance with getting an Interview. Even if I could bypass the resume stage and deliver them straight to an interview, I would never do so considering the striking shortage of social and emotional intelligence that they have displayed throughout this process. In addition to shortcomings in powerful statements that sell their skills, many of them do not have the social skills to conduct a conversation with me, let alone a non-Jewish employer who will have much less latitude or patience.

To summarize, I have been seeing a significant amount of untrained job seekers who have little to no marketable skills with degrees that clearly did not teach them to discuss their field in a manner that is anything less than embarrassing.

I realize that responders to statements like these have a tendency to rush to ideological bandwagons. Perhaps this clarification will save a bit of time. I attended Kollel for many years, then spent time in chinuch and am therefore familiar with the” landscape”. As I stated earlier I am not using this letter to bury or praise the “system”. Instead my purpose is to point out that there are many people exiting our educational systems who are drastically unprepared to enter the job market. Now more than ever, the Jewish community is being asked to facilitate this transition directly, by brokering opportunities for these job seekers, and indirectly by the urgent calls for funds from the struggling mosdos that these job seekers are a part of. (I am not suggesting that they or their children should be rejected from these mosdos Chas VeShalom, merely pointing out that this job search is ultimately being subsidized.) I have met way too many people whose preparation for the financial responsibilities of marriage and family consists of a series of anecdotes, incidental conversations and some seed money that eventually runs out. They seem to feel that earning a degree with an indistinct title is sufficient preparation for immediate hire. It is highly unfortunate that this fallacy must be pointed out at advanced stages of financial responsibility. Wouldn’t it behoove a student to ask an institution offering a degree about how it will prepare them for the job market? Might a conversation or two with an experienced professional in a desired field shed some light on whether a degree program is a waste of time or a valid first step into the job market? My recent experiences and the world economic situation demand that now more than ever, transition planning which emphasizes professional development, social/emotional intelligence and financial realities are imperative.

It is wonderful to see the manner in which the Jewish community is responding to the vital need for employment. However an important first step in this process might be to disabuse some notions about college degrees and career preparedness present in our midst.

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58 Responses

  1. Isaac Moses says:

    Eli said (#21):

    There is no reason why a job seeker can not ask the “frum network” to get an unpaid internship (even in a “heimishe” company) in the area which he or she wants to go into.

    I think that an internship in a heimishe company, while a step in the right direction, could serve to reinforce some of the un-beneficial behaviors listed above. In a heimishe environment, heimishe styles of behavior may be preferred over standard professional styles, and even if they’re not preferred, they’re likely to be tolerated. The intern then a) doesn’t learn how to behave professionally, and b) gets the impression that his current behavioral style is fine for the workplace.

    It would probably be much more useful for people who need to be acclimated to the general workplace to start with an internship or even a menial job in a completely secular environment. Alternatively, frum business owners could provide a great service to the community by first maintaining a professional atmosphere in their businesses and then hiring interns and deliberately coaching them when their behavior wouldn’t cut it in a non-heimishe environment.


    Regarding shaking hands with the opposite gender:
    I personally do shake hands, so this hasn’t been an issue for me. I have heard stories from multiple sources of people (usually prominent rabbis) who manage to refuse to shake hands with enough finesse to defuse any potential ill will. For job candidates who absolutely won’t shake hands, this may be something to shoot for with the following very important caveat:

    As mentioned above, refusing to shake hands is an automatic negative. You will have to work very hard to make it neutral. This may sound silly, but you must develop a script and PRACTICE delivering it with a big smile while looking directly at the other person until people you practice it with agree that you’re incredibly natural and friendly. First, practice over and over in front of a mirror, then practice with a family member or other trusted observer of the opposite gender. To develop a script, get advice people who routinely pull off such a maneuver successfully (Rabbis who deal with outside entities or non-shaking professionals).

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Mr. Rubin’s observations and many of the comments about what works, and what should be avoided, by any job seeker, should be circulated as widely possible. Much of the same is simple common sense, but sometimes common sense is a spare commodity, when conventional wisdom, which leads to some of the horror stories posted, is unfortunately all too prevalent.

