The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

Since my client, Beryl Klein, is imaginary, he can travel with me wherever I go, and packing his suitcase is really easy. So when I spent two days last week at the Parnassah Expo in New Jersey, Beryl came along. Although the Expo is billed as a “B2B” (business-to-business) networking event, many job hunters use it as a chance to present their résumés to potential employers. Some businesses were actively seeking to hire; they were awarded red ribbons to hang on their ID badges so that they were easy to spot in the crowd. I spoke to a number of businesses on Beryl’s behalf, including a staffing manager for a major life-insurance agency. Since insurance is one of the fields that Beryl is seriously considering, his comments are worth sharing.

At first glance, commission-based sales, such as insurance and real estate, seem well suited to Beryl. Their key requirements are the drive and persistence that Beryl has demonstrated in the past. There is no need for any particular educational background, and there is the potential to earn a respectable livelihood. These fields seem attractive to lots of people. There are few barriers to entry, and agencies actively recruit new salespeople. It all looks exciting until the long-term success rate in these fields becomes visible. It hovers at around 10% and it has been there for many years. With a 90% casualty rate, signing up for these careers has to be based on a clear understanding of the challenges and rewards. Only with unbiased information obtained by careful research can a real decision and commitment be made.

As the staffing manager noted, the good part of selling insurance is that you work for yourself. Your own drive, creativity, and initiative will bring rewards directly to you, and your salary will be as high as you can make it. The bad part of selling life insurance is also that you work for yourself. Although new hires who work for good companies will receive extensive training, ongoing coaching, and incentives of all sorts, when an agent sits in his office there is no one there to help him. His phone personality must win him appointments, and his selling personality must win him customers.

There’s another aspect of this aloneness that keeps many from starting an insurance career and makes many others’ careers very brief. That is the ongoing accountability that is part of the job. In this particular agency, there is a weekly meeting to review all aspects of the week’s work. It may not be held on the steps of a guillotine, but it’s a serious moment. Because of this hanging blade, a selling personality isn’t enough to succeed in insurance. There has to be a level of self-generated drive that pushes through the many “noes” and disappointments that inevitably happen. It has to keep pushing through the initial two years in the field during which the paychecks, even for the best agents, are often small. Anyone still at the job after two years has a good chance of making it to the five-year milestone, and anyone who makes it to five years has a good chance of staying in the job for life. But the accountability will never go away.

This issue of accountability often comes up when I talk to clients about potential jobs. It may be cloaked by saying, “I want a job with a steady salary.” Well, every job has a steady salary if you steadily deliver quality work. Mostly what this means is “I don’t want the pressure of complete responsibility for my performance.” But as I have written here before, no matter what job you have, no matter how you’re paid, you must take complete responsibility. There is no alternative to the realization that every worker must compete for his job, and every business for its customers, every day.

Bill Gates is often quoted as saying that once you enter the workplace, the only way to feel good about yourself is to actually accomplish something. He never said it, at least not in a public forum, but it’s true anyway. Far too many job hunters have not developed their skills to the point where they are ready to be judged based on their accomplishments.

Beryl isn’t ready to choose a field just yet. But now he knows that in whatever field he chooses, he will need to use the best he has to deliver the best he can produce, for every client, every day. 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

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