Entering the Post-Pandemic Job Market

With young people facing a challenging job market, we asked college deans, career counselors and others advising students what new graduates can expect in the months ahead.

The Panelists (from left):

Dr. Alan Kadish is president of Touro College and University System. He is a noted physician, educator, researcher and administrator who is training the next generation of communal, business and healthcare leaders.  

Dr. Noam Wasserman is the dean of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business. Before coming to YU, he was a professor at Harvard Business School. He is the author of two best-selling books on entrepreneurship and regularly gives “Torah and Business” shiurim to students and community members.

Rabbi Aaron Greenberg serves as director of the OUs Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus in the Greater Toronto area, along with his wife Miriam. OU-JLIC is a program that partners with local Hillels across North America and in Israel to engage, educate, support and inspire young Jewish adults both on and off campus.

Natasha Srulowitz and Adele Dubin are directors of Wayfind, a program that aims to help members of the frum community choose career paths that best suit their interests, skills, strengths and values.

Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein is the academic dean of Women’s Institute of Torah Seminary and College (WITS)/Maalot in Baltimore, Maryland. She lectures on Jewish history, education, Tanach, leadership and communication skills across the United States and internationally. 

 

Q. What advice can you offer on how to face the current job market?

Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein: I often have students come into my office concerned that they don’t know what to do for the rest of their lives. There is so much communal pressure on frum young adults to make significant decisions quickly and at a young age. Too often, they rush into graduate school and invest in a pricey degree, only to discover after a few years in the field that they don’t like what they’re doing. I stress to students that they should choose a career path that they will enjoy and that will put their unique abilities to good use. I encourage those who are uncertain to move away from thinking about what they want to do “when they grow up” and instead think about what they want to do for the next five years. Especially in this current climate of professional uncertainty, it’s important to focus on the present—where can I be employed now? The professional world in which people work for the same company their entire careers is long gone. No one has to decide today what he or she wants to do forever. So approach today’s reality today and reassess, if necessary, when the pandemic abates.

One final note: It’s fundamentally important to gain the skills and knowledge to be fully prepared to enter the workforce in one’s area of interest. It’s also essential to maintain the perspective that Hashem is ultimately in charge of professional and financial success. That is evident today more than ever.

Courtesy of Yeshiva University

Dr. Noam Wasserman: In the fall of 1991, I was months away from graduating from an Ivy League college with degrees in engineering and business. However, I was interviewing for jobs amidst a recession. I had an additional challenge as well: I had decided to be completely open with interviewers about my dedication to contributing my full energies to the job but only during the non-Shabbos 24/6 of each week. I was also open with them about the fact that at the time of graduation, I would have a three-month-old baby and thus didn’t want to travel much.

My first interview was with McKinsey & Co., the top management-strategy firm in the world, which everyone said was the best place to start a career. Five minutes in, the interviewer said, “Minimal travel? No Saturday deadlines? Consulting isn’t for you.”

It was the shortest interview I’ve ever had. In the long run, it also turned out to be one of the most important interviews I’ve ever had because it gave me a chance to begin developing my “gam zu l’tovah” muscles, my ability to seize on setbacks and get stronger from them.

After a diligent search, I found an employer—far less known and prestigious—where I could take on substantive leadership and entrepreneurial roles that would have been impossible to gain at McKinsey. The experiences I had there shaped much of what I have done since, and the heightened impact of my work there made it much easier to be distinctive when I applied to a top MBA program.

The day that began the Covid era in the Orthodox community was March 3, 2020, when the first Orthodox day school shut down due to a Covid case. The Daf that day was Berachos 60, which ends with Rabbi Akiva facing setback after setback and exercising the gam zu l’tovah muscles developed in him by his rebbe, Nachum Ish Gamzu. With that perfectly-timed Daf, Hashem was sending a message to all of us, including our current graduating students: Seize on every apparent setback in the job market to get stronger. Use it as a signal to question your priorities and to think more deeply about the best fit for you instead of defaulting to the one everyone tells you is the best place to start your career. Appreciate that a smaller firm might enable heightened impact.

