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Alumni Share Strategies of Success at Career Center Event

Should you wear a yarmulke on a job interview? What do you order at that lunch meeting in a non-Kosher restaurant? How and when should you bring up the subject of Shabbat or Yom Tov? These are just a few of the dilemmas Yeshiva University’s Career Center helped students and alumni navigate together during an interactive conversation on November 26 on how to excel in the workplace while staying true to their religious values.

Rabbi Yona Reiss addresses audience at Career Center event.

“We want you to start thinking about these issues so you’ll be better prepared to face them if they come up,” said Joel Strauss, chair of YU’s Undergraduate Alumni Council Career Committee and a graduate of Yeshiva College and the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School. “The bottom line I want you to take away from tonight’s event is that we as Orthodox Jews have a tremendous responsibility to always act in an appropriate manner, never take advantage and never feel entitled—but we also have a tremendous opportunity to be a Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d’s name].”

The evening featured more than 14 alumni in fields ranging from medicine to accounting and management and representing big-name companies, including Citigroup, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Panasonic North America. Rabbi Yona Reiss, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, began the program recalling his early years working for a New York City law firm: “I learned that there are some basic principles that have to be followed to be successful as an Orthodox Jew in a secular workplace.”

These included integrity, acting in a refined manner befitting of a person of faith and directness. “Being open and honest from the very beginning about my limitations, drawing the line very clearly as to what I could and could not do, but at the same time not creating antagonism by being overly extreme in terms of my behavior, were some of the best things I did starting out,” said Reiss.

Seven break-out sessions, each led by two alumni, offered students a forum to ask their own questions and share experiences with successful professionals who had been grappling with those questions for years.

“The breakout sessions were an excellent opportunity to interact with professionals who are out there in the world and to receive confirmation from voices of experience that it is possible to maintain one’s standards and be respected for doing so, while being effective and successful in the working world,” said Ariel Caplan ’12YC, who hopes to pursue a career in biomedical research. He found Strauss’s warning not to use religion as an excuse or crutch especially important. “It’s not just morally correct—it’s critical to ensure that one does not create a bad name for religious people in general or Jews in particular,” he said. “I will definitely keep this in mind when negotiating with employers to request accommodations for religious reasons.”

“I love the variety of professions represented,” said Estee Goldschmidt ’11S. “I feel that a wide gamut of careers is represented by YU’s alumni, and I think it was important to meet with for many reasons that include building my network, learning about different professions and sharing school pride.” She added that she has continued to seek guidance from the Career Center even after graduation. “I found one of my first internships through the Career Center and I still find them extremely helpful.”

“The workplace environment can be very diverse on many levels and students need to navigate uncharted waters with regards to their religious observance,” said Marc Goldman, executive director of the Career Center. “Bringing in alumni to discuss real-life stories and examples of how they have successfully dealt with these issues and others’ perceptions is a great learning tool that really hits home for our students.”

Goldman added that the night was one of more than a hundred yearly events designed by the Career Center to provide students with the knowledge and resources to achieve their goals and access a network of contacts as well as job, internship and graduate school options. “The Career Center prides itself on tailoring its services to the needs and goals of the individual student,” he said. “One-to-one counseling is the foundation of how our office helps students in everything from career planning to job search tools and strategies, while alumni and community members, as partners in our mission, are frequently involved in our programs and events, acting as YU’s most vocal and supportive advocates and employers.”

Learn more about YU’s Career Center at www.yu.edu/career-center.