Book Review: The Brazen Careerist

Ramit Sethi

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.” 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”

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.


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  1. Soukyan

    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. Renee

    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. shawna

    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. homeimprovementninja

    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. Andre

    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. Chris R.

    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. Stephen

    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. S

    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.


  9. Jason

    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. S

    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.

  11. Kinney

    I am currently working in the family business (real estate) and am in quite a conundrum. I want to be sucessful on my own, but know that I am learning valuable lessons from people that are very good at what they do. I keep looking at jobs that I know I wouldn’t like as much because I wouldn’t be working for my dad. Much like the “living with parents” above. I know I will stay where I am, because I am getting experience and I enjoy what I am doing, I just need a side project to do my own thing. Unfortunately, I am stuck in that research instead of act stage that Ramit warns everybody about, but hopefully I will break free sometime soon.

  12. J.R.

    I got 9 interviews and 3 job offers from one college career fair. The same career fair where my friends came back empty handed saying “no one is hiring, they’re just there for show. The economy is bad.”

    So what is the difference between them and me? Was it that I had a better GPA? No, mine is abysmal, I graduated with a 2.09 (I listed 3.2 as my ‘Major GPA’, which was indeed the gpa of my major related classes).

    Was it my sexy and prestigious degree? No, I failed out of electrical engineering (and georgia tech entirely, hence the low gpa) and upon returning changed majors to Management. Which is gatech’s version of becoming an english major. (no offense to english majors).

    So what gives? Basically, I put some time, thought, and effort into it, and everyone else just kind of showed up. Comparatively, I beat the pants off of them.

    Making a 1 page resume is time consuming. Making a good 1 page resume that accurately reflects your general skills is more time consuming and requires thought. Making a good 1 page resume that reflects your skills in relation to a specific job takes even more time. Doing this for 15 different companies takes even longer.

    But the rewards are worth putting the time in. I got a list of the companies coming to the career fair ahead of time, and what job positions they were looking to fill. Then I looked for the jobs I was interested in, and then made a resume specifically for that company and for that position.

    So why did this help? Because when you get to a career fair, all of the hiring people are at booths. There are masses of people in suits (sidenote, wear a damned suit. a polo and khakis aren’t going to cut it). And all of these people stand in line to talk to a recruiter for 30 seconds, and if there’s interest, a little longer.

    9 out of 10 people stood in various booth lines for ten minutes each, got their chance to impress ….and said “i’m a major, what positions are you hiring for?”

    So when I got my chance, I introduced myself and said “I saw on the website that you are looking for people to do x, y, and z. I am very interested in doing x,y, and z as a career for abc company” and then proceeded to explain why I wanted to work for them, and why I would be good at it.

    Compared to the guy before me, I looked like a rock star. I am not trying to brag here. I am not awesome. I’m not better than anyone else. And i’m certainly not better qualified than most other people.

    I simply did a little bit of grunt work, which was tedious. But no one else did any. It made me look stellar. You can do the same, take advantage of the fact that your peers are lazy. You don’t have to be the greatest job candidate that ever lived. You just have to get your head above the rest of the crowd.

    I go back to speak at tech every semester in one of my professor’s classes, and explain this to them. The few that do it, have reported equally good results.

    This is how a former slacker and college drop out, now has a job that he likes at IBM.

    I’m medium pimpin baby!

  13. E.H.

    I’m in the final year of my master’s degree, and I recently landed a job with one of the most sought after it-consultancies in my country. I don’t have a 4.0 GPA, instead I’ve been focusing a lot on my own consulting/contracting business during my years in college. During one of my interviews, the interviewer revealed that they don’t really hire people with 4.0 GPAs, at which point I had somewhat of an epiphany:

    If you do what you want, you’ll get what you want. Doing all these things on the side, and to some degree neglecting my school work, was what eventually landed me the job. I think the reverse is also true: I could probably have forced my self through college with a 4.0 GPA, but then I would have ended up having to force myself through a “4.0 GPA job” later.

