Paper People for the Picking: Relying on Résumés

All About Résumés and Facial Profiling

Shmuel started shidduchim at the age of 23. Within a few weeks, there were more than a hundred girls’ résumés in his mother’s inbox. It was a struggle for her to glean appropriate information from the facts and specifics that kept pouring in. Bright, educated, sincerely frum and growing, Shmuel was not the stereotypical yeshivah boy and most suggestions were highly off the mark.

One résumé was sent by an acquaintance who had little knowledge of Shmuel and even less confidence in her own ability to redt shidduchim. She recommended they use a local Rav, who knew both families, as the shadchan. The résumé she sent seemed more off point than most, with no overlap of the schools and seminaries Shmuel felt comfortable with. But phone calls to a few references familiar to Shmuel’s mother glowingly portrayed the girl in a way that seemed highly compatible. Yet Shmuel declined the idea, unable to relate to the image her résumé presented.

Weeks went by and Shmuel’s mother intuitively returned to that résumé, deciding to call the suggested Rav for his input. The Rav gave his hearty endorsement, but Shmuel was still unconvinced and said no. However, the Rav misinterpreted the mother’s call as a “yes” and called back two days later saying the girl had said “yes” too. Shmuel was dumbfounded but agreed with his mother that he had no choice but to take the girl out to preserve the her kavod. They have been happily married for over four years.

This “accidental” shidduch, while a clear illustration of the concept of bashert and the workings of Yad Hashem, is not an example of a common occurrence. The advent of résumés in shidduchim, a technological simplifier, amplifies preconceived notions and often reduces a person to data and statistics. In an effort to ascertain the benefits and pitfalls of résumés, Hamodia spoke with a cross-section of shadchanim, who offered their impressions of résumés and their impact on shidduchim in the frum community.

Aviva Fineman is an accomplished Manhattan shadchan who has particular success with older singles. Her individual approach includes much hand-holding during the process, a style evident when discussing résumés. Though Mrs. Fineman agrees they provide a “shortcut,” she also feels they come “at a high price.”

“Although a résumé is convenient,” she says, “it reduces everyone to one piece of paper. Too easily someone gets dismissed because how do you put certain qualities on a résumé?” Worse, Mrs. Fineman feels it sidelines the shadchan, often at the expense of the single. “I love making shidduchim more than anything in the world, but this process disheartens me because I feel that instead of listening to what I, as a shadchan, have to say about a shidduch, I’m told, ‘Send me a résumé.’ People are not willing to have a conversation until they get a résumé.”

When asked how singles can better determine the viability of a prospective shidduch, she replies, “The answer is that instead of trusting the résumé, trust the shadchan, the purveyor of the information. Because someone whom you know very well and has your interests in mind means a lot more than just a résumé.” She questions the method of professional shadchanim who “send a hundred résumés and hope one will stick” and thinks this may hurt the system “by cheapening the person they represent.”

When asked what an effective résumé should look like, Mrs. Fineman replies, “Bare bones.” According to her, résumés should include convenient starting points — a shul, the Rav, schools, siblings, mechutanim. “If all résumés contained only factual information, it would level the playing field and cause people to give a quicker answer. Facts, like whether someone is looking for a learner or a professional, can be gotten from the shadchan. Anything else, like describing a girl as nice, frum, warm or sweet, is subjective and discounted.”

Mrs. Fineman also cautions against listing friends as references. “I find it counterproductive to call most references on the résumé, especially friends, unless the shidduch is out of town and you’re flying blind. References say what you want to hear. No one wants to ruin a shidduch and you usually won’t get accurate information.”

Most of all, she bemoans the advent of pictures. “Pictures have changed everything. Instead of meeting a girl, she gets dismissed because of a headshot. Five years ago, if someone asked for a photo, I wouldn’t deal with them. But today there is no such thing [in many non-Chassidish circles – Eds] as suggesting a shidduch without a photo. I think that’s very harmful.”

