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July 2009

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

Roommates and Racism -- Guess who's coming to live with you?

I just got back from attending my daughter's college orientation. She was going to stay over night in the dorms and started to fret about the possibility of getting a "freak" roommate. She, of course, was matched with a lovely young lady, with whom she will stay in touch. I was reminded of my trepidation about my first college roomie. Remember the form you fill out to ascertain your preferences for a roommate. You know, smoking, sleep and social habits, music and noise tolerance, play an instrument, hygiene etc etc. Have you seen the questions they ask today? Anyway, I asked for a non-smoker, non-music, serious, and clean freak. 180px-Pig-pen_peanuts My roommate, I'll call him Alvin, was a rock and roller bass player with electric amp, pot head,  who worshiped dust and debris--sort of the Pig Pen meets Led Zeppelin type. In short, the opposite of what I expected. But as I have come to learn, we can acquire great insight, self understanding, and experience from those that are different from ourselves. And Alvin was an interesting person with deep thoughts, a different perspective and played a mean version of Deep Purple's music. While living with him presented a range of health, safety, and reputational concerns, I did maintain a friendship with him after I found more suitable accommodations. 

My point is we meet people randomly all of the time. And when we do, we are often confronted with our own views, stereotypes, prejudices, and cultural biases. One of the great and sometimes forgotten opportunities of a college education is the chance to interact with different people. People from different perspectives, geographies, ethnicities, nationalities, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, etc etc. Colleges that seek student diversity as part of their excellence are providing superior educations and the graduates are better prepared for the real world. Schools with homogeneous populations will never compete with these institutions. The Ivy league schools and the top educational institutions in the world have known this for a long time. That's why none of them admit students based solely upon scores and GPAs. They know that intelligence is not measured that way AND that the true goal of a liberal education requires a truly diverse class:

Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. Association of  American Colleges and Universities

Diverse apple The only way to do this is to recruit and maintain diversity in the academy.

Back on roommates. So as my daughter and I have discovered, the roommate assignment process is random. You get what you get. The NY Times ran a story this week Interracial Roommates Can Reduce Prejudice. This study found that African Americans with high SAT scores who roomed with White students had consistently higher grade pt averages, regardless of the SAT score or GPA of the roommate. One conclusion drawn was these black students became better acclimated to a predominantly white school. To be honest, when less than 15% of the students at Indiana University are non-white, not sure how significant this study is. For example, UCSB, an average California school in terms of diversity, has a majority minority in the entering freshmen class and 43% will be the first in their families to graduate from college. Now that's diversity! I think the study by faculty at Princeton and UCLA, The effect of university roommate contact on ethnic attitudes and behavior, is much more relevant.  A four year study of the impact of rooming with a student from a different ethnic background. Did this random, highly personal, 9 month relationship change the views and attitudes of the roommates?

Here were the key measures: 
  1. Random roommate selection
  2. Social dominance--Is equality a goal? Should some groups be at the top and the bottom? 
  3. Friendship heterogeneity--Do you have close friends from different backgrounds? 
  4. Inter-ethnic dating--Have you dated someone from a different group?   
  5. Inter-group unease and competence--Does any group make you feel uneasy and incompetent in dealing with that group? 
So what did they find? This was a complex study with many variables and there were differences between the racial and ethnic groups, especially for Asians ( I will cover this in future posts). But the bottomline was: 
Greater heterogeneity of the roommates caused more positive views of all other ethnic groups. Almost all of the measures improved for almost all groups.J0439454

In other words, having ideas and thoughts about other people will change when you get to know them. Like many prejudices, they are exaggerations and generalizations that do not apply to individuals. We find that our differences are more interesting than dangerous and then discover how much we have in common. When we are open to learning about each other in random and not so random circumstances, our eyes, minds, and hearts are also opened, our view of the world expands, as well as the possibilities. 

Here's to my old roommate Alvin, my daughter's future roommate, and to your next encounter with someone different. 

