When it comes to landing your “dream” job, simply getting a foot in the door and making vital connections can open up a world of opportunities that can follow you throughout life. Earlier this year, 20 enthusiastic, soon-to-be-ordained rabbinic students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University and the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York had the very unique opportunity to meet and interview with congregations all over the country who had pulpit position openings.
Instead of going through the painstaking process of applying and waiting weeks for a potential call back, “Interview Week” gave rabbinical students the chance to interview with any or all of the approximately 25 congregations in attendance. The event is a joint collaboration between the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and held at the Ziegler School.
“This event is so unique because students have the ability to pick what congregations they want to interview with, and the congregations can’t say ‘no,’” says Rabbinical Assembly Career Center Coordinator Emily Hendel. “It’s really the only opportunity throughout a rabbi’s life where he or she can apply to a job and is automatically entitled to an interview. Some students had 6-7 interviews in one day. Even students who don’t get jobs out of it say it was great practice because it gave them more experience interviewing and allowed them to talk with lay leadership.”
During the three-day period, 260 interviews were conducted, each about 45-60 minutes long. Questions ranged from asking students about why they wanted to be a rabbi, to more thought-provoking questions about the Torah, their ideas for outreach and how they’re able to connect with others.
One of the biggest benefits about the week is that it gives students a feel for what each congregation is like and allows them to see if they are the right fit. “I spoke with a lot of students and heard there’s a big difference between congregations—some follow the interview to a tee and some are much more laid back and will talk to you a little bit about sports,” says Emily. “It’s very important to get this personal interaction, especially with lay leadership, because they are going to be partnerships for the rest of their careers.”
In the more than two decades this event has taken place, the success rate for students landing jobs afterwards has been high. Leading up to the week, countless hours are spent by students in order to be as ready as possible. “We spend months preparing students for the job search process, helping them write resumes and prepare to answer questions with as much thought, insight and Jewish content as possible,” says Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean at the Ziegler School. “If the interview goes well, the student is then invited to the congregation for 4-5 days to interview further with the community.”
For Rabbi Peretz, the chance for the Ziegler School to host Interview Week, which was held at the Jewish Theological Seminary every year in the past, was an incredible opportunity that brought out great energy from all involved. “This year, to have our partners all join together to support having this in L.A. was very exciting,” says Rabbi Peretz. “I left the event knowing that the Conservative movement is alive, well, breathing and thriving all over the country. I think that it’s very important for our movement, really important for the Ziegler School and for me, very gratifying.”
Words of Wisdom
Rabbinical Assembly Career Center Coordinator Emily Hendel offered students these tips for succeeding at the Interview Week process:
- Be confident: You’ve been through years of school for a reason—you got this!
- Ease the pressure: Stress can be high after doing so many interviews in one day, so take a minute to sit and regroup.
- Enjoy the experience: This is a rare opportunity to interview with as many congregations as you’d like, so make the most of it.