To graduating students: there will likely be many more gam zu l’tovah opportunities than usual in this year’s job market. While you are going through the process of searching for a job, it can be quite difficult. However, by building those muscles now, you will acquire resilience that you would not have gained in an easier job market, thus setting yourself up for a deeper impact in the long run.

B’hatzlachah with your search!

Rabbi Aaron Greenberg: They say that looking for a job is a full-time job and has many parallels to looking for a spouse. People need to realize that from a hashkafic perspective, they are not in competition with their friends; rather, once you do your hishtadlut (apply effort), the only person you are competing against is yourself. It is difficult to not hear back from prospective employers or to face rejection, but job seekers must remember that Hashem runs the world; and your turn will come.

It is helpful to talk to people in your field of interest, as well as to those in other fields, for tips, suggestions and insights that can help you move forward.

Networking is critical. The more people who know you are looking for a job and the more people you meet, follow up with, reach out to and engage with, the more likely you are to find what you are looking for. You cannot control many situations—Covid has taught us that—but you can control how you will respond to challenges and adversity. While being unemployed is not a desirable position to be in, it does build fortitude and character that will be helpful in the future. Resilience is a character trait that is vital in our world, yet it is often not taught or modeled in the modern era of comfort and immediacy.

I know countless young men and women who found jobs after a long hunt when they had almost given up. It can materialize at any moment and from the most unexpected sources; you just have to remain positive and upbeat. Be strategic, pursue advice and keep davening!

 

Courtesy of Touro College

Dr. Alan Kadish: Because of the pandemic and the uncertainty in today’s world, no one expects college graduates to land their dream job right out of school.

My standard advice to new grads still stands even in today’s difficult times. Play to your strengths—do what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. Entering the workforce today, you may need to make some compromises on your goals in the short term. You can only look at the choices you have in front of you so don’t wait for the perfect position that may not materialize at this point. Students, and frankly all of us, need to take the long view.

From the perspective of Jewish history, our ancestors have been through a lot and we always managed to adapt and to persevere. We will do so again now. Young people should try not to get frustrated about the current situation. They certainly shouldn’t worry about a once-in-a-century, black swan event that is beyond their control.

 

Q. There are certain “frum careers,” that is, careers that are popular in the Orthodox Jewish community. How were these specific areas affected?Do you see any silver linings? For example, have any new “frum careers” emerged from the pandemic?  

Dr. Ginsparg Klein: Many of our graduates enter healthcare fields. Those fields do not seem to have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. If anything, Covid has increased professional needs in these areas and has opened more avenues to work remotely. For those working in allied health therapies (occupational, physical, speech-language, et cetera), services continue to take place, albeit differently.

Remote work is both a blessing and a curse. One advantage is that it provides incredible flexibility to working parents, whose children may or may not be in school on any given day. The downside, for many, is that the boundaries between work and home are blurred, and people find themselves working more intense hours than ever. The challenge of maintaining a healthy work-life balance has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.

Being mindful of one’s spending, saving money, taking on side jobs and working hard will significantly help young adults down the road.   

For a few years now, I have been encouraging students to pursue cybersecurity, a field that is experiencing significant growth. We hear of new cyberattacks all the time. As more information is stored in the cloud and the world moves into “smart” technology, everything from the government down to our thermostats will need cybersecurity solutions. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2019 and 2029, there will be a 31 percent growth of job opportunities in the field, which makes cybersecurity one of the fastest-growing career areas in the country. There are real shortages of cybersecurity professionals in the United States and internationally. In particular, there are shortages of women in the field. I’ve seen new graduates and mid-career professionals enter the field with success.

Adele Dubin and Natasha Srulowitz: Some of the typical frum careers that were severely affected by Covid are in sectors such as retail, wholesale, nursing homes, restaurants, catering and events, travel programs, entertainment (music) and nonprofits. As the pandemic caused shutdowns and crisis in these industries, people found themselves without jobs or with businesses in sudden decline.

