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15 Little Life Hacks

Book Review: The Brazen Careerist (and a book giveaway)

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(The bottom of this review has a giveaway for 3 free books and 1 grand prize of a 30-minute phone call with the author of the book.)

Pluralistic ignorance is a fascinating concept in social psychology. It’s a phenomenon “which involves several members of a group who think that they have different perceptions, beliefs, or attitudes from the rest of the group” (more). For example, Prentice and Miller, two Princeton social psychologists, found that college students tend to think other students drink more than they actually do. Schroeder and Prentice noted that “the majority of students believe that their peers are uniformly more comfortable with campus [drinking] than they are.” This means that

“…because everyone who disagrees behaves as if he or she agrees, all dissenting members think that the norm is endorsed by every group member but themselves. This in turn reinforces their willingness to conform to the group norm rather than express their disagreement. Because of pluralistic ignorance, people may conform to the perceived consensual opinion of a group, instead of thinking and acting on their own perceptions” (source)

I find this time and time again when I talk to my friends. People will say things like, “Everyone’s earning $70,000/year when they graduate, so I should, too.” Or “nobody lives with their parents so it would be embarrassing if I did.” We often make decisions based on what we see of our friends, but we don’t see the bigger picture and realize the differences in internal attitudes and behaviors across individuals and groups. Pluralistic ignorance colors our decision-making and the worst part is, we don’t even know it.

That’s why I like the new book by Penelope Trunk, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Penelope writes for the Boston Globe and Yahoo Finance (she’s covered me before), and she has an attitude. I mean that in a good way: Unlike so many books for young people, this one reads like a real person wrote it, not a damn robot. You can actually hear her in her writing. Now, she and I disagree about some career-related things, but she does a great job explaining her reasoning.

And her advice is good. She talks about issues we care about – living with our parents, getting our first job, negotiating salaries, starting a company, how to make ends meet – but reassures us that the things we feel guilty about are actually very common (see my thoughts about young people and guilt here).

For example, she writes that “Job-hopping in your early twenties is a great idea – especially if you’re still sleeping at your parents’ house. After all, the point of this period in life is to find the right work for you. But if the job-hopping doesn’t stop by age thirty, the feeling of instability intensifies to crisis.” How many of your friends don’t know what they want to do, but feel pressured to pick one single job and focus on it?

I know plenty. I also know plenty of friends who don’t know what they want to do, so they go back to grad school. Penelope shows a better way to think that decision.

That’s what’s interesting about the book: It includes not only advice on how to think about large, ambiguous topics like going back to grad school and office politics, but also includes tactical advice that’s actually good. When it comes to creating your resume, for instance, she writes,

One page. That’s it. I don’t care if you are the smartest person on earth or if you have founded six companies and sold each of them for $10 million. The point of a resume is to get you an interview, not a job.”

She writes excellent tactical advice for building your cover letter, negotiating your salary, writing a resume that stands out (“Ditch the line about references on request. It’s implied. Of course if someone wants a reference, you will give one”).

But more than tactical advice, she uses research from places like Harvard Business School – not just her personal opinions – to remind us not to feel guilty about what we’re doing. For instance, did you know that 50% of the Class of 2003 was still living at home 3 years later?

This book reminds me to stop fighting against the same things that everyone else my age is struggling with. If I wanted to live at home so I can afford to take a low-paying job that I love, that chapter on living at home would be worth the book alone. In other words, stop worrying and feeling guilty about what other people think and focus on the important goals. The best thing a book can do is reassure us, refocus us, and then give us the tools to do more than we thought we could do. This book is a great start.

Brazen Careerist isn’t perfect, of course. It’s overly list-y for my tastes, reading in some parts like a “Top 10 Reasons to…” blog post. Also, the book is itself a bit unfocused, with points on starting your own business, perfecting your resume, working with your manager, optimizing your personal life, and doing yoga (?). But the number of insights I got from the book made up for it.

A few things that stood out to me:

  • The importance of telling stories on page 52 is absolutely 100% true. So many people take the engineering-esque mindset of “If I just explain my accomplishments, they’ll understand.” Wrong. Craft a story and you win.
  • A controversial and pointed suggestion about harassment on page 123 (“Use harassment to boost your career”). I don’t know what I think about this, but I’m curious to see others’ reactions.
  • A pointed reminder to ask your company to pay for your training on page 178. Not only will you be more valuable to your company, your career will be enhanced. It just takes you asking.
  • One more thing: What the hell is wrong with young people being afraid of using the phone? One of my stupid friends lost his Wells Fargo password and looked completely helpless. “Hey idiot,” I told him, “why don’t you just call them and get your password?” “Umm…,” he said like a beaten, sad man, “it’s not that important. I’ll just wait until I go in there next time.” On page 42, Penelope lays out why to use the phone. Key point: “You can’t lose making a cold call. No one ever says to themselves, ‘I wish I hadn’t been so aggressive in trying to get what I wanted.’”)

