The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Every parent has seen their small children eagerly pursuing worthless trinkets scattered in someone’s backyard in that cruel exercise known as a treasure hunt. Often employed to fill up time at birthday parties, these “hunts” inevitably result in bruises sustained while arguing over “I saw it first” and several empty-handed waifs crying, “It’s not fair.” The perceived unfairness is that despite exerting great effort, these contestants came up with nothing. They went to the same places where other children found prizes, and they found nothing. It’s just not fair.
All of my clients, and the readers who have been following this column, know that there is no quick and easy way to choose a career. There is simply no substitute for picking up the phone and asking people the right questions, and then making a decision. No person, and certainly no test, can tell you what you should do, and even more important, no person or test can tell you what you can’t do. Each individual has to ask his own questions, think about the answers in his own way, and continue asking more questions until he feels confident that he is ready to make up his own mind. And yes, this process takes time. With energy and focus, it can be done in a week or two. Not a bad investment for a decision that will affect nearly every aspect of life for the next 40 or 50 years. Yet I often meet people who can’t (or don’t want to) take that much time. They want to approach career choice like that clueless 5-year-old at the treasure hunt.
These cases are not imaginary at all (though modified to protect the innocent), and I’ve had two of them in the last two weeks. These were young people who had chosen their career goals, and despite doing all the things they thought were right, they haven’t found jobs. One is an aspiring actuary. He passed one of the required tests, and is frustrated because he can’t get an interview. Oh, yes, it did take 15 (you read right) tries to pass the test. And there are many more to come. Why did actuary work seem like a good idea? “Well, my friend became an actuary so I thought I would too . . .” The second client wants to be a computer programmer. Still at the early stages of training, she already feels stuck in the mud. “What gave you the idea to become a programmer? Well, my friend became a programmer . . .”
I have nothing against looking into a field because your friend suggested it. But these two, and many like them, skipped the “look into” step and committed huge amounts of time and money to something they knew nothing about. The would-be programmer told me that she had not asked her friend anything about her work because “What could she tell me?” After we worked up a set of questions that would get her the information she needed to understand the field, I suggested that she actually call her friend and ask for a few minutes to talk. I predicted a 15-minute conversation. She predicted that her friend would think the whole thing was strange and hang up. About 14½ minutes later, she hung up, her eyes wide as saucers. Every question had yielded thought-provoking comments, and together they painted an unexpected picture of a career in computer programming. A picture in which my client saw little chance of finding her own place.
One conversation does not constitute research. I always recommend that my clients speak to at least ten people in a field before drawing any conclusions. But one conversation did reveal a number of issues that needed to be addressed. Bringing these issues up in further conversations will make them even more productive. The end result may be that my client will decide that programming is not where she belongs. That will be upsetting, as she has spent a lot of time and money and she doesn’t see many other options. But I would rather see her cut her losses now and put her efforts where she has a real chance of success. I can help her find other options, and ending up in the wrong field will hurt even more.
On the positive side, my client’s research may show that there is a good chance that programming will be a great field for her. That knowledge itself can be highly motivating, and may change the way she approaches her courses. It’s a lot easier to learn how to use a hammer when you’re dreaming of the beautiful house that you’ll build with it.
Too many people hunt for a career like a hidden bag of candy, imitating their friends and hoping that there will be enough for everyone. Pathways to Parnassa teaches clients to find the treasure that is uniquely theirs. 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.