The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Remember the old Scope commercials? (Really old.) The ones where somebody had to deal with the embarrassment of telling a friend that an upgrade in personal hygiene was badly needed? Or Head and Shoulders? How embarrassing is it to tell someone that they need to deal with a personal snowstorm? Writing this column feels about the same way.
We have divided the skills needed for success in the workplace into three domains. The first, job-related skills, are what you are taught so that you can do the job at hand. The second, transferable skills, are all of the areas of human interaction that are important for any job. The third domain is the one that I wish I didn’t have to write about. It is the domain of personal-management skills. It includes things like showing up on time, staying on task during the workday, following rules and instructions, and even personal grooming.
Sadly, experience has taught me that as much as I wish that everyone knew how basic and absolutely required these skills are, the truth is that many otherwise intelligent people are badly lacking in these areas. Far too many workers (or non-workers, actually) live in an imaginary land where their sheer brilliance and creativity are so apparent that they need not deign to trivialities like arriving on time, turning off their cell phones, and spending the day doing their jobs.
Maybe a generation or two ago, when working usually meant doing physical labor, it was easy for everyone to see that “working” actually involved doing work. In a time when most people worked in factories or farms using large, dangerous machines, it was easy to see that allowing yourself to be distracted could lead to ghastly injury or worse. Today, when most middle-class employees use brains rather than brawn, it is harder to see the little wheels turning. And the worst thing that will happen if a text distracts you from your work is that you might spill your coffee on your keyboard. Many workers imagine that they work in this workplace of make-believe. The truth is very different.
The conventional wisdom today is that there is a shortage of jobs. But do a little research and you’ll find that there are millions of jobs that go unfilled. Even more jobs would be created if only employers felt confident that effective workers could be found to fill them. That the worker they hire will work hard to learn the job, and then continue to work hard to deliver the greatest value possible, every single day. Employers hesitate to hire because they tremble at the possibility that someone with a solid résumé and proven skills will turn out to have a “personal management” problem. Whether it’s casually walking in late, spending the day texting or Web-surfing, leaving early, or just displaying a bad attitude, a “slacker” can poison the entire company with lightning speed. Faced with the possibility that a new hire might be a slacker in disguise, employers decide to get along without hiring anyone. So while a white-collar slacker may not be in physical danger, the stereotype that exists because of him endangers the workplace and robs many others of their chance to excel.
In Trinidad (this is true), if you are invited to a social event called for, say, 6 p.m., you can show up whenever you want. An hour late, whatever—as long as when you arrive you greet your host with a smile and say, “Anytime is Trinidad time!” you’re fine. But let a worker try that at the office he will be told, “Time is time.” Far too many of our workers think they’re on Trinidad time. As a society, we must strongly espouse the value of personal management in every area, so that our careers, our futures, begin on time. 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.