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December 2011
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February 2012

January 2012

Sell Yourself

I was on a career panel this week with Tim Harris Executive VP of the Lakers. We were presenting to a bunch of students at UCLA who want to know what they are going to do with their Sociology degrees. Tim and I were both Sociology majors.

Sociology, like a lot of social science or liberal arts educations truly enables graduates to do whatever they want to do. And we discussed these virtues. These are hollow words to those who expected a clear career decision to come out of their classes (including those nagging parents). Those with educations understand well that an undergrad degree is the platform, the foundation on which a career is built. But I digress....

Tim and I tried to share some thoughts, and suggestions about life after the degree and how to approach the choices and chances ahead.

Tim did something brilliant. He asked, "How many of you want to go into sales, cold calling, and marketing a product?" Predictably, there was an awkward pause and one hand shot up and another one sheepishly raised her hand halfway. Then Tim, said, "You all have to go into sales and cold call, because that is what you have to do to get a job!" He went on to say that marketing oneself is your number one product and if you can't do that you won't be successful. You could feel the regret rush into the room. The regret of not answering the question correctly. But also the regret of being ill-prepared to "sell" oneself.Selling

We know that there is a big difference between passive marketing and selling. When supply exceeds demand you have to separate yourself by actively pursuing the opportunities. Waiting for a response or hoping you get one is plain ole lazy and ineffective.

Real selling and marketing require  great messaging, preparation, networking, research, and courage---fearlessness. Many younger job/career seekers think the job search is a video game. Apply online, fill out apps, send e-mails. They avoid human contact and the effort it takes to talk to people, to get feedback and help. Surprise! The interview requires you to log off and literally face your future!

The basic elements of your sales strategy:

  1. Your job and career goals. What are your targeted industries, employers, and missions without regard to job openings? Where do you want to work?
  2. A great resume and cover letter. Is your resume ready for primetime?
  3. A confident story about who you are and where you are going.
  4. A kitchen cabinet, your personal board of directors or advisors. Who is mentoring and or guiding you on a regular basis?

Real sales people develop relationships. They do their homework. They research their prospects to see if and how there is a fit. They talk to people at all levels to get a read on the company and in this case the potential supervisor. They even mystery shop these employers to see how the company does things. And they get referred by influential and trusted colleagues so the candidate gets the attention in the screening process,  a shot at an interview and gets hired.

The most effective selling starts way before the job search and lasts well after. Keeping your brand fresh and in demand is critical. Makes your selling during a job search so much easier.

In truth, there is little if any cold calling--that is contacting total strangers for jobs. Yes your interview may be with "strangers" but the process of getting the interview is alot more warm calling. Engaging your network in your search, referrals, references, and insights will be invaluable. Getting people you know to help you.

Yes, there are always those who over sell and take things to the extreme.  Like anything, use your judgment and discretion on how aggressive you want to be. But the vast majority of candidates are under sold, under marketed, and the employer is under-whelmed.

This is Tim's point. Of course you need to have the gumption and guts to sell yourself, but you have to be smart about your approach. Selling isn't just about the ASK. It is about the the preparation for the ASK--your preparation and preparing the employer for your candidacy.

If you really want a job or to work at a particular place, you have to differentiate your candidacy from the masses. We assume you have the skills and competencies. But how will you differentiate yourself? Your passion. Your knowledge of the position and company--most people don't do any homework. Who refers you and your references-- who you know and who knows you. Outside validation is comforting to the employer. All of this has to be part of your sales package and approach.

If you aren't willing to sell by putting in the effort and time, then don't bother applying. Those that sell will shine and those who think that their specialness will ooze out of their online app or resume have a rude awakening.

Tim Harris is absloutely correct. Prepare and psych yourself up to sell! Push yourself to embrace the  part of your job search that gets you out from behind the computer. Selling will increase your chances that new doors will open and opportunities will present themselves.

 Thanks for reading. John

Networking by the Boards

When I was much younger, I got the good advice to get on a few boards--non-profit and for profit--advisory and fiduciary. I naively thought it was difficult to get on boards and further that it was some type of honor. Of course there are a select number of boards that are highly coveted, but the vast majority are accessible to the qualified and the connected.

I also made the mistake of thinking that well known people were recruited on to many boards to help the organization. I learned that many of those well known people are also intentionally building even more robust networks.

Networks snow balls. The more you do the bigger and better they become.

I ask most people I meet. "What boards are you on?" It is a wonderful conversation starter and anyone who has ambitions and a vision for their community is on a board or three. I am not saying that only board members are the ones changing the world or doing work of substance. But it is very telling about what they are doing with their lives, where their priorities may lie, and to whom they are connected. My point here is board members get connected and those connections multiply. And when warm close knit connections increase, then opportunities get amplified. It is very basic networking.Board meeting

People who are working together closely, who see themselves as peers, will help one another.

I estimate that 50% of the opportunities I have been given have come through my current and past board memberships. That makes it possible for me to stay on my 8 week interview diet!

Board members recruit their colleagues for other boards. This is even more true on for-profit boards. People want people with experience that they trust.