But while it is clear that the pandemic has been highly disruptive and has caused significant economic losses, there have been some positive side effects as well. For one, new opportunities began to emerge with the proliferation of remote work, which will likely continue. This is good news for frum workers, giving them more flexibility in terms of geographic location, time zone and work environment, and enabling them to go after opportunities that were previously off the table due to commute time or a desire to avoid exposure to the secular world. Covid-19 regulations have also cleared the way for a wider array of remote education options that are faster, more affordable, more specialized, and are aligned with the demands of the job market and preferences of the frum community.

The shift to remote work has favorably impacted certain popular sectors like mental health (therapy), e-commerce, IT and healthcare. There is also a growing variety of roles and opportunities available in a mix of industries such as digital marketing (website development, social media, search engine optimization [SEO]), technology (software, data, UX design), business operations (HR, project management, insurance, finance, bookkeeping), home improvement and home care.

While being unemployed is not a desirable position to be in, it does build fortitude and character that will be helpful in the future.

Despite the pandemic—or in some ways because of it—the employment horizon is promising. However, it is important to be aware that jobs are becoming more streamlined and human resource managers are targeting candidates with specific skills for specific purposes. This means that when choosing or changing careers, people have to be much more calculated in their decisions than ever before. Job seekers must align their strengths and objectives more precisely and be open to sharpening their skills and exploring more options.

Navigating today’s intricate work world is not simple. But there is something for everyone.   

Dr. Kadish: The economy continues to be strong in the healthcare sector. Many frum students, as we have seen over and over, choose medicine, dentistry and a variety of health science careers, including nursing, physician assistant, physical and occupational therapy and speech language pathology. We have seen record applications to Touro’s medical school for this reason; our med school applications are actually up by 25 percent this year.

All of these careers are still holding strong, and I would add actuarial studies to the mix of top frum careers that seem to be pandemic-proof. In fact, recent data show that PA, dentistry, medicine and actuarial are all fields paying $100K-plus even in today’s times.

In terms of silver linings and emerging careers since the pandemic, I would say that public health is a popular one. Touro offers a public health program, and the pandemic has prompted increased interest in this field. It is an excellent career that enables people to balance work and family as well as religious observance. People pursuing public health careers can work for a school district, hospital, county or city department of health—or in academia. Another field that’s growing because of the pandemic is biotech. A lot of money is being invested in biotechnology now, and jobs are available in administration, sales and marketing or in scientific research. Hiring is strong as vaccine and new drug development dominate the public health agenda. Companies like Pfizer and Regeneron are ramping up research enterprises, which opens up lots of job opportunities.

 

Q. We are facing a pretty high unemployment rate. What can you possibly tell students who are concerned about making a living, especially with the affordability crisis in the Orthodox world?

Dr. Kadish: Young graduates may have to rethink some of their plans. They may not be able to live in New York or other cities where the expenses of a frum lifestyle, including housing, are steep. While building their careers and getting onto solid footing, they may need to consider living with their parents or in small, out-of-town communities where life is cheaper. Because so many New York City-based companies are allowing employees to work remotely, it may be possible to live in a less expensive city and still work for a New York-based company.

By the time today’s graduates have children in yeshivah, things should be better. They need to get through the next few years by building their careers and seeking out meaningful experiences and opportunities.

Rabbi Greenberg: A person’s self-definition should not be based on how he or she earns a living. You are defined by how you behave while you earn a living and by your interaction with others. Indeed, it was inspiring to see how members of the Jewish community responded to the crisis.

Affordability is a huge challenge in the frum community. I think young men and women need to be taught to plan accordingly. Career choices are very important; there are certain careers that lend themselves to earning money that will allow one to have a sustainable lifestyle. Savings are very important. Young people need to be educated about basic finance. If they are aware of these things at a young age, it will pay huge dividends down the road. Being mindful of one’s spending, saving money, taking on side jobs and working hard will significantly help young adults down the road.

