The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

Like a lonely bird calling out in the night, the first-time job hunter often sings a mournful song. “I can’t get a job without experience, and how can I get experience without a job?” I’m afraid that last week’s column might have made him sadder still, when I explained that skills should be thought of in terms of the way they have been used. Well, if no one will give you a chance to use your skills, then how is that supposed to work? And what happened to those nice people that used to be willing to give a guy a chance?

There are still some people who find good first jobs without experience. In fields like law, accounting, banking, and engineering, there are huge firms that take their pick of the top graduates each year, train them, and put them to work. These firms can do this because they are able to invest in the development of the workers they will need a year or so down the line. But the rest of the graduates, and all of the non-graduates, that want to enter the workforce each year are not going to get those jobs. For them, is there any way out of the experience conundrum?

Let’s ask a question that has an obvious answer. Why do companies want to hire people with experience? Of course, the answer is that if a new employee already has done a certain job, then he will be able to “hit the ground running,” and start producing for his new boss right away. But we know that it doesn’t always work that way. There are people who really do have experience, but some people have just been doing the same job for a long time. They have practiced, but they’re far from perfect. And even someone who was a star in his last job might not succeed in a new environment. So why do companies look for experienced workers?

The answer is that with every new hire, the employer is taking an enormous risk. Studies show that over 50% of new hires fail within 18 months and must be replaced. So the poor employer wants to feel more confident that he is hiring someone who will succeed. Someone who has done the job before at least has a better chance of being able to do it now. But there are no guarantees.

So experience (and a lot of the other things that employers say they want) is really not the point. The real challenge to job hunters is to increase employer confidence in their job-related skills to the level of “You’re hired!”

A job hunter may be seeking his first opportunity to be paid for using his job-related skills, but until he finds a job, he should be using them without being paid. The normal way to do this is to volunteer, or to find an internship. But there is another option. It is common for teachers to prepare model lessons and materials, examples of how they would teach if they were in a real classroom. Any other job hunter can do the same thing. Going into law or accounting? Make up a client and do everything that you would do in a real office. Sales or marketing? Make up a campaign for the product you want to sell. Do the job before you get the job. One day you’ll be in an interview and they’ll say, “Well, we really want someone who has done this work before.” With a smile you’ll hand out copies of your file and answer, “I have done this work before, and I’m ready to do it for you.”

There are people who have experience, but some people can demonstrate that they really know how to do the job. Those are the people who get hired. 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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