The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
All parents think their kids are special. But there’s one way that I always knew my kids were different. Back when they were in school, they would come home and tell me about it. Unlike just about all the other kids, they knew what their parents do for a living.
Through the years that my kids were small, I was a middle-grade yeshiva rebbe and my wife was (and still is) a nurse. Both professions that small children understand because they’re part of a child’s world. But when teachers would ask the class, as they often do, “What does your mommy or daddy do at work?” most of the kids would give a little shrug and say something like, “I don’t know . . . he goes to work.”
I’m not saying that we need to raise our kids on the Wall Street Journal. But there is a serious downside to this naiveté, which seems to endure even through high school. It masks one of the most important things that anyone entering the workforce needs to know: that “going to work” means using specific skills, thinking about certain things, and working towards defined goals. Because our kids don’t know this, they don’t have a framework for thinking about their own skills and goals and how they might match a job description that would be the best one for them. And because their parents—indeed, most of the adults around them—aren’t accustomed to talking about what their work life is really all about, an ongoing conversation that could help young people make one of the most important decisions of their lives gets lost.
Many of our young people choose the career they want to pursue soon after finishing high school, or upon returning from a year in Israel. At that point, they survey the offerings available to them, or ask a few classmates, and they choose whatever seems current or popular. Because no one ever talked about a job fitting the person who does it, they follow the latest fad, go along with the herd. Picking what’s popular is a reasonable strategy at a pizza shop. In shopping for a career, there has to be something better.
Like the three primary colors, which can be mixed to produce all the others, every career involves mixing three elements. All three are always present, but the differing degrees are what make each job different. The three primary work elements are working with people, with information, and with things. One of these is the focus of the work; the other two will always be involved in some way. So the young career chooser needs to start there: Do you feel most satisfied when you spend your time with people, information, or things? And what goals do you aspire to accomplish?
Many will argue that this approach can’t be relied upon. After all, what does a 19-year-old know about the world? That is why this self-analysis is only the first step of a career-choice process. It must be followed with a well-organized plan that will guide the research needed to make a truly informed decision. I recommend that my young clients carry out short interviews with at least 15 people who are working in diverse fields. Keeping a record of the responses they hear, they ask:
1. What is your job called, and what do you actually do during your workday?
2. What are the most important skills you use, and how did you learn them?
3. Do you like what you do, and why?
As the notebook fills up, the outline of what people really do at work and why it matters begins to emerge. And somewhere in that picture, our young career-chooser may see a space where he could fit right in.
This round of information-gathering isn’t enough to reach a conclusion. The researcher needs to find more people that work in that field and gather their responses to the same questions. Each iteration sharpens the picture, showing the combination of skills, talents, values, and goals that make each job unique. Armed with the information that really matters, a young person can truly make a career choice. 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.