The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

Even in this technological age, there are many questions that can be answered only the old-fashioned way: by talking to real human beings. So my imaginary client, Beryl Klein, has been doing just that. In order to learn about the different ways that his ability to connect to people might be used in the world of work, Beryl has been interviewing people whose work centers on selling. Beryl has learned, though, that selling includes a lot more than convincing someone to exchange dollars for an object or a service. Anyone whose work includes persuading others to accept new ideas, to adopt different ways of thinking or doing, is also a salesman. Beryl needs to see the broadest possible range of career options so that he can make an informed decision.

Although Beryl is imaginary, the interviews that I’m writing about are not. I spoke to real humans whose backgrounds and initial skill sets are similar to Beryl’s–yeshiva graduates working in fields that do not require post-high-school secular education. And in addition to the specific information I gathered, I learned how easy it is to do this kind of research, at least in the Jewish community. All the businesspeople I approached readily agreed to speak to me, and would do so for anyone who wanted to learn about their fields. With so much terrific insight available for the asking, allowing ourselves or our children to choose careers based on fads or fantasies is simply unacceptable.

The clearest message that has come across in these interviews is that even in jobs where the ultimate goal is achieved when a customer hands over dollars, the salesman doesn’t spend his day trying to convince people to make purchases. Rather, each contact with a potential customer is devoted to conveying the integrity and expertise of the salesman, in order to establish an atmosphere of trust and comfort. If, as a result of that relationship, it becomes clear that the customer would be well served by making a purchase, the salesman then moves to close the deal. Each of my interviewees emphasized that they will only make a sale that they truly believe is in the customer’s best interest. Although they do go to work to earn money, their goals of long-term business success and personal integrity lead to the same conclusion. Making a sale to serve the customer is a great idea; making a sale to grab all the dollars you can is not.

Beryl’s interest in sales begins with his people skills. He enjoys face-to-face interactions, and he has been able to inspire people to write checks to his yeshiva. But when he was asked to organize the campaign, that required much more attention to detail, and Beryl really didn’t like it. So when an interview with an investment counselor (a.k.a. stockbroker) described the careful documentation that is needed for almost every interaction with a client, Beryl needed to ask a lot of questions. He also learned that there is a huge amount of research behind each sales call, identifying investment options, their risks, and potential rewards. While putting someone on the road to financial security is the kind of goal that Beryl could commit to, all of that quiet time spent on reading and analysis doesn’t fit him at all. Beryl is not going to rule out a career in investment counseling on the basis of one interview, but there are clearly some points of concern. Dealing with points of concern is a key part of the job-search process.

In coaching Beryl as he does his research, I have emphasized that finding the right job does not mean finding the perfect job. The key is to understand the positive and negative points as best he can, and then do some serious thinking. Do the positives match his most important talents and goals? Can he conceive of a way to deal with the negatives so that at least they don’t block the road to success? In this case, the research and analysis that doesn’t fit Beryl well would not only consume a large part of the day, but it would be a key ingredient in his relationship with his clients. Even if he would decide to tolerate it, his ambivalence would cast a pall on every conversation. He might never win the confidence of his clients.

I have a rule about the advice I give my clients, as well as advice that they hear from others. It says that any advice that includes the word “can’t” is guaranteed to be wrong. So I am not telling Beryl he can’t be an investment adviser. I am teaching him the tools that he can use to decide if he should be one. 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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