  14. AMD

    I am a recent college graduate (1yr) with a background in engineering. Just over a year ago, I was tripping out about being so close to graduation and not having a single job offer on the table. Unlike many people I know, I could not imagine not being in school and not having a job (or not doing something else productive with my life). I knew that my dream job wasn’t going to fall on my lap. I don’t even think I was sure of what my dream job was. I just applied to every possible career relevant job that I was qualified for (and some not) that I found. I must’ve applied to dozens of jobs which led to maybe about 10 interviews (many of which were short informational sessions at campus career center). These 10 intial interviews led to 3 second round interviews for 3 jobs with completely different career paths (design, sales, and consulting). At this point I was very confused thinking that if I made a wrong choice, I would be miserable forever. I just went along with each interview doing my best but still did not have a job offer by graduation day. I started thinking that I was going about the whole job search wrong. The day after graduation however, I get an offer from one of the 3 companies which I had a second interview with. I relecutantlly accepted the offer because I figured it was better than nothing. Now almost a year into the job, I realize that it coudn’t have turned out much better. I can’t say that I’ve found my life’s passion but I do enjoy my job. I am still unsure what I want to do next in my career but this job has certainlly helped clear things up a little. My point is, there is no point of worrying about your entire career. Just go out there, get a relavent job, and your career goals will become more clear. You can’t be too picky about your first job when you have no experience. Just take what you get and work hard at molding it into something that you see yourself doing in 20 years.

  15. Chris

    So Far my biggest career mistake was following my wife across the country without first lining up a job. With a degree in Sociology and not a clue what to do with it (except pay back the loans) here I am in a job that is the same day after day. But at least it has given me some time to work on a finance plan. Not a terribly interesting story but I am not a writer. Cheers.

  16. Kate

    After college I took the first job I was offered. It was at a Fortune 500 company, but I absolutely hated it. The company offered to send everyone in our department to 2 American Marketing Assoc. luncheons a year, where we could learn about the current trends.

    I’d always been told about how the best jobs come from knowing someone, or networking, and not of Monster or HotJobs. So I found a luncheon I thought looked interesting, and went.

    There was a networking portion before the program started. Being fresh out of college, and never having been to an AMA event before, I was tempted to sit down in a corner and check my Blackberry to avoid having to talk to all these older, more established professionals that I felt inferior to. But I forced myself to talk to a guy that was close to me. Guess what, he was really nice, and after about 3 or 4 minutes he said he was looking for someone to do a really cool marketing/sales/e-commerce position. He asked if I knew of anyone, I handed him my resume, and 2 weeks and 5 interviews later, I had the coolest job ever. He’s since left the company and is the COO for a Fortune 500 company, and is my professional mentor. If I hadn’t forced myself to step out of the box, I’d still be at that job I hate, making half as much money, with no opportunity for advancement. Now I get up everyday looking forward to going into work, and just got elected to the board of the AMA.

    Moral of the story: put yourself out there. Talk to people, build relationships. You never know when it will come in handy.

  17. Eric

    My best advice for job seekers is to make a job out of the search itself. It’s easy to slip into sleeping late, not showering, and searching for job postings from your dimly lit bedroom in your sweatpants. Instead, get up early, shower, shave, and get dressed like you’re going to work. Commute to the library or career center at the local university and spend the day researching companies and careers. Go out and meet some people at a bar or networking event. You’ll get a lot more out of your search that way and you’ll feel better about yourself. All your friends and roommates are going to work so you’ll feel like a waste of flesh if you sit around all day hoping a job will come to you. Get out of the house and work hard. Don’t lose hope: you’ll get a job eventually. Then when you actually have to start getting up early every day and commuting, you’ll already be used to it!

  18. laura

    I graduated last year from a great college with a degree in a specific field where I have lots of internship experience and a clear passion for the subject. Feeling confident about my prospects, I moved somewhere where I’m not fluent in the language to be with my boyfriend and because I love the city. I still expected to have career success, because of my degree and skills; but in the end I have had to make it as a penny-pinching freelancer.

    Every single job (I do catering, research for a consultant, and web design, among others) has come about for me because I took the initiative and sent an email to someone I found on Google. Literally. I’ve also done the normal route: sent countless resumes and had informational interviews that led nowhere, because of the language issue and general job market.

    I feel really lucky to have found these freelancing jobs. For all of them, I was in exactly the right place at the right time, and they’ve led to me being able to pay the rent and finding friendships and learning about life/finance/making it.

    Send an email today! It really works!

  19. Aditya Kothadiya

    Hi Ramith and Penelope,

    I would like to share my story of job search after Graduation. The story has happy ending of getting 6 job offers from World’s top 5 Companies like Microsoft, Intel, Broadcom, Freescale Semiconductor, Altera.

    Here is how I achieved that –

    Dream Big: I believed in “dream big” attitude. Once in a casual conversation with my friends, I had shared my dream with them, that I will secure a job in one of the World’s Top 5 companies. I had no clue how was I going to achieve it. But it was a dream that time. Dreaming big attitude helped me a lot to aim for bigger and to boost my confidence.

    Apply Early: I applied for jobs way early when other students were still sleeping. I realized that it will be hard to get an interview call in the peak period when everybody else is also applying. So I didn’t wait for the campus career fairs and interviews. I went to each company’s website and applied to each job on their websites. I also leveraged my network of seniors. I requested them to forward my resume in their company. Referrals worked like an alchemy for me.

