Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers


Filmmakers are leaders

At this week’s Thursday’s at Starling event where Wake Forest University professors show off some of their very cool work, Mary Dalton and Sandy Dickson, co-directors of the new graduate documentary film program shared their exciting vision and plans. I was moved by the notion that “documentary filmmakers are leaders”.  Mary emphasized how filmmakers put forth ideas and stories that can affect change and make people think and act differently. That makes sense to me.  An Inconvenient Truth is evidence of that power.

Even more moving to me is the fact that these leaders can be 25 or 20 or even younger. Thinking about this fact burst a wrong assumption I’ve had about becoming a leader – that you need experience or knowledge or credibility.  Or you need an MBA.

So if you want to pursue your passion of making films, go for it! You’ll become a leader by affecting hearts, minds, and even the world.

P.S. Mary – thank you for giving me a new way to think about leadership!

Why Leave?

I recently accepted a new job as the Vice President for Career Development at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For many, my decision was a BIG surprise. I have lived in the S.F. Bay Area for almost 30 years. I loved my job leading the career management center at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where I earned my MBA and also my undergraduate degree. I had a comfortable life, an awesome church, and many great friends and connections.

So… “Why leave?”

There are several facets to my answer and when seen in totality, the decision makes sense (at least to me!).

First, the job is unique and exciting. The visionary leaders at Wake Forest are committed to creating the premier collegiate university – a higher education institution that offers the best of a personal, intimate liberal arts college with the best of an innovative, prolific research university. One key area is a focus on the career development and character formation of each student.

As Wake Forest’s first Vice President of Career Development (to my knowledge, the first in the country), I aspire to insure that all undergraduate and graduate students receive the career and vocational knowledge, resources and services to make sound career and life decisions. I hope to equip the faculty, staff, alumni and parents to be effective, assertive mentors to support and guide students in their character and career development – to support the education of the whole person.

I am eager to be involved in a wide range of important initiatives including student life, orientation, academic advising, career development curriculum, writing articles and books, and teaching classes. With President Nathan Hatch, I will explore and refine the concept of a Center for Vocation and the Common Good. Engaging faculty, staff, alumni and parents for input and support is essential to insure the success of these initiatives.

The Wake Forest culture is very similar to the collegial, supportive, vibrant and innovation-oriented culture of my prior “home” (Stanford Business School) and well-primed to fulfill their new vision and strategic plan. As a member of the strategic leadership teams for President Hatch and Provost Jill Tiefelthaler, I am honored to have the opportunity to influence all of the schools and students across the university, and to contribute to one of the key initiatives that will define Wake Forest in the 21st century.

Over the last 15 years, I have grown increasingly passionate about career development and believe that there is a huge opportunity to positively impact the world of higher education. I am hopeful that over time, our efforts may eventually influence the strategic direction of many universities and the lives of many university students around the world.

Second, we have family in the Southeastern U.S. One of my sisters has lived in Winston-Salem for the past 15 years and has twin girls who are 7 years old, the same age as my youngest daughter. My other sister, with three kids from ages 4-9, lives about four hours away in Richmond, VA. My wife’s parents, brother and two sisters all reside about 4 hours away in the beautiful city of Charleston, SC, where my wife grew up. Being close to both of our families is a blessing that I never imagined was possible.

Third, I see life as an adventure. As much as I have loved living and working in Northern California, I had always imagined that a door might open that would allow our family to experience life in a new way. I just did not know when that door might open, where it might lead us, or what it might look like. Well, now I know.

Finally, I believe that my life is in God’s hands. He has been with me and blessed me throughout my entire life and I sense that He is calling me to Wake Forest. With great anticipation, I look forward to many wonderful experiences and opportunities to be of service and a blessing to my family, to Wake Forest, to my new community, and hopefully, to the world.

True Ambition?

