Go to shul, find a coach

Some go to synagogue to pray. Some go to study Torah. Some go to learn how to negotiate salary and benefits.


That’s right, a shul near you may soon be offering career-counseling workshops.

The workshops will take place because of a new partnership between Jewish Vocational Services and Next Step Partners, a firm that specializes in coaching for executives, individuals seeking career advice and students.

Rebecca Zucker, one of the principals of Next Step Partners, attended the annual luncheon of JVS several months ago, and was inspired with what she heard.

“I wanted to be able to support [JVS] by providing some services needed in the community,” said the 35-year-old San Francisco resident.

Zucker came to executive coaching after working in the business community herself. The Stanford MBA worked for several years as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in New York.

From there, she took a job that would help her realize her lifelong dream of living in Paris and becoming fluent in French; she worked for Disney, doing strategic planning for its consumer products, overseeing the Middle East and Africa.

After a few years of that, she was burned out, both by the workload and the hours she had to keep.

She stayed in Paris an extra year, supplementing her savings by coaching.

“I started coaching Europeans on everything from interview preparation, to helping executives with their presentation skills, and I loved it. At the time, I didn’t think about it as a career move, but I noticed I was incredibly excited about the one-on-one interaction I had, and the fact that I was supporting other people and satisfying their goals. Also, these people really valued what I brought to the table, and I loved all of that.”

Zucker then returned to the United States, settling in San Francisco, and took a job as a trainer in the investment banking division of Robertson Stephens Investments. And she found, once again, that she was really drawn to the people side of her work.

“I was an internal coach, and the junior analysts would come and scream and cry and shout or complain,” she said. “It wasn’t that I liked seeing people upset, but the part of my job I really loved was that I thought I could get to the heart of the issue quickly — not by giving advice or telling them what they should do — but by asking them the right questions and helping them figure it out.”

At the same time, Zucker had been seeing a coach herself. When she left that job, she joined forces with a business partner, and launched Next Step Partners, which sees clients around the country. The Web site is at www.nextsteppartners.com.

“We work with individuals and companies, including nonprofits, as well as MBA programs in areas of career transition and career development, with a focus on leadership development,” she said.

Zucker, who attends Congregation Emanu-El’s Late Shabbat and has participated in several programs through the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, said that something called “executive presence” is one of the specialties of the firm. Oftentimes, the CEO or other manager doesn’t have the polish and ease to inspire confidence in her employees, she pointed out.

“We work with people a lot around communication skills, or some may need help delegating, or some need to have control too much of things.”

Zucker has noticed some trends in the job market as of late. “The economy has improved, so we are seeing companies invest more in training than previously,” she said.

But when it comes to the employees, they are “taking the liberty to see what options are available to them both internally and externally … people are looking at what’s available to them before clinging to a less than ideal situation,” she added. “We see a lot of people taking a step back and asking not only what do they want to be doing with their careers and lives, but they want to be as effective as possible.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."