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Sunday, January 24, 2010

More Excellent Advice for Job Seekers

In a previous guest post, I featured an article from Baltimore's Where What When regarding good career advice on getting a real education, understanding how economic value is created, and some advice on the hiring process.

Cross-Currents has up a post from a Mr. Rubin on "Advice for the Job Forlorn" which also is an honest assessment and resource for young men in our communities who are starting out on the employment track.

I think it is really important to disemintate solid advice that flies in the fact of faulty advice I've seen handed out like candy. A recent example of such faulty advice, directed to young frum males, was posted on a frum website (sorry, I can't remember the link). A writer advised young yeshiva students to bolster their resumes by listing their "experience" in leadership and organization as gabbaim, leaders of learning groups, etc. Such job advice is out there and readily available, but such advice flies in the face of advice offered by professionals and accessible in major publications. Employers much prefer an employee who lacks experience to simply be honest about their lack of experience, rather than "bolster" their resume where, upon hiring, the lack of experience is quickly uncovered. Bolstering a resume might serve a short term purpose, but in the end, it can shoot you in the foot when you don't live up to expectation. Unfortunately, one of my clients had such an experience recently.

These experiences, unfortunately, don't always just reflect badly on the employee. They are often projected onto a larger group, such as frum Jews as a whole, bochurim, or the newly religious. I found this out when I went on a job interview around a year ago. While the questions the owner of the firm asked me might have violated employment laws (the questions didn't bother me. . . I can hold my own in an interview), I could completely understand his reluctance to hire another person in the frum community. Unfortunately, I couldn't take the job because of scheduling issues as I really liked the environment and the opportunity to expand my skills, but it was nice to be able to clear up some misconceptions regarding normative halacha and practice and hopefully pave the way for the next frum person who might come and interview.

Here is the Cross-Currents advice:

As an employee for a large corporation within a mainstream Jewish community, I’ve had the opportunity to respond to many requests for job search assistance from both individuals and Jewish organizations dedicated to this effort. As a result of this experience, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts on what I believe to be a significant concern. Several of the candidates who have approached me have a number of critical issues they need to address before actually applying for a job. They prepare poorly written resumes which reveal very active Jewish lifestyles, ambiguous advanced degrees, and “work experience” which is debatable and irrelevant. I have tried to delicately communicate the following ideas to these candidates:

• A resume is not a recorded history of extra-curricular activities from 9th grade and onward. Each statement has to send a powerful message that is meaningful to the non-Jewish reader and will make he/she want to distinguish your resume from the other thousand on the pile.

• Identifying yourself as an Orthodox Jew (or a member of any other religious or ethnic group, for that matter) is not to your advantage. It is not wise to encourage the reader to believe you are different than the rest of the world and may have special needs. Either make an accomplishment religiously neutral or exclude it.

• Please face the fact that your degree gives you no skills or experience and market yourself accordingly. Whether you like it or not, you are competing with people who have serious skills and experience in addition to the requisite educational backgrounds, so plan accordingly. (I am not looking to condemn our current educational system but it is important to avoid the negligence of misunderstanding your status in the job market). You may have seen or heard a great deal about drunk, overindulgent degenerates without priorities but these will not be the people you are dealing with to earn a living.

These resumes are embarrassing and would demean any professional who thoughtlessly passed them on. Unfortunately, the situation becomes worse as I try to impart these messages. This is because these candidates choose not to listen. Instead they will usually apply to additional jobs and then e-mail me for assistance with getting an Interview. Even if I could bypass the resume stage and deliver them straight to an interview, I would never do so considering the striking shortage of social and emotional intelligence that they have displayed throughout this process. In addition to shortcomings in powerful statements that sell their skills, many of them do not have the social skills to conduct a conversation with me, let alone a non-Jewish employer who will have much less latitude or patience.

To summarize, I have been seeing a significant amount of untrained job seekers who have little to no marketable skills with degrees that clearly did not teach them to discuss their field in a manner that is anything less than embarrassing.