 

Q. What is the responsibility of the Orthodox community to help students during this pandemic?  

Dr. Kadish: We are a community that has always helped each other, and that value is more important now than ever. When people are hiring, they should try to take on frum graduates. Seasoned professionals can assist young grads with networking and job connections. Experts can volunteer to mentor students in their fields.

Community-based initiatives should be established to help young families. While the hope is that we are experiencing a rough patch that will improve shortly, we can help current young grads by funding paid internship programs for those who can’t find jobs, which will offer them a minimal level of financial support as they gain more job experience. Last summer, Touro’s Career Services partnered with Ira Zlotowitz of Eastern Funding to develop a virtual internship program for students interested in real estate and banking. The program started with seven Touro students and ultimately opened to 500 college students around the country, all of whom benefited from the virtual experience. Some even made deals that generated fees. Our community has so many frum employers who can be creative at this time and develop similar internships and training programs that will help the current crop of grads gain the experience and skills they need to succeed.

Dr. Wasserman: “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh—we all have a responsibility to help each other.” That applies to the community helping students. However, it also applies to students helping the community. The Covid crisis sparked the need to think more creatively about the job market for students. This prompted YU to find ways to have each side help the other. In March of 2020, after we became the first university east of Washington State to shut down and then one of the first to reopen fully online, our attention turned to the next crisis that our students were likely to face: the summer internship crisis. Summer internships are a key building block for students, enabling them to explore potential career options, develop skills and credibility, learn professionalism, and gain academic credit for applying to the workplace what they’ve learned in class. We realized that students who hadn’t found internships by March were likely to find their opportunities drying up and that even those who had already received offers might find them postponed or reduced in length.

We didn’t want our students to be facing the “Summer of Crisis” that other collegians were facing. So we put together a portfolio of substantive initiatives, and more than 120 students used it to craft a “Summer of Opportunity.”

There is so much communal pressure on frum young adults to make significant decisions quickly and at a young age. Too often, they rush into graduate school and invest in a pricey degree, only to discover after a few years in the field that they don’t like what they’re doing.

One of those initiatives was the YU Consulting Force. Almost three dozen students learned consulting and life skills from experts at top firms like McKinsey, Accenture, BCG and Deloitte, after which they participated in projects for six weeks at Jewish nonprofits, large and small. They developed a new data architecture for a prominent nonprofit, a leadership development program for a startup nonprofit focused on mental health, social media programs for other young nonprofits, and a variety of other projects. The students gained substantive experience (with some getting full-time job offers as a result), while the nonprofits made major progress in deepening their impact on the community.

Arevim zeh la’zeh” calls for responsibilities that run in both directions: students and the community helping each other simultaneously. Through initiatives like the YU Consulting Force, students helped the community as much as it was helping them, and when that happens, the klal wins.

Rabbi Greenberg: The community has a great responsibility to help students. I have seen a significant amount of chesed in this regard. It is remarkable that people are willing and eager to give of their time and knowledge, meeting with and encouraging young adults as well as speaking on career panels.

As a co-director for the OU’s Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) in the Greater Toronto area, I work hard to create opportunities for students to engage with professionals in the fields they are pursuing, so they can be mentored and guided in their budding careers. Internships are the key to ensuring that one has a job upon graduating. If such opportunities could be expanded within the frum community, it would have a tremendous impact.

These are challenging times, but gam zeh ya’avor (“this too shall pass”). We are resilient and forward thinking, and we support each other. Together we will get through this and emerge at the end with an even more fortified, giving and nurturing community.

 

More in this Section:

The Economic Toll of a Pandemic by Rachel Schwartzberg

Opening New Doors by Yossi Bard-Wigdor, as told to Sara Spielman

How One Supermarket Fared During the Pandemic by Yossi Hollander, as told to Sara Spielman

How You Can Be Helpful To Those Struggling Economically by Rachel Schwartzberg

Making Connections: Pivoting Small Businesses

Studying the Economic Impact of Covid-19

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This article was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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