The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
When I was a rebbe at the Memphis Hebrew Academy (Shalom, y’all), I was also a graduate student at Memphis State (now U. of Memphis). I once heard a guest lecture from a man who was the head of pupil transportation for the Memphis public schools. He spoke about being the first at the garage before the buses went out at 5:30 a.m., so that he could ask the drivers if they had what they needed to do their job safely and well. Then he would ride along on the routes, and get off where he saw parents waiting with their kids. He wanted to ask them if they were getting the best service possible. And then he would make sure that every comment was acknowledged, followed up on, and acted on.
He asked us, “Do you know why I do all this? Why I breathe gas fumes at 5 a.m. when I could walk into a paneled office at 9? Because my goal is to be the superintendent of a large school system. My goal is to be a leader. And to be a leader I must first be a servant.” He became the next superintendent of the Memphis public schools.
Almost every job description says that leadership qualities are desirable. When changing jobs later in a career, when transferable skills are so crucial for success, nothing can get an employer’s attention like examples of proven leadership. So job hunters search their past with a candle and feather, looking for any crumb of leadership. But most are looking in the wrong places. That’s because, to borrow a metaphor from Thomas Edison, leadership opportunities show up all the time and people ignore them. Because they show up at inconvenient hours, wearing greasy work clothes, asking for some help doing the sweaty dirty stuff that nobody thinks is important.
Money guru Dave Ramsey writes in his book Entreleadership that the workplace of today demands flexibility, responsibility, and initiative. You have to bring the same drive to your job that you would bring if you owned the company. But that doesn’t begin when they give you a reserved parking space. It begins when you show up on the first day. Its source is the understanding that you are not there to acquire a paycheck. You are there to serve—the clients, the customers, your fellow workers, your boss, and the company. People used to say that the best way to get along at work is to keep your ears open and your mouth shut. The “ears open” part is still a good idea. But your mouth should be busy asking questions while expressing support, confidence, and respect. And then your hands need to take the initiative and back up your words.
Ramsey tells of a customer service rep in his company who took a call from a frantic customer who had ordered workbooks for a seminar and they’d arrived soaked with water. The trucking company was responsible, but the program was tomorrow and without the workbooks it would be a disaster. The rep said it was no problem; they would FedEx the workbooks at no charge. When Ramsey found out that she had spent thousands of dollars of company money without authorization, he called her in to thank her. He said she had done the exactly right thing but, since there was no official policy to guide her, how did she know what to do? She said that she knew that company policy was to serve the customer in the best way possible. She took the initiative and turned those words into actions.
People don’t think of a young service rep as a leader, but that is exactly what she was. That is what every job hunter needs to be. At any point in a working life, in any field, leaders will succeed by finding opportunities that others don’t see. They will find them because while others were waiting for a chance to lead, they seized a chance to serve. 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 email@example.com.