I realize that responders to statements like these have a tendency to rush to ideological bandwagons. Perhaps this clarification will save a bit of time. I attended Kollel for many years, then spent time in chinuch and am therefore familiar with the” landscape”. As I stated earlier I am not using this letter to bury or praise the “system”. Instead my purpose is to point out that there are many people exiting our educational systems who are drastically unprepared to enter the job market. Now more than ever, the Jewish community is being asked to facilitate this transition directly, by brokering opportunities for these job seekers, and indirectly by the urgent calls for funds from the struggling mosdos that these job seekers are a part of. (I am not suggesting that they or their children should be rejected from these mosdos Chas VeShalom, merely pointing out that this job search is ultimately being subsidized.) I have met way too many people whose preparation for the financial responsibilities of marriage and family consists of a series of anecdotes, incidental conversations and some seed money that eventually runs out. They seem to feel that earning a degree with an indistinct title is sufficient preparation for immediate hire. It is highly unfortunate that this fallacy must be pointed out at advanced stages of financial responsibility. Wouldn’t it behoove a student to ask an institution offering a degree about how it will prepare them for the job market? Might a conversation or two with an experienced professional in a desired field shed some light on whether a degree program is a waste of time or a valid first step into the job market? My recent experiences and the world economic situation demand that now more than ever, transition planning which emphasizes professional development, social/emotional intelligence and financial realities are imperative.

It is wonderful to see the manner in which the Jewish community is responding to the vital need for employment. However an important first step in this process might be to disabuse some notions about college degrees and career preparedness present in our midst.

27 comments:

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Excellent post, unfortunately.

I wonder if the "degrees" mentioned are the newly invented (last few decades) degrees in Advanced Talmudic Studies and such; or are they degrees acquired by yeshiva students attending colleges that accept them with little critical demand in the way of entrance requirements? It sounds like some (many?) of these degrees are little better than the ones granted by 'degree mills' years ago.

I agree with everything I read, but I would offer some balance on two points. One is that sometimes one really does learn skills and earn experience the old-fashioned way: by being out there in the world and doing stuff! Sometimes a candidate will honestly sell themselves short. It has to be assessed honestly, but if someone's volunteer experience adds up to real life experience solving multiple and ongoing logistics or operations problems for a fair sized summer camp, for instance; that may be valuable and applicable in some jobs. My favorite reminder of this is the late great Irma Bombeck's column on an older mother applying for job. Her humor often contained serious truths.

The other point again depends on the activity and experience in the religious world, and where to put it on the resume. If someone has been handling the many headaches of running a successful and large Bnei Akiva snif, for instance, that may be relevant to display public service (some employers look for that. They'll usually say so on an application form. One of mine does.) under the heading of 'organizations' or 'volunteer activity'. I list my activity as the unpaid rav of a beit midrash under such headings. It shows a certain measure of willingness to be a team player, to contribute without thinking only of payback, etc.

One employer, a well-regarded air ambulance service on the East Coast, questioned a time gap in my resume. Since then, even though my paid jobs are in healthcare (ER nurse and flight paramedic), I list my years of yeshiva and s'micha under education, and I list my years in the rabbinate under work experience, albeit not directly relevant to the jobs I do. Many employers want a candidate to honestly account for how they spent their time over the years. At least I can show I was doing something.

ProfK said...

Among the things I teach is resume writing and interviewing skills, and I'll disagree with Mr. Rubin on a few of his points. Volunteer work, depending on how it is described and what it was, has its place on the resume, particularly for those without a great deal or any work experience outside of being a camp councilor. Nor does this volunteerism necessarily identify one as being frum Jewish, which he clearly sees as a liability. Stating "organized and managed a group of 22 volunteers in raising $23,000 for a local organization that feeds the poor over a two day period" showcases some basic skills that are desirable for future employers.

There are plenty of places to go for help with writing a resume that will present you in the best light available given your particular experience and skill sets. The school I teach at not only offers such resume help to its students but also instructs them about the whole job search process.