Thanks for reading. John

Baby networking -- the science of attachment

The magic of DNA is profoundly manifested when you have kids. You and your spouse put your DNA in the martini shaker and pour out the DNA cocktail that is your child. DNAIt is one of the greatest miracles and mysteries of life! Every child has unique qualities and attributes that may not resemble the parents! The Nigerians have a beautiful word --Amachi-- roughly translated means "Only God knows what this child brings". Locked inside of this tiny person are all sorts of possibilities and talents. Parents then go through the amazing and challenging push/pull dance of nurturing the nature or vice versa. How much guidance do I provide to allow this child to become who they were meant to become? And for those of us blessed with more than one child, you learn quickly that the operator's manual is different for each and every one. No matter how much equity we want to apply as parents, we realize real fast that appreciating the differences is far more important. For if we don't recognize these unique qualities, we will miss the genius within. Like a box of crackerjacks, there is at least one prize inside each child a unique talent, skill, idea, a way of being that yearns to be discovered and appreciated.180px-Mozambique024

Do the mysteries of a baby--how to help the child realize his/her potential--tell us anything about how that baby develops relationships? Are the seeds of networking planted during those early moments of infancy where the brain is an evolving grey mass of possibilities and the manifestations of the secret blend of DNA emerges?

Recently, I was introduced to a body of research on the attachment of infants. Simply put, it is the process where the primary caregiver relationship, the attachment, to the new born forms in the first months of life.

The attachment bond is a research based theory that has shown that the seeds of relationship capabilities is planted in early childhood and is highly influenced by the bond that forms or does not form between the primary caregiver and the baby. Put another way, your perspective on networking may have been largely formed through your attachment. According to the experts at, the following activities are critical in forming this attachment bond.

Nonverbal tools for communication between parent and baby include:

  • Eye contact and facial expressions. Eye-to-eye contact between parent and baby is key to feeling connected and developing a secure and loving bond. A warm smile goes a long way, too. Babies also like to imitate facial expressions, which can be a fun way to play with your baby.
  • Feeding. The act of feeding can be very soothing to a baby. Watch for cues that your baby is still hungry or if s/he needs to be burped during feeding. If you are breastfeeding, you will naturally be holding your baby close. If you are bottle feeding, make sure you are holding your baby, ideally cradling him or her while feeding- don’t “prop a bottle”.
  • Gentle handling. Avoid rough, abrupt movements in very young babies and be sure to support a newborn’s head.  Older babies might like more active, playful movements at times, but check frequently to make sure they are comfortable.
  • Rhythmic movement. Babies love rocking, swaying, swinging, and even gentle jiggling (notshaking). They may enjoy “dancing” with you.
  • A soft soothing voice. Talk or sing to your baby. Your baby can’t understand what you’re saying, but he or she can enjoy just listening to you. While you are also building language skills, the reassurance of your voice is very important in building secure attachment.
Like adults, babies want eye contact, smiles, gentleness, and of course food! Great ingredients for networking! And the attachment bond determines how adults approach relationships and ultimately become fulfilled
J0438625 Here's the shocker, at least for me, parents are not educated or even told about this attachment process. They certainly are not aware of the cues and milestones that the parents, especially the mother needs to know. Rich moms, poor moms, there is no difference. I can only imagine that clinics and hospitals that serve low income communities are not teaching it. And equally concerning are the well-to-do households where the nannies and the au pairs become the de-facto primary caregivers. Awareness and even more important, the general understanding on how to form this attachment is not part of the pre-natal and new motherhood education process. My wife and I never heard of it. Friends of mine who just had babies were never told of it. Mothers and their newborns are being discharged as quickly as possible and are lucky if they get a bag of baby discount coupons, but nothing else. No "manual" for the new born. And the pediatricians are often not a source for this information on attachment either. There is a huge emphasis on the functions of the baby, crying, sleeping, eating, elimination, burping etc. But little or none on attachment. 

I am working with some donors who are trying to fund the development of an "attachment toolkit" to be distributed to new parents/caregivers. This toolkit will concisely show parents the benefits and the methods of forming this attachment bond. More on this later. 

While the DNA dice have been rolled and many things are pre-determined, the role of the caregivers/parents in these first days and months of life are crucial. We have to tell others about this. If you know someone who is pregnant, please tell them about the importance of the attachment bond. Parents that pay close attention to this bonding process can lead to early diagnoses of mental health issues and other early childhood challenges. And our adult relationships, our self-confidence, our resillience, and our self satisfaction are ultimately linked to this attachment! In other words, there are many payoffs for the creation of the attachment bond. And as we all know, we will never get this time back. While you have been reading this blog 75 babies were born in the US!

Networking with our babies to attach by connecting and bonding, like all networking is mutually beneficial.
Thanks for reading. John