It seems that pictures and especially résumés have become entrenched in the frum community. “If you don’t have a résumé now, people look at you as suspect. Before résumés, if a boy heard a girl was really special, even if she didn’t have everything on his checklist, he would give her a chance. But now they don’t want to go on a date because they don’t like everything that’s on a résumé.” For that reason, she strongly recommends a shadchan’s personal involvement.

Mindy Eisenman, a well-known educator and social worker from Monsey, has been making shidduchim for years and serves as Staff Connector at YUConnects. Like most areas of life, Mrs. Eisenman reflects that dating has become “more nuanced, enhanced and fast-paced.” And she points to the positive result of that transformation. “We now have technology and everything has evolved. I think a résumé can be great because it gives you something to start with. When I get that résumé before I talk to a girl or a guy, at least I have some information.”

But there is a downside. “Some people are so quick to try and set someone up that it becomes all about the résumé. I do feel that the best shidduchim are made when people have a relationship with the shadchan. Some shadchanim send résumés without knowing the person they’re representing. I really want to get to know the nuances of a single so I can better set them up. Having a résumé with information is very helpful, but remember that it’s not a person; it’s just a one-dimensional piece of paper. No one is the sum total of what’s written.”

Mrs. Eisenman agrees that pictures are a difficult subject. “There are those who point out that it’s not tznius. But at a certain point or a certain age, if a girl refuses to send a picture I can’t get her a date. And people can still get pictures through other means, even in the more right-wing world. They will find a picture — but it may not be the one a girl wants them to see. So, take a good picture. Whether you like it or not, if it’s here to stay, at least do it well.”

When asked how singles can better their prospects, Mrs. Eisenman suggests that they hone in on their own strengths and limitations and better their relationships with shadchanim. “The first thing is, harbeh sheluchim laMakom. I encourage singles to develop positive relationships with people so they will keep sending ideas. No one can afford for people to think negatively of them.”

Most importantly, Mrs. Eisenman urges singles to concentrate on what’s important. “Too many boys and mothers are stuck on the size and look of the girl, rather than focusing on whether she will be kind, warm and good-hearted. That is not the Jewish way.” And she recommends flexibility. “Don’t limit yourself to only one type of yeshivah or seminary. When a shadchan presents a good shidduch that isn’t exactly the profile you want, give it a try. Unfortunately, résumés have resulted in a lack of personal touch. A résumé is just a piece of paper. If you say no to a piece of paper, at least ask the shadchan why she sent it to you.”

Rabbi Moshe Pogrow has been an advocate for shidduchim for over 12 years as the director of the Nasi Project. His “cardinal rules” regarding shidduch résumés contain practical guidelines to optimize a single’s prospects.

“We live in a world where résumés are now a big part of shidduchim,” Rabbi Pogrow explains. His first rule is making sure that the résumé is limited to one page and contains the single’s name and address on top, in addition to the correct contact information for the boy/girl. “I have seen many résumés missing the contact information, and the shadchan has no idea how to reach anyone.” Other rules dictate including height and a birthdate. “No one wants to look at a résumé that says the girl is 21 and she’s 24.”

[A résumé listing an age as opposed to a birth year may be outdated and therefore misleading. – Eds]

“Résumés should be clean and easy to read. They should not include descriptions of what someone is like and is looking for in order to avoid having a prospective shidduch pull it apart.” It is the shadchan’s role to present the reasons behind each particular suggestion and explain why it is an appropriate idea. However, Rabbi Pogrow does suggest providing a separate brief description about the boy/girl and what he/she is looking for, perhaps in the body of an email. This ensures that the shadchan will better remember that person.

Pictures are a delicate subject, and Rabbi Pogrow tackles it with a practical approach. “There are three targets for pictures — the shadchan, the mother of the boy and the boy himself. In the first couple years of dating, any mother who shows her son a picture of a girl he’s being redt to is negligent in her parental role. She may think she’s doing her son a service but instead, she is guaranteeing that her son will have a more complicated dating process. Showing her son a picture is bad parenting.”