And yes, the first thing we tell students is that the job search is not about them, and what they want, but about an employer and what that employer wants and needs.

Anonymous said...

As someone who occassionally gets involved in hiring, I agree with ProfK. However, I am also a little leary of someone graduating college who has never had a paid job, either summers or after school. Even for professional positions, if someone has no relevant experience in the field and just a degree, I think seeing that someone is willing to work hard and be able to take orders and work with others -- even bagging groceries or flipping burgers, is important. The time that people should be thinking about their resumes is not when they are applying for their first job, but when they are deciding how to spend their summers and time outside of class.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Another thought came to my mind. Shouldn't someone who is frum, yeshiva educated, be uncomfortably concerned about padding their resume in a manner that borders on deception? What happened to midvar sheker tirhak? Never mind that it might come back to bite you; how about it is simply wrong?

David said...

A few things should go without saying, but apparently need to be said anyway:

1) For anyone who is a product of Jewish education / kollel / etc, please, please, please have someone who is *NOT* from that world read your resume to look for non-standard uses of English (similar to using "I spent shabbos by ploni"). This cannot be overstated, because a recruiter does not speak yeshivish, and usages like those come across as mistakes.

2) Make it short. If you haven't done much from a career point of view, please don't try to fake it. Every word on a resume should be there for a reason, and your resume isn't finished when you have nothing to add; it's finished when you have nothing more to remove.

3) All of the things on a resume should show a prospective employer what skills you possess which can benefit them.

Orthonomics said...

It absolutely is a sheker to overstate your qualifications on a resume. Of course, one shouldn't understand either.

ProfK-I personally list my experience on boards in the volunteer section of my resume. I think Mr. Rubin sees this as a potential liability when the experience is within one box. Where the experience is auxilary it should be a plus. Where it seems to be in leiu of paid work (remember, by 22-25 years of age, most American kids have worked many a paying job) that could be viewed as a potential liability.

tesyaa said...

Great points.

I think we do kids a disservice when we let them think that degrees from Thomas Edison State College and online universities are the equivalent of going to college and being in the same room as professors and students.

Unfortunately, people have been told that university is traif, and that online courses are a way around. Remember the "Rutgers" business school that was touted on YWN, that is only peripherally related to Rutgers?

Anonymous said...

David - Excellent point about having a non-frummie review the resume. The same goes for cover letters and emails. Everything from the font and formatting, as well as the substance, sends a message.

Anonymous said...

I would also recommend doing mock interviews. If you can get someone in the same field as the position you are interviewing for and potentially a non-frum person, that also would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Some regular universities have degree programs that are either partially or totally online, and the degree that one gets from these programs does not mention anywhere that it was done online. I design both classroom-based and e-learning programs professionally. While there is some advantage to face-to-face learning, well done e-learning can often provide the same standards of education as a classroom program, although there are a few subjects that it does not work so well for (such as Science).

This seems to me to be a much better option than getting a Thomas Edison degree.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:53 - While that is true, it doesn't sound like the best option for someone who lacks experience interacting with people from different backgrounds or who will have trouble in the job market due to quirks picked up by spending all one's time in an insulated culture.

Thinking said...

Another point I tend to see overlooked is the value in going back to school or furthering your education. If someone is currently 30 and looking for a job or a new career in all likelihood they will be working for another 30-35 years at minimum. Make the sacrifice to go back to school and increase your employability. Going to school will also help your better understand the nature of the field you are interested in, what it takes to make it in that field and the language they speak.

I know that SL has thoughts on taking out student loans for this purpose, but I have seen enough positive outcomes from doing it that I believe it is worthwhile to take out a loan to further your education and make your self increasingly valuable to a potential employer.

jbaltz said...

Long time listener, first-time caller here.

As someone who has had to do well north of 200 interviews since 2000, mostly on the receiving (hiring) side, but some on the giving (supplicating) side, plus having a small sideline doing CV and interview coaching, I have the following small piece of advice:

By and large, employers have sensitive BS meters.

