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Making It Work

Simcha Lerner

It’s a delicate and time-consuming process. It requires research and discussion, sensitivity and finesse, trial and error, speaking with mentors and learning experiences. When it’s time for a kollel yungerman to make the transition to the workplace, where does he begin? How can he find the option best suited to his personality and parnassah needs? And how can he draw on those years in the beis medrash to benefit and inform his new schedule?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

worker men doctorIn Lakewood, NJ, where there is an intense concentration of kollel yungeleit, there are several advisors guiding yungeleit whose spiritual mentors have directed them to transition to the workplace. Of the talmidim who choose to leave kollel, about 50 percent will enter a field in klei kodesh and 50 percent will take a job in the secular workforce.

Many of those yungeleit find their path to the workplace throughLakewood’s Professional Career Services (PCS), a division of AgudathIsrael ofAmerica that provides job counseling, training, and liaising services. Rabbi Yoel Tolwinski, Job Placement Director of PCS, finds that most of his clients approach him straight from yeshivah, eager for advice and direction before their first foray into the workplace.

Over the past ten years, Rabbi Tolwinski has followed the trends in the Jewish job market, from computer programming to the stock market to real estate. “Now,” he says, “people are trying anything, just to make a living.” A quick sampling of recent job placements illustrates just how wide the field is: He’s landed clients jobs in property management, mortgage brokerages, online marketing firms, and plumber services.

Some people enter the PCS office determined to pursue a particular career, but without a good understanding of what the job entails. Rabbi Tolwinski tries to paint a realistic picture of the job in question. “If someone comes in and tells me, ‘I’m good with people, I think I should go into sales,’ I’ll make sure to explain to him that sales also involve rejection and disappointment. I’m not trying to discourage them,” he clarifies, “but I want them to understand what they’re getting into.”

Then there are those men who aren’t sure what they want to do — but all too sure what they don’t. Most people, when asked what their fathers or fathers-in-law do for a living, will say they do not want to do the same thing as their parents. For example, the son of a lawyer told Rabbi Tolwinski that he would never be a lawyer because although his family had been well off, his father was so busy he didn’t have time for the family. Meanwhile, the son of a rebbi declared that he wouldn’t consider a job in chinuch, because while his father was more easily available, finances were very tight and he didn’t want his children to live with the constraints he experienced growing up.

“There’s a general assumption that the grass is greener on the other side,” Rabbi Tolwinski observes. “But of course that isn’t true. Every position has its pros and cons, and I work to help applicants weigh their options. There was a time when I was encouraging people to go into nursing home administration. I thought it was a good career choice. Then I got a call from a nursing home administrator demanding to know why I was encouraging people to enter his field, because it was such a difficult job. I asked him, do you have something better? And he replied, ‘No, but there has to be something better than this!’ ”

Another member of the PCS staff, Rabbi Tzvi Pirutinsky, MS, and PhD psychology student atColumbiaUniversity, works as a career counselor. Of the dozens of people Rabbi Pirutinsky sees each month, he estimates that fewer than 10 percent have a clear idea of what job they want. “Most men who spend years learning in yeshivah are not exposed to the working world, and they don’t know what options are out there,” Rabbi Pirutinsky explains. “They also don’t know their own strengths, because they haven’t had opportunities to explore their skills.”

The typical yungerman is conditioned to problem-solve through discussion. While talking over a shver tosfos may be a great way to arrive at clarity, intense discussions may not be the preferred method for making career decisions. “A career decision involves gathering data, and the more information you have, the better informed your decision will be. Just analyzing and reanalyzing the question with friends will not get a person very far,” Rabbi Pirutinsky warns. “You need to input more data by gaining some experience. Then you can make a decision.”

The “data” that Rabbi Pirutinsky utilizes include interviews, discussion, and testing. A popular career test is the Strong Interest Inventory, which uses specific questions to the subject’s interests and strengths. The results are then correlated to career options. Testing may not provide definitive answers, Rabbi Pirutinsky explains, but it’s a good starting point for discussion.

In addition to one’s personal proclivities and talents, job-seekers also must weigh considerations of salary, working conditions, commute, and job satisfaction. When researching job options, it’s important to investigate both short and long term considerations. “Even if the starting salary is low, you have to consider what skills or experience you may be gaining,” Rabbi Tolwinski advises.

But discussion and analysis can only go so far. “Once you discover what field you are interested in, you need to get your feet wet,” Rabbi Pirutinsky urges. “Take a low level or part time job, start a course, volunteer, or shadow someone in the industry. Hands-on experience is the only way you will learn about the job, and about yourself. It also gives you something to put on your resume.”

Rabbi Pirutinsky warns that your first job will never fit all the criteria on your “dream list.” “The main questions to ask when evaluating a first job is: What will I gain by working here? What kind of experience will I have, what will I learn? No one is married to their first job,” he emphasizes. “On average, it takes three to five jobs and five to seven years for a person to become established in a career.”

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