Jewish Values-Inspired Recruitment and Retention Tips for Jewish Organizations in 2013

by Cheryl Magen and Mark S. Young

Jewish organizations are the lifeblood of our people – they nourish the needs of our communities socially, educationally, religiously and intellectually. These organizations succeed because of the passion and dedication of their employees: people who commit themselves to the furthering of Jewish values. So when it comes to their employees, what can these organizations do to recruit and retain the very best?

We recently facilitated the annual career workshop at The Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. The workshop is an intensive 3-day affair, designed to help the graduating students in the masters program in Jewish education become strategic, smart job seekers. This program aims to give each of them the best possible chance to secure positions where each can realize their career passions, working for organizations where they can add value and contribute significantly. But training our students to be passionate change-makers within Jewish organizations is only half of the battle – the other half involves the organizations themselves.

While our students need to be prepared to conduct an effective job search, our organizations need to be prepared as well. Despite the importance of recruiting and retaining strong talent, many of our Jewish organizations, including our formal and informal educational institutions still need to significantly improve their hiring and employee-management functions. This improvement is not only imperative in order to achieve our missions and financial stability; it is also within our Jewish values and ideals to do so. From the moment of releasing the job description to an employee’s fifth year on the job and beyond, we must treat our potential and current staff with the following guiding values: kavanah, kavod, kehillah, keruv and a hatzlacha!

In doing so, organizations will recruit and retain the strongest talent, increase productivity and employee morale, lower turnover costs and reduce time spent repeatedly recruiting for the same positions. Let us be specific:

1. Kavanah, our intentionality. Are we being intentional with every aspect of the job search? Being intentional begins with our goals. What are our goals for each position we hire and does the job description reflect these goals and the overall goals of the organization? In addition, our job descriptions should be made clear by outlining the major elements of responsibility. The criteria for success must be measurable and reasonably attainable. It should be clear with whom the employee will report, be supervised, and collaborate. The overall strategy must be thoughtful and pre-planned.

Kavanah can be carried throughout the job search process. Try asking the following questions:

  • Are we intentional, for example, about where we are posting and advertising the position?
  • By which processes and criteria are we selecting candidates to interview and evaluate them?
  • How are we communicating with candidates throughout the each step of the process?

2. Kavod, respect. We emphasize with our graduating students that “everything that you do sends a message,” and that you are always being evaluated. We advise that all communications to potential employers be clear and well written, that they arrive 10 minutes early to interviews, and that they be prepared with questions and dress appropriately in consideration of the culture of the organization. Beyond making the best possible impression, these guidelines are about respect for the organization’s time and appreciation for the willingness to meet with them. The reverse must also be true: organizations should respect all the candidates applying for positions and remember that everything the organization does sends a message as well.

What does this look like in practice? Successful strategies include responding to candidates with a thank you message for submitting their resume. Respectful employers are also transparent with candidates about the timetable for hire, since the candidate has their own timetable to juggle. Think also about the importance of employee compensation and benefits. While many not-for-profits have tight budgets, we cannot use the excuse of being a not-for-profit to pay our employees inappropriately (i.e. not commensurate with experience, degrees and skills). If we want to hire the best candidates, we must be willing to invest in them with a compensation package and professional development opportunities that allow them to grow and be productive in our organizations for many years. Appropriating such value to their work is the ultimate Kavod.

3. Kehillah, community. It is a truism worth repeating that employees often leave their jobs prematurely, not due to their roles, but rather because of supervisors’ or colleagues’ behavior or inactions. From the minute they are introduced, to their first day on the job and even throughout their first year, we should provide meaningful opportunities for our employees to interact with each other. Do employees at all levels have opportunities to collaborate? Are they able to socialize, speaking beyond “business talk” on multiple occasions? In short, are we cultivating and sustaining communities that give our employees an on-going incentive to stay? Creating this kehillah, one full of kavanah and kavod, will certainly positively impact employee productivity as well as retention rates and turnover costs, strengthening our bottom line.

4. Keruv, bringing people closer. The process of integrating new employees into the organization, its culture and team are essential to beginning a long and successful relationship.

Consider the following questions:

  • Who will be thoughtful about the first day’s and first week’s schedule?
  • Who will greet the new employee at the door and welcome that person in, help them find their work space, point out the bathrooms and where to get coffee or store food for lunch?
  • Who will make sure the proper work tools are in place (Computer, pens, stapler etc)?

It is vital to be aware of the type of orientation that is needed throughout the first few days or weeks. Scheduling time with each of the team members can help aid the process of people getting to know each other and understanding where each person sits on the organizational chart and what potential there is for collaboration. Plan who will invite the new employee to lunch the first few days until he or she is comfortable. Too many new employees report that no one was there to greet them or help welcome them in and they left feeling stressed, depressed and already questioning whether this was the right match. Remember: adult professionals are not exempt when it comes to the need for kindness, smiles and a friendly face as they try to make their mark on a new institution.

Finally, hatzlacha, roughly translated as “Success!” Simply put, we must set out employees up for success. We should be providing new hires with the proper job content and organizational information necessary to effectively begin learning the position, with clear ways to access what they need to get settled-in. We must keep in mind that new employees might not always know what information to ask for. Their direct supervisors should meet with all employees weekly to provide clear directions, feedback and opportunities for employees to ask for guidance. There should be a formal performance review at three months followed by a review at the first anniversary of hire with meaningful criteria for evaluation (hint: use the clearly written job description). This will help new employees grow and succeed. As stated earlier, there should be on-going opportunities for training and professional development for employees to continue to grow, learn new skills so they can continuously add value in new meaningful ways.

Success includes all the elements of kavanah, kavod, kehillah and keruv. Our employees, our human resources, are our core and therefore, the most essential ingredients to our success. We should make on-going investment in them our top priority by being intentional at each step of our job search and on boarding, respecting the candidate and employee experience every step of the way, and creating supportive and collaborative organizational communities. Following these guiding values will certainly ensure each new member of our professional teams and Jewish communal organizations a strong road to success. B’hatzlacha!

Cheryl Magen serves as a project director for the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Mark S. Young is the program coordinator of the experiential learning initiative at The Davidson School. Both serve as career development advisors for Davidson students and alumni.