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So you want a new job. Now what? Four UChicago grads have advice.

When career coach Elatia Abate, AB’99, MBA’08, worked in recruiting, she noticed a troubling pattern. The people she was interviewing, “from the C suite to the interns,” she says, had excellent skills. They just didn’t seem particularly excited to be there.

The numbers support her theory. A 2014 Gallup poll found that nearly seven out of 10 people are either “unengaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. “So chances are, when you look around the general population, seven of those 10 people are going to be unhappy,” she says. “Humanity deserves better.”

Abate’s clients range from first-jobbers to CEOs. Here’s a sampling of the guidance she gives them.—Carrie Golus, AB’91, AM’93

Abate took a winding road to arrive at her job as a career coach. Asked if she ever uses her political science background, Abate says, “No. Oh my God, Charles Lipson (the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science) will kill me.” (Photo courtesy Elatia Abate, AB’99, MBA’08)

Is there really a perfect job for everyone?

I don’t know if it’s possible to eradicate the problem. But if you went to U of C or any other top school, congratulations, you just spent $200,000—now 70 percent of you get to be miserable for the rest of your lives? We can certainly reduce that number. The problem has less to do with what jobs are available than with people getting out of their own way.

What do you mean, get out of your own way?

When I work with my clients, I often have them design their optimal future. No constraints, magic wand.

Then I have them design what happens in their future if they change nothing. That’s an incredibly powerful exercise. When you look at something that seems sort of OK now—oh, the commute isn’t that bad, or whatever—compounded over 35 years, it’s a lot. But if this optimal life, however we design it, is so fantastic, then why don’t most of us go for it? It’s just fear.

Let’s say that you’re at a three in job satisfaction, on a scale of one to 10. A five could be a lot better, and once you get to your five, could you move up to a seven? And then could we get you to a nine? Are you condemned to misery, or do we have some wiggle room here?

So what’s the best way to make a transition to a new job?

First you have to have a really clear understanding of yourself and the things you value: independence, freedom, security, whatever your list is.

The second part is creating a network. The least effective way to find a job, like 4 or 5 percent effective, is sending résumés online. Compared to the 85 percent success rate of activating your network strategically, it’s night and day. Other people are so important, because most of the job market is hidden.

The third part, which nobody ever talks about, is facing your excuses. I spent all this money and got my MBA, and now I’m going to make people’s lives better? I’m speaking from experience there. I made the choice to leave an incredibly lucrative, sexy-on-paper career. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

As a coach, have you ever had a hopeless case?

No. I have invited people to do some other work before they come back and work with me.

Coaching is not therapy. Coaching comes from the world of sports or theater. You are helping somebody improve what they already have skills at, to refine them and create something new for the future. Therapy is about unwinding the past. Coaching is like, OK, given all that, what do you want to create today?

If someone comes to me with a fully detailed business plan, a list of investors, all this wonderful stuff, but they’ve had this business plan on paper for seven years, I will say to them—and it’s all from a place of love—I don’t want to be having the same conversation with you in six months or a year. When I start to work with people, they’re already at a point where they are open to changing their lives.

Up next: Alumni in journalism, entrepreneurialism, and government share specific advice on how to succeed in those desirable, but competitive, fields.



Kinsey Wilson, AB’79 (political science)
Executive Vice President, Product and Technology, New York Times

There has never been a more uncertain and tumultuous time in media,” says Kinsey Wilson, a 35-year journalism veteran. “And there’s never been a better time to be a journalist.”

Wilson, AB’79, oversaw digital content at USA Today and NPR before joining the New York Times last year. He holds positions on both the editorial and business sides of the paper’s masthead, leading editors and reporters while managing the development and distribution of the Times’s digital products.

The Times was one of the first newspapers to establish a robust online presence. But “digital life continues to evolve at a furious pace,” says Wilson, “and we’re still very much in the middle of managing that transition.”

Here's his advice for aspiring or struggling journalists.—Helen Gregg, AB’09

Now at the New York Times, Wilson holds leadership positions on both the editorial and business teams. (Photo courtesy Kinsey Wilson, AB’79)

Practice the basics.

Wilson didn’t study journalism (he quips that if UChicago had offered courses in the field, they “undoubtedly would have been the Theory of Journalism”). He learned through experience. It takes time to develop the skills to tell a story well. For a reporter, there’s “no substitute for shoeleather journalism.”

Keep learning and adapting.

In modern journalism, “there is a premium on versatility, the ability to learn quickly, to be adaptable,” says Wilson. This past November the Times launched a virtual reality documentary on displaced children in conflict zones. Figuring out that new medium (and sending cardboard viewers to one million subscribers) was a “mammoth task,” says Wilson, but it’s “an example of things that are coming along and maturing very quickly and that people are embracing.”

See change as opportunity, and take it.

When Wilson began his career at the now-defunct City News Bureau in Chicago, journalism had a “journeyman culture,” he says. News outlets were large, structured, and relatively profitable. Reporters started at the bottom and worked their way up. Around 1995, the internet changed all that. Today, says Wilson, the most successful journalists use technology to report news better. He cites a former colleague who started a traditional journalism career at CNN. He developed an early breaking-news blog in the early 2000s and “perfected that form that was just emerging.” Now he designs digital products for NPR.