In my new job at Wake Forest University, I am joining an inspirational university president, Nathan Hatch, who is determined to address a crucial problem facing American universities. What role can the university play in guiding and educating its students to think more clearly about who they are and how to think more clearly about their connection to the world, especially as it relates to their career choices, their vocation, and their contribution to the common good? President Hatch has spoken and written on this topic (see “Looking Beyond a Paycheck and “Renewing the Wellsprings of Responsibility” ) and recentlysent me this note with some additional thoughts…

This afternoon I was rereading part of David Brooks’ book On Paradise Drive. In his chapter on learning, drawing on extensive time on campus, he has a great section ‘True Ambition’ in which he suggests that even the brightest of college students have a most limited view of the incredible variety of career paths. “In a weird way, the meritocratic system is both too professional and not career-oriented enough. It encourages a professional mind-set in areas where serendipity and curiosity should rule, but it does not give students, even the brilliant ones at top schools, an accurate picture of the real world of work. And if these students are myopic about career prospects, you can imagine how unprepared they are to imagine what a human life should amount to in its totality. . . . But the Achievatron rarely forces students to step back and contemplate the long term. It rarely forces students to think in terms of how a complete life should be lived.” Brooks suggests that, paradoxically, though students seem driven by ambition, in reality they are not ambitious enough.

I am excited to join President Hatch and Wake Forest University to address this problem and develop innovative solutions for Wake and also help other academic institutions. How can we inspire our educators, parents and alumni to mentor and guide our students to be “ambitious” and curious in much greater ways than ever before? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic and continuing the dialogue.


Today we held a session called “Reflections” for the graduating class of 2009. It had a more special meaning than in other years for me, since I am leaving the Stanford Graduate School of Business at the end of June (click here for more on my new gig).

Here are some reflections from my eight years at the GSB…

Teams – the CMC staff is one of the most amazing teams I have ever worked with. They are compassionate and competent. They deliver world class service and results. And they are like a loving, supportive family. I LOVE them!

Insights – I found out that I love teaching, advising and working with students (I actually returned from London to Stanford this morning to lead the Reflections session this afternoon!). If I had stayed in the corporate world, I may have never discovered this passion.

Challenges – My first year at the GSB was a little rocky as I didn’t really understand the students or faculty, nor did I know how to best communicate with them. I am glad that I figured it out, or else I would never have made it.

Future – My new opportunity offers me incredible alignment and coherence on the following dimensions: career, personal, family, financial and spiritual. A unique door has been opened for me and my family, one that we didn’t even know was available to us. I truly feel called to enter this new door and wholeheartedly embrace the uncertainty and unknown.

Friends – I am very thankful for the many friends I have made at the business school, staff, alumni and students.

With a sense of expectation and adventure, I go forth in faith and confidence that inspiring, meaningful days are ahead. As you leave this wonderful place, as graduates or just for the summer, I hope that you will do the same. I bid you farewell and pray that you experience much love, joy and passion throughout your lives.

Your fellow “graduate” from the class of 2009,

The Chanster

Dear Mom and Dad

Dear Mom and Dad,
Graduation is just around the corner and I am looking forward to seeing you! Before you arrive, I was thinking about all the questions you’re probably going to ask me and my friends. I realized that some of these questions might cause some uncomfortable moments, so I wanted to answer your questions before you get here (then you don’t have to ask them when you’re here!). Based on my answers, you can probably figure out what the questions are.

1) No, I don’t have a job.

2) Well, the job market is really bad. The media isn’t exaggerating. Now, I know I could have started my job search earlier and I have been networking a lot. The CMC director (who totally rocks, by the way) told me that companies didn’t really started conducting serious interviews until April. Before then, most companies were laying off people and had hiring freezes. Plus, I had to complete my graduation requirements. It would have been a disaster if I didn’t graduate AND didn’t have a job.

3) Don’t worry. I am not alone. About 30% of my class hasn’t received an offer and another 10% is looking for a better offer than the one they have. It’s pretty similar at other top business schools, and even worse at less prestigious schools. Many of those who have jobs are returning to the prior employer or summer employer, returning to the same career as before business school, or starting a company (which is not technically “employed” unless they already have funding, I guess). It’s harder for students like me who want to do something different than before b-school and/or in a new location. It’s especially difficult for international students due to the U.S. employment climate or due to the challenge of doing a long distance job search far from their home countries where they plan to return.

4) It was similar in 2002-2004, the period after the dot-com boom. The CMC director (did I tell you he rocks?) says that this recession is even worse because it has broadly penetrated many industries. That downturn was more concentrated on technology, venture capital, i-banking and some consulting. The hopeful news is that in the last recession, most of the graduates had jobs within 3-9 months after graduation and had moved on to really good jobs after a couple of years.

