The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
I’m sure everyone recognizes the lyric in the title. Many will imagine themselves in Anatevka, singing, maybe even dancing, along with Tevya in the barn as he imagines how life could be different. I found myself doing just that for a moment at the Parnassah Expo. If you had been there, I’m sure you would have done the same.
I was speaking to people who stopped by my booth at the Expo, doing my best to dispense deep, well-considered wisdom on the fly as I answered questions about searching for a job and choosing a career. And then someone caught me with a question I wasn’t expecting. I was sharing some variation of the basic rules of job searching—be clear about the value you can contribute, focus on the companies that hire people with skills like yours—and sharing my favorite metaphor for job hunting: you don’t use a shotgun; you hunt with a sniper rifle. A young fellow who was listening carefully then said, “Everything you’re saying makes sense, but I can’t help wondering about something. I have been talking to a lot of the major business leaders here, asking them for their advice about finding a job. And none of them said anything like what I’m hearing from you. So, do you know more about business than they do?”
In other words, if my clothes were bespoke instead of Burlington, and my car was from Lexus instead of Lakewood, my credibility would be higher. Like Tevya sang, “When you’re rich they think you really know . . .” But the question was thought-provoking. Yes, there are gadflies in every area who gleefully disagree with mainstream ideas. Maybe when Pathways celebrates some milestone like “1,000 successful job hunts!” (soon, I hope), I’ll be able to just point to my record and smile. Meantime, what makes me think I’m right, when others, who seem like experts, disagree?
When seeking advice, it’s good to remember that the answer you get very much depends on the question you ask. In this case, the question asked was something like, “I’m looking for a job. What do you recommend that I do?” The answer usually went something like “take a few computer courses,” or “accounting is always good,” or “apps seem to be very hot these days.” That’s when I realized that the problem was that they had asked the wrong question.
When the questioner asks, “What should I do to find a job?” the underlying context is, “Given your knowledge of the world of work, what seems like a good way to find a job somewhere?” In that, despite his nice suit, the business leader has no more knowledge or expertise than any other layman. He knows what he reads, what he hears on the radio, the comments made at Kiddush last week in shul. He is successful because he knows how to sell some sort of widget, perhaps even one he invented. There are some successful widget salesmen who think their success makes them experts on the whole world, but most of us have the good sense to ignore them.
The question that our job hunter should have asked is, “What is the best way to get a job with your company?” That is something that this expert really does know about. You can be certain that he wouldn’t say, “We look for someone who has taken a few computer courses.” Research shows that the actual skills needed for the job will probably not be mentioned at all. Most businesspeople will talk about having a passion for what the company does, caring deeply about the members of the team, being open-minded, flexible, willing to learn. As a matter of fact, a list that’s pretty similar to what made this fellow successful in the first place.
One of the most important things that I teach my clients is how to ask questions. Whether they want to learn about a field they might pursue, a company that might be a good match for them, or the possibility of opening their own businesses, asking the right questions makes all the difference. Questions asked to a person about his own experiences, his own background, skills, or talents are good questions. Questions that ask him to evaluate or predict things that are beyond his own experience are bad questions. Is this a good field to enter? Is this a good job for me? Bad questions.
The problem Tevya sang about is still around. Rich people give opinions about all kinds of things. But when it comes to job search and career choice, it’s my job to tell people what really works. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.