Your résumé is your first real introduction to your potential job. (Of course, if you "know someone who knows someone", this is somewhat different, but that is probably not the case for most job seekers in the non-frum market.)

Hiring managers are sensitized to padding, nonsense and things that "just don't smell right". Especially in the current job market, where there are many more seekers than positions, if you trigger someone's "BS meter", your application is going to get tossed pretty quickly into the ignore-for-now-probably-forever pile.

Honesty really is the best policy in these things, and realize (this is a shocker to a lot of those just starting out in the job market) that you're not going to be starting out as a mid-level manager as a freshly-minted college graduate (or a yeshiva "graduate" with some online courses). (In fact, if you think about it, starting out "in the middle" or "up high" is the sign of a very unhealthy corporate environment, but that is a story for another day.) Job experience in unrelated fields, "job experience" as a volunteer going door-to-door collecting for צדקה, or job experience followed by years off for other things (going back to school, getting שמכה, being a full-time parent, whatever) will get discounted. Take that for what it is.

Why do I feel the "Four Yorkshiremen" skit playing in the back of my head now?

Flame on, I'm wearing my asbestos ציצית.

Orthonomics said...

Jbaltz-Thanks for calling in. I won't be the one flaming you. In fact, I discovered long ago that if you are switching lines of work, even where the degree requirements are the same, you will likely start at the bottom. Personally, nuts and bolts is so important.

Anonymous said...

One other suggestion. After cutting the stack of resumes to a few potentials, these days some employers are prescreening via a 5 minute phone call to cull down the list of who will get the in-person interview. You need to be prepared for that unexpected phone call. You also need to be prepared to state what your salary expectation is. I've declined to interview several people who quoted an unrealistically high figure.

jbaltz said...

To Anonymous@1105:

I've been doing phone screens for ages, and I recommend them to everyone. They are totally invaluable in being what I call a "zeroth-order clown filter". I went on and on about this a few years back in my blog.

If you're bringing in a parade of dozens without doing any prescreening, you're wasting everyone's time.

ProfK said...

Just one more point re resumes. The resume is your first "interview," an interview that lasts anywhere from 5-30 seconds on the first go round. Make it look right! Resume style has changed over the years and if you want to catch someone's eye you need to be using today's style. Please don't assume that all the templates for resumes that Word has are actually acceptable or desireable. And unless you have 10+ years of business experience across more than one job, limit the resume to one page (IT excepted because there they want to know what specialized programs you know/have used).

JS said...

As someone who used to do a lot of resume reading and interviewing at my previous job, I'd offer the following advice:

1) Focus on the company. Know what they do. Know what they are looking for. Tailor your resume and cover letter and your "presentation" on the interview to them. You look foolish when you have no idea what the company does.

2) Spelling and grammar count on resumes and cover letters and when you're speaking to someone use proper grammar and diction. At a minimum it shows you care enough about the interview and job and are detail-oriented.

3) Make contacts BEFORE you need something. No one wants to be taken advantage of, which is how it feels when two seconds after meeting someone and finding out they work at X you say "Can you help me out?"

4) If you're asking someone to help you, understand it's a two way street and you're asking this person to put themselves out there for you. Do your best not to embarrass them. Listen to advice and make requisite changes.

5) Understand the workplace. Understand it may not be a frum environment and understand how your appearance, mannerisms, and other religious practices may appear to others. If necessary, speak to a rav about shaking hands with the opposite gender, not wearing tzitzit out, explaining shabbat or holidays, etc. Also, know that people in workplaces are generally understanding and accommodating if you deal with issues up front and in an appropriate manner.

6) No one cares what you did in 7th grade or 10th grade when you're 22+ and applying for a real job. Also, know how to phrase relevant experience to your audience: "Worked for a chesed organization delivering matanot l'evyonim" should be "Volunteered for a non-profit agency, which provides food for the needy" or the like.

7) Don't look like a "nebech" case. Stand up tall, dress well, shake hands firmly, and speak up.

8) Practice interview skills. This isn't some friendly chat, know how to talk to an employer. The resume and cover letter are what got you into the door, the interview is what gets you the job.