    Invested Time: It was a time consuming process. I needed to work harder when I was applying for job compared to my regular study routine. It took tremendous amount of time and energy to look for different openings, apply to different companies, and customize your resume for each company. I spent considerable enough time on preparing a compelling covering letter and resume. Got it reviewed by my seniors and made sure it is the perfect resume.

    Revised Concepts: I realized, during wartime, it is the conceptual knowledge that matters the most. It gave me basic confidence to face interviews. Things like, how do you communicate, what you dress, what questions you should ask to an interviewer are also important, but they come later in time line.
    It was the confidence because of core knowledge, and coolness because of the confidence – made me the winner.

    Learn from past interview: This is the best way I prepared for each next interview. Please note that, I was Master of Science in Electrical Engineering. I had general program structure. Neither Comp Sci nor VLSI Design. But I landed taking jobs in Software and VLSI Design Engineering. The approach I took was to request an interviewer to answer those questions that I could not solve during interview. In early stages, it was helpful to apply to smaller companies so that I could learn a lot before I appeared for bigger companies.

    I believe, these few steps, helped me to distinguish myself from the rest.

    I also write about career and job search for students and recent graduates at

    You may want to check –

    I hope to win one copy of book 🙂

    You guys have a super day ahead!


  20. Matt J

    I lay in bed fretting the night before, trying to think of just the right words to say to a boss and mentor. How do you say “I’m leaving”?

    My first job after university was with a Big 4 accounting firm. While I knew all along, this would not be a long term career choice, I ended up working for a partner who mentored me and provided me with significant opportunities to grow and develop. He went to bat against HR, first to bring me on board, then to give me a pay increase, and finally to obtain an early promotion.

    When I had another job offer in hand, I booked a lunch appointment on his calendar. After discussing a number issues related to a client project that I had just completed, he mentioned something about responsibilities at year-end.

    “About that…” I said, and then proceeded to explain the opportunity I had to move to an analyst role at a bank. I closed by saying, “so I have a lot to think about this weekend.”

    He responded without hesitation, “You don’t have anything to think about; it’s clearly a great opportunity for you. I wish you all the best and hope you’ll stay in touch. Don’t ever let loyalty get in the way of your career.”

    His words released me from feeling selfish when evaluating career opportunities. As a result, I the mentoring relationship has continued and I have been able to further assess my career goals. To my surprise (but not his), just seven months later I gave notice again to move to another role that is a much better fit for my skill set and interests and has a pay packet of DOUBLE what I made at the accounting firm.

    Reading Ms. Trunk’s columns have provided further liberation for me as I attempt to take her advice to prioritize skill sets and opportunities above tenure and safe havens.

    Now, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with her about:
    -the value of returning for an MBA when I’m already in an incredible job.
    -how to handle being the youngest and most inexperienced person on a team
    -maintaining a U.S. network when posted internationally

  21. Jason

    My advice…use any and all avenues to find what you are looking for, whether it be that first job or finding the right way to create a budget. When I graduated from grad school I, like so many other young, aspiring graduates, started sending out resumes to as many prestigious firms that I could find in my area. I thought that I was above perusing the classifieds or using other traditional means of finding a job. “I had a new diploma in my hand,” I thought. When I got all my rejection letters back from the “prestigious” firms I decided to try the second tier firms and so on. To make a long story short, after numerous attempts at finding a job at what I thought was the “right” or “prestigious” way I found a job on Craigslist. It turned out to be with a firm I would have killed to work for months earlier when I began my job hunt.

    Lesson here is that great things can be found in the strangest of places and the only way to find them is to exhaust all avenues.

  22. The Editorialiste

    I couldn’t agree more about cold calling.

    It took a lot of pandering before I made my first cold call in college, but it ended up nabbing me my best first clips (which I used to bolster my application to graduate school) as well as some in-demand, big-name internships.

    Amazing what fear can do to one’s career path! Cold calling is a barrier-breaker.

    The Editorialiste.

  23. Ryan

    I’ve done pretty well with my cover letters over the years. They’re personalized, clever, and demonstrate my knowledge of the company. I love responding to job postings that are written with a distinctive voice, rather than just being sterile corporate speak. I play off their style with some of my own.

    One company in particular had a job posting that hooked me immediately. I sent back something quite similar, and immediately got an interview.

    But when I got there, the interviewer was not at all what I had expected. He had me do some interesting tasks, but he didn’t seem interested in myself. I was counting on being able to play off his energy and enthusiasm, but instead I ended up just sitting there meekly waiting for him to act like the job posting led me to believe.

