A leg up



February 15, 2019

Growing up near Philadelphia in a family that stressed the importance of practicing Judaism, I was able to be a part of a strong Jewish community. I went to Friday night Shabbat services, was confirmed and participated in BBYO.

When I came to Penn State, I wasn’t sure which of the hundreds of student organizations I wanted to join.

After a hectic first week of classes, I found something familiar: Shabbat services and dinner with Hillel. I finally felt like I found where I belonged.

Two years later, I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the treasurer and vice president, and I’ll serve as president of Penn State Hillel this year.

In addition to the friends I’ve made, I’ve gained invaluable professional and leadership development. The skills which stand out to me the most are tactful communication, interviewing well and understanding how to successfully build a team.

As a business major, earning and performing well during internships are crucial to finding a job after graduation. When I was a freshman serving on the executive board, I learned the importance of diplomacy and tact in the workplace. Understanding this has helped me through interviews, and especially in my internships.

I interned with The Hershey Company last summer in one of its logistics departments. I was working on a project to present to the company’s senior leadership, and I needed data from a full-time employee. This employee enjoyed starting arguments more than doing a favor for a coworker.

My experience in Hillel taught me the value of not just asking for the favor, but allowing her to speak and explaining how she could also benefit from helping me find the data I needed for my project.

Thankfully, this was successful, and she gave me the information I needed without an argument.

One of the most important parts of earning internships is knowing how to interview well. The best way to improve interview skills is to practice. Running for various positions in Hillel has provided me with practice and feedback I’ve used in professional interviews.

Hillel also gave me the chance, as a student, to sit on the other side of the table to interview potential full-time employees. This experience has shown me that it’s not only important to answer interview questions articulately, but it’s equally as important to understand how the question not only applies to you but to the company’s needs.

You need to answer the question behind the question.

I’ve been a member of teams comprised of strong individuals that fell apart at the first glimmer of adversity because the team members didn’t trust each other. I’ve also seen teams of strong individuals become life-long friends after working together through adversity. 

What makes the difference between the two outcomes, in my experience, is the ability of the team leader to build trust among the team before they face challenges. 

This trust develops from the leader showing each member that their ideas are valued, and that each member’s individual success is as important as the success of the team as a whole. I read about this in a textbook for one of my management classes, but my leadership experiences allowed me to truly understand it by putting this policy into practice.

These skills may seem intuitive, but trust me, they’re not. 

Anyone can read about management best practices in a book, but not everyone has the chance to live them at a young age. That’s what makes Hillel so special.

Today, I still have a long way to go before I achieve my goals, but the opportunities I’ve had through my participation in Hillel have allowed me to gain real-world experience and lessons that I’ll use for the rest of my life. 

And for that, I am truly grateful. 

Chad Finkelstein is a member of the Class of 2020 at Penn State University.