Donald Sylvan on the Hiring Side of the Desk

Getting by With Job Loss

By Karen Loew

Published May 21, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Donald Sylvan, 64

Courtesy of JESNA

Job: Executive Director, Hillel Ontario

Previously: President and CEO of JESNA, the Jewish Education Society of North America

Early this year, Sylvan moved to Canada to direct the umbrella organization that oversees Hillels at colleges in Ontario. He’d recently left the helm of JESNA, which he led for over seven years, and had planned to pursue a new Israel-education effort. But, having made the transition to institutional executive — the JESNA job came after three decades as a political science professor at Ohio State University — Sylvan accepted a new Jewish communal role, albeit in another country.

Why change? “I realized that what would be needed from the CEO of JESNA going forward would be different — I could do it, but was it what I wanted to spend the next phase of my life doing? We worked out a transition. I rebuffed some other opportunities. Then the folks from Toronto called. It was exciting, with really good people, and a mission I cared about, and the opportunity to start something from scratch.”

Financial effects: “JESNA was very generous to me financially.”

Advice for jobseekers: “The density of incredible resumes I received [for openings at JESNA] was astounding. We got people who were hypertalented at so many things. When we were hiring an administrator for 30 hours a week and $30,000, the quality of those applicants was astounding. This to me destigmatized people who were out of work for a while, or had been laid off. I hired someone who had been laid off twice, over other people. I thought, I’m going to get someone who’s going to put their all into it. I’m hoping I’m not atypical.”

Breaking through: “Your cover letter needs to directly and articulately express who you are, not just what’s on your resume. Why do the skill sets that you have fit with this position? Think about what you’ve really done — the tasks, not the title. There are a lot of us looking for out-of-the-box candidates. The burden is on the person looking for the job to make the link.”

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