Risks and rewards: Playing your own game

Games are played when you take calculated risks, in anticipation of potential rewards.
So let’s finish out this week’s discussion of game theory, careers and business by examining the risk-to-reward ratio, and how you should figure it out.

If you work with me, you do have some level of risk, because I will tell you outright that I can’t get you a job, and I won’t guarantee that you end up with one. Nothing takes that responsibility off of your shoulders. I can only offer my personal commitment to my clients, and I don’t work with every client who comes to me. I only work with those I feel I can help. To do otherwise just amounts to taking people’s money. And like I said earlier, I’m not motivated by money. I do fear not having it, but in reputational businesses like coaching, you are only as good as two things…your coaching skills and your honest commitment that if you can’t help someone, you’ll return their money. I will.

I’ve been blogging for two years and coaching professionally for year and a half, and so far (knock on wood!) no one has ever asked me for their money back. I’ve offered to return payment to a couple of clients who had a hard time getting jobs, and even offered one client more than once, but so far, I’ve never had to return a client’s payment. I don’t even have a time period on asking for it back. I may some day, but for now, I’m the Land’s End of the coaching world. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Period.

For me, what are the risks and what are the potential rewards?

Well, here is where I’m going to be brutally honest with you about what I’ve risked to get my business and my websites to this point, and what the rewards have been.


  • Left a standing position at a great university that I could have retired from.
  • Left all the benefits that came with it, except for COBRA, which expired at the end of last month. Probably the most risky thing I did, because I knew that leaving a group plan might mean that I would lose my health benefits and not be able to get them back, because I have a neurological condition. We have insurance for Sarah and the kids, but I’m having to go through some hoops and am currently uninsured, though I’m hoping that will be done soon, too.
  • I now have to self-fund my salary, pay all my expenses for my home, my life and my business out of savings and income, and now I have a lawyer, more insurance and an accountant. I’m not going to go into numbers here, but let’s just cut to the chase…I’ve spent way more than I’ve made, and I’ve given away at least ten times what I’ve sold. It hasn’t been easy, but I have no regrets. Not one.


  • A sense of personal satisfaction when I help people get jobs they want, or into the graduate programs they hoped for.
  • Less stress in my daily life, and almost complete control over my projects and my schedule.
  • More time with my wife, kids, and extended family.
  • More time for community activities, like Athfest, the Athens Half Marathon, and talking with people who interest me, like artists, musicians, writers, small business owners and even the homeless people who hang out on College Avenue in downtown Athens across from Holmes/Hunter Building and the Arch.
  • More time to write, create, philosophize, and stir the pot, to come up with new ideas, crash old ones together, and see where the conversation goes.

Taking a look at all the above, and factoring in what I have spent, versus what I have made, you might be tempted to say I’m not winning. But you’d be thinking about the battle, while I’m thinking about the war, so you’d be wrong. I know what I am fighting to do, and why I am doing it. If you don’t understand that, then maybe you’re not playing the same game.

What rules are you playing by?

Job Search: Part Deux

Part One: Carpet Bombing

My first job search was spring 2008 when I was just about to graduate from the Student Affairs in Higher Education master’s program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.  At that time I essentially carpet bombed the field with job applications; I did a national job search and applied to over 40 institutions.  It was too much to organize, it got to be too confusing keeping track of everything and everyone.

I managed to find the funding to attend The Placement Exchange in Boston and ACPA Placement in Atlanta.  In all I managed to have 20 conference interviews, for those keeping count, thats about a 50% success rate.  I was on my way to … disappointment.  I was sitting on cloud nine, I interviewed with almost half of the schools I applied at.  Well, those 20 interviews only resulted in two on-campus interviews: Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL and Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA.  In the end I was offered and I accepted an entry-level position at Point Park University.  Its ironic that I had to travel to Atlanta to interview with and accept a position from a school that was literally 5 miles from where I was living.

Now after a few years I decided that it was time to start looking for a new job.  It was February 2010 and I was in the midst of job searching and this was my second time going the the student affairs job placement process.  I knew I did not want to repeat my first experience, 40 applications, 20 interviews and 1 offer.  I decided that I was going to narrow my job search to only one region: New England.  I started looking at openings and thats when it hit me; I needed to update my resume and cover letter.  It had been a while since I had to use my resume so I wasn’t sure where I should start.

Enter Sean Cook

I had been participating in the #SAchat on Twitter and introduced myself to Sean Cook.  I learned that Sean had worked at Penn State and that he had just started his coaching business helping others with job searches, interview techniques, updating resumes and much more.  Sean started offering a free support group to job searchers.  In this group we were able to discuss a lot including expectations for placement conferences, interview dos and don’ts, resume tips and much more.  It was during this free group that I decided to retain Sean’s help one-on-one.  So I sent Sean a message and said I’ll pay you please help me!

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Here’s this guy that says he knows what he’s doing and here I am looking for help.  Well it turns out that it was one of the best investments I made this year.  I first started by talking about what I was afraid of and what concerned me.  Then in our second session we jumped into interview techniques and reviewing my resume.  The best thing we did was a mock phone interview.  I’ve always felt I was a poor phone interviewer, Sean taught me several techniques to use during phone interviews. During this mock interview Sean asked some questions I have never heard before, some were really thought provoking and some were easy.  At the end we talked about my answers and he provided a great critique.  About a week later I was able to utilize the skills Sean taught me in an actual phone interview.  Armed with these new skills I went into the phone interview confident and at the end I knew I rocked it.

Job Search: Part Deux

The major difference between my first job search and my second was focus.  I was able to focus on the geographical area and with Sean’s help I learned to focus my energy on specific parts of the job search and not everything at once.  Throughout my ACPA Placement experience and throughout my on-campus interviews I knew I had Sean as a resource, someone I could call for support anytime I needed him.  My second job serach experience was so much better than my first.  I had less applications submitted, but a higher percentage of conference interviews and more on-campus interviews.  Clearly I had a better experience because halfway through one conference interview I was offered an on-campus interview!

One school I interviewed with was Western New England College (WNEC) in Springfield, MA.  I had two good conference interviews so i was confident going to my on-campus interview.  I arrived the night before my interview, I was picked up at the airport and dropped at the hotel by a WNEC Res Life staff member.  That evening I decided to take a taxi to campus to walk around and get a true feel.  I jumped in the cab and had a great conversation about the school and the area with the taxi driver.  When we arrived at the campus the first think I noticed was the trees and the buildings.  I noticed how quintessentially “New England” WNEC looked and felt.  As I walked around, I noticed students playing frisbee, tennis, catch and just hanging outside with friends.  Brick buildings, gazebos and lawns, these are things my previous campus didn’t have.  I knew that evening I wanted to work at WNEC.  I was so confident in myself that during my self-paced tour of WNEC I stopped in the bookstore and purchased a school pennant for my collection.

Ultimately I ended up being offered and accepting a job at WNEC.  While I did the heavy lifting, by doing the interviewing and applying, it was Sean who helped me build the confidence needed to be successful.

john mayo

John Mayo, Area Coordinator, Western New England College

John Mayo is the Area Coordinator for Traditional Housing at Western New England College. In addition to residence life, he has experience working in housing operations and student leadership development at very diverse campuses. Like many student affairs professionals, his family still doesn’t understand what he does, so he tells them that he teaches life skills to college students.

John holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in art and military history from Bridgewater State College, a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and is working towards a second master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University

Feel free to follow him on Twitter (@jmayojr) and check out his personal blog (http://johnmayo.me/).