Career change

Career FITness: FIT or Finished

Like a finely made car, brand new and just out of the factory, there is as they say, fit and finish. It is shiny, everything works well, there are no rattles or dings. But we know when we drive off the lot, the car loses value and it starts its inevitable decline into planned obsolescence. Both its FITness and Finish are victims of time, without a maintenance program.

Your FITness in your life is crucial. Do you still FIT into your professional life? Are you at the right place at this time in your life? Do you like what you do and does your work like you?

Hiring today is more about FIT than anything else. There are still a lot of very qualified competent people with impressive resumes out there. But can they FIT into the culture and get along with the team? Do they FIT?

But many people forget that FITness is ongoing. After the offer letter, retention, growth and success at your employer depends on your evolving and adapting FITness.

What got you here, is not what will get you there.

FITness is a two-sided deal. Your employer is always evaluating your talent. Either you are growing and adapting or you are not. But the key to FITness is your evaluation. Your assessment of whether you FIT, whether the current place you spend most of your waking hours is still the right FIT.

Do I FIT? Is there a FIT?  So what is my FITness?

Captive slave
Michelangelo’s sculpture The Captive Slave , seemingly half- finished, shows a figure attempting to escape from the stone. Or is about the struggle for freedom in everyday life?

We can get complacent until something happens. Usually something bad, really bad.

We fall out of FITness like America became obese. When we woke up we were out of shape with our lives. We get stuck in a comfortable cycle that we know is not good for us. We are bloated with apathy and have little energy for change—even though we know FITness is what we need and even crave. We wonder how we got to this point. It just happened.

I don’t FIT into my jeans or my life :)

As a close friend of mine was told by his spouse, “I guess your job needs you more than you do.” That was a 7.0 on the Richter Scale. He left the job when he realized what others saw for years.

My wife told me, after I left one of my 19 positions. “Never do that to us again!” She told me how brutal it was for her and the kids. I was blown away and clueless. I knew it was a bad FIT but I didn’t know how obvious it was. My poor FITness unintentionally hurt my family life too.

On the other side, when you FIT you know it. You feel engaged and you engage people around you. You are leading your life. You don’t talk about how busy you are or how stressed you are (signs of you are not FIT). Instead you have a sense of contribution to the work of a team and a greater purpose. It shows on your face and others see it clearly.

Are you willing to do what it takes to get FIT where you are?

Are you engaged in helping your colleagues and your boss succeed?

Have you negotiated and pushed for what you want?

Have you explored the ways you can develop your skills knowledge and abilities?

More often I talk people off ledges. People who have developed almost self destructive relationships with their jobs. A Stockholm Syndrome like dependency. They are trying to tough out a situation that is clearly wrong for them. I never say, JUMP! I want them to see it—to define the lack of FITness.

  • “I have just 8 years to get my retirement (8 years! You could get two bachelor degrees!)
  • “I really like the people I work with, I just hate the work.”
  • “I can’t quit this job now, how would it look on my resume?”
  • “I am ready to be promoted, I like where I work even though there is no place for me to move up.”

These are the sounds of people on the River Denial. They hope something will happen. Lightning will strike. Things might get better down the road—after the new VP settles in, or the new product line is launched, or after my vacation……. Waiting is never a strategy. Even if they want to leave they have to invest in a smooth transition. 

But bad examples should never motivate. That’s too easy. Here’s the deal. You have limited time to do what you want and pursue what’s in your heart. To have a life that is fulfilling. To find FITness. And then you die. Sorry.

The people who find FITness have a growing understanding of what they want. They have clearer goals about money and material things. They know MORE is not a path to FITness. Purpose is the way to FITness.

They find FITness where they are. They add to their life portfolios to become FIT. They invest in their relationships and their passions. They start to lead themselves and others by setting an example of what they want.

So pull up your big boy and big girl pants and start to take control of your FITness.

Start by articulating what you want. Not by whining about what you don’t want.

Take a swing for the fences of fulfillment. Not telling you to quit, but pack your parachute well. Make plans. Moonlight. Experiment. Talk to people. Explore your network.

This sense of direction and purpose (even if you are not exactly sure where you are going) will give you confidence and inspire confidence around you. Opportunities seek and find such people.

How’s your FITness? Do you FIT? Are you FIT or finished?

Thanks for reading. John

Don't Let Your Resume Dictate Your Career Path

Wouldn't it be nice if our next career adventure would magically present itself just when the challenge and growth runs out of our current gig? And how will you be spending your lottery ticket winnings? ;)

But most I meet wait until a crises hits and act surprised when a different adventure ensues. An adventure for which they are ill prepared.

But when is the right time to leave, change, or quit? Time 2

Some measure it by time. "Gosh it's been 5 years, I guess I need to move on." Maybe. Maybe not. Jobs don't have an expiration date. Resumes do not require advancement in set increments. If you are so linear and myopic you might employ this approach.

The other one I hear al lot is, "I don't like my job, but I better stick it out for 2 years so my resume doesn't look weird." 

Really? It is your story. You are the writer and the main character. But what is the plot and where are you going?

I always think about jobs like relationships. Few are forever. Almost all take hard work and you can't give up on a whim. And toxic ones need to be abandoned.

Don't let your resume dictate your career path.

As I have said ad nauseum, "To be ambitiousness you need an ambition." Meaning--just wanting more without a concept of success is purposeless and direction-less. 

Just talked to a young rising star executive who was working for a big movie studio. He had a cushy job, nice work-life balance, and was well compensated. He and his wife recently had a baby and he woke up to his new responsibilities. Yet he also started to confront his age and stage in life. Most people reach this moment and they recoil from change and hunker down to retain the staus quo. But this young man realized that he was settling. That he was not growing or even contributing to the end product. He had been with this employer for awhile and could easily stretch it out a few more. Nevertheless, he decided to make a career change. He left for a start-up. 

Not because he was fired but because he was fired up. Not because he hit a ceiling but because he saw the door to his own future. Not because he had a bad boss, but because he realized he is in charge of his own destiny. 

This is the key to a life of satisfaction. Make your own path. Determine your own trajectory.

Some would say he was crazy. He should have waited until the baby was older. (They are planning to have several kids) Others understand that you have an internal clock. What other people think is irrelevant. It is your clock and your sense of timing that matters. Not what looks right but what feels right.

Timing is everything and the time is always now. This is the time to think, plan and execute on your plans.  

Know when it is time. Listen to your mentors and those who care. But then listen to your heart. Like this young exec, you realize you want something different, then you start to define what you want, and then you seek it. 

Being restless is not a career plan. "It just seems like a time to change." Is a bizarre feeling to risk your career. Great yiddish word: shpilkes. "ants in the pants" state of impatience and/or agitation. 

Shpilkes is not sufficient to re-write your resume.

I remember I was sittiing in my office--an office I designed. I was so comfortable. I was large and in charge. I had a team of assistants and many "yes" people. I suddenly woke up from my self admiration and I realized I was becoming a bit of a fraud. (I found later that almost 75% of execs feel this way) I was further and further removed from the purpose of our work. I was no longer challenged. The depth of my knowledge and expertise was becoming a Wizard of Oz show. Admittedly, I had a good show, but only the showman knows what's backstage.

Anyway, I realized I was getting soft. That my creative muscles were not being exercised. That my competence was relying on others and my expertise was fading. I learned I had to re-engage with the details. Craft the words, understand the code, feel and see the purpose of our work. It is why I gravitate to start-up environments, so I can stay fresh and challenged and avoid getting too comfortable.

But you are different. You have to design your own path. You gotta know what you want. Do you? 

If the "perfect opportunity" walked up and tapped you on the shoulder would you recognize it? Would you be ready to leap?

Very likely that you will leave your current position. Will you be the one making the decision about the timing of your transition? 

A few destination check questions:

  • What would make your next job/position more fulfilling?
  • Have you made a list of the things you want to sharpen and add to your toolbox?
  • Have you fully explored options to take on new duties, challenges, growth opportunities at your current position? (This assumes you know what you want)
  • Have you fully explored acquiring these skills and experiences outside of your day job?
  • Is your next best job up the ladder, down the ladder or somewhere else?
  • Have you talked to your mentors about these answers?

A few things are certain. Change will continue to grind away. Your expertise will become obsolete. You can let others decide your fate or take control of the steering wheel of your career and guide it to the path that reflects your goals and your needs. The path with your heart.

The real question is when will you do that? Your resume does not get a vote.

Thanks for reading. John

Best of SWiVELTime: 2012 Remix

These are excerpts from my fifty 2012 posts. My unbiased selection of my better thoughts and and attempts to push you further towards your goals. Enjoy! Best of 2012

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

Stability is a mirage. In fact, you don't even want stability. Do you really want world peace, global warming to end, animals to be protected, cancer to be cured, a promotion at work, your kids to have better lives, your company's stock to rise, your home value to increase etc etc? Then you are very dissatisfied with the present. You want lots of change at the macro and the micro levels. On personal, professional and even global levels.

Miss Stability is a fleeting femme fatale that has no intention of marrying you.

I wanted to help people get back on the old networking horse and see it from a different perspective. That networking is not a selfish skill but a community building skill. That networking is not a technique but a lifestyle of engaging others and learning about oneself. 

Passion is an itch that needs to be scratched and never goes away. It feels good when scratched but just persists. It is not just the source of joy but the source of great discomfort. That is what surprises people. They are looking for happiness and they find passion and passion is not pure joy, it is the essence of your life. It usually is triggered by the needs of others. And all needs are painful. Passion is discovering who you are and what is your purpose.

What time is it? Time to move! Time to get off the road of self deception, procrastination and ambiguity. Time to help others make and take the time to get where they need to go. 

 I do therefore I am--makes no sense.

Becoming the accumulation of what you do is a resume not a life. Your storyline past, present and future needs to incorporate who you are not what you have done!

Nurturing and aligning your soul around your beliefs and your life portfolio is our challenge and should be our joy.

We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives.

Today starts a new semester of study. What classes are you taking? And who are your professors? What do you want to learn? Life is an endless series of degree programs and commencements. When is your next graduation? Re-enroll today!

Everyone is busy and we are busy all of the time. We breathe air, gravity keeps us put, the earth circles the sun, and we are busy? Anyone not busy?!! The question: What are we busy doing? 

The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.

It would be much easier to live a life that "happens". You take what comes to you. Settle for what others want for you. The authentic life is the opposite, you chase it. You hunt it down. You stalk your passion and purpose. 
So think first to mentor, then to be mentored.
Mentoring gives the mentor  the courage to tell the truth and to open up and discuss how they are overcoming their weaknesses and foibles. And the mentee musters the courage to hear the truth, confront their own weaknesses and discover themselves.

I believe unlearning is as critical a survival and success skill as learning. Unlearning is literally and figuratively deleting "files", forgetting the past, abandoning assumptions, then learning again, by starting over. Unlearning is breaking off your rear view mirror and focusing on the new landscape in front of you and seeing it for the first time.

No matter what age you are. No matter what stage of your life. The advice is aways the same: Stay curious and pursue your passions.

Our networks also reflect our habits, our qualities, our pasts, and determine our futures. Our networks have also become obese. Generally, they are too big and have too "fatty". We add FB friends like junk food. Our time with others is increasingly superficial and transactional. We want a diet of deeper and meaningful relationships but we more often opt for the fast food drive thru lane of life. 

Get off of the junk food and unhealthful habits of hanging with the crowd that limits your ability to pursue your life. Go look in the mirror and meet the person holding you back. Make a deal with that person that your network needs a makeover!

Who do we know that needs our help? Who needs our help that we need to know?

Thanks for reading and for your support. Happy New Year!  John

Even our Networks are Obese

As we slurp up the last bit of the gravy and pumpkin pies, I want to talk about our weight---Thanks John!

A colleague of mine manages a large annual betting pool to see who will lose the most weight between Thanksgiving and New Years. A foolish incentive to eat a lot of turkey to establish the base weight and then the diet begins. We do over-indulge. And we do over-promise ourselves to get into better shape. The result is extra weight, from a little unwanted ponch to larger quantities of former food residing within us. As a country, we are weight watchers. We wait and watch our weight grow. We are bigger, slower, and unhealthier. Just saw this report that showed that new immigrants to the US are in better shape than the average American until they start eating like us. And then their BMI and health vitals begin to "normalize" and they become unhealthy too. Obesity

Its interesting that all of the medical studies show if we hang out with overweight people we have a strong tendency to eat too much and gain weight too. But if we congregate with slimmer folks we are only slightly more likely to lose weight and eat more healthful foods. The dark side is strong! Negative habits have a greater attraction than the positive ones.

Our networks also reflect our habits, our qualities, our pasts, and determine our futures. Our networks have also become obese. Generally, they are too big and have too "fatty". We add FB friends like junk food. Our time with others is increasingly superficial and transactional. We want a diet of deeper and meaningful relationships but we more often opt for the fast food drive thru lane of life. 