The book is good. So is the blog. And Penelope is a great woman with tons of interesting thoughts about career issues.

4 prizes
Penelope generously agreed to provide 4 prizes for iwillteachyoutoberich readers.

  • 3 free signed, pre-release copies of The Brazen Careerist. As a special bonus, if you leave a comment with your best career story, 10 people will win pre-released, signed copies of The Brazen Careerist. The story can be about your best job, your biggest mistake, what you did on your job search, what your friends did during their college interviews…anything. Just make it interesting! Leave a comment now.
  • The grand prize: a 30-minute call with Penelope Trunk, the author and columnist for Yahoo Finance and the Boston Globe.1 commenter will win the grand prize, a 30-minute phone call with Penelope to chat about your career and anything else. Remember, she’s a columnist for the Boston Globe and Yahoo Finance, so if you’re interesting, maybe your story will show up in the future.

[Update]: Again, the comments on this post are astonishing and honest and, in some cases, disturbing. I honestly believe that some of the best comments being made anywhere online today are right here on this post.

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72 Comments

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  1. I hopped jobs AND majors throughout my twenties. Now I am 30 and working on a graduate degree in a field that I enjoy. I can’t say that I feel pressured to catch up with friends and colleagues as I see many of them are struggling with their careers because they aren’t doing what makes them happy. To me, that means they will remain unhappy or they need to start over, so I’m not so bad off in comparison. At any rate, I may be at the end of the target age range for the book, but it looks to have some excellent tips that I can apply to my career, especially once I have my shiny new Master’s in hand.

  2. Good advise and great article!

    One good question to ask yourself when deciding on a career or job is, “Would I do this even if I was not getting paid?”

    When I started down my career path, I chose a path that I thought was a way to make a living. Now, I am in the process of getting back to my passion and searching for a way to generate an income while I live.

    After many different boring jobs, I now realize that I would be in a totally different place if I had started with the career that I loved instead of just finding a way to make a living and pay bills. I listen to others not myself.

    Also, no matter what you do, save some of your earnings for a Wealth Fund. You cannot go back and save, so as Ramit has emphasized, save now from each check. Be smart and invest at the youngest age possible and by the time you are 60, you can be a Millionaire!

    Know your heart and listen to it instead of listening to others! You only have one life.

  3. Seems like an interesting read. I’m wondering if there is any advice in it on what to do when you have an interviewer that is not an effective interviewer? I’m job hunting right now and I have encountered more than one interview where I have actually had to lead the interview! And bu this I mean that the interviewer did not really know what to ask, etc. so I had to lead her. And when you have an interview where all the questions are stiff form questions – how do you make yourself stand out? The story thing has worked for me in the past, but the more pointers the better! Job hunting can be so stressful :)

  4. I think that when you are young, it’s the best time to job hop. After you begin your career, much of your future progress is path-dependent and will be affected increasingly by past choices. As you get older, it’s harder and harder to switch trains (especially if you have a family and financial obligations like a house).

  5. First three get a copy, is that it? Oh, well, I just lost it. But I will go after the book anyway :)
    Oh, and maybe I’ll post a career story later.

  6. I dont have a very good story, but I got out of college last may with a degree in Econ. I was frantically searching for an IT job because I needed a job and I needed money. I basically took the first job that came around – its a good job, dont get me wrong, I just dont know if its what I want to do for the rest of my life. So I have been looking at other career paths, but since I already have a job, I am not looking for a different job very hard. I’ve been at my current job for about a year now.. How long should you stick with a job to avoid future problems getting jobs?

  7. As a graduating college senior moving into my first full-time job, the main advice I can give to college students is to JOB HUNT EARLY! I eliminated all of the stress of searching for a job by having one set up only a couple of months into my senior year. I was able to relax and concentrate on school work and getting ready for my job while my friends were stuck traveling for interviews and stressing about what to do post-graduation.

