JFed program helps young Jews find jobs


When Andrew Goldfeder lost his job to a December layoff, it was tough but it didn’t feel like the end of the world. “I was kind of looking to make a move anyway so it really wasn’t that devastating,” said the 26-year-old Creve Coeur resident, who had been selling online training resources for staff development. Still, the gap it left was no small matter. As he searched for “recession-proof” positions in fields like health care and education, Goldfeder found job hunting in the worst economy of his lifetime was no picnic. As the rejections added up, it became clear he needed help. That’s when he called Margo Schwartz.

Schwartz, a development associate with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, oversees the Employment Assistance Program (EAP), an effort geared toward helping young professionals in the Jewish community to find their vocational niche by pairing them with “network consultants” who can provide assistance with everything from interview tips to cover letters.

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“First and foremost, there’s usually a lot of resume cleaning up,” Schwartz said. “A lot of these young adults are either just getting started in the workforce or haven’t been out there for a while so maybe their resumes are rusty. The network consultants really guide them as to how to make it look like something that in their own jobs they would want to interview this person.”

But EAP offers far more than a few pointers to burnish a drab resume. Its biggest benefit is providing connections. The program’s three volunteer consultants have a long professional history, sizeable Rolodexes and a wealth of contacts. Often, they can put clients in touch with Jewish community leaders who can work to arrange interviews and help them get their foot in the door.

“That’s the biggest challenge for a lot of these people,” said Bonnie Solomon, the network consultant who helped Goldfeder. “So often now you apply for jobs online. It goes into cyberspace and one never knows. This way, if they can get the attention of someone, it allows them to talk about themselves and put a face to a resume. Not everyone has that opportunity.”

That’s a problem Avigail Rose of University City knows all too well. The 23-year-old Washington University alumna has been struggling to find a position in the medical field since she graduated with a biology degree in June.

“I think the word to describe everything would be frustration,” she said. “I’ve been finding more often than not that you apply somewhere and then you just don’t hear anything back.”

Two weeks ago, she called Schwartz and has already noticed a change in the tenor of her job hunt. Last week, the program helped her score an interview for a medical assistant position and she feels her job prospects have brightened considerably.

“The EAP puts you in touch with the right people,” she said. “It’s nice when you apply to be able to mention someone’s name. That moves your resume to the top. As opposed to applying blindly to a bunch of different things, you have someone who connects you.”

Schwartz said that EAP is not working to duplicate services already provided by Jewish Family and Children’s Service or MERS/Goodwill but instead is specifically designed to meet the needs of 20- and 30-something professionals involved in the Jewish community. The program has helped to place 15 individuals in positions since its inception in the summer of 2008, which is when JFed Executive Vice President Barry Rosenberg presented the idea to Michael Litwack, a past president of the Federation, and a task force of 11 community leaders took shape to direct the project.

Solomon, who spent three decades in an executive capacity at Delmar Gardens Enterprises before her retirement, said she’s been deeply impressed by the intelligence and energy of the young people she’s helped. She also noted that the challenge is different for each person. She called her clientele a “mixed bag.”

“In some instances, it’s their first job out of college so the big challenge for me is going back to the basics and helping them with their thought process, their resume and what they want to be when they grow up,” she said. “For those who had lost their job, the big challenge was to have them refocus on what they really want. Is that the job they would have liked to have for the rest of their career or does this give them an opportunity to rethink what they’d like to do?”

That was certainly the case for Goldfeder. Already active with the Young Professionals Division and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, he felt an urge to work within the Jewish communal structure. In July he got his wish, becoming an administrative assistant for the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

Goldfeder is quick to credit EAP for the assist. He said that Solomon and Schwartz worked hard to open doors for him, keep him up to date about potential opportunities by email and provide guidance in follow-up sessions after job interviews.

“It was very helpful and gave me a lot of confidence while I was looking for something that I felt was going to be a good fit,” Goldfeder said. “Being able to meet with corporate executives at lunch meetings made me feel like I was important, like I was going to be okay.”

Solomon said that’s exactly the idea. EAP isn’t a guarantee of employment. It’s merely a way to shed some light on an otherwise darkened path.

“We’re kind of a cheerleader,” she said. “We ask them what it is they are looking for. Is there something else that we can do? Ultimately, they have to secure the job on their own. We can’t do that for them. It’s mainly encouraging them to never give up, to keep going. Something will turn up.”