It is time to evaluate our networks. Take inventory of how it reflects who we are and who we want to become. Discover the gaps in our networks. The gaps that relate to our goals. For example, you say you want to go back to grad school, start a business, write a book--connect with people doing these things to give credence to your words. 

Why do we waste time with people who neither support or stretch us? Because we are lazy. Because bad habits are hard to break. 

We need to exercise our networking muscles and get them into shape. Reconnect with people we know and have met. Here's the fix: Make a list of people who interest us, inspire us, and who we care about. Make that your new networking to-do list. Call them, meet with them, text them. 

Get off of the junk food and unhealthful habits of hanging with the crowd that limits your ability to pursue your life. Go look in the mirror and meet the person holding you back. Make a deal with that person that your network needs a makeover! Obese network

When you pursue people that advance your goals and your life, then you have less time for those who hold you back. It is not so much about losing the carbs in your network, it is about adding the protein in your network. And then get off the couch and connect!

Don't fall into the most common excuse--"I don't know any people that are good for my new networking diet." You do. You have met these people. You know them, but don't know them. People you want to meet. People you want to get know better. People you have lost touch with. 

An obese network is neither attractive or effective. 

It takes a village--is yours overweight? Take control of your network, trim it down and add some tone so that you can get moving on with your life. 

Thanks for reading. John

PS: Here is an interview I did recently for a national job network. It is one of the most succint interviews on networking I have ever given. Enjoy!

Losing our minds by getting stuck

As we get older we tell jokes about "still being upright", or "nice to be seen" or "still breathng".

We know the moment we can't move is when we are dead. We all know about that many sharks have to swim to breathe and live. Humans stop moving and their spirit can die.  Our ability to see ourselves evolve, adapt, learn, and engage is essential to living and to life.

I meet zombies all of the time. Lifelike forms who go through the motions. They are usually good people who do no harm but lack purpose and deeper fulfillment. Many of them have given up on the future. Life is what happens and they make the best of that. Getting by and getting through the day, week, the objective. All of the obstacles, shortcomings, and challenges have beaten them into a corner of settling for "what it is". It is sad when you see this in a boomer but depressing when you see it in a 27 year old!

I am obsessed by understanding how people untangle themselves from their own web of self-imposed constraints. We all lose so much energy, talent, and ultimate creativity in our society because of this malady.

Daniel Pink studies what motivates us in his terrific book, Drive. He said that we all need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose to keep us motivated and moving.

Po Bronson who chronicled his interviews with almost 1000 successful people in his book, What should I do with my life? He found that all obstacles in people's lives were surmountable. That with very exceptions they were excuses.

Sharks teach us much about the life giving forces of "movement". The need to keep active,  open,  and curious about what lies ahead. Moving to connect to people and ideas. The need to renew one's spirit and goals by forging ahead.

Sea squirts, of all creatures, teach us something fascinating about human behavior. Sea quirts are these simple opaque tube-like tunicates or urochordates that have been swimming in the oceans since the Jurassic era. They swim in schools and like sharks filter water through their bodies to live and survive. But sea squirts do something bizarre, oh so it would seem. They find a place to attach themselves as a group. They then proceed to digest their own brain and nervous system because they will no longer need them! Now attached to a rock or coral, they can survive by merely filtering water without thinking (not that the sea squirts were solving algebra equations or having deep thoughts!)Sea squirts Bluebell

Does this sound familiar? It does to me. Once attached to a comfortable place, way of thinking, surrounded by others who are almost identical, the need for a brain and new thoughts are rendered obsolete. I know and have met permanent and temporary sea squirt humans! People who settle. People who give up. Non-profit board members who eat their brains once the meeting commences. People who are so stuck in their ways, their assumptions, habits, and their networks----part of them dies. Their spirit and energy about change and the future goes into a deep sleep. Their minds are not engaged or necessary!

For the sea squirt, eating your brain et al is an irreversible act. Hope you like the rock selected because that will be your final resting place! But for us humanoids, we still have brains and can choose to keep moving our lives forward. Whether you are 40 or 60 you have a lot more to give and live for. Certainly if you are 27 or 37, you can not be stuck yet. 

Are you a sea squirt? Have you lost your mind because you are stuck? Have you settled into your piece of coral and decided that this is all that life can be?!

One thing I have seen is that the network, the school you swim with, can hold you back. Maybe its time you evaluated the people around you. Maybe you are holding yourself back. Maybe you need a different perspective. Maybe you need different priorities. Maybe more connection to your values and loved ones.

You are not done yet. You still have a bunch of ideas about the future, your future, your family's future, your community's future. We need you to move. Don't eat your brain. :)

As you can see a sea squirt can be quite beautiful. But as we all know, true beauty lies within and we can not allow that beauty and potential to wither because we are anchored to an immobile rock.

Thanks for reading. John

What color is your network?

Years ago, I was on a career panel with Dick Bolles who wrote arguably the greatest and most important career manual ever, What Color is Your Parachute? This bible of career advice will soon turn 40! And while the title started out as an off the cuff remark to his students, the words "color" and "parachute" took on deeper meanings to his millions of readers.Parachute2

 When I met Mr. Bolles he was in his mid 60's. He talked about career change in ways that have shaped my thinking and my career. He said:

Everything you do should be:

Temporary--Nothing is permanent.

An Adventure--Engages your curiosity and sense of challenge

A Seminar--Learning new things, continuous education with goals

Fulfilling--Helps define your quest for meaning and purpose

I translated this into "A temporary adventure, which continually educates you about your quest for meaning." Love it and live by it!

The whole unintended "parachute" metaphor spawned all kinds of discussions, ideas and important questions:

  • When will you be jumping?
  • Where will you be landing?
  • Are you prepared?
  • Who packed your parachute?

As some of you know, I have "parachuted" a few times in my career. Landings are not always soft. You fall from great heights with at least the perception of danger. I like the idea of landing in new territories and discovering them.The only thing I don't like about the word parachuting is the notion that you are bailing out. I think parachuting may be an escape but it has to be done with intention. 

As an aside, finally completed my bucket list of parasailing, paragliding, gliding, parachuting, and skydiving. Parachuting takes on new meaning!

The best way to be ready to parachute or transition is to have a great network. So I ask, What color is your network?

What does your network look like? Does it look inspirational? Does it meet your  needs? Will it adapt to your changing needs and future interests? Here's what my network literally looks like in Linked in mapsLinked in Map 





Linkedin chooses the colors, but the colors denote your networking worlds, past lives, current interests, and even new pursuits. It provides a visual snapshot of who you are connected to and how. Each dot is a person that you can see and click on. Very cool.


Visualizing your network helps you evaluate it. Your mind's eye and your ability to only remember 9 people at a time really limits your understanding of your network. Is is it good, good enough, or inadequate? And why?


Your network has to be diverse. Not just ethnically, but in terms of point of view, sectors, disciplines, and geography. Without evaluation, your network is what it is. What you think it is and what it actually is are two entirely different things.


Think of your network like a team of advisers or a kitchen cabinet. You don't want group think or a bunch of yes people. You want smart, honest, creative perspectives, skill sets and ideas. Seek difference in your network. So you have to do a gap analysis? And you can't wait for an emergency job search to do it! Parachuting requires great preparation.


So just accumulating contacts or FB friends is fine, but what are you building? Some networks are like a collection of pennies. All of them are the same and just added to the top of the same jar. We know that makes no sense. I am totally for randomness but you also have to step back to see how your network matches up with your ambitions.


Hard to traverse the tightrope without a net---work. :)


This does not require you to make a new set of friends or start stalking people :) Enhance your inner circle with people you already know but need to strengthen your connection with, based on your goals, curiosities, and ambitions. People that you respect and know have a valuable point of view--get more of it. 


Your network should not help you land but propel you and push you. It should be more of a rocket pack than a parachute. Jetpack


You know that you have a parachute on right now. The question is when not if. That decision to jump is so much easier if you have the network to support, research, prepare you for the leap. By the way, these are your parachute packers. They make your risk taking smarter and more aligned with what you really want.


So what color is your network?


Thanks for reading. John

What is your Change Reaction?

If we all lived in an idyllic Pleasantville where things were predictably good, then we would not want change. We would not have expectations. We would never be dissatisfied with ourselves. We would never worry about the future. But even in the film the desire for change and difference was too great to sustain the utopian world.

Change requires a change reaction. We envision macro changes in the world. Changes that right a wrong or to relieve pain and suffering. We align ourselves with organizations to address these changes. We volunteer, give money, work for orgs that want and work toward change. And as individuals we want change in our own lives. Changes in our diets, in our kids' study habits.....Changes in our workplaces. These micro changes can align or distract us from these worldly changes. So change is dependent on other changes and so on and so on. The chain reaction of change, if you will.  Some people can separate change at these different levels and pursue them all simultaneously. Others are more linear and will not think about others until they change their immediate worlds. I need to love myself before I love others. Or I need to work on myself, while I change the world? Or By changing the world I will be changed? Any of these sound familiar or resonate?

Be the change you want to see in the world. Gandhi

Bottomline is the diet of the status quo is inadequate on almost all levels. We are hungry for change. Our appetites are great. So change is a regular dish on the menu. But what are we cooking up to feed our need for change?Change

It requires transformation by the change agents--that's us. We have to change.

This goal for change is less attainable because of the reverse change reaction. Individuals and organizations that can't adapt quickly enough to employ methods, processes and solutions to address the evolving context. Their bad habits and stubbornness tethers them to assumptions and premises that are no longer true and real change becomes academic.

Often, we are the problem that prevents the change.

The speed of our change reaction is essential. How fast is our feedback loop to digest the realities of the world we want to change, develop a strategy, and implement the fix?

Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. John Lennon

People who resist change are either in the wrong place or need to change.

If there is not a feeling of constant change, then you have no chance at improvement, because improvement requires change. Otherwise you live in Pleasantville!

If you don't adopt a philosophy of trying new things your obsolescence is assured.

If it works it's obsolete. Marshall McLuhan

Thinking about change is very much like imagination. We can imagine things, but we have to do things.

The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind. Maya Angelou

Almost all of of my conversations are about change. How to improve, eliminate, alter, move themselves/something/someone else or a cause. Never had a conversation with anyone that starts, "How do I keep everything the way it is?" Never.

Here are three quotes I heard from people this week:

1. I know this career change makes no sense financially but it will give me more flexibility.

2. How do I leave my job, change careers and preserve my current lifestyle?

3. Aren't we going through too much change?

I think one of the benefits of talking to someone else is to hear yourself! You can not change by yourself. You need to connect to the real needs of others and the world. The more you do that, the more you will be inspired, and the more you will change.

How do you start change or a movement? You act. You take a risk and become one of the first. You express yourself even if it looks "silly". In short, you lead. Lead yourself, lead your team, your neighborhood, or your community.

Expectations drive our change and could drive us crazy.

So if you don't want change then you don't have any expectations

As you read this blog you are changing imperceptibly, you are aging, your brain is adjusting to thoughts, and inputs, your weight is shifting to your movement etc etc

Change is life. Life is change.

Change is inexorable. The problems we face will change and not be solved but we will address them and make progress. But the work and the change never ends.

An issue I hear expressed is I am not in charge or in control of the change. If I was in control of the change, I would do it differently. That position in life, of complaining about lack of control, is an excuse and basically a lifetime license to whine. Until you become the supreme ruler of the universe, you will be subjected to change. Your choice is adapt or quit. Challenge the change or surrender. Lean into the change or run.

I suggest altering your change reaction.

Thanks for reading. John


Break out of your comfortable prison cell

The prison of comfort keeps our dreams locked up.

This prison of comfort has many amenities. Soft cushy habits that we know well. The warm feeling of certainty about what is right and wrong in our lives. And a furry blanket of our friends and family who agree with our view of the world.Prison

This prison has a huge impact on how we view our networking and mentoring opportunities and possibilities.

By the way, I am painfully aware of the size and dimensions of my own cell and I try to advance my escape plan everyday! It is hard work. What I have discovered is making a serious adjustment to the lens I employ makes a difference. How am I limiting my perspective of the world? Trying to switch from a telephoto to a wide angle lens makes a big difference for me. Yes, seeing the forest of life, rather than gazing at our own little tree.

My painful experiences as a counselor working with incarcerated youth for the California Youth Authority taught me about prisons. One of the impediments for juveniles to get out of the system was the certainty and comfort provided  by the system. --Their growing dependency on the structure of stability was way more powerful than any dream of a different tomorrow. Human nature makes us loyal to comfort.Our perception of certainty imprisons us to avoid change and stress.

This week I had several glimpses of the prisons we build:

  • Invited a colleague to hear Michelle Rhee speak about the state of education--She told me in declining my invite, "I don't agree with anything she says." (Btw, never heard her speak in person)
  • Referred an acquaintance to a job opportunity--"Not what I am looking for", I was told.
  • A psychotherapist told me (not mine:), "My clients are incapable of pursuing the desirable path of greater resistance."
  • Headline in the Pacific Citizen: "Asians do not make great leaders"

Reminded me of the exchanges in that extraordinary film My Dinner with Andre, like this one:

Andre: But, Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.

