Careers , The Careerist – May 17, 2016

Excited About My Job? Only If I Surf for a Living


I was at a lecture in which Walter Dods said that, to succeed in business, you have to follow your passion. I have been thinking about that for weeks and the things I am passionate about are surfing, beer and babes. I work hard so I can afford those things. What’s wrong with that?



Nothing, but I’d ask you to first define success. For one person, it’s getting the title of CEO. For another person, titles are meaningless – success equals selling a startup for millions and retiring by 35. Is success flexible work hours? The number of clients you help each day? A six-figure income? The satisfaction gained from working alongside Dad? What’s most important is if YOU feel successful.
Can you leverage a passion for surfing, beer and babes into a business? Of course: Microbreweries, tight T-shirt companies and surf shops abound. Beyond those three passions, you probably have at least a few other interests and skills, and can align your career with those. Author and social theorist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly talks about flow, “the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity.” If you’re in a job where you’re in that flow state at least some of the time, I think you’re on the right path. People working solely for paychecks are rarely satisfied for long.



I read a piece on Fast Company’s website that said cover letters “have gone the way of the dinosaur.” Do you agree? I always liked submitting one with a resume because it feels more personal.



The dodo. The passenger pigeon. The Kona grosbeak, last seen on the Big Island in 1894. And now the cover letter joins in the sad flutter to extinction. Why? Blame it on electronic job-recruitment techniques, as the speed and volume of submissions have skyrocketed since the days of mailing paper resumes.

“I remember when knocking on the door of a company you wanted to work for and dropping off your resume was acceptable,” says Lisa Kracher, the owner of Staffing Solutions of Hawaii, a professional staffing firm in Honolulu. “Now, people are so busy. My hiring managers see hundreds of resumes a day.”

Kracher and her team are literally spending 10 seconds or less per applicant, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get a once-over from a human. Many firms use automated job boards. You can see why cover letters are irrelevant.

Kracher says there are a few exceptions to the no-cover-letter rule. “When I see applicants with a Mainland address, I usually wouldn’t contact them. However, if I see a cover letter from a Mainland candidate, and they explain how they have researched the Islands and are about to move here and are available for a phone interview, I’ve called those people before. Also, if there’s someone specific at a company you’re trying to get the attention of, try a cover letter.”

If you are writing a cover letter in these circumstances, keep it to one page and make sure to highlight things that aren’t in your resume. For example, discuss a project you did that relates to the position they want filled.



I have my bachelor’s degree in legal studies, but the jobs I want require a background in finance and business. I’m a single parent with little spare time, so any advice on getting up to speed? 



Harvard Business School recently launched a program that might be a good fit. It’s a 10-week, online program called HBX CORe, and covers business analytics, economics for managers and financial accounting. You can get details at hbx.hbs.edu.


I’m in HR and our company’s CEO wants to offer incentive compensation to push the managers to work harder. Is this a good way to motivate people?



Maybe. Recent research found that incentive compensation works for some personality types, but not all. I spoke to Joyce Cong Ying Wang, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, Dallas, who conducted the research with co-author Daniel Han Ming Chng.

“Traditional thinking is that incentive pay leads to more risk taking, strategic risk taking,” says Wang. “But it’s not one size fits all. It depends on the individual.” And, she says, it depends on what’s happening at the company. For example, “If your company is experiencing growth, providing incentive packages is probably not necessary,” says Wang. “Stronger organizational identification might be better at motivating managers.”

The research suggests company leaders need to design compensation packages based on the individuals they employ, rather than giving out incentive pay across the board.


It’s on my bucket list to do a TED Talk. Should I go for it?



Of course! But be savvy about how you approach it, because it’s highly competitive. Only about 50 people a year are invited to speak at the flagship TED conference, held annually on North America’s West Coast. Learn more about applying at tinyurl.com/applyTED.

But there are TEDx groups on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island and your odds are better at getting an invitation from one of them. Jennifer Killinger and Rachael Yergan of TEDxHonolulu suggest the first step is to get to know the group. “We highly recommend staying connected to the TEDxHonolulu community by signing up to be on the mailing list, reading the newsletters, staying connected through social media and especially attending other TEDxHonolulu events,” says Yergan.

Second, stay tuned, as there’s no static schedule. Check the webpage and social-media accounts to see when the application process opens for the following year’s events.

Third, stay humble: TEDxHonolulu receives 50 to 100 applicants each year and only accepts a handful – this year it was four. “When it comes to the actual application,” says Killinger, “answer all the questions thoroughly. The application process is like a job application. If there are blank spots, we don’t fill in the gaps; we move on to the next applicant. We often ask follow-up questions, and a surefire way to be eliminated is to not provide the information requested. We absolutely use this information to decide who to invite. We also consider the manner in which the applicant communicates with us, as we spend many months working together.”

Good luck and we’ll look for you on stage!

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