  8. Funny Story? Funny Career Related Story for a Young Youth?

    Here’s two…

    Why “respecting” your coworkers is vital…

    (true story)

    During my junior year of college, a best friend named “Mike” got an internship at a big san diego photonics company. Though an electrical engineer by study, his heart was always for management.

    For his first week at work he bought a new black suit with an oh so powerful “power tie” (three of them actually). A little much for a college engineering intern wouldn’t you say?

    So it turns out that during his first week as the “college intern in a suit” his boss was on travel, but left him some tasks to take care.

    Feeling like it would be a good time to show off to his boss how management ready he would be, he decided to work this task with other senior engineers.

    Now being a kid with questions is one thing. Being a kid in a “bling bling” suit attempting to boss senior staff engineers like you are there boss, and not an intern, a little something.

    He constantly “demanded” work from engineers, asked one to even stay late.

    Well, when the boss returned after the week away, he found 47 emails from 16 different engineers complaining about the “intern”, a few went so far as to say either he goes or I go.

    And so after a week, “Mike” was let go.

    Moral of the Story, don’t treat your coworkers bad, unless of course you really are their boss.

    Story 2…
    Your First Day…

    Another true story about a friend “Steve” who got his first engineering job after college at a government transportation contractor also in san diego.

    After weeks of resume mailing, phone interviews, one and one interviews, and the oh so famous 5 on 1 interviews, “Steve” finally got the job.

    Now in college we think engineering really is going to be something crazy (not just a cubicle), and like the rest of us, Steve was ready for something big.

    The only problem? Well it turns out they brought Steve in a little too quick, and didn’t have much work for him to do.

    Turns out his group was responsible for the design of the coin tolls at subway stations, and they frequently had to test them, requiring testers to pay the toll first.

    And so it was, that for the first three weeks of his new “big job” Steve counted/sorted coins.

    How many coins, about 1200 different coins a day.

    His pay? 55k a year, you do the math. His new title amongst friends? Coinstar.

    Moral of the story: None, just funny that an electrical engineering recent grad had do count coins for almost a month.

    /s

  9. One of the biggest lessons I learned in the workplace happened on a casual Friday. I was at the office in a t-shirt and jeans, which was acceptable per the dress code, but the VP of HR made an off-hand “you look pretty casual today” comment to me. He was very rude about it, and I was a little put off by the whole thing since a lot of people were dressed more casually than I was, but I got the point that I needed to dress better.

    Now I make a point to dress more professionally than the average Joe in the office, and everybody who says that you should look your best is right. It does affect the way I feel how I do my job.

    I just wish I would have been told without my boss being so rude about it.

  10. Trust me to slap you silly.

    Last year my company was ordering the usual branded giveaways for the students at a local university. The problem was the stuff we looked at was BORING. Catalogs showed logo key chains (who really uses those anyway) logo lanyards (screams “I made this at camp”) and the like.

    I have to thank my musician friend Curtis Peoples for the big idea. I saw something on his merch table that really caught my eye. So one morning I came to my boss’ office and told him what the college students would really like.

    “Slap bracelets.”

    Boss: “What on earth are slap bracelets?”

    Me: “Remember, those bands of metal covered with fabric. You hit them onto your wrist and they magically wrapped themselves around your arm. You could hit your friends, your little sister without getting in trouble? Everyone my age remembers how teachers hated them and banned them from classrooms, therefore making it cooler to have one. The kids who had them (like me) were now college age, and I was pretty sure that most of them hadn’t seen one in ages. We would stand out.”

    Boss: “I don’t know. It seems so weird.”

    I’m not going to lie, I was a little nervous. But I leaned over the desk and said, “Trust me. They will love it at the colleges.” I paused. “How many times have I said to just trust me?”

    “You know, you have a point,” my co-worker said.

    Our slap bracelets are now the most popular item we have with the college students. The bracelets are bright blue and say “Get slap-happy with our student accounts” The college kids yell “This is so retro!” and take turns slapping each other. They will come back to get some for their friends. For a financial institution, that kind of attention is very, very cool.

    I can’t say how many times we have had to re-order and now MY boss says “make sure we bring some slap bracelets” whenever we have a student fair or on-campus visit. AND he specifically mentioned my “willingness to think out of the box” on my annual review that year.

    What I learned:
    1) Keep your eyes open and people-watch for ideas. I watched girls squeal at Curtis’ shows when they saw the bracelets. I saw his rockstar friends wear them out. That was “targeted research” that didn’t cost my company a penny.

    2) Use the words ‘trust me” VERY rarely. They are more powerful that way.

    Thanks for reading.

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