Andre: They've built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison.

"No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”

Marilyn FergusonPrison door

I have had many hard yet gratifying lessons by "pre-judging" opportunities. The mistake of dis-associating myself from entire groups of people because of my experience with one or two. By limiting my experiences and therefore my understanding by defaulting to my comfortable certainty. These lessons have helped me traverse sectors and make career changes. It has shown me that I am the guard who has the keys to my own prison cell.

Here is one of the simplest keys to get you out of prison--Consider the possibility that you are wrong about your assumptions. Wrong about your assumptions about people, paths, possibilities, and opportunities. The very possibility that you could be wrong opens doors and maybe your mind.

Don't misinterpret me. This is not a command to turn your life upside down and abandon all of your comfortable people and things. But at the very least you need to take brief leaves from your prison cell to exercise your ideas about your present and future. See things before you dismiss them. Experience them before you avoid them. Don't limit your network or your mentors to your prison mates. And most of all listen to your heart, your calling. What is calling you? And why aren't you unlocking your prison door and going down the desirable path of greater resistance? The world outside of our prisons is vast and amazing.

Thanks for reading. John

The 8 week interview diet

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to understand where I was going was to encounter as many people and opportunities as I could. Through some very hard lessons from my mentors and through life itself, I realized that I was in charge of my career path and choices. And more important, that my career path would neither be linear or sector centric. These revelations took my blinders off and I was able to see so many new opportunities that were not tethered to my past, my education, or what I preferred. Are you following me? In other words, once I realized I had to get out of my own way, my options and opportunities multiplied. Blinders 

Last week I met with a graduate class in public policy to talk about their impending graduation and their career choices. We discussed many things but I tried to impress upon them two basic ideas:

  1. It's the Boss--Other than mission alignment, your personal belief in the vision/goals of the employer, the number one factor in choosing a job is who your boss will be. Do you have a sense of chemistry with her? Do you see her helping you and providing counsel and advice? Have you done any due diligence on her? Your progression and future are tied more to her than the company's reputation.
  2. Your Toolbox is Transferable--Don't make the mistake I did early in my career by trying to find an elevator, escalator or a plain ole ladder to advance my career in a single silo sector. Your skills are applicable to other working worlds. Each one of you has so many other skills and abilities, in addition to your newly minted degrees. Pursue your curiosities and passions not just a rational career path.

Literally an hour after my invigorating session with the students, I was waiting at my doctor's office to have my annual physical. Dr P. comes in with a big smile and greets me warmly. I have been going to see him for almost 20 years. There are few who know you better than your MD! Since I have been having these annual checkups I have had 8 jobs in arguably five different fields. From for-profit to non-profit. Start-up to publicly traded company. Higher education to online education. Grantee to grantor. Anyway, Dr P has heard my various job stories and received a small collection of business cards over the years. He looks at me with a wry smirk and says,"Where we working now?" I have become pretty defensive about this question and find it less and less humorous. After all I have been at CCF for more than 3 years! The point is I have a bit of a reputation for making job and career moves, moves that are not intuitive to some, especially those wearing handcuffs of semi-precious metals.Handcuffs

Early in my career, I got occasional calls from recruiters. I found them uncomfortable conversations. I felt like I was cheating on my employer. I had a good job, a good boss and I was not looking. Some job prospects didn't make any sense in terms of mission, geography and fit. Others were intriguing. But I rarely did more than just try to be civil and discrete. I learned quickly that headhunters should become part of my network.

A mentor said to me that you have to inteview for things that interest you. And don't dismiss any opportunity until you KNOW you are not interested. Here was the the kicker for me: When you get out there and explore other opportunities you grow and so does your brand! He advised me to "interview" for information and inspiration on a regular basis. I later interpreted that to be every other month.  That's right, I will respond to at least 6 real and interesting opportunities that are presented to me each year. My record since 1993 is fully intact! These have been interesting opportunities to meet people, executive search firms, and think about something new. Had one such conversation on Friday, so I am good for another 8 weeks. :) I seriously do not have any interest in leaving my current employer, but the practice continues to yield so many benefits for me. I told my former boss about my "interview" goals and he said he wholeheartedly agreed on the concept of "interviewing". In fact he told me he expects 8 "job offers" a year!

Let me be clear, this is not about leaving, this is about learning. Being asked to interview is much different than seeking an interview. This is about staying fresh. This is about staying sharp. This is about strengthening your network. This is about finding yourself, advancing your brand and clarifying your path.

At the end of the week, I agreed to have an informational interview with this very accomplished gentleman referred by a close friend. He was just "exploring possible options" for his future. He was looking and had decided to leave his current job! We both knew what was going on. He told me this was his first "interview" in the last 12 years. Big mistake. Hard to move when your brand is stale and you are unaware of the landscape and frankly your own personal interests and your value in the marketplace. We discussed my "philosophy" and he said he had never heard of such a thing. But wished he had adopted the diet of 6 interviews a year, long before.

Thanks for reading. John

When will my luck change?

Had the great opportunity to hear Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame speak about his new book Delivering Happiness. He is a very inspirational and passionate speaker about how to achieve increased meaning and fulfillment in life. Topics that I constantly try to advance in my work and words.

Tony talked about the role of luck in his life and the lives of others. It is something people have said to me too. "Wish I was as lucky as you!" I am offended by this on one level and deeply understand it at another. How much does luck play into our chances and choices? Where does this luck come from?  

 Fortune cookieTony cited the well known research about how "lucky" people perceive things so differently than "unlucky" people. One of the questions they ask all Zappos candidates is, "Are you lucky or unlucky?" And then they listen. People start to describe their good or bad luck. Some say, "Not sure why so many bad things happen to me." "Or I just seem to be at the right place at the right time." Zappos never hires the former. He said, "We just don't want that bad luck to come to Zappos." :) He went on to say that "lucky" people see opportunities in challenges and change. And the "unlucky" see the problems and the negative. And we all know that what you focus on, give attention to, attracts more of the same. Complainers attract more complainers and hang out together. While the "lucky" people just seem to get luckier.

My mom taught me this point of view by the way she lives and the way she sees the world. Her glass is not only full, but the glass is crystal and the water sparkles. It is not enough to be positive. No one will admit to being negative! You have to see the upside and the path to extend your sense of challenge and meaning. The "unlucky" get caught up in the whirlpool of obstacles and see a conspiracy of bad fortune. But the lucky just move beyond the stuff that holds them back, they regard it as inconveniences rather than the focus of life. 

Professor Richard Wiseman executed a ten-year study of the dimensions of luck, and published his findings in a book called The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind.

In his famous test, 400 participants of all ages were asked to count the number of photographs in a newspaper, and subjects who described themselves as "lucky" were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

This experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one's good fortune is not random, but rather due to one's perspective.

He concludes that luck is not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which amplifies "lucky" events. Here are my interpretations of his conclusions:

Lucky People

Unlucky People

Encounter opportunities, people who help them

Rarely have these experiences, attract negative people

Listen to their intuition and their hearts

Make decisions without these influences

Expect luck and have self-fulfilling prophecies

Do the opposite

Turn ill fortune into good, do not get overwhelmed

Get overwhelmed and things get worse

I have said over and over again, that depending on "luck" is the most foolish of career strategies. Luck visits those with their eyes open for opportunity, those who are not focused on their next step but the next horizon and those who take chances and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. If luck happens at all it will occur when you fully explore, experiment, and engage the world around you. 

The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.  Winston Churchill

Want some more luck? Look up instead of down. Collaborate instead of comiserate. Push yourself out of your current world and meet and reconnect with people and you will be surprised how lucky you are. 
Thanks for reading. John

A network of friction: The human particle accelerator

Traction is gained when points of friction – even small ones – push off against one another and enable movement. Until there are two opposable surfaces, there will be no traction. Our goal in developing an action plan is to place strategic points of friction in our life so that we are gaining traction on a regular basis.  Todd Henry (Accidental Creative)

Traction comes from friction. And friction comes from differences. People talk about oil/water or black/white or positives/negatives. We all know you need to mix these ingredients in reality to produce necessary and important nuances, shades, and indeed solutions in our lives. This is the crucible of art and science. Of invention and true creativity. The collision of opposites in the super collider/particle accelerator of life generates new paradigms and ideas that advance our thinking and our perspectives. Without these collisions and encounters ideas become isolated and insulated. Cooking would be utterly boring. Art would be bland. We would all be clones. Life would be predictable and dull.Particle accelerator

Over the last 40 years, scientists have been accelerating atoms and atomic components at super high speeds to reveal new components, understand space and time dynamics, develop new sources of light and energy.

A particle accelerator[1] is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.

We all want to accelerate our goals into more well-defined beams, don't we?

I know some of you want predictability, at least you think you do. Others say they also want stability. You really don't, but you say you do. Besides being distracting and self deceptive, it delays reality--the reality of what you REALLY want. What you really want is an inner feeling of engagement of your talent and your potential. Challenges, chances and opportunities. A sense of purpose and meaning. These require changes and dare I say, instability and unpredictability.

Traction requires friction-- not controversy, anger, and animus, but tactile and intellectual differences to push up against one another. That creative tension between perspectives that yields a different thought or point of view to  advance. To move forward whatever that means to you. A feeling of uneasiness that makes you uncomfortable because it rings true. The truth about your deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. 

But what are the sources of productive and creative friction, besides our inner gnawing desire to reach our potential?

Isolation is your problem, not your lousy attitude.  Barbara Sher

It's time to question your network, your sources of support and inspiration. Often your current kitchen cabinet, also accepts you as you are. Apparently, many of them think the status quo is fine. Or maybe you are fortunate and you have a friction network that pushes and pulls you to be your best. Not dissatisfaction with who you are but who you could be--and want to be.

For me and my experiences, you have to seek differences, new ideas, and different points of view through the people you meet, confide in, and learn from. You build your own human particle accelerator/collider of friction that literally forces you to confront yourself in a collision of expectations and perceptions. Re-investing in your network, by assessing your current network, by going to people you know (but don't know), and by seeking new vantage points, will ultimately pay off in opportunity dividends. It will be people you know and meet who will help transform you and give you traction. You can not do it alone. If the status quo is satisfying, then enjoy it. If it isn't, then make a concerted effort to diversify and expand your portfolio of advisers.

Just learned from my cousin that this speech I gave was posted online. It describes part of my particle accelerator/collider network that created friction in my life that continues to propel me forward. The human source of the traction, chances and opportunities I have been fortunate to encounter and take.


John Kobara Honored by Coro from Edward Headington on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading. John

Networking with the Headhunters

Love the term "headhunters" because it sounds so ghoulish, mercenary, and a bit scary. Of course, we politely call them executive recruiters and talent recruitment. Back in the day, these firms were considered pretty elite and mysterious. Don't call us we'll call you! Hired by larger institutions and corporations who paid at least 30% of first year comp--so very expensive. The key advantage is the good firms have robust databases and can call currently employed people and get them to consider career moves. And at the very least, they network with these people to get referrals. Like great sales people, recruiters network like no others, because searches cross sectors and industries, so meeting great candidates can always be useful for a future search. But the economy has hit these firms too. Searches are down and the pool of highly qualified candidates are way up. While the advent of the web and career search sites has reduced the influence of headhunters, they are still important--especially as you climb the career ladder. Puppet-heads-l

Not talking about the firms which try to place temps or fill vacant entry level positions for a fee. Although some of my advice applies to them.

My best opportunities have come from headhunters. I have been placed by some of the largest firms in the business. Korn Ferry, AT Kearney, Heidrick and Struggles, Spencer Stuart, but there are zillions of small specialty boutique local firms as well. And the giant companies like Google have their own internal search "firms". I probably have a conversation or e-mail from a head hunter every week. So I have cultivated relationships with many firms over my career and many view me as a hub for contacts. This has served my network well. Like all firms, the quality of the firm is measured by the quality of the rep and there is a range of talent in the best and small firms.

In general, head hunters are akin to commission salespeople. They need to produce and they need to think about the next gig. So if they are any good, they will be a bit pushy and want to know if you need their services, that's their job. Passive recruiters will be looking for new work. You accept that as part of the conversation.

I was given advice early in my career to treat inquiries from headhunters as special calls. Like warm network calls, make time for them. Why? Simply put, brand management and development. Your reputation and thereby your potential is sculpted by others, by the marketplace, by the 360 degrees of your sphere of influence. And headhunters can play a role in the shaping of your brand. What if every headhunter had you on their list? Remember the general rule of networking that I preach here ad nauseum:The more people who know you, your skills, your helpfulness, your career trajectory, and your smiling face--the better! 

But is your head worth hunting?...........Let's assume it is :)

By the way, headhunters call about specific searches and call people they are recruiting who also know candidates. They don't call the unemployed very often. So thinking, you will talk to them when you need them is the dumbest thought. Breaks the cardinal rule of networking: Give first, then receive. And besides you know that desperation networking or emergency job networking are the most dangerous varieties.

