Mother: "I never realized that when I tried to shield Yaacov, I was enabling him to escape the consequences of his actions.
 Yaacov: " Gosh, it’s hard to regulate the way I talk and move… all while wearing real shoes and formal clothes!"
 Uncle: " My mother calls me every day, begging me to give Yaacov another chance. But it’s not about me; it’s all about him."


ell me about marketing,” I say to Yaacov.

Yaacov scratches his chin. “So let’s say you’re a business, right? You have a product you want people to buy. It’s not enough for it to be good; people need to know it’s good. So you need to tell everyone about it, why they should spend money on it, how amazing it is. So marketing is creating a vision for the consumer, an image of your product and business. It’s all in the presentation. I have an interview next week,” he adds abruptly.

“Do you want that job?”

“I think so. It’s like what I was doing before. The company is called GoMarket.”

“So you have a product — yourself. How will you convince them to buy?”

It clicks.

“Think backward,” I explain. “How do you want the interviewer to view you?”

“Uh … talented.” He tries again. “Responsible? Dependable. Professional.”

“Great. What can you do to present yourself that way?”

Yaacov scowls. “I don’t need to wear a tie!”

“How do you know?” I let the question hang for a minute. “Try the Yenta Rule: observe and evaluate the behavior of the people around you. How does everyone at GoMarket dress?”

“I’m supposed to go spy?”

“Sort of. Ask around, find out what the work environment is like. You know, how do they talk? How do they act? Do they wear ties or do they wear Crocs?”

Yaacov looks at his feet. “So I can never wear Crocs again?”

“Well, a corollary to the Yenta Rule is the Forgiveness Rule. That means that if you’re usually within social norms, people will forgive you if you’re occasionally a little goofy or unprofessional. But if you’re always goofy and unprofessional…”

I pull out a set of cards and ask Yaacov how he would greet each person shown.

The first card shows a teenager. “Yo,” says Yaacov.

The second shows a mother in a kitchen. “Hi.”

The third shows a businessman: “Good morning.”

“How would you greet the interviewer?”

“‘Hi, good morning.’ Handshake.”

I pull out another set of cards: stick figures in different positions. “What are you communicating when you drape yourself over a chair?”

“Tired? Bored. Chilling.”

“Will a potential boss take you seriously? What about a client?”

Yaacov sits up straight.

Timeliness is a crucial ingredient to the image Yaacov wants to achieve. “Say you need to get to work by 9 a.m. Or your project is due next week. Think backward. What do you need to do to be on time?”

Here Yaacov gets stuck. It’s time for time management training.

The Yenta Rule doesn’t mean always copying the people around you. It means, once you’ve determined that the behavior around you is appropriate, you modify your own behavior to conform to the expectations in your environment.

Clothes, language, and body language all contribute to the impression you make.

We’re not trying to turn Yaacov into a clone or robot. We’re trying to help him get — and keep — a job he wants.

The process is always to identify the desired result and then think backward.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 577. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators.