The job market is booming across the country, and Lavie Margolin is here to help you navigate it.
A career expert and author, Margolin has written a dozen books about job searching, including Can I Wear my Kippah on Job Interviews which he co-wrote with his spouse Rachel.
His insights could not be more timely: In Chicago and across the country, U.S. job openings are up 10% since June and, though still down from their pre-Covid peak, openings rose to 4.9 million.
Chicago is in a sweet spot —midwestern job openings have been among the fastest-growing in the last month, according to glassdoor.com.
Margolin told the Forward that although the boom has put job seekers in the driver’s seat, it helps to know how to actually, you know, drive.
Eileen Hoenigman Meyer: “Authenticity” is the buzzword. Employees are encouraged to “bring their whole selves” into the professional sphere. What does this mean for religious job seekers?
Lavie Margolin: Especially in cities like Chicago, New York, and L.A., employers have become more accommodating, which extends to religious practices, whether it’s an observant Jewish male wearing a kippah or a Muslim woman wearing a head covering.
Sometimes we come in with a perspective that we’re in the minority, which might be intimidating, but for the company, for the most part, they embrace that.
However, our needs may not be clear to the organization. We have to outline those.
EHM: In your book, you mention that the third interview is a good opportunity to get specific about Fridays or holiday time off.
LM: Exactly. That way, you have some time to get to know the organization. Sometimes candidates don’t want to say anything. But if you’re starting a new job in September, and then you have eight to 10 holidays that fall on weekdays, you don’t want the company to be surprised.
I encourage candidates to take the mystery out. Say: “I’m an observant Jewish professional. That entails about 12 holidays that don’t allow work. Sometimes eight or nine of those days fall during weekdays. Other times it might be fewer. I plan to use PTO, but I need to know that those observances fit within the company culture.”
EHM: And flexibility when other employees may take holiday time is another trade-off interviewees can highlight.
LM: Exactly. I’m Mr. December 23-30. Companies tend to appreciate staff they can rely on to fill in at those times. Also, try to be as flexible as possible. For some of us who grew up in private religious school cultures, Fridays were half days. You go home and relax your way into the Sabbath, but it doesn’t start until 7 pm. Sort out where culture meets the professional workplace.
EHM: Why is the third interview the right time to discuss those particulars?
LM: You don’t want to put a stumbling block at the start of the process, and you don’t want to surprise your employers after you start.
EHM: Let’s talk about networking. In your book, you mention that this is a strength for Jewish job seekers as the community tends to be robust.
LM: Think about your network: Who might be able to help you? You might see that person in the synagogue, in the neighborhood, when you’re shopping. It could be a bit much. It’s the risk versus reward of letting somebody know that you’re searching. I wouldn’t just put it out there broadly. Be strategic.
I think with networking, generally, people can best help you if they know who you are and what you’re looking for. Keep an authentic elevator pitch in mind.
EHM: Do candidates or new employees have to shake hands?
LM: When somebody puts out their hand, it can feel awkward to a Jewish professional who feels that certain physical contact isn’t appropriate. I think a direct approach is best. Say something like: “I don’t mean any disrespect, based on my religious beliefs we’re asked not to shake hands with somebody of the opposite sex. I respect you and appreciate your time.”
EHM: What are some red flags?
LM: You have to think about the culture you’re going into. Know that sometimes it’s not possible for the company to accommodate you. For example, I interviewed with the public library. They have a great workforce career development program. Part of the job was to staff the center every other Friday night. Seemed like a great job, but I just can’t do that. Everyone has to figure out what their values are and what’s the right environment for them.
EHM: Where do business ethics end and personal ethics begin? Are these things separate? Should they be?
LM: This is very much on my mind — values that are religious-based, cultural, or ethical. I think you should be meeting those at work. Sometimes people can separate those where they can go home and be active in the synagogue or the church and be generous with their money. But where did that money come from? Did you push out bonds that you knew were going to fail? Do you have employees tethered to their chairs? Everyone has trade-offs, but you have to figure out what your ethical beliefs are and where they meet the workplace.
EHM: Anything else job seekers should know?
LM: What comes along with religion is politics. People often categorize people from the same background or religion as homogeneous, which is not accurate. For example, some people very much support the Israeli government. Some people are for a two-state solution. You may encounter coworkers who say: “You’re Jewish, what do you think about Israel?” Generally, you want to avoid it, saying “I don’t discuss politics at work.”
The culture from the Trump administration and then the virus, there’s been a lot of people blamed, a lot of attacks. I know people that, when they’re working with their family and certainly in synagogue, they always wear a kippah, but at work they choose to put it aside. That’s as long as I’ve been alive. Everyone can figure out what works for them and what they’re comfortable with. You have to do what feels safe and comfortable.
Eileen Hoenigman Meyer is a Chicago-based journalist.
‘Can I take 12 holidays off?’ and other tips for Jewish job seekers