Likewise, shadchanim who show a picture to a boy before a shidduch act “selfishly,” because doing so harms a boy’s ability to date effectively. However, it is important to give a shadchan a picture for practical reasons. “A single is well within her rights to tell the shadchan not to share a photo. But if someone meets a shadchan and doesn’t leave a photo, she can be guaranteed that the shadchan will forget who she is within 36 hours. It’s impossible for shadchanim to remember everyone they meet. This is also especially important if someone doesn’t go to the shadchan but just speaks on the phone and sends a résumé, because the shadchan won’t be able to answer when asked what the single looks like. Boys and girls need to help shadchanim be their advocates.”

Rabbi Pogrow also stresses the importance of having the right references on a résumé. “Be smart about your references. I know of too many episodes where references were killing shidduchim. Choose your references carefully, inform them of your choice, and be sure they have up-to-date and accurate information on your son or daughter. Make sure you’re on the same page so the references can accurately portray your child and family in a positive way.”

Varda Berkowitz began redting shidduchim among baalei teshuvah at her Passaic Shabbos table 15 years ago and has been successful among all sorts of singles ever since. She acknowledges the change in shidduchim over the years. “Definitely, there was a gradual shift that coincided with the development in technology. We went from phone calls to faxes to email and now to WhatsApp.”

Mrs. Berkowitz thinks there is a “chachmah” to composing a résumé. “Shidduchim are in the hands of Hashem, so someone can have a perfect résumé and struggle in shidduchim and someone can have a terrible résumé and marry the first person they date. It’s not a cause and effect. Rabbi Yonason Sacks says, ‘Hishtadlus is positioning yourself to receive the brachah from HaKadosh Baruch Hu.’ By having a résumé that is well thought-out, you’re now positioning yourself better.”

The problem arises when someone gets too many résumés, one after the other. “It does make people quick to say, ‘Next, next.’ They might not reject it but put it to the bottom of the pile. And some people don’t even want to listen to an idea. They say, ‘Just send me the résumé.’”

Mrs. Berkowitz also points to the dichotomy between our fast-paced, multi-tasking society and the time- consuming nature of shidduchim. “Résumés try to shortcut the process but they’re really just a calling card for a person. We get into trouble when people start reading a résumé with Rashi and Tosafos. ‘What? Her brother went to that school? What does that mean?’ It becomes an issue when people reject an idea as soon as there’s some kind of question about what’s on the résumé. Instead, find out what it means.”

Regarding pictures, Mrs. Berkowitz admits that, even in more yeshivish circles, a picture will be seen regardless of whether the shadchan sends one or not. “The fact that they didn’t ask for a picture doesn’t mean they won’t see one.”

And she proposes limiting résumés to facts for those starting out dating. “A résumé is a way of getting a taste or flavor of who the single is. I’m not in favor of writing shpiels of what you’re all about when you’re just starting to date.” But singles who have dated extensively should include a description of themselves and what they’re looking for. “At that point, they don’t have to be necessarily as locked into certain facts about the person they want to meet.”

Mrs. Berkowitz also advises boys and girls of all ages and their parents to be educated about information on a résumé. “It’s their responsibility to find out about different schools, yeshivos and seminaries. Should they jump to conclusions only based on that? That’s also not healthy. But you need something in the middle.”

Lisa Elefant, who spearheaded the highly successful Adopt A Shadchan program aimed at involving shuls in shidduchim, is a celebrated shadchan in Brooklyn. She remembers the days when she started redting shidduchim from two notebooks — one for boys and one for girls.

“It was pretty time consuming,” she recalls. A year after she began, Mrs. Elefant was shocked when someone asked for a résumé. “I said, ‘We’re talking about a shidduch, right, not a job?’ Then people started calling and requesting résumés. I thought it was great because a résumé has all the information. The problem is that it evolved over the years and people stopped making phone calls and just send over résumés. But all it is, is a piece of paper.”