If you think a board is the way to increase your sales prospects, you are sadly mistaken. I have been on and staffed board members who are solely mercenary --only interested in their commissions. These are the worst board members.

The work of the cause, org, or company must come first. You have to show up (literally and figuratively) and become fully engaged. Your brand on the board is about your work on the board. Your great reputation and resume got you to the table, but they are meaningless potential until you deliver for the org. Yes then and only then, will opportunities for business and career follow. And your board work will enhance your resume and the cycle continues.

Find organizations you admire, deeply care about and support. That is your starting point. Among these groups you need to shop for the boards that are the most compatible with you and your life and goals. You may have to work your way up through committees or volunteering. Not always a bad thing to experience the organization from a different perspective. Test the organization before you are in charge of running it! You probably will need to be nominated--you can rarely just apply directly. There is usually a formal nominating process that will take months and in some instances years. Like all things in life you must be patient. There is no instant gratification here.

  • What do you have to offer a board? Do you have the time? Are you willing to raise money and give money? Do you have other skills, talents, and experience you will offer?
  • What orgs do you want to help define/direct and make more successful? Make a list of your highest priorities.
  • Who do you know on those Boards or people that know those people? Get introduced to have informational interviews to explore what the organization's status and culture. What skills, background, and perspectives does the org need?

Be prepared for the democracy of a board. The balance between staff and board for control and direction. A majority of the members not pulling their weight. And the dilution of your ideas and suggestions.

But in the end, being on a board will deepen your understanding of the realities of running an org, especially a non-profit. What it takes to solve complex and intractable problems. You will be shoulder to shoulder with a new network of fascinating people who will broaden your network and your view of the world. And opportunities will follow.

If you say, "I am too busy to be on a Board." We all know the best people to ask to serve are the busy ones. Who wants to recruit someone who is idle? ;) Maybe you are not busy enough!!

Thanks for reading. John


Next Level Networking

Never give a party if you will be the most interesting person there. -- Mickey Friedman

Assess your current network and your mentors. Is it/are they good enough? Adding to and enhancing these resources is imperative. Never settle or get too settled with them. Is your network smarter than you?

No need to dump anyone. Upgrade by adding with a view to the next level.Next level

Surround yourself with smarter and more successful people. Always play with better golfers and tennis players. Always hire people who have more potential or even experience than you do.

Hang around people who know different things and people.

Connect with the next level. The next level you envision for yourself. People who are "ahead" of you in skill, knowledge, confidence and/or career. What are their secrets? How did they get there? And what is it like to be there? Do you even want to be at that level?

When you stretch you will appreciate what you have to offer and that you are better than you think. But left to the devices of self loathing and doubt you will never know.

I have learned this a thousand times. To hang with people who are further along the path than me. It pulls me and pushes me. More often than not I learn I already have what it takes to be at the next level. And other times I see my gaps in their gory details. Either way it is an education on the path I desire.

Don't get me wrong I do not categorize and measure levels. I just know what I don't know. I know when I am reaching my level of incompetence. I know people who are smarter than me. Being around them gets me to ask better questions, hear about sources of knowledge, and talk about things that matter. There is always a next level.

To be mature is to seek assistance.

So every time I have parachuted into a new field, I ask as many people who I think know --"who are the top 5 leaders in this work I should meet? And who are the 5 I should avoid?" And everyone has a list. Everyone gives me names. Then I call up these first 5 and say "everyone" has recommended I meet you. And the person says like who? And then I tell them, they are impressed and often a little embarrassed. And I connect to the next level with confidence.

To understand where you are going, talk to people who are going that way.

Who are the top 5 teachers, salespeople, executive directors, managers, fundraisers, CFOs in your field or in the field you covet?

Who are people that are more advanced in your other interests, better golfers, better chefs, more expert wine enthusiasts, better parents, better travelers.....

I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. Groucho Marx

Join organizations, boards and clubs that have members who are next level.

So find people you think are further along your path. People who can teach you and stretch you. Not intimidating people who have rank and title, but people who will unwittingly or willingly show you the next level.

 Thanks for reading. John

Purpose Driven Networking--Search Me

As the new year unfolds, I always get a flurry of requests for help. People get focused on their needs and wants and reach out. I try to help. Yet people think that I have THE ANSWER. Regrettably, it  is never that simple. Looking for a job, considering a return to school, contemplating a career shift, or finding a soul mate--all have one thing in common. What do you want? What would be meaningful to you? And therefore Who are you? What is your purpose?

I sometimes get treated like a Google search box. Put in your Boolean search phrase and get millions of options in 1 second. It don't work that way! The Kobara search box asks you the questions! By the way this is called mentoring. Some people call it a Jewish conversation--you know when a question is answered with a question :)

But poorly thought out questions always deserve a question. Quality questions get quality answers.

The questions I pose in paragraph one above are often met with disappointment. The look, body language, and inflection I get in return tells me they just wanted me to give them the answer. And I know the answer is within them.

You have greatness within you.   Les BrownWe_Have_Greatness_Within_Us_by_rvpdesignz

Here are a few inquiries I have had in the first week of this new year.