  3. R. Gottesman says:

    I grew up thinking that all non-frum people took drugs and did terrible things! Luckily, because my father had a job in a government agency he was able to get me a summer typing and I met all non-frum and non-Jewish people, who were totally professional (all men at the time) and proper, both Jews and Christians. I learned quickly these were respectable people, brought up very much like me although not frum or Jewish, and I learned how to act like them on the job, how to speak in a professional way, and how to produce! What worries me is that the new generation of Lakewood bred youth (in their twenties and upward) has never seen a father who works, has no access to the world of professional work, with terrible English skills. These men are not employable outside the frum velt. It is a tragedy for the families. But they are still unaware of it. They live in a fool’s paradise. My sister is looking for “long term support” for her inarticulate, uneducated (in secular studies) but very intelligent gemorah kup son.

  4. Zachary Kessin says:

    A few tips for job seekers:

    1) Yeshiva Standard English will not get you hired!
    2) Don’t use a nickname, a Hebrew name is fine in most cases but the name on your CV should be your full legal name
    3) Keep your CV to 1 page.
    4) Don’t misrepresent yourself. People will find out sooner or later
    5) Don’t make your needs their problem. You might not like what your female co worker wears, but shut up and be polite about it, if you start causing problems that could open up your boss to a law suit he will respond by firing YOU.

    Hit the local Bookstore or Public Library and go read a bunch of books on finding a job. Your librarian will be glad to help if its a good library.

  5. Zachary Kessin says:

    I think part of the problem is that many young people have very unrealistic ideas about how the work world works. I expect that many of these CV’s end up in the trash after the HR person reads the first 4 lines. Remember the HR guy has a stack of several hundred CV’s for that job. If you can not look impressive in the first 4 lines or so I promise you someone else does. (My CV starts out with a list of publications).

    The Job of your CV (or resume if you are in the US, same basic thing) is to get you an interview, the job of the interview is to get you the actual job. And if you can’t be the world’s biggest mentch at the interview and show the skills that are needed you won’t get the job. Even in a good market and right now its even more so!

    I say this having been in the internet biz since ’94 and having interviewed a number of people over the years.

  6. Shira says:

    But by the way the snobby expectations of 6-figure salaries and easy jobs isn’t unique to any one community. In non-charedi communities, many youth sacrifice opportunities for Torah study to establish their careers.

    There should be more encouragement on all sides to plan ahead – pick a career that will enable a well-rounded life, chart an educational plan to aim for several goals.

  7. Shira says:

    If everyone going into kollel accepted a future (i.e. even beyond kollel) of sacrifice and financial hardship, I think it would be ok.

    A few solid years of learning during the years when a young man is more “free” yet his mind is finally primed for it are quite a good investment.

    And who says one’s job needs to be so well chosen – I think in Europe no one had such variety of choices for “self-actualization”…. (It is up to the employers – schools included – to be choosy about their teachers. If a school’s parent body cannot afford tuition toward good teachers they will end up with less desirable candidates.)

    The problem stems from expectations – as a new generation enters kollel, they think they will always live the non-kollel standards of their childhood. So they are ill-equipped to live a lifestyle of 2-3 sets of clothing per children, basic food only, vacations at the local playgrounds.

    They could also use more serious advice regarding insurance policies, should ch”v there be any hiccup in the subsistence living they have mapped out. I think we have all tired of the sensationalist tzedakah mailings of this type.

    Unfortunately from what I’ve seen, the leaders who are in the position to give this message of realism don’t experience it themselves. I was once in a group of 20 young charedi mothers, who pressed their parenting course teacher on this – why aren’t young couples warned? The teacher explained that she and her husband were connected and financially stable enough to help all their children ideally become Roshei Yeshiva or at worst get through a vocational training even with a large family. It seemed that she thought that everyone can manage the same way, more or less.

  8. Shlomo Radamska says:

    #50: Right on. But, no one in the Charedi world will buy into that view. They are all circuling their wagons hoping to survive the economic downturn and continue their lazy and irresponsible life styles. We have won the war, but they seem oblivious to that fact.

    Yes, it is more exteme in Israel than in the USA, but even in the USA getting past the “Lakewood mentality of universal kollel” is hard. By definition that produces mediocrity.

    We are all headed for a giant charedi economic meltdown or the arrival of Meseach. I hope for the later, but fear the former.