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Continued: Schafer: Traveling along on Kevin's adventure

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 24, 2012 - 7:49 PM

The e-mails from Kevin Sampers began in April and came every three weeks or so, usually with the subject line "Kevin's Latest Adventure."

He was describing a job search, and, yes, navigating the 2012 job market for 52-year-olds can be an adventure.

But what's most intriguing about reading through eight months of Kevin's Latest Adventure is to see how he learned to focus his search while sharpening what he said about his skills.

In a recent one, update No. 14 and still with no job offer in hand, Sampers was filled with gratitude. "I have met many wonderful people," he wrote. "Your support continues to encourage my journey. Thank you!"

Sampers entered the job market this year by choice. He had most recently helped launch Naiku, a high-profile, educational software-as-a-service firm based in Minneapolis.

He said he's excited about Naiku's future and still has his founder's stock, but he and his family had agreed he'd give the startup about one year and then assess. With three kids in college, looking at a different management position seemed best. He did not realize then it would take this long to land one.

In a recent conversation, Sampers said starting an e-mail blast was his own idea, to generate job leads and help meet people who might assist in the search. He had concluded that the best opportunities will come from personal relationships rather than applying over a job website. So he loaded many of his business contacts into an e-mail marketing application called MailChimp, composed a note that explained his situation and hit send.

As a job search strategy, e-mails with the informal tone of your uncle's Christmas letter gets something less than a full endorsement from Teresa Daly, the co-founder of a career transitions consulting firm called Navigate Forward in Minneapolis. Daly happens to be one of the 400 or so recipients of Kevin's Latest Adventure, and she said it's not a bad strategy, but not the best, either, at least the ones she has read.

"Information out to the market about who I am meeting with and how it's going isn't as powerful as information on here's who I am," she said. "And here's what's unique, and here is where I play really well, and here's what I'm looking for. So the information that goes out to the market is driving a brand."

And while his earliest e-mails read as Daly described them, the author of those e-mails was learning as the adventure unfolded.

Co-founding a technology-based startup is one of the things that makes his career background very broad, because he's also worked as a manager with a global giant, Thomson Reuters, and with the nonprofit Association of Metropolitan School Districts. His government experience included serving as chair of the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District's board.

It was in update 7 that Sampers first mentioned "StrengthsFinder 2.0," which is a popular book about skills assessment. He first learned about it dropping by a weekly job transitions group at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan. In update 11 he outlined his strengths in some detail.

"You know what happens," he said, "is that what we are really good at, we do not see as a special skill. It comes easy to us."

Sampers goes well beyond just the professional in his e-mails, into personal news like what his daughters are doing. In update 13 he described a weekend spiritual retreat at the Villa Maria Retreat & Conference Center in Frontenac.

He wrote that he had been attending retreats there for years, and the revelation of the weekend this year was that he needs to be more open to asking for help. He wrote that nearly everyone is eager to help someone with the problem, but nearly no one seems able to easily ask for it.

"In the past few weeks I have had some great meetings with friends," he wrote in the next update. "When you actually ask for help it is humbling to see the response. These meetings and honest feedback really helped me to distill a few things about the state of my job search."

He described the pivotal conversation in which he was told in no uncertain terms that a lack of focus was hindering his search, and that he needed to figure out what he wanted to do and then pursue it.

This little prod, combined with what he learned about himself in StrengthsFinder, now has him looking for a position in information management, program and process management, and staff management. So, 14 updates into the series, he has achieved the focus in his communications that Daly advises to her clients.

As for brand, well, it's hard to see how he's done that any harm by describing a loving and supportive family, his admiration of organizations with a humanitarian mission, how his hobby of rock climbing can be a metaphor for his professional life and lessons on humility from a weekend men's retreat.

Sampers said what keeps him positive is his faith, keeping a journal to process his experience, exercising regularly and remembering to express gratitude for all that he has.

The last word from Sampers was that he had two good meetings to end the week before Christmas, one with a start-up he plans to help if he can, and another with a larger company looking to hire in the first quarter of 2013.

Another update in Kevin's Latest Adventure is coming shortly, and it seems certain that it will say that he's grateful, so very grateful, for all the people he's met on his adventure.

lee.schafer@startribune.com 612-673-4302

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