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Chutzpah and Job Seekers

June 21, 2011

It’s always fascinating to read about the origins, history and evolution of words.  Deriving from Hebrew, the original definition of chutzpah was pretty straightforward and meant “insolence, audacity and impertinence” and tended to refer to someone who had overstepped the acceptable boundaries of behavior.  But over time, and in Yiddish, chutzpah acquired more positive connotations. The word moved into the common vernacular and is used, oftentimes with admiration, when describing someone who has guts and spunk.  There may still be disapproval at the effrontery of a person’s actions, but deep down, when we say someone has chutzpah, we’re also expressing admiration for the sheer brazenness they display.

Job seekers are often told to demonstrate a bit of boldness in order to differentiate themselves and/or to make those all important networking connections.  “Make yourself stand out,” they’re told.  “Don’t just send your resumes into the black hole of a company’s ATS, find someone who works there and talk to them.” Career coaches tell job seekers to “MAKE your opportunities!”

But, I wonder, are there situations when this fearlessness and nerve, this chutzpah, crosses the line?

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A friend of mine was doing a bit of shopping one day on her lunch hour.  As she was checking out at the counter of a small boutique-type store, the clerk was carrying on a pleasant conversation, working efficiently and just generally providing a great service experience.  Suddenly, she said to my friend “you look like you work in HR.” (Which, by the way, she doesn’t.  But naturally I had a chuckle at the concept).

So my friend said “Well, no, I don’t actually.  Why do you ask?”

Clerk: “I hoped you did because I need to find another job.”

Friend: “What kind of job are you looking for?  What’s your background?’

Clerk: “I’ve got an office/administrative background (HR admin no less) and want to find an office job and get out of retail.”

Friend:  “Here’s my card; send me your resume.  I might know of something.”

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So I’m torn.  And I’m having a hard time figuring out if I should be.

On the one hand, I admire this clerk for seizing an opportunity.  By all accounts she was pleasant, friendly, knowledgeable and provided an exceptional shopping experience.  And I’ve got some respect for her boldness and initiative.  I would certainly say she displayed some chutzpah.

But I’m torn because I don’t like that she did it while working, on the clock, and while taking care of her current employer’s customer.  What if my friend was the sister of her current store’s owner?  Or a secret shopper?  Then the clerk’s actions probably would have led her straight to the unemployment line.

But is this any different than the college student working as a bartender for 3 years while putting himself through college who strikes up a conversation while serving Mr. Big Shot who has stopped in for a post-work cocktail?   So Mr. Big Shot says to Johnny “you’re a great bartender.  When do you graduate?  What’s your field of study?”  And Johnny says “Marketing and I graduate in 2 months and I’m looking for a job.” Which prompts Mr. Big Shot to say “send me your resume!”  Now Johnny didn’t initiate this conversation… but he had the conversation while on-the-job with his current employer…and the outcome is the same.

So like I said – I’m a bit conflicted.   What say you?  Do you applaud the Store Clerk for her ‘networking’ abilities?  Or do you think she crossed the line?  Does it make you wonder if she would come to work for YOU…and then ask YOUR customers if they knew of any jobs?

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“I want you to have chutzpah. Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don’t doubt yourself.” Alan Alda, actor, director, screenwriter

“There’s a fine line between being brave and being stupid.” Tom Seaver, Major League Baseball Pitcher

Picture courtesy of café press 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2011 7:12 am

    I’m all in favor of chutzpah and her networking skills. I think loyalty (for both the employer and employee) has become outmoded for a number of years, and she most likely is an at-will employee. I also think it depends on the position. Is she really looking at being a clerk as a career?

  2. HRBR permalink
    June 22, 2011 9:37 am

    I dunno. I tend to agree with Matthew on this… I think loyalty is often a dated concept in some ways. My grandfater worked for one company his entire career and retired from there. My father was in the service and retired from that, but afterward worked for multiple companies and certainly didn’t experience loyalty from the companies towards him by any means. It seems the days of working somewhere for your entire career are mostly gone and individuals need to be looking out for themselves. That being said, I did work for one organization for 15 years and now, I’m one to a new career path that I hope I will find myself in for sometime to come, but wouldn’t say that I think I’ll be with my present organization until retirement, but who knows.

    And is there a difference between the individual initiating it on work time or the recruiter initiating it one the individuals work time… not sure, but it doesn’t seem so. I feel it would be a problem if a person were to spend their workday job searching as opposed to a quick opportunity to put a bug in someone’s ear or hear about an opportunity briefly.

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