The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Have you ever wasted a good worry? That’s when you have spent a lot of time worrying about something, churning out stomach acid like crazy, and in the end it didn’t matter. A wasted worry. Happens all the time.
Many job hunters waste a lot more than a worry. They want to succeed in their chosen field, so they put enormous time, money, and effort into learning the skills that they are sure will lead to success. Get into Harvard and graduate #1 in the class. Find an internship with a white-shoe firm. Pay a small ransom to get a snazzy résumé. A bigger ransom to get prepped for the interview. Land the job, work like a dog, and end up second fiddle to a guy who went to Brooklyn College. How can that be? Could all that effort be wasted?
Well, not completely wasted, but not nearly as important as you might think. It is true that mastering the skill set for your chosen field and getting some experience will help you get the job you want. Clearly delineating those skills, and what you have accomplished in your past work, will definitely catch an employer’s eye. But as the years go by, no matter the field, the most successful people are not necessarily the ones with the strongest credentials. Simply put, the #1 graduate does not necessarily become the best doctor, lawyer, or businessman. Because, as studies in every field have found repeatedly, there are other factors that matter far more than expertise. There are skills that aren’t taught in any college, yet they are needed in every field, and successful people always have them. Because they can be important in every field, together they are known as transferable skills.
Transferable skills relate to all the things that happen every day between coworkers, a veritable businessman’s bein adam l’chaveiro. Working with a team, showing leadership, delegating responsibilities, engaging in critical thinking and insightful analysis, making decisions at the end of a clear and thoughtful process, and being able to write and speak in an informative, respectful, and honest way—all of these appear on every list of the skills that are most needed to succeed. They are used every single day. All employers want their employees to have them. Yet in the hiring process, and especially on the résumé, they are very hard to nail down.
Almost every client brings me a résumé that starts with a personal statement that focuses on these skills. “A team player, able to work with all kinds of people, yada, yada . . .” And I always scratch it out. Because, as I learned growing up down South, “Sayin’ so don’t make it so.” Since anybody can make such a claim, it becomes completely meaningless. It is far more convincing to cite accomplishments in your work history that illustrate how you performed, reflecting the way that you used these skills. Be specific about what you did and what the result was. How much more was accomplished compared to last year? Compared to your stated goal? Be prepared to tell a short story about your contribution, highlighting the skill you used.
Clients often ask me if their résumé should include their community service. Should they mention “Hatzalah volunteer”? “Yeshiva board member”? It depends. If the potential employer shares those interests, then yes. If the volunteer work is similar to the job being sought, definitely yes. I also urge my clients to think about the transferable skills that they may be using as volunteers, and what accomplishments resulted from that work. When a prospective hire tells stories in which these “people skills” played a role, the employer can understand the full impact that he will have on the business.
Since these skills are not taught in classrooms, many people believe they are innate, a gift that some people have and most don’t. The truth is that while they can’t be taught, they can be learned. I’ll focus on some ways to develop transferable skills next week. 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.