5) I am prepared for this and expect to move jobs a few times in this first phase (1-10 years) after b-school. As the market improves, there will be good opportunities and given my MBA education, I am well positioned to seize those opportunities when they appear. I certainly have a much bigger career vision than to work for just one employer and stay there for my entire career.

6) Yes, I know it sounds so uncertain and risky. But that’s life these days. One of the big reasons I came to b-school was to begin to build the knowledge, frameworks, tools, experiences and network to be prepared to face a dynamic world of opportunity. That’s one achievement of which I am certain. Don’t worry, I have learned how to think about managing risks and I will be applying these frameworks to my career choices. Although it’s a little nerve-wracking right now, I really am excited about my future.

I hope these answers address your most pressing questions. I am glad that we have all that out of the way. Now when you get here, we can focus on celebrating with our family and my friends. You are going to LOVE my friends!

This outstanding school has provided me an amazing experience where I have not only learned about business, but much about myself. Thank you so much for all your love and support.

Your loving son,
The Chanster

Rough times in MBA world

About 30% of our second year class is still looking for a job. With a few exceptions, this stat is similar to most other top b-schools. There are a variety of reasons why it’s so difficult to get a job now.

The biggest difference this year versus the last few years is that significantly fewer employers are hiring and among those that are hiring, they are hiring fewer people. There are many qualified, experienced candidates competing for these limited opportunities. In addition, larger organizations who may have recruited MBAs during the academic year in the past are taking a just-in-time approach. This results in more ad hoc recruiting processes in which students must do much more networking and interviewing, and be prepared for it to continue into the summer.

Some students have waited until later in the year to start their job searches in hope that the market would improve and that better jobs would come available (especially investment-related jobs). This was a sensible approach, but the market for investment jobs remains weak. It may be time for these students to consider boutique investment banking, restructuring and risk management roles, corporate development, hedge funds and corporate finance. One other option is to do some part-time project/consulting work to bring in income while continuing to network for that investment job.

International students who want to stay in the U.S. have a very difficult situation. Given the U.S. economy, U.S. employers are under pressure to hire American citizens. Given that many students want to change careers and employers have many candidates with exact experience, the challenge is further compounded.

Some internationals who intend to return to their home countries are waiting to start their job search until they return home, which makes sense since networking and interviewing are most effective in person.

Some U.S. students are taking some or all of the summer off and plan to start looking in the fall. This seems reasonable as companies typically hire more in the fall than in the summer. With hope that the economy will improve, it should be easier to find a job than it is now.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, about 75-80% of the graduating students had offers at graduation. I am hoping that it will be similar this year, but it could be a bit lower given that this recession has negatively impacted many more sectors than did the dot-com bust.

Our career management center staff will be working throughout the summer to help the class of 2009. The alumni career services staff supports all alumni who need career and job search support year-round. Check out our website for information and contact us if you need help.

De-stressing the job search

Are you feeling stressed? Unable to get motivated in your job search? Feeling futile and saying to yourself, “Why waste the time looking for a job if no one’s hiring?”

You are not alone.

But you, as well as I, know that succumbing to these feelings will not improve your odds of getting a job. And they won’t help you feel any better. So what should you do?

1. Focus on what you can control. The interview process is much like the dating process. Don’t take the other person’s lack of interest personally and don’t let it drive you crazy. You cannot control them.

2. Complete discreet tasks. Write a To Do list for each day or for each 2 hour period. Then, just do it. Repeat. Reflect on all you accomplished and be satisfied. These small wins add up.

3. Take breaks. A break is most rewarding after completing a set of tasks or achieving a goal. Walking, meditating, listening to music, being in nature, exercising, playing with the kids – do things that bring you joy and energize you.

4. Practice breathing deeply. Breathing with attention and consciousness can bring you peace and serenity. Give it a try.

5. Compose a positive mantra and use it. Try one of these: “I only need one job” or “It’s a new day and a good day” or “I am thankful for all I have and who I am”.

6. Blast some tunes. Music is food for the soul. Just make sure it’s music you like.

7. Exercise. Don’t you feel great after exercising? Start slowly and build up your stamina and capabilities. In no time, you’ll feel unstoppable.

8. Sleep. Sharpness, attentiveness, perceptiveness, charm, improvisation are particularly important when searching for a job. You’re much more likely to exhibit these when you’re rested.

