The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
My imaginary client, Beryl Klein, had an interesting conversation with an executive recruiter (a.k.a. headhunter), during which he learned a lot about the key skills and personality traits needed for success in that field. The overall description seemed to be a good match for Beryl’s skillset, and helping people advance their careers fits well with Beryl’s hope of doing chesed through his work.
The one thing that has raised a red flag is the salary structure. There are talent recruiters who work for large companies, but the entrance-level salaries are low, the work is somewhat boilerplate, and a secular college degree is required. Beryl has a yeshiva degree, needs to support a family, and enjoys a challenge. So a spot in a big company’s HR department will not fit his needs or talents at all.
That leaves the option of working for an executive search firm, which means that Beryl would be paid commissions, with little or no guaranteed salary. The earning potential could be high: on commissions, the more you accomplish, the more you make. But the risky side, that there could be times with no paycheck at all, is a scary prospect for a new man in the field with a family to feed. Beryl has spoken to his parents and several friends about this, and they have all told him that when you have a family, you need a steady income. They compare working on commissions to gambling, or worse. But Beryl has been thinking about some ideas we’ve talked about throughout the career choice process, and he’s not sure that what his friends are saying is right.
When Beryl looks around at shul, he sees a lot of people who have lost their jobs, some after many years with companies that paid them good salaries. They don’t seem very secure right now. He sees other people looking for their first jobs who have been offered secure salaries of $35,000. With three kids, that doesn’t sound so secure, either. Being paid commissions means that on the days when you don’t succeed, you don’t get paid. Nowadays, being paid a salary means that on the days you don’t succeed, you get fired. A very real client of mine was honored as salesman of the month, and fired six weeks later for missing his quota.
So what can a job hunter do to find some kind of security? The first step is to realize that there aren’t any truly secure jobs, unless your father owns the company, and maybe not even then. In any job, the greatest security comes from producing maximum value for an employer. That happens when a worker takes maximum advantage of his skills, talents, and experience. He comes in every morning as if it’s the first day on the job, when he has to prove his worth to the boss. And every day, on the way home, he thinks about what he can do better tomorrow. People who work this way are never expendable, and if they need to move on, they can demonstrate their worth to their next employer as well.
A business owner recently told me that he can’t imagine being able to hire someone who needs a middle-class salary. He does hire people at $10–12 per hour, and as they learn more about the business, they earn more. After two or three years, they may be earning $25 per hour ($50K annually) but even that isn’t much of a middle-class salary in the Far Rockaway–Five Towns area. But then he said something fascinating. “That’s because I have to teach them, and they do the work that I need done. What I wish for is someone who can add something to my business, who has expertise and talents that I don’t, who’s ready to produce on day one without my help. Someone who could do that, and who would put as much at risk as I would . . . I’d hire him in a minute.”
The riskiest job is the one that isn’t offered, leaving the job hunter at risk of extended unemployment, with all the damage that causes. Taking a job because it’s a chance to contribute, to produce, to shine, is the right way to go, no matter how the paycheck comes. Beryl will be evaluating some other options, like insurance and retailing. But he’s going to choose a career based on what he can contribute, not on what he can receive. 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.