I was talking to a close friend who has an amazing background and career. Her reputation and brand are spectacular, better than she thinks. She is very successful, but has a disdain for headhunters. She is a linear career planner. She does not look at new opportunities to remain focused on her current role. Therefore headhunters are distracting. She does not interview or talk to recruiters, until she needs to. This approach has worked for her, but as you might suspect, I disagree adamantly with this mindset. Despite her personal view, I have pushed her recruiters and opportunities on a regular basis. I see her potential as much bigger than she does. Finally got her to pursue a few leads. I got her to consider these in the context of brand management for the FUTURE. I am trying to help her see beyond her current horizon, because the future is not predictable. And luck and certainly the past are not guarantees of what could happen tomorrow.

Here are my quick tips on head hunters:

  1. Do some research on headhunters: Find out who and what firms are considered the best in your field and which ones are not so well thought of. What firms would you hire if you ever needed one?
  2. When they call or e-mail, respond--Be a resource. Don't just reject this as a nuisance because you are not interested. Find out about the opportunity, get the job spec, give them advice and then try and refer them candidates. I usually give my network contacts a head's up and send them the spec vs just giving the recruiter a name.
  3. Refer great candidates to headhunters unsolicited. Not desperate unemployed friends. But terrific people you meet and know that are gainfully employed and should be on the talent radar screens. Encourage them to meet and try to make that connection. Not all firms will do this, but again based on your relationship with a specific recruiter, it can work.
  4. Meet with a recruiter face to face--After you get to know the recruiter or you sense some chemistry, meet with them to better understand their business and for them to get to know you. You know that every informational interview IS an interview, so be prepared.
  5. Invite recruiters to events to meet your circle of people. This can be a win win.
  6. When do I call the recruiter for myself? Almost never. I call them to get advice on career moves, on their take on certain employers and to get insider info on that sector/company/industry. You don't call them to announce your general availability. No No.

Building your brand is a full time job. Part of that process is engaging headhunters proactively to help them. Instead of viewing them as annoying salespeople, see them as part of a larger network that can assist you and your network. Like all great networking that is driven by helping, the benefits can be career changing.

Thanks for reading. John

The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!

Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure. DefiningMoments

Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:

  • Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
  • John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
  • Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
  • Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
  • Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
  • Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?"  This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.

Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"

  1. Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
  2. "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
  3. "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!

When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.

Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way. Bunko

We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John

Amazing who you know, but you don't know

For the last 20 years, I have been teaching that the primary step in networking is:

First strengthen existing relationships and then expand your circles of friends

Brushstroke circle There is an obsession with meeting new people. That new people will unlock our potential, teach us new things, and create new opportunities. And that the people we know, have met, are surrounded by, are inadequate. Even as I write this again, it sounds stupid, doesn't it?

What comes into focus is how poorly we know and explore what we have. There is an irresistible allure of the new. It's why products offer new versions. Why car makers roll out their new line-ups. It also causes many divorces. We like shiny things and our consumerism world reinforces it. But often the new is irrational and riskier. And often it is more expensive.

I am not telling you not to meet new people. You gotta get out of your comfort zones and diversify your human portfolios. You have to inject new into everything you do. But it is not your first step. It is not a step to overlook. Meeting the new, will always be more challenging, more time consuming, and less comfortable.

Why ignore the network you have and the people you know?

People I meet always underestimate their own networks. According to them, their "rolodex" is always weak and does not contain the expertise they need. After I ask a series of questions, they "discover" that someone they know well could be a great connection. It never fails. Had lunch will a former colleague this week, and he is exploring a career change. He wanted me to connect him with new people. During our meal, he admitted knowing a senior executive at a very attractive employer. I added real value to the session by saying, "Please contact him." :)Rolodex

You may be able to recall or remember things about people from your glorious present or past. And making an effort to make these recollections is a start. However, it is more likely you don't even know these people in your network. You don't know their resumes and their backgrounds. And therefore you have no idea what their networking potential is. But this is just the beginning of what you don't know about your network and how you undervalue it.

The big deal here is that your current network knows you and in most cases you have established a level of trust through common experiences. Your current network cares about you. And that creates opportunities to get authentic feedback and ideas beyond their contacts. People who know you can move quickly to the questions you want to discuss. Chemistry and comfort exist. It provides a warm platform to now get to know them better. I guarantee this process will reveal a new constellation of connections and contacts for you to explore. The other super added value here is your network can refer you to these connections, because they know you!

Now here is an ugly truth. If you have been negligent about maintaining your relationships. Reconnecting with "old friends" or former colleagues can be awkward. And the sirens of the new network beckon. But c'mon, most people want to connect and reconnect. I get asked this question all the time, "How do I reconnect with former colleagues and friends?" My answer is always the same, "Call them, e-mail them." Just make the connection and if necessary, apologize for being out of touch.They will understand. Plus you will enjoy it!

A new world of connections and opportunities awaits and many of them reside in the past. Don't leap over your exisiting network just to meet new people. It is amazing who you know but don't know. Reach out and connect!

Thanks for reading. John 

Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John

Wait and See---The Worst Strategy

What will it take for you to make a move? Take the chance? Do what you have wanted to do? Have the network and mentor you always wanted?

The worst thing is to just wait for the"right" time. The time when all of the conditions are ideal.

It is the most common thing I hear. "I think I am going to wait and see." Wait until.....things calm down, I am not as busy, until the kids are out of/get back to school, until-----WHAT???!! Stop the madness. Stop the irrational indefensible excuses.

It's May 2010. Let's reflect on the promises you made to yourself just 4 months ago. Remember? Waiting clock

We are always in a marathon. It is a long race that requires great effort that is sustained. But like all races you have hills and you have slopes. You have weather and you have wind. You have competition and you have your body's responses. Stuff happens. My point is, what is the best time to start making your move? Nowis the only time you have. It is always now. As Eckhart Tolle says, yesterday is a former now and tomorrow is a future now.

 "The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now." James Baldwin

Yes, the economy is showing signs of recovery. And the stock market is returning to its previous form. Yet, the jobs and the opportunities have not mirrored theses economic measures---they never do. There is always a lag effect. Jobs will follow. So you wait. For what? Certainty?

There are many flaws with the waiting strategy. When times are good, whatever that means, most people (present company excluded :)) tend to get comfortable with their lives and feel less motivated to make a change. Second, waiting til its warm and safe to dive into the pool of opportunities is when everyone wants to go swimming and the waters are crowded and unwelcoming. Lastly, how long you willing to wait? Years? Because it will be years.

What do you think the sheep-like masses are doing? Your competition? Yes, they are waiting too.

Waiting is just a euphemism for procrastination. Procrastination is another word for laziness. Laziness is the most dangerous mode because it robs the individual and everyone around her from the benefits of talent and passion fulfilled.

So stop waiting. What are you waiting for? A sign? This is your sign. :)Waiting

If you know what you want, go for it! If you aren't sure then start exploring!

If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for us. We need everyone to push themselves to contribute more to our society and to our world. Hard to imagine a world with more needs and challenges than we have today. The only thing worse will be if people decide to be bystanders, unwilling to give their all.

Waiting is a waste of time and talent. Push forward and make it happen.

Thanks for reading. John

One degree that will advance your career and your life

In the frenzy of admission and graduation season, I am reminded how often I am engaged in what seems like America's second favorite pastime, "The Graduate School Game." There seems to be an obsession with getting another degree. Have you seen this 212Movie?

What's the difference between 211 Fahrenheit and 212? That one degree is the difference between hot water and BOILING water! That's how a lot of people regard the next degree they want. They think it will take their luke warm careers and make them hot!. It could. It might. Might not.

When first year college students are surveyed every year, nearly 100% say they will earn a graduate school degree. Yet fewer than 30% ever enroll and much fewer earn a post-graduate degree. That aspiration does not die easily. And as time marches on that goal can grow into a tumor size thought that festers and evolves into a nasty regret. Worse case scenario is that elusive degree becomes the reason and crutch for a stalled career.

Po Bronson in his seminal book, What Should I Do With My Life?, concluded that another degree was NOT a factor for people who found fulfillment and success in their careers and lives.

Many people keep talking about this mystical magical degree even when the likelihood for them to start one is almost nil.

If you are serious about another degree, stop talking and thinking about getting one and take some steps to apply!Mortar board

As someone who endured and completed three post-graduate programs, mostly because I was constructively procrastinating my life. :) Let me add quickly, that having grad school degrees on your resume can help you get interviewed, but it can never replace real experience and achievements. And after you have a graduate degree or two, then what? PhD?

When I was in the cable tv industry, I met people with Masters in Cable TV. When I was running an online ed company, I met people with Masters in Educational Technology with a specialization in online education. Recently I met people with Masters in Philanthropy. First of all I give great credit to the universities that have diversified their product lines and are meeting customer demands. But the reality is a degree in fill in the blank, gets you some credibility and a limited view of the real world.

Life is my college, may I graduate well and earn some honors!    ~~Louisa May Alcott 

Basically, to keep up in this world you have to be in graduate school all the time. Face it, if it is in a textbook and a course it probably is obsolete. So let's talk about continuous education. Learning to adapt, evolving one's toolbox of experiences focused on expanding one's skills, knowledge and abilities. Formal or informal, you have to adopt this mindset if you want to evolve, grow and succeed. Enrolling in a formal degree program can help if you know what you want and NEED. But I think you should be earning a degree every 2-3 years at work! No, I am not specifically talking about a tuition reimbursement program or going to school at night. I am talking about your intentional educational advancement at your job and in your life.

I just completed my 2nd year in my newest career and I have definitely earned a reality based Masters degree in Philanthropy. I am far from done. As usual, I have learned enough to be intimidated by what I don't know. My goal is to re-enroll myself into a new degree program every 2-3 years and earn a new diploma outside of the classroom.School_of_hard_knocks_2

This mindset of continuous education can be powerful if you are purposeful. Here's how you can make your next 2-3 years on the job a degree program. Imagine you were enrolling in a grad school and choosing your area of concentration and now perusing your schedule of classes, investigating the qualifications of the professors, talking to others about their views, and ultimately making decisions. It would be daunting and fun. All of this would be driven by your strengths and weaknesses, your gaps, your needs, and your interests.

You have those same choices at work and in your life right now. Design your on the job degree program. The great news is you have already been admitted! Take all of the reflection you have done about your next university degree and what you wanted to gain from that experience and apply it to your life and work. What are your gaps and desired areas of concentration that you want to address? What core required courses are you missing and what electives have you dreamed of taking? What does your faculty at work look like? What departments/divisions have courses you need, have the best faculty? And what is your class schedule--how long will it take you to complete this degree?

In the next 2-3 years at work you will spend more time than at any equivalent grad school program. How do you carve a path through the next 24-36 months that make it transformational for your career and your life? Do you want to move into finance or out of finance? Do you want to gain management experience? Are you preparing to run your own business or organization? You have a lot to learn.

So your work world is limited or is not where you want to end up. Consider the full spectrum of options in your life. Again, based on your game plan of needs and desires, you volunteer, you moonlight, you educate yourself by seeking classes and professors who can guide you outside of work. All driven by your degree requirements.

Once you have a basic plan for yourself that is an honest reflection of what you want and heavily influenced by what you need, then you can begin to assemble your degree program.

Put both of your hands on your career's steering wheel and start to drive down the road that will give your more traction toward your goals.

If you believe that small changes can make big differences, then get that extra degree that will heat up your enthusiasm for where you are and where you going.

Thanks for reading. John

Re-inventing Yourself to Get Back to Work--The 360 Degree Job Search

More than ever I am having conversations with former execs, managers, and senior professionals who are in protracted searches for the same level positions they held. They are using their existing resumes and applying for the same titles, same/similar industry, and certainly the same compensation. They are exasperated but undaunted despite the lack of results. The overused quotation from Einstein is apropos here, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Albert

I hear many focused and definitive statements like these:

"I will not accept a position below Sr VP." I have to make more than $100,000 to live." "I have never been paid below this level. "I will never apply for a position below this level/salary."

But it is basic marketing 101 to evaluate your strategy when things are not working. Focus can become myopia. You have to change it up. You have to expand your search to jobs and industries and sector outside of your current world and where there are more prospects. You have to start looking 360, sideways and down instead of just in the same places. This inevitably starts the conversation about position, title and compensation. What is a lateral move? What is beneath me? What will compromise my entire career?

Settling for something lesser is not preferred but may be necessary. It may require huge changes in your lifestyle. Downsizing or rightsizing your life is probably smart now. Just like the entire business community that has cut back jobs, maybe one of yours, and is now prudently hiring at a very slow pace.

Looking for a new job is a brutal experience, especially if the search yields few leads and fewer interviews. It can be frustrating and discouraging. It triggers all of the worst feelings about your competence and confidence. Been there and it is no fun. The sooner you can get back to work the better.

Ladders When I was laid off I had to re-think my career and my life. I took a serious pay cut to re-build my experience in a new world--non-profits. So far, I have taken three pay cuts, two demotions, and 1 lateral move to make career changes. You have to go down the ladder to climb up another. It is just the law of nature. It is the method of surviving and sustaining your professional career.

You have to swallow your pride and your irrational ego and find a path that makes sense. Not working is the worst strategy. A big and growing gap between your impressive position and nothing raises more questions than not filling the void.

Piecing together a new career after a set back is one that all employers will sympathize with. When you show your desire by doing what is necessary, your story is more compelling.

You say you are creative and innovative. Then re-invent yourself!

The candidates that are having success are using a combination of volunteer work, consulting, related but "lower level"jobs , and education to fill in their resumes---to stay fresh and to keep the rent paid.

Hard to even get a look or a call back if your time between jobs is approaching a year and you have nothing on your resume.

Customizing your resume and your cover letter may be more important when you shift directions in your job search. I have advised many people to remove items from their resume to make them more aligned with a new industry/sector and/or lower level position, so they don't receive the dreaded "overqualified" response.

  • Align duties and achievements with the job requirements
  • Remove degrees or additional information that give you "too much" experience or education
  • Shorten your work experience to the last 10 years or so

In times like these you have to reach down and unplug your vanity and get back into the game. Demonstrate your resolve, your creativity, and your resilience and you will look and sound like a candidate worth hiring. With your new resume and targets, connect to your network to get new leads and feedback. Seek advice from your mentor. Hopefully, this re-energizes your search and opens up your eyes to opportunities and optimism.

Thanks for reading. John

Career ESP---Extra Specific Please

I start out one of my presentations with an attempt at ESP. I try and predict the audience's mindset and what they are thinking about their career futures. I start out with what they DON'T want, because people tend to define where they are going by avoiding the least desirable paths. Anyway, here's what I say: "So you want to do something you believe in, feel good about what you do and how it benefits humankind. You do not want to be confined to a "conveyor belt" of meaningless and repetitive tasks,  and you want to work with people, because you are a people person. And you don't want to be in sales! You want an organizational culture that values your unique talents and will help you grow." Usually, this is followed by, "How did you know?!!!" This always applies to new graduates, young alums, but today this is the view of many career changers who are looking for the next thing. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody but I realized I should have been more specific." What I try and coach people to do is to zoom in on what they want-- to be more specific!Crystal ball

Besides the crucial error of driving your career defensively versus asserting and pursuing what you want. Let's break this mindset down:

I want to do something I believe in -- In the lexicon of the 90's Duh! Yes make missions or causes an essential part of your life! But what do you specifically believe in? What are your values and principles that you will use as search filters for your next career? It would be lovely if you could satisfy all of them in a job. You need to find a job, an employer, an industry that fits your needs, including what its products and services do for the world. It does not mean that your day job will fulfill all of your passions. Never stop pursuing your passions outside of your employment, that will help keep your rocket ship in orbit. Your constellation of passions is complex and finding a sole source provider is illogical. In the end you have to believe in the opportunity for you to grow your talents and your prospects in this new career. So your employment has to be focused on real skill developmetn and experience acquisition. In this case you are obsessive about developing yourself and your prospective employer supports your quest. Now that is doing something to believe in.

I want to avoid a job with repetitive and meaningless tasks -- Unless it pays $100 an hour! :) I get to visit and talk to people in every sector. The new world order has redefined everything, no job is confined to a series of predictable tasks any more. Everybody is doing more with less. Sure every job has administrivia, grunty work, the chores of the job, but the work of a receptionist, financial analyst, assistant, project manager etc have been expanded and are changing. So expectations and opportunities increase in worlds that need more done. And all jobs matter more. What you really want to avoid is an environment that regards your work as meaningless. But if you agree with #1 above, then you find a place where you can grow. Nothing wrong with a bit of repetition, it will give you a great chance to hone your skills and develop confidence.

I want to work with people -- This one always kills me. What is the alternative here: zoo-keeper! Yeah you are going to work with people while we are on earth. Do you mean you want to work with people "outside of the office"? Customers? Vendors?  What type of people? How? And by the way, are you good at working with people, building relationships, engaging teams?? The real question is how good are you with people? Can you lead, inspire, counsel, serve people? We know what you want but can you deliver value to your employer and ultimately to the customer?

I want an organizational culture that values my unique talents and will help me grow -- See #1 again! By the way, what are your specific unique talents and strengths? Hard to appreciate them if you do not know what they are. And if you know those talents, then find an environment that will use them. Do you know where you are generally or specifically going with your career? Do you know what skills you want sharpened or developed? If you do, then growth can be measured. If you don't then this notion of "growth" will frustrate you and your employer because it is a mysterious and illusive set of feelings and ideas that no one knows. The very popular and ugly dance of under-utilized employer provided growth opportunities and employee dissatisfaction with their growth is commonplace. Successful people do not rail against or depend on the system, they figure out how to make the most of the opportunities that are there and make new ones. One of the most popular but mis-placed expectations is that the employer has an obligation to develop my career and mentor me. Employers can coach, lead, support, but mentoring and career planning are always the employee's job.

Maybe this raises more questions and some answers for you. The hope is to get you more focused on what you really want, in Tomlinesque specificity. Then you can start talking about it to get feedback. You can network with it. You can seek mentoring and guidance. Your plans will gel and your focus on what you want will get sharper. However if you continue to use generic phrases to describe what you want, then your search for the next great thing will be lost in a sea of non-specific candidates.The idea that you do not want to eliminate possibilities by being too specific is a certain sentence to the penitentiary of the average. Or your search for meaning and meaningfulness can be driven by the unique interests and talents that make you specifically who you are and separate you from the predictable masses.  

Thanks for reading. John  

Ambitious without Ambition--An epidemic of the SWAYING FLU

One strange indicator of the weakness of our economy is the quantity of conversations I have about jobs and careers. The volume is overwhelming and probably is telling about the length of our recovery period going forward. People are not finding jobs. There are so many people chasing too few jobs. It makes it hyper competitive and people's actions are becoming irrational. Causing many souls to just apply for virtually any opening anywhere. They discover that the are not well prepared for change. 

So there is one thing to be out of work with little time, you have to be partly selfish and partly expedient. But for those that have time through severance or who are employed contemplating a change, I am witnessing an epidemic of the Swaying Flu. The symptoms are severe wishy washyness, indecisive behavior, frequent procrastination, and outbreaks of apathy. J0321197

So if you are chugging along in your work world, wouldn't this be the time to focus and invest in your job and your career?!! Do you need more motivation than this economy and what millions of our colleagues are facing? For some, these times mesmerize and hypnotize. We fall asleep. Myopia sets in that blinds us to our futures. In fact, there is a general atmospheric cloud that surrounds our judgment that erroneously tells us to be still and not stand out. That this is the absolute worst time to invest in our careers. We all know that education and formal degree programs are counter-cyclical. Meaning when people's jobs/industries are threatened then they go back to school. When people are laid off or out of work, there is a sharp increase in small business formation and enrollments at colleges and universities. Talked to a friend that manages an esoteric degree program at a major university and their enrollments inexplicably tripled in the last year. Some of you know, I sit on the board  of Walden University and they are seeing record enrollments. These new students have had to endure great pain and suffering to now confront their choices and chances. They are re-visiting goals and have decided to make a career switch, start a business, or seek greener pastures. They do this in the worst economic climate in history. They dive into the deeper end of the pool to learn a new stroke. But do we have to be motivated by fear or unemployment?

People who are employed seem to be frozen in their tracks. They are ambitious without ambition. They expect to ride out the storm when when the world around them is not only shrinking but only exists in their optimistic minds. They have no plans to make the most of their current positions and opportunities, but rather seem satisfied with mere survival. How can I strengthen my resume NOW?

Love this video. It frames the question around your next 5 years. My view is three years is better. 

"Shouldn't I wait until things get better?" So you are going to wait three years! You think the job market is going to be better next quarter or next year? Have you seen the predictions, the projections for jobs? Very few economists predict unemployment to return to pre-recession levels and many see this level of unemployment continuing through the middle of next decade. Waiting is not an option, it usually isn't.

Take a moment and read this brief account of unemployment and reflection by Jennifer Williams, Hard Work No Pay, just to give us a jolt of reality, if you have never been out of work. 

So we hate planning our lives when things are good--and for many of us they were pretty good (seem better now, don't they?) and we can not plan our lives when things are bad. So must be our aversion to planning! The Swaying Flu strikes again. 

Let's put some ambition in our ambitiousness. Wake up. This is your life and it is happening now. If you feel it is out of your control, then you have not grabbed the steering wheel: you are the driver, the pilot and the navigator of your career. If you believe in destiny, luck and/or miracles, then having a plan will make you that much better off, right? Confer with your network, your mentor, what do they think?  Take steps to re-evaluate your plan for the next 3 years. How do we envision ourselves three years from now? See that perspective; and look back at the three years that lead to that vision, to see the steps, the decisions, the process and trajectory to get to that vantage point. One thing is certain, in three years you will be three years older. Maybe it will be easier and simpler then or maybe it won't be. I say why wait? J0442372

Thanks for reading. John

A Career Shopping Spree even in a slump

Gratuitous spending, ostentatious luxuries and hedonistic purchases seem like relics of the past--we hope. With the mounting needs and growing gap between the have and have nots, flaunting your wealth has to to be frowned upon. Even impulse buying and mall binges are a thing of the past. Most of us are re-focusing on what matters and the basic needs we have. 350px-Mazlow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg This fall down Maslow's mountain is an ideal time to take inventory of our careers and our next jobs. The question always is What do you want? So the career shopping mall is open and your shopping basket is empty and you can now fill it with whatever you want, the only limits are your true inner needs and your timeline. Here's the big caveat--you have to have time. If you have been laid off AND you have days instead of months to look for the next thing, then I am NOT talking to you. On the other hand, if you are "looking" to make a change. You are proactively evaluating your professional trajectory AND you have a good runway to make that choice, then pull out your cart and let's go down the aisle ways!Shopping carts

First, let me let out a brief cathartic rant. Many people I encounter feel they are at-risk of losing their jobs and/or have reached a ceiling in terms of how their work fulfills them. And they are gainfully employed! They are not operating with any urgency. They have forgotten that they have many resources and opportunities at work to re-tool and enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities (SKA) to make them marketable for the new and better thing. Some of them have full tuition reimbursement still! And yet, they wallow in their indecision. They lolly gag their way through their confusion of choices and options. Many even blame their employer for not doing more for them, WHAT?!! Regrettably, a big percentage of these folks can not take the steering wheel of their own career and start to drive it towards their preferred destination even when someone else is paying for the gas! One thing is certain, they will get focused when they get the layoff notice and for all of us who have been laid off sometime in their careers, including yours truly, you know that is a very very different career/job search process. So, if you are employed and not in immediate danger of layoffs, then kick it into the next gear, because time is your enemy. Take full advantage at doing your job well (you will need this reference) AND the resources available to you to address your weaknesses or build up your SKA for what is required of your next desired career chapter. Stop waiting for the right time and right feeling. Stop procrastinating. Otherwise, the reality is the time and feeling will inevitably be controlled by something or someone else. Car stranded Your little career car will be stranded in the desert and you will be staring at your GPS system! Not your preferred option. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Whew. 

For those re-thinking their careers this may be an ideal time to go on a career shopping spree. What am I talking about? Unemployment is at record levels. There are so many depressed and shrinking industries, but there are also many opportunities. But jobs are being posted and opened everyday. But sometimes our perspective and self loathing prevents us from seeing them. Rose colored glasses Our lenses are colored by our pasts and our habits. Just like when we go down the aisles of the grocery store, we are looking for our brands, and the others are a blur and our brains have filed as irrelevant. We make our career path choices in much the same way--the past is prologue. If you are building a career and you see the steps ahead within the industry you are in, then focus is critical. But if you are considering making a change, then you have to get your brain to see new brands and new shelves and aisles of career options. Perspective is everything. Change your lenses then some new worlds and opportunities will come into view. 

If you are employed and antsy, then let's go shopping -- for what's next. Be a serious and focused shopper who is open to real change. Yes, competition is fierce. And being competitive is essential. However, we can't say we want something different in our lives and then look at the same options. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a change. (apologies to Mr. Einstein) The wonderful thing about this type of shopping is it won't cost you a cent, but if you don't do it the costs could be much higher.

Thanks for reading. John

My New Career Change Strategy--Super Mario Transitions redux

This is an updated and popular post I did last October.

