The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
One of the most common, and most commonly mishandled, issues in résumé-writing comes up when someone wants to make a career change. How is a former preschool teacher going to get a job in the business world? Will anyone be impressed by expertise in finger-painting? Well, if someone wants to learn how to find a job in a different field, I suggest an object lesson. The object that will teach this lesson is the Rubik’s Cube.
Everyone knows what a Rubik’s Cube looks like when the puzzle is solved. Each face has nine tiles, all the same color, each face a different color. But can you tell what a Cube looks like when you begin working on it? Not exactly, because there are 43 quintillion possibilities. There are a lot of ways the tiles can be messed up, but it doesn’t matter. No matter how you start, the solution will look the same. Well, résumés for career changers work the same way. Thank you for reading. Short article this week.
Not following my insightful metaphor? Let’s take this a step at a time. Let me review a résumé rule I’ve mentioned before. The potential employer that is reading your résumé is interested in one thing and one thing only. He is looking for proof that you are the best person for the job he needs done. He is not interested in your life’s story. Not in your volunteering at the public library (unless you used a skill that he needs to know about). And not really in how exactly you learned a skill that is important in doing this job. What the employer wants is a solved Rubik’s Cube. Think of the needed skills as colors. Each one needs to be in place. Where it was before is irrelevant. What counts is where it is now.
Let’s imagine he needs a sales manager who can handle a workday that includes cold calls, follow-up on earlier contacts, customer-service issues, and moving orders through the bookkeeping, warehousing, and shipping departments, all while staying calm and non-frazzled. So our preschool teacher writes “8 years’ experience managing a rapidly changing environment, handling unexpected crises while maintaining a calm, supportive attitude, and staying on track to meet agreed-upon goals.” Does anyone care that the crises involved hair-pulling or other unmentionables? That the goals were in ABCs or The Cat in the Hat?
Does our preschool teacher have the skills needed for the job? Making cold calls to customers who may be surly and impatient: ever tried to get a bunch of four-year-olds to sit in a circle? Staying on task while handling distractions, giving clear, succinct instructions and making sure they were understood and carried out: sounds like running a classroom to me. So is our teacher a future sales manager? That will depend on her ability to convince an employer that she can transfer those skills to a new setting. The employer will assume that this candidate knows less about selling because of her background. The goal is to demonstrate that she actually knows more.
Some résumé writers create catchy openings like “I am a career-changer who is ready to apply my skills in a new situation.” I humbly assert that these are wasted words at best. Remember the Rubik’s Cube. Where that red tile started is not the point. Tell him what he wants to know: “A sales manager with proven ability to persevere and persuade.” Which is exactly what a sales manager needs to succeed.
Many people feel that they would like a career change, but they don’t know what field they could move into. In that case, I help them to make a detailed list of the skills that they use and the jobs that they get done. Next they describe their current work environment, the types of people they work for and with, and any other impressions they have about their job. This list then gets divided into keepers, the points that are desirable in any new job, and the others . . . which ones are just unpleasant, and which are deal-breakers. Then it’s back to the Rubik’s Cube, seeing how these points can be rearranged and redefined so that they can create a new job description. Once you have the key points of the job you want to find, you pursue it like any other focused, serious job hunter. The oft-mentioned What Color Is Your Parachute? is extremely helpful in this process. Contacting a job-search coach can also be a smart move.
The key point is that no matter how “bad” the job market is, you can take steps to improve your own situation. For some workers, developing within their own field is the best option. For others, a change is in order. But no one need ever feel stuck. “Stuck” is an excuse for complacency, for learned helplessness. No one should ever accept that. 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.