Like to volunteer for a non-profit in LA.  What organizations would you recommend? --Cold voice mail received from a friend of a friend

Huh? I'd like to go fishing in the ocean, what bait should I use? Yikes. Of course this simple, and I mean in all ways, question triggers a thousand questions. There are more than 30,000 non-profit orgs in LA, after you eliminate the churches, hospitals and schools.! We can not get away with using Rose Parade Themes to define our journeys! Our questions have to be driven by our hearts and our passions, read PURPOSE.

I always wanted to be somebody, but I realized I should have been more specific. --LilyTomlin

More queries:

I am applying to grad school, do you think having more volunteer experience will help?

 I want to meet new people to date, the online thing is not working for me. What should I do?

Here's the deal. When you pursue things you care about, good things happen for your career, your educational options and your love life. Not only do you gain more experience, and your social network grows in substantive ways, but you become more attractive. What do I mean? How interesting are people who have jobs they don't like or don't care about? We are drawn to people who are doing things they love. There is an infectious energy. They become a magnet for more opportunities.

The opposite never works. Do things to impress others or that look good to say a grad school or a potential mate.

Where is the purpose in your life? What is your greatness? Pursue it!

Don't be confused. I am not saying that you have to be passionate about your day job. Be nice but not a requirement. I am saying connect with an issue, cause, through a non-profit organization.  Not a popular or a trendy one. One that speaks to your possibilities as Eric Saperston says. One that makes your heart beat faster and makes you feel good. Something that resonates with your soul.

It has to be personal. Your pursuit of your goodness will attract good things.

The answers to these questions lie within you. It is not so much what you will do next, but why.

I am always looking for the why in these questions I get. How is their pursuit of happiness driven by who they are---their purpose. Lead and network with purpose, instead of ambiguity and generality. Very different to test, connect to, explore your purpose than to go though motions in the hope of finding one.

Of course, while the answers are deeply personal, you can not do it alone. That's why connecting with others to get feedback and direction on the purposes and passions that swirl within you is so important. Yes and the hard and fulfilling work is to let them guide you.

Google yourself. Search within. Nurture your purpose. Engage and test that purpose through volunteering. Then your mentoring and networking will introduce you to a spectacular world of answers and opportunities.

Thanks for reading. John


Turn Regrets Into Resolutions

We must not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.  T. S. Eliot

We can not start a new year and just hope that it will be different. We have to know it for the first time. We have to think about where we are and where we came from. Who we are and who we want to be. We must own our actions, inactions and our reactions. We must take responsibility for all of our achievements both regretted and celebrated. All are worthy of our attention to gain insight into what we need to do.

A big mistake is to forget the things you regret from the previous year. We all all want to avoid regrets, but stuff happens or didn't happen. So as we make our annual promises to excercise more and eat less, let's also take a quick inventory of what we regretted from 2011. Regrets are opportunities for reflection and enlightenment.  Tattoo-Regret

Regrets are sins of commission and omission. They are an essential component of our humanity. If we do not have the emotional and intellectual capacity to think about what we did or did not do, then we are socio-paths with no compass. We regret because we feel.  To regret is human.

The most helpful way to experience regret is to feel it deeply, get over it quickly and move on and use it to push you to new behaviors that are going to be helpful.       Dr. Neal Roese, Northwestern University

Always fascinated by people in job interviews who have no regrets, no failures, no weaknesses. It's not as suspicious, as it is telling of an emptiness. Our lives are filled with the good and the regretted. The only way we can improve is to be aware of our shortcomings ans our regrets. Awareness is always the first step. 

In a meta-analysis of many regret studies conducted by Neal Roese of Northwestern, here's what he found we regret most:


These studies were biased towards younger persons and students. Earlier this year, Roese surveyed adults from across the country and got these results

Romance, marriage and life partners topped the list, followed by family relationships and then education and career again.

What will I do differently in 2012 to push these regrets off my list? We know that doing the exact same thing you did last year is insufficient to address these areas of your life. Whichever you feel are important to you, need to go on the top of your 2012 resolutions list.

Relationships, education and career will always dominate your list. Relationships take great effort and time as they evolve and can not be neglected. Same for education and career. The world is changing and so must you, to stay fresh and sharp. These areas require your constant attention to continuously sustain them and improve. Ignore them at your peril. These regrets can turn into tumors if you give up. There are many sources of regret that have to be forgotten. Buyer's remorse, for example, is not worth your time--move on! And as you can see, financial decisions are not as important. But your primary human romantic and familial relationships are key to your life satisfaction. As well as your life's work and career.

Here's the intangible. Regrets of omission and inaction may be the most daunting because you do not know what those choices would have triggered. We know that each action generates a cascade of events and actions that can change your life. So hesitate less and go for it more. Take a chance. Feel the fear and be more decisive. Be first to connect and reconnect with people you care about or don't know yet. Mentor others. "Next time" rarely happens. Let life take you to uncharted waters and new territories. The only thing you may lose ----is a regret!

We need to learn to love the flawed imperfect things we create and forgive ourselves for creating them.  Regret does not remind us that we did badly, it reminds us that we know we can do better. --Kathryn Shulz

Happy New Year and thanks for reading. John