For those who have been climbing the ladder of success for a long time, but now find it is leaning against the wrong mountain. Maybe the hottest topic since the financial events of last month. Millions of people laid off are pounding the pavement. Many of them vowing not to stay in the professional vertical that just ejected/rejected them. They are now sitting at the kitchen table looking at a wide variety of options. What do I want to do with my life? What do I want? How good is my resume? And how good is my network? These are the questions we must ask ourselves. Like the iconic video game star Super Mario, jumping onto moving platforms in different venues, is now the challenge. Are my skills transferable? And to what? And then again what do I want. Always seems to come full circle, doesn't it? :)Realmario After going from non-profit to for-profit to non-profit to for-profit to non-profit, I get asked how did I do this. By the way, non-profit is always much harder and I will go back to for-profit when I want an easier job! For profit work is risky but the goals are always clear. Non-profit work is risky, the pay is lower, and you have to at least raise the money for your salary. Each offers entirely different versions of fulfillment and challenge. What I have learned is that a solid track record of achievement and a strong skillset are needed in government, business, non-profit, Universities, Foundations, start-ups, big companies and small businesses. I would say emphatically that the only thing that prevents you from platform hopping is you! And maybe your resume. A career shift to a new world requires an understanding of the needs of that new world, the lexicon, the cultural differences etc. I have deterred thousands of people from going into non-profit work because they could not make the mental shift to the non-profit culture--a culture where the goals, outcomes are hard to measure, where strict business models do not always apply. Not even mentioning the lack of resources and the absence of an IT department! :) Here's the questions I always pose to corporate execs who say they want to work on the non=profit platform: 1) Do you like fundraising? 2) Can you survive without an IT dept? Less than 5% say yes to both! For me, despite its immense challenges, non-profit work is the most meaningful and fulfilling for me.

Once you have selected a new platform or two to explore--platforms that you have serious interest in, then you have to engage your network. The network will reveal sources and resources at those employers or in those industries to get a handle on how your story can be translated and be relevant there.

  1. Who do you know who works in that world? schedule informational interviews.
  2. What are the key skills, attributes, and experiences that are required by these employers? Adjst your resume and your pitch accordingly. 
  3. Once ready to jump, who do you know who can get you an interview for a position?  

A few recent examples: Talked to a government employee who said he wanted to go into marketing. Yet the word marketing did not appear on his resume--"because we don't call it marketing". After listening to him, he was indeed a marketer and we injected the "m" word in appropriate places throughout his documents, including marketing deliverables that were meaningful to the business world. He used his network to get in the door of a major entertainment company and was hired. Talked to this very impressive woman with an MBA from Wharton and terrific marketing expertise. She had more recently earned a PhD in History from Berkeley. She just loves History--I know, kinda random. She wanted a marketing job. I advised her to take the PhD off her resume. She was more than taken aback. I told her it would be a marketing test. ;) She relented. The hypothesis was firms were intimidated by the PhD and did not want a "Dr." working for them. Almost immediately she was interviewed and hired. Lastly, a referral who spent almost his whole career in banking, a very successful career mind you, but now wanting to jump to a new platform. We worked on re-fashioning his background to be less financially focused and put more attention on his skills, management, and achievements. Engaging his network, he is getting interviews now, no job yet. Of course, I am relaying success stories, but they are models of adaptability to become more transferable. Your story, your resume, and network play big roles.

J0401005Career ladders, career escalators--where you just climb and ride your way to the top are relics of the past. <strong>Platform jumping is now a required sport in the career game of life, especially when industries and seemingly invincible brand names just disappear.</strong> I have always believed that you will have 4-7 careers in your lifetime! Your skills, background, and your story may be transferable, but only if you translate them into the language and culture of the new world you seek---and engage your network! Thanks for reading. John

What I did on my summer vacation to enhance my career?

J0432982 One of the funniest things I hear from young people, especially those who just graduated is: "I am just exhausted from college and I have to take some time off this summer to rest and re-energize before I go to work or graduate school." What?!!! As Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young." When we were in school we can remember the lazy days of summer interrupted by summer school, camp, chores and maybe a summer job. Those were the days. I watch my kids and can remember the angst over the question, "'what are we going to do today?"

Now that we are all growed up, summer can be busy but a time when we typically put off things until to the Fall. Many excuses are generated, other people's vacations, the warm weather, or the gravitational pull of our childhoods. But summer is an ideal time to tune up your careers. It is a time to to think and reflect. It is a time to plan. You were thinking you were going to be planful in the Fall? Yeah, you will have so much time then! Wrong. 

Po Bronson has said in his What Should I do With My Life series that we tend to procrastinate by using dates, seasons, and milestones. This time is not good because: its summer, my kids are busy, the holidays, my birthday, things are up in the air etc etc. He concludes that the "right time" should not be the objective. That the people that have found their passions and success were never hindered by the time or the season.
This is the greatest time to make a change or to venture outside of our little cocoons. Change is afoot. Everything is changing. Literally everything. All assumptions about the future are being questioned. And there are so many opportunities. Do you really think that the strategy and path you have chosen can be followed without any adjustments? The first space shuttle made approximately 1500 course corrections to stay on its seemingly linear path. And you want to wait until the summer is over? Really? 96px-STS-31_Hubble_launch_roll_and_pitch

Why do we live like the mythical lemmings and just follow each other over the cliff? Why don't we break the habits that cause us to be stuck? How can we differentiate ourselves if we robotically follow the seasons like a career Almanac? Lemming

I am just saying, take the summer to step back and think and prepare. Ask yourself a few questions:
  1. What do I want to change about my life and career? 
  2. How will my life and career be different next summer? 
  3. With whom do I need to spend more time? With whom will I reconnect?  What am I waiting for?
  4. What can I do to strengthen what I value, enjoy, and love? Download SWIVEL new 2009
One concrete step you can take is to volunteer for a cause or charity that you deeply care about. An hour a week will make a dramatic impact on your life. When you align yourself with your values, you will feel better about yourself. A weird thing happens when you give, you receive. I will give you the John Kobara guarantee :-), that if you engage as a volunteer for a cause that has personal meaning to you, you will be transformed. You will be transformed by being with like minded people. You will be transformed by your own fulfillment. And you will help transform that cause and that organization and the beneficiaries of that work. 

J0441048 Don't waste your summer. When summer is over, and people ask, "What did you do on your summer vacation?" You can tell tell them how you took your career and life to new places.

Thanks for reading. John

Resumes that get interviews

First of all we know that a resume does not get an inteview YOU do. A well conceived resume will advance your candidacy, when you take an active role in shaping and marketing your resume. 

Then people see your resume they should understand who you are--it must reflect you. 


That being said, your resume is the most important tool in your career change "I gotta get a new job" toolbox. It is not only your direct mail sales lead piece in your personal marketing campaign--your resume is YOU and your unique brand, at least for those 10-20 seconds of the initial review to determine whether you are in the pool or not. In the American Idol job world your resume has to have chops --it has to sing! 


Resume test:

  • Does your resume differentiate you from others?
  • Would you hire you?

 A "no" to either of these questions requires you to re-boot the system and craft a resume you love. 

There are so many great resources out there that give great examples and tips. Rileyguide is my favorite. Jane Porter's WSJ column is also a good primer. 

Let me just start with what a resume is NOT:

  1. It is not merely a chronology of your jobs and duties
  2. It is not one size fits all 
  3. It does not assume the reader knows anything 
  4. It does not have to fit into one page, unless you just graduated in the last couple of years 

Please see my 10 tips on resume writing. Here's the summary for you attention deficit readers :) 
  1. Target the resume to the skills and requirements of the job and industry.
  2. Avoid functional formats, stick to chronological. 
  3. No "Objective" or "Summary" on the resume. 
  4. Brief description of your employer and/or function of that location. 
  5. Use months for employment dates, not just years.
  6. Insert relevant volunteer/unpaid, non-profit Board, committee chair experiences where you have a track record and deliverables
  7. Don't be afraid to leave off old, irrelevant or distracting things.  
  8. List achievements as well as duties. This is one way to differentiate. 
So after you have spent some thoughtful time re-writing your resume from the standpoint of "Would you hire you?" Here are the three things to maximize your chances for an interview:
  1. Write a killer cover letter. Do not write the textbook cover note. Use the opportunity and space to tell your story. Why you want this job. How you are uniquely qualified. Give your resume a plot, where you are the protagonist. Explain obvious gaps or questions raised by your resume. Were you laid off? Were you busy being a mom? Don't let the reader assume you were imprisoned or fired for embezzlement.
  2. Network for insider information. Use your network to find connections at the targeted employers. Any connections at any level at any position. People to talk to for the inside scoop on the state of affairs of the company and specifically about the view of the department/division you are considering. Any first hand info will give you a leg up in your interview, either to show your interest level or to shape your questions.  
  3.  Network for influence. Here's where you can get a big advantage. Find a senior executive, Board member, or even a high ranking official at a vendor of the employer. You need to have a warm connection to them, meaning somebody you know has a trusting relationship with this person. Your mentor, uncle, sister, best friend, college roommate, somebody who can endorse you. The ask is, "Please interview this person." And the employer does it on the strength of who is requesting.You have already applied or your resume is attached to the request. Nothing separates you from the pile than such a request. You still have to be qualified, but this endorsement gives you a chance and adds a patina of trustworthiness to your candidacy that can be invaluable.  Brand you
In general, people's resumes poorly reflect their objectives and their capabilities. It does not differentiate their brand--their unique experiences and background. Often, little care or attention has been given to this precious and influential document. People seem to think that their interviewing skills will fill in the gaps and get the ultimate message across. But if you do not get the interview, your chance to audition is lost. 

Would you hire you? And would you vote to give you the chance to sing at the next level? 

Thanks for reading. John

How good is my network?

I know I am getting old when people ask me to help their parents network! This economy is brutalizing families and their futures. Yet, there are opportunities and jobs. The question is trying to help people connect with others who can help them with these opportunities. It is virtually impossible to go online and find a job. We need to help each other by connecting our networks to one another. You visually can see it on Linked-in. There is untapped power and influence when we plug our networks together. 


“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”
Epictetus, Greek philosopher

Like looking in the mirror, we don't see ourselves any more. When is the last time we reflected on the quality of our networks? Have you ever spent a few hours doing a full SWOT analysis?--thinking about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your networks. No wonder our networks seem a bit limited. Without such an evaluation, there is little chance your network will adapt to your needs and your future goals. You may take comfort in the stability of your network or feel burdened by how stagnant it is. In so many ways we end up in habits and routines that make us very comfortable. This is reflected in the circle of friends, our cliques, and certainly our confidantes with whom we surround ourselves. Just how our personal kitchen cabinets are formed is a unique process to each of us. 

Most of us have developed or find ourselves in a constellation of connections. At the core is our trusted friends and family--the ones we turn to for unconditional support and advice. Then we are connected to groups of others from work, church, hobbies, fraternities, alma mater etc. These networks rarely connect, despite overlaps, and serve other professional and personal needs. This conjures up our multiple networking personalities and the different ways we interact with others. ZodiacYour network can look like a zodiac constellation of stars and planets Complex molecular structure
 or a molecular structure. Your network starts with you and the closer points represent your inner network and then there are nodes and hubs representing your connections. The point is we are part of unique networks that often happen and we rarely re-engineer them. We think we are stuck with these structures and there is little we can do about it. 

As Epictetus queries, Is your network uplifting? Our networks can be formed through obligations, duty, responsibility, and sheer luck. We may not notice how bound we are to history. We can't tell if our network is a hindrance or a help. Our well-meaning parents, even best friends may be holding us back. I recently had someone ask me if they could remove themselves from their own network because it was "toxic" to her new goals. Just this act of stopping and considering who is in your network and how it is doing are huge steps. But let's go further and take 2 more steps:

  1. Map your network. Use concentric circles, or a constellation of circles. You are at the center and use proximity to determine the strength or the trust of the relationships. Just list your most trusted network members to start. Feel free to map as much as you want!How does it look? Are you happy with it? 
  2. Rate your network. Give 1 pt for each question you answer yes.
  • Do you trust your network to give you the truth about the real you? (not stuck on an earlier version of you)
  • Does your network challenge you as much as it supports you? (diverse points of view, not a bunch of cheerleaders)  
  • Does your network feel vibrant and dynamic? (Are you adding new and different members on a regular basis?)
  • Does your network represent your future goals as much as your past? (Can your network help you with your future goals?)  
  • Are the networks connected to your network strong? (Your network has strong hubs that are connected to other strong networks)
  5 pts You can stop reading.  Your network is in great shape!
3-4 pts You need to enhance your network
0-2 pts You need a makeover!

If you feel your network is out of date, then its time to upgrade! The consequences for a stagnant network are considerable. Dr. Lisa Berkman of Harvard University, mapped the social networks of almost 7000 people over a nine year time frame. She found that "isolated" people were 3x more likely than the "well-connected" to die---Die!. There have been a dozen studies that have shown that greater health, happiness, and success come from better, slightly bigger, more diverse and active networks. 

Additional research reveals we have "strong" ties and "weak" ties. Simply put, strong ties occupy that inner circle and weak ties are less established. Adding people to our networks is time consuming, especially strong ties. It requires an investment of time and energy to have multiple "best friends". Trying to stay in touch with new acquaintances is just as challenging. But adding new weak tie members to our network gives our networks vitality, new connections, new opportunities, and even more cognitive flexibility--the ability to consider new ideas and options. Put another way, if you are not adding new members to your network you will deprive yourself of information, trends, viral impact, and greater possibilities. 

