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I was fortunate to be among the audience (together with several professors and a rosh yeshiva) for this year’s Stern College Dramatics Society’s (SCDS) excellent production of Radium Girls. I encourage you to Google the saga of these “radium girls,” as it’s a fascinating piece of American history comprising landmark cases that led to new employment laws and protections. The cast expertly portrayed and raised questions regarding attitudes towards the role of women in society and the workplace, handling conflict, championing and leading change and so forth. While the women they portrayed didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, if they had they would be well prepared to answer common application essay questions such as this one:

“Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.”


This type of question commonly arises in interviews too, and as I read the Torah portions at this time of year, I imagine Moshe Rabbeinu being able to ace these questions using his life experience.

Interviewer: Describe a time you failed. What did you learn from your failure?

Moshe: I was unable to convince any more than 20 percent of the Jewish nation that their destiny lay with the one true G-d and in the Promised Land. I agonized for months after leaving 80 percent of the people behind, but ultimately, I came to realize that I couldn’t place all the blame on myself for their decision to remain. I learned that sometimes people will make decisions that go against the fiber of everything I believe in, and nothing I can say or do will change that fact. I also learnt that G-d’s ways are mysterious and G-d as it were makes choices too about why things happen the way they do. Ultimately, I learned to be a little more humble, acknowledging that even I am rarely privy to G-d’s plans.

Interviewer: Describe a time you needed to persuade someone of your perspective.

Moshe: When I returned to Egypt at the age of 80, I was tasked with negotiating with an autocratic CEO for the corporate restructuring of his company to allow for the formation of a new entity. It was evident from our initial meeting that my strategy would need to revolve around “Show, don’t just tell.” I helped orchestrate a campaign that appealed to the sensibilities of his shareholders who in turn would advocate that he acquiesce to the demerger, and after several meetings he agreed to our offer terms in full.

Interviewer: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you took to overcome it?

Moshe: I lacked belief in myself and my innate talents. Growing up in Pharaoh’s home I learned a great deal about leadership, however I also noticed the tension between “being there for the masses and being there for the missus,” that is, my wife. After what seemed like a lifetime of running away, I decided to confront my fears and accept my destiny as a leader. First, I stopped using my speech impediment as an excuse to avoid leadership, enlisting my brother to be my spokesman as needed. Knowing that I couldn’t be everything to everyone, I had a heart to heart with my wife and we made the painful decision to separate so I could focus on achieving liberation for our people. I also got an executive coach – my father-in-law – to remind me to “keep my eyes on the prize” – that is, keep my focus on leading and not dilute my focus with the mundane squabbles and questions of the rank and file. Surrounded by a wise advisory council including Aharon, Yisro, Miriam and Tzipporah, I no longer felt like I had to do everything alone, and their support enabled me to maintain belief in myself and my leadership abilities when things looked especially bleak.

Consider your own answers to the above questions. Demonstrating vulnerability, ownership of – and an ability to learn from – mistakes and failures, good self-insight, and awareness of areas you can improve, will help you stand out from the crowd.

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Rabbi Daniel Coleman, MBA, is sought after for his creative and strategic approach to career preparedness, transitions, and success. In addition to presenting to high school groups on career/financial preparedness, Daniel coaches college-bound students on navigating the admission process and crafting an excellent application. He is a popular scholar in residence in communities across America and beyond. Connect with him at [email protected] or on LinkedIn.