One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Sunna Kalis is executive director of the Jewish Vocational Service. Q. Can you tell me how old the agency is and why it was created?
A.The agency was established 51 years ago, primarily in response to the needs of people coming over from Europe who were having difficulty getting employment.
Q. What type of services did you initially provide?
A. Well, in 1939 the needs were really not that different than today. We think that the world is changing all the time, but in some ways it stays the same. There were new immigrants who needed a first job. There were people who had barriers to employment who needed a job. They were people who lacked skills and needed skill training. There were older people who needed to supplement retirement incomes . . .
Q. What type of services do you provide now?
A. Well, in today's economy, it's extremely important that people who are looking for a job have the skills necessary to market themselves effectively. It's important to understand that it isn't necessarily the best-qualified person who gets the job. Instead, it's the person who interviews the best, who sells themselves the best, who has the best package to present themselves, that meshes with the employer's needs. And many times you have people who are very skilled and talented at what they do, but if they can't articulate it, and if they can't sell themselves in the interview, then the employer is not going to give them the job. It has also become a very competitive kind of thing where what your resume looks like and how you dress and how you conduct yourself in the interview are very important.
Q. Could you enumerate some of the specific services that you provide?
A. Specifically, number one, we help our people clarify a job goal that is doable. This may mean that they need to clarify a short-term goal and a long-term goal, where the long-term goal might require additional education, work experience, or training. The second thing is once the job goal is clarified, we assist them in developing the necessary job-search strategy, skills and techniques. These include appropriate cover letters, resume, interview techniques, networking skills to access jobs in the hidden job market. And the third service that we provide is long-term follow-up to ensure that the job is a successful job.
Q. You mentioned, that when the agency first started, the idea was to serve immigrants. Are you seeing a different type of immigrant now and are there any special needs that they come to you with?
A. Well, we live in a global economy and the world has gotten smaller and what is absolutely astonishing is how quickly information gets communicated around the world. This agency has resettled immigrants from all over the world. We have done all of the southeast Asians, the Indochinese, Kurds, we've done people from South America, and Chile. The Cubans. We did the boat people from Cuba. It's always a fascinating and a very American experience because all of us in this country came originally as emigrees, and what we see today is that the people are much more knowledgeable and sophisticated about the American work world. They're starting to study English before they come here because they know that they must speak English in order to get a job in America.
Q. Do they come with any special skills?
A. Of course, sure. I mean most of the Southeast Asians and
Indochinese were fishermen and farmers, so that was a very different kind of client population. The Soviets are for the most part, very, very bright and very well educated and they will be a remarkable addition to this community. We're placing 20 percent of them in professional positions where they are working as chemists, medical professionals, researchers, and that sort of thing. Then we're placing 40 percent of them in skilled-trade positions, where they are doing things such as being a baker or a carpenter or a manicurist. And the remaining 40 percent are going to work in unskilled positions. They understand that according to the American way, they must go to work very quickly, and so we have people who may start out mowing lawns or delivering pizza and then as their English improves and they are here longer, they'll move into professional positions.
Q. What have employers been telling you about the type of people who are out there looking for a job?
A. What employers say most frequently is that job applicants are inappropriate. Employers generally are very clear about their expectations. They can give you a list of their needs, and they are annoyed by all of the job applicants who don't meet those needs. Job applicants need to get a clear understanding of what their strengths are, what their marketable skills are and to fit them into the niche of employer need. So what we find is that people have to become much more savvy about job search, and view it in an organized, structured, systematic kind of way and go about looking for a job as a job. But we find that 80 percent of the people that we see come to the agency obtain employment within six months.
Q. So when you say a systematic way, what are some of the methods?
A. Well, first of all, you need to get up and out of bed every morning. And when you're unemployed, you tend to get depressed and low, and sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is hard. We encourage them to take a three-ring binder and to make sections, a section for every employer and every contact, and then to make notes and keep a chronological listing of whom they're contacting, what names they got from that person, whom they're going to call back, and how they're going to follow up. Then it's important to actually learn specific techniques, to go to a professional to help you do a resume, to have some assistance in role-playing job interviews so that you understand that a job interview is really an opportunity for you to sell yourself. You need to research the company before you go for the interview, know everything you can about that company and then go also with a list of questions.
Q. How much cooperation do you have, or do you use, with other job search or vocational training services?
A. The first thing we do when clients come to us is we give them a list of every single resource in the community, because when you're looking for a job, you have to look everywhere. Employment agencies place only about 5 percent of the people they see but if you can go to them and get a job that's paid by the employer, what could be better? So you have to know up front that the likelihood is that you're not going to get a job through the agency, but it's certainly worth registering with em
ployment agencies. You want to go to your college placement office, even if you graduated 10 years ago, you still have access to those resources. The city and the county also run placement programs. You want to utilize your professional journals, your professional contacts. If you're working, one of the most important things to be aware of is that statistics indicate that today's workers will have 10 different jobs in three distinct career fields. So no matter what job you're in, you should join every professional organization and develop contacts and networks that will help you when you take the next step in your career ladder.
Q. You said that most employment agencies place about 5 percent of the people who come to them, and yet you say you place 80 percent of your clients in six months. Why do you have such a good track record as opposed to employment agencies?
A. We're not an employment agency. There are other agencies like ours in the community that are geared to serve the need of the unemployed client. An employment agency's client is the employer. So they are primarily meeting the needs of employers who, for the most part, are their primary source of revenue.
Q. So in fact if you're looking for a job, the best place to start would be a service such as yours?
A. If you're looking for a job, the best place to start is everywhere. You want to utilize every single resource at your fingertips. You want to go public. You want to let all your friends and relatives know that you're looking for a job, and you want to present yourself, let them know. They're going to be uncomfortable asking you questions. So when you go to cocktail parties, when you go to family parties, you want to go around and mix and mingle and sell yourself to everybody who's there. You want to utilize every single resource, all at the same time.
Q. How are you funded?
A. Ninety-eight percent of our funding comes through the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. They get their money through contributions that individuals and families make to the annual campaign. So we are funded by the community to serve the community. However, people outside the community do occasionally come to us and we are very pleased to act as a source of information and referral and we give out resource lists of all the other wonderful resources in the community. In addition, occasionally a member of the non-Jewish community will request private services, and within the constraints of our resources and working out some sort of compensation so that the charity isn't paying for that service, we're able to meet those needs.
Q. What is the annual budget?
A. Well, the budget is just over $1 million a year and we're serving approximately 2,000 people.
Q. When clients come to you, what do you find that they are in need of most? What type of problems do you see consistently?
A. Most people don't know how good they are. . . . If we can help people be honest with themselves and look at themselves honestly and identify their strengths and stop beating themselves up about their weaknesses, they can then honestly market those strengths to the employers.