New relationships invigorate the network by providing a connection to new networks, ideas, and opportunities. Mark Granovetter's ground breaking work The Strength of Weak Ties and many other social scientists have shown conclusively that adding new ties enables new "communities of interest" to be formed. This is the premise of facebook or linkedin. Connect to people you know and then the people they know and so on. You start with strong ties that logically and trustingly lead to new weak ties that build a stronger network. So you do not need to hand out your business cards at street corners, use your existing network to add members and reconnect with people.

What do you want? Your networks have to reflect where you have been as much as where you are going. I am always surprised that new graduates or career changers have not joined the professional associations that represent their future career paths. Hanging around with, attending conferences, reading the journals, keeping up with the lingo of your future self is so easy-- yet often overlooked. I just advised my daughter Jenna to join the Occupational Therapy Association, her presumed career path. She will experience what her profession does and try on for size her future world. Adding people to your network who reflect issues, jobs, industries, areas of interest is essential. Again, by probing your strong ties you find new ties (or old ties you have lost touch with) that relate to your future destinations. This will help you hone down your job search, clarify career aspirations, or help others. 

Taking inventory of your network and where it is lacking is time well spent. Engaging your trusted inner circle in filling these gaps is a good place to start. Your mere awareness of your needs will connect you with new and more relevant networks pretty quickly.  Your network will become more more powerful through the strength of weak ties. Here's to a network that give you a more uplifting and longer life!

Thanks for reading. John

What is your story? Developing an authentic and compelling story to advance your career

Your story is the truth, wrapped with your hard work and passion, guided by your dreams, that helps people understand who you are where you are going.


Your story is so much better than you think. The crazy way our lives evolve, the experiences we have encountered, the things we have learned, our achievements, our failings, our dreams--are unique, intriguing and much more interesting than we acknowledge. In fact we tend to conclude that our stories, our lives, are pretty much the same as other people's--translation--AVERAGE and BORING.  I constantly hear this from young and old, new graduates and PhDs, sr execs and mid-level managers. The result is we don't tell our own stories at all or well. This is more than tooting your horn without blowing it. Really this is about pride in who you are, how you got to this wonderful or challenging chapter in your life. As a friend of mine says, "It is what it is." Necessity is a virtue!Tell your story and tell it well.

It ain't brag if you done it. Walt Whitman

As the interviewer, I usually say, "tell me the (your name) story." It is my version of tell me something about yourself. This is where most people do something really dumb they begin reciting their resume or look like the question is about astro physics. They think this is an innocuous question, but it is the easiest sounding hardest question of all. 
Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
  • Give you confidence through self knowledge and awareness
  • Bring humanity to your resume  
  • Make you memorable 
  • Set you apart  
By understanding your story you will be able to talk about the themes, values, and goals that weave together your life so far. When you reflect and remember, the reasons why your life and your career have evolved are clearly understood. Your answer to the question, "Tell me about yourself." Is not a spur of the moment or robotic response--it is your personal and compelling story. 
Here are the basic steps you should take to write and tell your story:
  1. Take a comprehensive inventory of the chapters of your life---Chronological may be easiest. Major events, memories, and turning points that began in your childhood. Times you recall that shaped who you are. Make notes about your feelings, expectations, your frustrations. Each of these chapters may contain multiple stories. Of course, list your jobs/positions, your volunteer gigs and what you learned, accomplished, and experienced. These stories need to have vivid dimensions so people will experience that moment with you. A young lady I work with, described the lessons she learned doing insect research standing in cranberry bogs.  When I heard her say this my mind immediately formed a picture and that significantly enhanced our conversation. It may have been a moment with your mom on the porch, or a trip you took to a far away place, or what a boss or mentor told you. Aha moments that reveal you and that revealed clues to your journey/path. They do not have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. I use a simple excel spreadsheet and start listing things under a time period or a job. Not complete sentences, but attributes and lessons that trigger that story.
  2. What are the themes that emerge from the inventory?---Are you an educator/teacher, a leader, an entrepreneur, a risk taker? Has technology, metrics, research, and/or presentations been your competency? What emerges as your passion(s)-- mentoring your subordinates, pro-bono work, helping a specific type of client, advancing knowledge in your field? What gives you joy?
  3. What defines your career path?--- How did you choose the opportunities and who helped you? What motivated you then and now? Have your motivations been consistent or evolving? Are you someone who likes new projects? Or executes the details of someone else's vision? The SAR method of discussing a situation, action, and response is a great structure to tell your stories. 
  4. Practice Practice Practice---What begins to emerge is your story and an inventory of other stories. Now you have to begin using your story---saying it out loud, ideally to others. You can recite it into a tape recorder or tell it to a confidante for feedback. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, "Tell me about yourself." 
Storytelling for a job interview
Specifically applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Interviews, if you are lucky to get one, get right to the point now. They are competency and behavioral in the questions. Yes, they are also looking for fit with the team and the culture of the employer. But does the candidate have what we need in skills, knowledge and abilities and can he/she apply them is the focus.  
Joe Turner in his article about interview stories recommends you use these questions to shape your story inventory: 
  • Examples of when you either made money or saved money for your current or previous employer.
  • A crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it.
  • A time where you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  • A time in your career or job where you had to overcome stress.
  • A time in your job where you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  • A failure that occurred in your job and how you overcame it.
  • Any seminal events that happened during your career to cause you to change direction and how that worked out for you.
You now have a work in progress story about you and a growing list of other supporting stories. Lining up the stories that apply to the employer and the specific position is critical. You know about the job duties and required qualifications, you have networked to learn more about the culture and environment, you have networked further to get an internal recommendation to insure you get a look and hopefully an interview. Put yourself in the interviewers shoes and pose the questions you would ask the candidate and align your stories. Which ones are relevant to this opportunity? Especially revealing to employers are personal stories about how you handled change, made choices under pressure and lessons learned from mistakes and failures.
For the more confident and sophisticated, you will have stories about different aspects of management that reveal your skillset. For example having a stories about strategic plans, financial models, HR, marketing, change management, dispute resolution etc will be extremely helpful for follow-up questions and when you have committee interviews. To be able to relate how you worked with the various types of departments represented in the room of interviewers can be very persuasive. 
There are a lot of resources out there for you. Here is a comprehensive online resource that will give you much more help and guidance on how storytelling propels careers. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself. Hah! Learning and appreciating your story is a pre-requisite to to any interview process. You can not always rely on your improv skills or "thinking on your feet". You can anticipate the questions and you can have the stories at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability. As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of randomness and serendipity. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes more clear when you understand where you have been. 
We need your story. Tell it!
Thanks for reading. John

Breakthrough questions

Btw, finally saw Slumdog Millionaire--Wow. Loved it. While it's a ride off into the Indian sunset type flick, it is very entertaining. 


When you are lost in the forest stand still! 

Challenging and interesting times should trigger questions. My current daily encounters with people and groups increasingly starts with questions. "What do I do to prepare for the worst? How should my org re-focus on new realities? How long should I/we wait to make a change? "What are the opportunities that emerge from this crisis?" 

Self reflection is a process for all times. Thinking about where we are and where we are going need not be a response driven to the environment. But human nature generates a swift, strong and automatic reflex to fear and to danger. Regardless of the circumstances, asking questions or better said, questioning the path we are on, is a necessity. Btw, if everything is perfect for you--stop reading this! :)

Remember when we were kids, or if you are around kids, the questions children ask? Silly questions and profound questions. How high is up? My favorite example came from my 10 year old Little Brother (when I was in the Big Brothers program), "Does God exist if everyone in the world stops believing in him?" Impossible questions that come from sheer curiosity. Kids, unlike us, do not employ all of the filters of socialization and self consciousness. So their questions are very real. They think about things and then want to understand them. They aspire to be astronauts and presidents, NBA stars, and celebrities--as they should. They do not see limits, boundaries, or certainly obstacles. The beauty of this innocence is the infinite imagination of what is possible. Regrettably, over the the years, we lose this ability. It is the steady and imperceptible erosion of this innocence, emboldened by norms, conformity, cynicism and doubt. Archaeological layers of moments, memories, and experiences thicken our personal lenses and cloud our ability to see ourselves and our possibilities clearly. Others around us warn us not to leave our little myopic world. Consequently, our adulthood realism and practicality form questions that limit our possibilities.

First let's examine a few examples of these questions that you must AVOID:

  1. Don't I need to wait for the right time?  
  2. Should I discover my passion(s) before I make any moves? 
  3. What will my parents and friends think?  
  4. How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? 
  5. Will a change hurt my resume and my career? 
  6. Shouldn't I just do my job and not make any waves?  
  7. Isn't another academic degree required? 
  8. Doesn't make sense for me to wait until I feel better about myself? 
  9. Don't I need a financial reserve to pursue my dreams?   
  10. If I am patient and attentive, won't my destiny reveal itself? 

How about this one, "How long should I procrastinate my dreams?" Of course these questions have some merit, but as a group they are excuses not to pursue something better. Po Bronson in his book What Should I Do With My Life? found that people who found success ignored these types of questions. These queries present obstacles and do not assist us to address the real questions. 

Let's return to doubt and cynicism. They can be powerful allies in your quest to ask yourself and those around you thought provoking questions. Questions that truly seek real and fresh answers. Think like a child. I did not say be childish! Think about the unfiltered big questions inside of you, that are bigger than you. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me and the people in my network:

  1. How do I love what I am doing to do what I love?
  2. What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  
  3. I have always wished I could.........., but.....................? 

How do I love what I am doing to do what I love? How do I take full responsibility for where I am and make the most of it? If you are satisfied with your current role but want more, then how can your current employer help advance your goals? Optimize your current experience with your next step in mind. Even if you have decided to make a change, it is very hard to make a transition without some planning. Somehow you got yourself into this place and time. Many people and things can be blamed, but at the end of the day, you have to extricate yourself on your terms. In my recent encounters with people, this question gets skipped. Just talked to an old friend I had lost touch with. She was just laid off, but she has 60 days transition with a remote possibility there would be an opening at that time. She could quit. However, she needs the time to look for a new job. We also talked about her need for a great reference from the current employer. She decided to give the next 60 days her all and go out on a good note. She had been angry and depressed. Now she saw there was going to be a new chapter and she embraced it. As the old adage goes, when you got lemons, make lemonade! 

What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  This is the ultimate question. What will give your life "the most meaning"? This question requires thought and contemplation. It has to include an inventory of the issues and causes you care about. The hidden talents you have wanted to develop. Some people misinterpret this question. They think there is just a single answer, a single profession, a single career track. You are complex and have multiple interests and ideas. You may have a constellation of passions and goals. Can you find a job that aligns with your goals, become a volunteer with a charity that gives you meaning, and start taking piano lessons? Yes, yes, yes! Building a total portfolio of interests and goals may be much easier than finding a career that satisfies all of them. 

I have always wished I could.........., but...................? This is Barbara Sher's wish/obstacle phrase from here work on Wishcraft . The beauty of this question is it isolates the reason that you have not pursued something. The premise is that people are drawn to other people's wishes more than their wants. It is a very powerful way to network for connections. This phrase will trigger other people's desire to assist you when you articulate what you want in the form of a wish. But this question releases its power when you ask others about their wishes. Try it. Ask people you care about what they are wishing for? Ask kids you know. Just tell them not to answer with any material objects. They will reveal many things you did not know. I tried this on my Mom a couple of years ago. My mother Tomi is an accomplished artist and has traveled the world. Surprisingly, she told me she wanted to see Santa Fe New Mexico. She described Santa Fe's importance to the art world and went on and on about things she wanted to see there. I told her I never knew about this wish. I immediately contacted my brother and sisters and we put together a small fund to send my Mom there with one of my sisters. Every year we struggle to get Mom a Christmas or birthday gift, but this is something she wished for! I put my network to work and got her a VIP tour of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and to meet other Santa Fe artists. 

Here's a photo of my Mom and sister in Santa Fe. Santa Fe

We have to open up our minds to questions that cause us to think beyond our growing adult cynicism. Questions that help us reflect on what we want for ourselves and for those around us. Questions that force us to stop running around and stand still in the forest, to enjoy the greatness of the trees, and then explore the paths out of the forest. 

Thanks for reading.  John

2009--Okay I am going to get serious!

Happy New Year to all! I truly wish you and your families a year of resilience and fulfillment. There are many sources of optimism for our future. Regrettably, I have to agree with the experts that things may not get much worse, but they are also not going to get better soon. As I have discussed these many weeks, there are many opportunities amidst the recession and the challenges.  In fact there is more latitude to make changes in times like these. So don't procrastinate, make this the time to advance your agenda, your ideas, and your dreams. Probably a time to adopt the mentoring and networking lifestyle :) Don't fall victim to the "Let's see how things go" or "I think I'll wait until......" No better time then NOW to make it happen! 

Check out this slideshow. I discovered it more than 10 years ago. I have shared it with every group I have led or addressed. Regardless of your religious views the message is profound and forces you to pause and reflect on what is important. 