JS said...

Also, I can't tell you how many times I saw over-inflated resumes where it was obvious the person was lying. People should know that they are going to be quizzed on their resume and what experience they wrote that they have. This is true even more so in technical fields. If you can't explain your own resume, you're a goner.

Equally bad is someone who (maybe from lack of self-esteem or lack of knowledge) thinks everything they do or did is boring or unimportant or is fine as described and doesn't need to be dressed up at all. Don't say "Reviewed documents" - that doesn't explain what you did or what skills it required. Say instead, "Fact-checked corporate advertising for accuracy prior to press release."

Offwinger said...

Good advice posted here.

Two more things to consider:

1) Most industries have their own way of doing things. You need to make sure your resume is reviewed by someone who knows something about the field you are applying for!

2) There is generally no place or relevance for "hobbies" to be listed on your resume. However, if you have some work or volunteering experience that highlights a non-working interest or hobby that you have, you might want to consider leaving it on your resume, provided you can make the experience relevant to the job you're applyng for. This will provide an interview with an "ice-breaker" - something they can ask you about that demonstrates that you have interests and hobbies & are a "real person" they'd want to hire.

This doesn't make "camp counselor" relevant. It does mean finding a place to include that you've volunteered as an EMT or you've coached a sport like basketball for a number of years or you organized the shul's knitting club for a significant amount of time, or anything else where you've been *devoted* and can show skills/abilities in leadership or work ethic. Your resume should not have ALL of these things, because, again, the BS meter will be triggered and you want to focus on your most relevant work experience. Having ONE of these things can really help out, though, especially when you find yourself on an interview with an interviewer in the organization who is not a "natural" and has a hard time initiating questions and conversation with you.

Mike S. said...

I have been a hiring manager (engineers and scientists) for the last 20 years. I agree with much of the advice above, except I see no reason to hide that you are an Orthodox Jew. I do not mean you ought to trumpet the fact, but there is no reason to hide relevant experience or accomplishments because they would reveal your religion. Say a degree from Yeshivah College or a professional service (employed or volunteer) rendered to a yeshivah.

Also, while a summer job as a camp counselor doesn't mean much, if you have had no other job, it is probably worth mentioning, especially if you were asked back for multiple summers. It at least shows you are responsible enough that they wanted you a second time.

One other piece of advice. Figure out what one or two points makes you particularly attractive to a potential employer, and format your resume to make them easily noticed. White space can be your friend. I can look through a couple dozen resumes at a sitting, and yours doesn't have a lot of time to catch my attention.

Miami Al said...

Mike S, if you are an engineer/scientist that happens to be an Orthodox Jew, nobody cares anymore than they care if you're a protestant, Catholic, or Sikh. However, if you're a frummie that happens to do some engineering/science... NEXT...

Thinking said...

One more thing to add while we are on the topic of resume advice. Try to be quantitative, it stands out.
What was the result of what you did?
Did you earn the company more money? How much?
Did you save the company money? How much?

Example:

Instead of writing: "Responsible for all accounts receivables for large marketing company".
Write: "Responsible for collections of $10 Million across 150 Accounts. Lowered days sales outstanding by 15%. Collected over $100,000 of accounts marked noncollectable".

It goes without saying that the numbers should all be true. Numbers stand out.

Be prepared to be asked how you did it. Make your response compelling enough and the job will be yours.

Mike S. said...

One more thing: be specific about what you have done. "Sequenced genes in such-and-so's lab" is better than "worked on cure for cancer". Any experienced manager has met many people who hang around the periphery of important projects without seeming to actually do anything for them. Write your resume so you don't look like one.

Michael said...

It's an very interesting post to know so many details. It helps people to know some tips for the interview. There are many websites which are providing so much of good information and people can take job interview help from those websites. There are even so many agencies who have taken some contract form the companies regarding the job interview selection or process. They will also guide people with good information and also with good job.

Techbee said...

They will also guide people with good information and also with good job...

Job Interview Questions

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