Special thanks to Margot Carmichael Lester. I developed these tips after reading her article, “Anxiety for Fun and Profit”.

Background check

Job Seeker: My employer requires me to send quite a bit of personal information in order to work there. One of the requests is an interim transcript from my school. Our student body has a grade non-disclosure policy and I am not sure if that applies in this instance. Is this something that you have seen in the past? What should I do?

Andy: We are asked this question every year – for summer and full-time positions. Several firms require that candidates provide their transcripts for backgrounds checks in order to secure employment at the firm. And each year, all of our students comply with this request.

Since it is a background check, I have been told that they use the information to verify that you did not mislead or lie to them in the recruiting process (e.g. You say you did well in finance and you actually failed it OR you said that you’re an outstanding student and your grades are poor). I have not heard of any of our students’ employment status ever being affected by this process.

I have been informed, and do believe, that no one at the employer’s firm sees the transcript. The background check is typically handled by a third party firm.

In the few cases when students have fought to withhold their transcripts in this situation (citing the grade non-disclosure policy), it has created a ‘mark’ on their reputation before they have even started working at the firm. I would not recommend that course of action.

What matters most

Job Seeker: Andy, I am evaluating two job offers. One is my former employer (a good consulting firm in my home country), which feels safe but boring. The other is a high-growth entrepreneurial venture capital fund here in the U.S. It seems like my choice should be obvious, but I am struggling with it.

I just don’t feel myself having much energy or excitement around the venture capital opportunity – like my heart is not really in it. Perhaps this is silly, but I know that there are lots of good reasons why this vc job will probably provide a useful set of functional, career growth experiences for me. Perhaps I am just fundamentally risk averse, and that is clouding my judgment.

I guess I just imagined myself landing my “dream job” at the end of these two years in b-school and feeling so excited about going to work each day… but perhaps this was a very unrealistic expectation.

Anyway, I am rambling. If you have any thoughts on how I might be able to clear things up in my own mind, I’d certainly be interested to hear them.

Andy: Here are some thoughts and questions to help you continue to process this information and help you decide:
1. Don’t discount your internal feelings as ‘silly’. Listen to your internal compass and trust it.

2. Hoping for a ‘dream’ job isn’t unreasonable. The difficult reality is that sometimes that job is not available given the market conditions or your competitive position in the marketplace. The good news is that the market is always changing (and at this point, most envision it getting better in a couple years) which means that opportunities will be coming down the road. Given your experience and capabilities, you will have good access to good opportunities.

3. Each person has a unique set of criteria to evaluate job opportunities. Given our prior conversations and your current thoughts, here are a few questions for you to ponder:
a) How much do you respect and trust your manager and the management team? How much does that matter to you? If they do things that you disagree with, can you accept it and move on or will it eventually drive you crazy and force you to seek another place to work?
b) How much coaching, mentoring and training do you want and need? How well do you operate in an environment where you are expected to sink-or-swim on your own?
c) Your vision is to run a medium to large company someday. The vc firm seems to focus on smaller companies. This ‘upward’ transition (from small to big) is more difficult and less common than the reverse. How comfortable are you in setting your career foundation on a job that is not in great alignment with your vision? It would appear that the consulting job is actually in better alignment with your vision.

4. If you take the vc job now, you cut off other options to explore today and for the next several months (since the consulting firm is willing to give you more time). If you do not take it, you have the consulting job as your back up and time to explore other options. How does it feel when envisioning these two scenarios?

Every person’s situation and criteria is different. I recommend that you seek out an objective advisor or coach who can ask you questions that get to the heart of the matter – to the things that matter most to you.

10 good minutes

There are lots of resources for job seekers. In fact, too many.

If you’re a podcast person, check out www.10goodminutes.com. They interview a variety of executives and managers who provide career strategies and advice for young professionals (we’re all “young” or at least we desire to be!).

Recent interviews include nailing case interviews, answering the question “what should I do with my life?”, learning the difference between a sponsor and a mentor, and understanding that compensation is more than just salary.

While you are thinking about valuable resources, take the time to comb through the career resources that are specifically designed for you: your career center’s website, your college’s or graduate school’s alumni career services website, your school’s library (get to know your librarian who knows all about databases and finding interesting companies for you to target), and any alumni services that your former employers may provide. After all, these resources were made for you. Why not use them?

What other resources have you found particulary helpful for job search and/or career management?