Interview with God

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: godinterviewphilosophy)
A few additional thoughts to help you jump start your plans for 2009. 
  1. Write it down. Try out my new and improved  SWIVEL (Strengthen What I Value, Enjoy and Love)vision and planning tool. Download SWIVEL new 2009 Writing down your goals and ideas dramatically increases your commitment and therefore your follow-through. Even if you do not like this form, please write down your goals or your new year's resolutions. 
  2. How's my network doing? Conduct an assessment of your inner circle, your kitchen cabinet, your closest and dearest confidantes. Are any of these folks holding you back to where you want to go?  Does this group have the experiences and background to push you forward? Think about how you can enhance this group to add new perspective and energy to your journey. If this is the board of directors of your career, what changes, if any, should you make? 
  3. Who's my mentor? Getting good counsel in times like these is invaluable. Don't think of your next job as much as your goals and vision for yourself. What I mean is, your mentor(s) will give you an objective view on your plans and your thinking. Mentors can give your great advice on a job but may provide important insight regarding your career path. My mentors have pushed me out of my comfort zone so many times, I do not know the boundaries of the box anymore.:) Reconnect with your mentor(s) sooner than later. Maybe share your SWIVEL with them. Schedule your annual reality check up now!
  4. Connect and Reconnect. Make a list of people you want to see and get off the couch and go see them. Go to every opportunity to meet new people and experience new things. You need stimuli to see new opportunities, to try on new visions of yourself, to break bad habits/routines, to get inspired, and to earn how others see the world. If you are hesitating, this is a good primer on networking  I hate networking...  Jan 2 was the 25th anniversary of the day I sat next to this mysterious dark haired woman in row 21 on United Airlines. I was on my way to Hawaii for a vacation and she was returning home from Colorado. We started a conversation and we have been married for more than 23 years! Meeting people and good conversations can lead you places that may surprise you.
Where will you be in 2010? This is the time to think about that question. These are extraordinary times. If you are not motivated to get serious, then you have been either in a coma or highly medicated. :) If you make this a lifestyle choice, something you think about all of the time, then your transition will seem effortless. Take little steps everyday. Like the old saying, "By the inch it's a cinch, by the yard can be very hard." Make this a year to remember. Thanks for reading. John                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              



Non-profit network--optimism, obstacles, and opportunities

Don't recede during a recession

Spent the week meeting with about 350 non-profit leaders, representing more than 120 non-profit organizations (Nopes), about surviving the current economic crises. It was an exhausting and invigorating experience. It was an attempt to give these executives and fundraisers a reality check. As a serial non-profiteer I know that adapting and changing is not a core competence for this sector. But the world has changed and hunkering down to endure this period is essential. Chronicle of Philanthropy estimates that a 100,000 non-profits may close early next year. One thing is certain, this crises has hammered all organizations across all sectors. 

Consider these impacts on philanthropy and fundraising:
  • 66% of all charitable giving comes from individuals 
  • Every 100 point drop in the S and P 500 equates to a $1.5 billion drop in individual philanthropy. That translates to a $12 billion loss this year!
  • Very wealthy will continue to give but "middle class" donors will significantly reduce or stop giving. 
  • Planned giving will increase as a % of overall giving. During the depression planned giving was 40% of all charitable gifts.
  • Government grants, corporate, and foundation giving will drop precipitously. $10 trillion in market value and equity lost this year.   
  • Competition for gifts and attention will increase.  
In short the pie has shrunk and is shrinking from every side.
For the non-profit organizations I met, individual giving represented less than 15% of their income.

The conversations were an interesting blend of resilience and denial. These leaders are passionate about their work and that keeps them going. But their emotional connection to their work often blinds them to the changes that should have been and now need to be implemented. This is especially true when the demand for their services is increasing exponentially. They compartmentalize their focus on surviving and their drive to serve. In times like these, a recipe for disaster. 

Our discussions ran the gamut from commiseration over apathetic Boards, to a how-to on lay-offs, to new models of coopetition, to random expressions of fear, and searches for sources of optimism...

One thing that seems to be giving false hope, at least in the short term, is the Obama factor, which has two facets. First, the belief that Obama's leadership will improve the economy, bolster government, and non-profits financial prospects will rise. While Obama's leadership will make a difference, there will be no financial influx to non-profits in early 2009 when many NPOs will face grim realities. Second, the idea that the Obama online fundraising machine is a model that every non-profit can adopt to raise new money. As I explained, NPOs are missing one key ingredient, the ingredient that made Obama online fundraising  work----OBAMA! Not to be so cynical but NPOs gravitate to mirage like solutions all the time. We'd rather add than subtract.

The recommendations flowed from these sessions and here are some of the top ones:
  1. Prepare for less and create budgetary scenarios that should start with a 10% to 25% cut as the starting point.
  2. Return to the mission of the organization, to the reason the NPO exists. Consider paring back or lopping off efforts that have been the products of mission creep and mission drift.  
  3. Increase communication to your Board to your donors. Tell them the truth and engage them in the effort to preserve what is important.
  4. Develop a new elevator pitch that reflects the new reality, that shows that the NPO is responding to community need vs the NPO's organizational need. No one cares that the NPO has to cut back, everyone is cutting back. What is the NPO doing to re-focus and respond? 
  5. Develop an investment/investor approach to current and new donors. Donors increasingly want to know that their gifts have a return on investment (ROI) not just keeping the lights on and the staff paid. What does a gift do for the community, for the constituents? 
In short, the world has changed for NPOs as well and they have to adapt to survive. They have to act quickly and urgently NOW to evolve to fight another day. Consolidation, partnerships and new forms of collaborating have to be explored. It is the greatest time to do what needs to be done. As the incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said when he was appointed, "Let's not waste this crises." Make this crises the moment of change, the time to start the new chapter, and the chance to make our organizations better. 

NPO networking
If you are looking for an opportunity to meet new people, help the community, fulfill your personal sense of responsibility, and advance your career---jump into a non-profit volunteer post. They need help more than ever. Just make sure you align the opportunity with your values and your passions. Given the above context, can you imagine how grateful a NPO will be when you call to  volunteer? A few tips on how to make this work for you:
  1. Pick a NPO and a mission you really care about
  2. Conduct due diligence on the NPO to insure compatibility
  3. Ideally align the position with your career interests and the NPO's greatest need 
  4. Make sure you understand the expectations  of the volunteer position to meet and exceed them
Volunteer opportunities in California, Secretary of Service and Volunteering Karen Baker and I met last week and her office has put together a fantastic resource for residents of California to find opportunities. Outside of CA there are similar resources. It helps to know what causes, issues, constituencies you care about most. 

There is no more powerful form of networking that connecting with people who have an unconditional commitment to a common goal and NPO. 

We all have to do our part. We all have to engage with the causes and issues we care about. We can not retreat during a recession. We need to connect and strengthen our sense of community. The power of WE is an unyielding force. Reach out and help the NPOs that mean the most to you and the returns will come back to you and all of us in many ways.  

Thanks for reading. John

Weathering the storm and defining the moment

Hard to comprehend what is going in our financial markets. How to react to them. If you have any money in the market you have been hammered. More important the instability of our economy will put hundreds of thousands more jobs at risk, maybe yours and I am sorry to say we have not see the bottom of this crisis yet. It may be many months before anything resembling stability returns. But you have been inundated with this news and I have nothing to add to the cacophony of financial analysis. Bottomline: You need to be preparing yourself and your family for harder times. You have to be thinking about about Plan B and C. Hopefully, you are managing your anxiety by stepping back a bit and realizing how limited your ability to alter this context is. As a friend says, "It is what it is." Nevertheless, this is an extraordinary time and it requires extraordinary thoughts and actions. What are my options and choices in times like these? How can I be a source of resillience? People look to you for signs of what to do, how to act. We have to lead by example. 

See my blog on Earthquakes and Networking...

Here are three things to keep in mind during this time of turmoil:

1) Do your job--Keep an eye open for opportunities 

If you are fortunate to have a good job, then invest in your work. You have twin goals: 1) Job retention through creating perceived and real value (something you are already doing) 2) Paving the runway for what's next by keeping your track record strong (and great references make a difference in times like these). Unless there is writing on the wall portending a major change, then do what you were always doing, be competent and on top of your deliverables. Too often self-fulfilling prophecies happen when an eroding performance leads to both unemployment and a bad reference. As I have always advised, that does not ever minimize your ability to see emerging opportunities--chances to re-tool or move to something new. New opportunities are going to be harder to find but they are still out there. And history has shown that enrollment in courses, training and degree programs will skyrocket. Be an employee that can be counted on with an eye on the horizon. 

2) Be strong--Make this a defining moment

Excerpt from Jim Collins book Good to Great:

"Throughout our research, we were continually reminded of the 'hardiness' research studies done by the International Committee for the Study of Victimization. These studies looked at people who had suffered serious adversity – cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims, and so forth – and survived. They found that people fell generally into three categories; those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger."

How can we make this a defining event for ourselves? Worst strategy is just to hunker down, pull in the sails, and hope the storm passes. Take care of my family boat and minimize risks and wait and see. Wait and see is ALWAYS the worst plan. In any sea in any environment.

3) Be positive--Reach out and help others

For me focusing on what I can do and what is important to me relieves some of the stress. I truly believe that power of attraction is very powerful in times like these. Negative attracts negative and positive attracts positive. But the latter is much harder, because the negative forces are nearly out of control. So many people love to tell a worse story of financial damage and consequence. Not sure what part of our DNA feeds off the misery and devastation, but I would love to discover the antidote. Then be a source of positive energy.

Like in an earthquake, you make sure you are okay, then you check your family and friends, then you try to determine if everyone else in your inner network are okay too. Reach out to people and find out how they are doing. Your network, your clients, your colleagues, your neighbors. Be a source of support--I do not mean financial support, but moral and networking support. People are worried and they need advice, counsel, job assistance--they need people who can help them. At the very least these are the times to reflect on who is important to me? Intuitively we agree that WE is always more powerful than ME. So engage with others instead of just focusing on yourself. 

These are crazy times of financial dowturns. No need to lose your cool. Keep your whits about you and your career, your priorities and future may even be on the upswing. Hang in there. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. 

Thanks for reading. John

Super Mario transitions--how do I jump into a new career?

For those who have been climbing the ladder of success for a long time, but now it is leaning against the wrong mountain.

Maybe the hottest topic since the financial events of last month. Hundreds of thousands of people laid off are pounding the pavement. Many of them vowing not to stay in the professional vertical that just ejected/rejected them. They are now sitting at the kitchen table looking at a wide variety of options. Passion, what you want, the shape of your resume and the vitality of your network all play big roles. Like the iconic video game star Super Mario, jumping onto moving platforms in different venues, is now the challenge. Are my skills transferable? And to what? And then again what do I want. Always seems to come full circle, doesn't it? :) After going from non-profit to for-profit to non-profit to for-profit to non-profit, I get asked how did I do this. By the way, non-profit is much harder and i will go back to for-profit when I want an easier job! What I have learned is that a solid track record of achievement and a strong skillset are needed in government, business, non-profit, Universities, Foundations, start-ups, big companies and small businesses. I would say emphatically that the only thing that prevents you from platform hopping is you! And maybe your resume. A career shift to a new world requires an understanding of the needs of that world, the lexicon, the cultural differences etc. I have deterred thousands of people from going into non-profit work because they could not make the mental shift to the non-profit culture--a culture where the goals, outcomes are hard to measure, where strict business models do not always apply. Not even mentioning the lack of resources and the absence of an IT department! :)

Once you have selected a new platform or two to explore--platforms that you have serious interest in, then you have to engage the network and find sources and resources at those employers or in those industries to get a handle on how your story can be translated to be relevant there.

A few recent examples: Talked to a government employee who said he wanted to go into marketing. Yet the word marketing did not appear on his resume--"because we don't call it marketing". After listening to him, he was indeed a marketer and we injected the "m" word in appropriate places throughout his documents, including marketing deliverables that were meaningful to the business world. He used his network to get in the door of a major entertainment company and was hired. Talked to this very impressive woman with an MBA from Wharton and terrific marketing expertise. She had more recently earned a PhD in History from Berkeley. She just loves History--I know, kinda random. She wanted a marketing job. I advised her to take the PhD off her resume. She was more than taken aback. I told her it was a marketing test. ;) She relented. The hypothesis was firms were intimidated by the PhD and did not want a "Dr." working for them. Almost immediately she was interviewed and hired. Lastly, a referral who spent almost his whole career in real estate, a very successful career mind you, but now wanting to jump to a new platform. We worked on re-fashioning his background to be less real estate focused and put more attention on his skills, management, and achievements. Engaging his network, he is getting interviews now, no job yet. Of course, I am relaying success stories, but they are models of adaptability to become more transferable.

Basic stuff here. Career ladders, career escalators--where you just climb and ride your way to the top are relics of the past. Platform jumping is now a required sport in the career game of life, especially when industries and seemingly invincible brand names just disappear. I have always believed that you will have 4-7 careers in your lifetime! Your skills, background, and your story may be transferable, but only if you translate them into the language and culture of the new world you seek---and engage your network!

Thanks for reading. John