According to Mrs. Elefant, the résumé is a sort of double-edged sword. While it is a game-changer in terms of saving time on both ends, it has eliminated the human element. “Looking back, there is no way I would be able to redt the amount of shidduchim I redt if I had to call the person, get the person on the phone, have them write down all the information. But I think we’re losing sight of the fact that it’s just a convenience. We need the shadchan’s personal involvement. It’s impossible to humanize a résumé without that.”

Mrs. Elefant thinks that the résumé is “great” for anyone looking for a shidduch in the box, like the long-term learner or typical yeshivish girl. “They tend to gravitate to more similar types of yeshivos and schools. There, the résumé will speak to them more. Still, they need that human explanation because of the sheer volume of résumés. But in other communities, where they could be looking for so many different things and have different choices, they certainly need an individual advocate, especially if a person has an atypical résumé. If it’s just sent without explanation, it won’t go anywhere.”

Mrs. Elefant concurs that there’s probable inequity between the number of résumés sent to boys and to girls, but she also observes that the higher number of résumés boys get can give their mothers a false sense of security. “A mother can have a huge stack of résumés and 99% of them can be totally not shayach. The sheer number of résumés doesn’t mean anything. A boy’s mother has to tackle a pile of résumés. All a girl’s mother can do is network. That’s just the process.”

That process is increasingly about pictures too. “It’s across many religious spectra. It’s often difficult at this point to get a shidduch in the door without a picture. If you don’t want to give a picture, one will be found anyhow and it might not be the best one. The picture is of a bas Yisrael and should be used appropriately and discreetly, but if you’re going to buck the system, you may lose out.”

Mrs. Elefant also suggests putting only basic facts on a résumé, with a separate short blurb indicating what someone is looking for. As for the shadchan, he or she shouldn’t send a boy’s family more than one or two at a time. “If you’re sending ten, it says you’re not sure of any of them. If you send fewer, you will get a better response. If parents get ten résumés from someone, they’ll hit delete. They’re not interested.”

Newly married Sara Rosenblum from Queens dabbled in shidduchim for years before becoming a shadchan on Saw You At Sinai. She agrees that things have evolved over time in the shidduch world but thinks that “résumés, like everything else in life, are good and bad.” They can be great for singles “who are very in the box and looking for a certain background, family and schools because they narrow that down for a person. The problem arises for someone out of the box who needs more color.

“My résumé seemed so boring and typical to my husband,” she confides. “But for the one phone call to one random reference on the résumé, who thankfully painted a vivid picture of me, he would not have pursued the idea. That’s where hashgachah comes in.”

When it comes to résumés, Mrs. Rosenblum thinks that “less is more.” She suggests that descriptions should be for the shadchan only, because of the danger of misinterpretation. “People have gotten so crazy and misread descriptions. Singles should avoid paragraphs on résumés. Call the references instead.”

She also stresses the importance of a shadchan’s personal involvement in the process and of concentrating on fewer ideas at a time. “Instead of one suggestion, I know boys who get inundated with five, ten résumés at a time and are told to pick one. It’s overwhelming. They can’t tell the difference between them and most likely will end up going out with none of them. A boy listens more when you comprehensively describe one girl. I will never mention two girls to a boy, even if I have two or three ideas. I always start with one. If it doesn’t work, then I go to the next one.”

To Mrs. Rosenblum, pictures are not unwelcome. “Personally, I get a better impression of a person from a picture than from a résumé.” But she cautions against reading too much into both pictures and résumés. She reflects on having gone through the process and realizes that many girls and boys need to make a conscious effort to make things work. “You need to ask: ‘Is this boy good for me? Is he nice? Will he take care of me?’ — Does he have those qualities that you don’t focus on in a résumé? That’s what singles have to pay more attention to.”

Most importantly, Mrs. Rosenblum encourages more people to be involved in making shidduchim. “There aren’t enough people helping. To too many people, it’s a foreign concept to set up their neighbor with their cousin. If every person took a little bit of achrayus, imagine how many more singles would be going out.”