These chances to take on big challenges arise throughout modern journalists’ careers, says Wilson. “So we’re seeing people in their 20s having opportunities to really have an impact on journalism that they might have had to wait longer for in years past.”



Shaun So, AB’03 (political science)
Managing Partner, The So Company

Shaun So, AB’03, admits his path was “unconventional.” After graduating from UChicago he surprised everyone—including himself—by enlisting in the Army, where he spent eight years before pursuing his MBA. Today he runs his own consulting firm. He’s worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs on content strategy for the redesigned, which offers tools to help veterans manage their transition to civilian life. He’s also working with the VA on a long-term research project aimed at discovering new ways to approach veteran services.—Susie Allen, AB’09

So, who served in the military for eight years, first toughened up on UChicago’s crew team. (Photo courtesy Shaun So, AB’03)

How did you end up owning your own consulting firm?

It’s not like I wanted to be a consultant. I wanted to run a company that was solving hard problems. And that’s I guess what you call consulting.

What kind of person does well in entrepreneurship?

While there’s definitely no recipe, I’d say someone who can adapt to change on the fly and deal with the inevitable adversity they will face. Also, someone who can be a loner and not need validation to push forward past the criticism. A third good one is the ability to sell. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer or doctor, you have to be able to convince people to buy your product or service.

What should aspiring entrepreneurs know before they jump in?

People don’t realize that it’s work. Entrepreneurship doesn’t mean you have some idea, go pitch it, raise funding, and all of a sudden you have a $1 billion valuation—that’s not the reality. It’s like working at a restaurant. You do all the jobs. It requires all your skills and a lot of emotional intelligence.

Why emotional intelligence?

You’re going to be really upset a lot. It takes a lot of maturity to climb yourself out of those lows. You’re going to talk to a lot of customers, and they’re going to say, “Your product is awful” or “It’s not what I need.”

So what’s the first step?

Take some finance classes. I’m not saying major in accounting. Understand the concept of profit and loss. There are only three ways to improve your business: make more money, spend less money, or innovate—but really that’s it. You have to have more money than you’re spending. It’s a formula. I never knew that stuff at UChicago, and I barely understood it at business school. But when you become a business owner, it changes completely.

What’s one thing you wish you had known before you started?

I wish more people advised that it’s 100 percent possible to start a business and keep a personal life. Work-life balance is crucial to long-term success.



John Haugland, AB’82 (anthropology), MPP’90
Facilities Manager, Employee Services Branch, Environmental Protection Agency

John Haugland, AB’82, MPP’90, took a meandering path to his career in government, racking up degrees in anthropology, international relations, and public policy on his way to the EPA. A quarter century later, he’s staying the course. “I feel like I’m contributing to the betterment of my country,” he says.—Ingrid Gonçalves, AB’08

Haugland thought everyone at the EPA would share a similar political perspective. Instead he found a range of opinions. (Photo courtesy John Haugland, AB’82)

Why did you join the EPA?

I thought of myself as an environmentalist—though at the time it seemed like just about everybody thought of themselves as an environmentalist. I figured I’d have to deal with the federal government in one way or another in the environmental field, whether I worked with the federal government or against it.

When I got my master’s in public policy, I concentrated on environmental and energy issues. I applied to the EPA for a program analyst position in the planning department.

I thought, I’ll get some firsthand experience in government, work there for a couple years, and then move on. Well, that was in 1990, and here I am. I’ve been really lucky to work in a number of places within the EPA on different issues, most of them policy related.

What’s the workplace culture like?

There’s a lot of energy. At the same time, there’s a very reasonable understanding of the need for a healthy work-home balance. In the corporate world, a lot of people are working 60, 70 hours a week, and you’re expected to put your job before your family.

The federal government is very family friendly. I think that creates a sense of loyalty, and it also encourages people to stay longer. The mission benefits because people’s skill and expertise grow over time.

There are personality issues and inefficiencies, but that’s true in the private world as well. And yes, there’s a lot of red tape and regulation, but there are usually good reasons for most of that.

Sometimes one thing goes wrong in one agency or one region of the country, then the whole federal government changes its rules to avoid that happening again, and that can create some additional hoops to jump through. But it’s done with the taxpayer and the integrity of the system in mind.

What surprised you about the public sector?

There’s a stereotype that federal employees are lazy. I learned quickly that there are a lot of hard workers who are very invested in their job and in the mission of the agency.

Another thing was that I expected a certain political perspective. It surprised me that there was a broad spectrum of political opinions. Everybody’s working to protect the environment, but we come from all sorts of opinions and backgrounds.

What do you wish you’d known before you started?

That no one is going to just give me a promotion or new position, no matter how good a job I do. That I have to continually build my skills and networks, and get lots of interview practice, if I want to advance.

It took me 10 years to internalize this lesson. Self-promotion doesn’t come easy to a lot of people, but it’s necessary sometimes, depending on your goals.

What kind of person does well in the public sector?

Team players with attention to detail do well. Lone wolves with a cowboy mentality don’t—people who hold tight to information that should be shared, people who try to keep others out of their work, people who act unilaterally.

What’s the dumbest thing an applicant has said to you in an interview?

“I couldn’t find anything better.”


More career questions? Alumni who graduated in the last five years can connect with the College’s Office of Career Advancement at All alumni are eligible for the Alumni Association’s career resources at


(Photography by Kevin Harber, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)