    I froze up a little bit, and wasn’t prepared to back up my cover letter with a matching personality.

    Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

    I now know that interviews need to be treated as a two way street…you’re interviewing them as well!

  24. Scarfish

    What a timely post on an interesting book.

    When I left college, I moved across the country for an unpaid internship which I ended up hating. I stayed in NYC working at Starbucks until I got a job doing marketing (which I had no experience in) for a radio company (which I had very little experience in). It ended up being a lot of fun but after a couple years, I got bored. I wanted to work in publishing, which is notoriously difficult to get into AND notoriously low-paying. I managed to land an entry-level position with a prestigious publishing company, where I am today.

    Just last week, I was getting frustrated with making so little money and still feeling so entry level, despite the fact that I’ve been in the workforce nearly four years. I just knew that everyone in the business was making more money than me, and that they were somehow making it up the ladder that I couldn’t even find. I had decided to go back for a master’s degree that I can’t afford and wasn’t sure would help that much.

    Well, I went to an industry event for the book “Strapped: why 20 and 30-somethings can’t get ahead”, and was surprised that during the discussion, people really became open about their situations. Surprisingly…I’m not alone. Everyone there craved more responsibility, more autonomy, and of course, more money. The top salary in the room capped out at $35,000 (in NYC!!!) and some of these people have been in the field much longer than me. They also collectively agree that a master’s degree is no help, that it’s still very much an apprenticeship industry.

    What did I learn? Assume nothing. Clearly, while I’m underpaid according to other professions, at least within my own I’m doing all right. Find ways to create more responsibilities and initiative. Be involved in discussions where people at your level are working to change the industry if there are things you don’t like. And don’t get that master’s degree unless I can figure out a way to get the company to pay for it, because they’re not going to give me a raise just for having it.

  25. J.B.

    I job-hopped a fair amount in my early 20s and landed at a PR gig that I wasn’t thrilled about. I tried to make the most of it, though, by going to luncheons and PR functions that put me in touch with other people in my field.

    One of these lunches featured a panel of experts, and one of the panelists was a guy who worked at a company I really wanted to work for. After I read in his bio that he had attended my university, I charged right up to him when the session was over, bonded with him over our mutual alma mater, and handed him my business card.

    Over the next few months, he called and e-mailed me a few times for information about our products. Keeping in mind that I wanted to work for his company someday, I always put his e-mails and calls before everything else I had on my plate. I returned his e-mails within five minutes, usually, and dropped everything to find any little bit of info that he needed.

    When a job at his company popped up on one of the job boards I was keeping an eye on, I asked him if he could please forward my resume on to the hiring manager. He did, and sure enough, I got an interview. I’m sure that his recommendation had a lot to do with the fact that I had proven to be reliable in working with him over the phone and e-mail. And I got the job!

    Fast-forward two years later, and I’m still at the company (I’ve even been promoted in that time). Plus, I’m about 10 times happier than I had been at my old gig. Networking does pay off when it’s done well, with a clear goal in mind.

  26. Sandy

    I had a job interview for an executive assistant position in the political field. Extremely nervous, and doing my best not to show it, I was asked to wait for several minutes in the lobby. Finally my prospective boss appeared to welcome me into the offices. I rose to greet him and his current assistant….. and I tripped. I didn’t fall, but I came close.
    And I got the job.
    On my first day, I asked the former assistant what stood out during the interview and she told me that I had managed to recover from an embarrassing situation by moving quickly, making a casual joke about it, and moving on to give a strong interview. Apparently I had shown that I wasn’t perfect, but was capable of recovering gracefully– a useful skill in politics, I suppose!

  27. Charlie

    I had a recent example of pluralistic ignorance. I work at a ‘prestigious’ firm for people just out of undergrad (think top tier consulting or banking), where the perception is that everyone goes straight to business school after a few years at the firm. Because of that, I was feeling pressure to also apply to B-school even though I knew that I didn’t really want to for a number of reasons. I went as far as taking the GMAT, creating online accounts for my applications, and outlining essays.

    Then I actually sat down and made a list of the people in the 2 classes in front of me and what they did after a few years at the firm, and found that less than 50% of them actually went straight to B-school. However, B-school seems to be the main topic of discussion over the last year as people decide where to apply, ask others for recommendations, etc.

    Anyway, that exercise gave me the confidence to look for a different option for next year, and I found another job that I am very happy with rather than just following the conventional wisdom.


  28. adam

    The story I usually tell (true story!!) is when I am asked about dealing with irate customers or employees. In college, I worked part time in an ice cream store and we would often do tricks with the ice cream to entertain customers and encourage them to give us tips. Early one morning, I hadn’t quite ‘warmed up’ yet and attempted to throw a scoop of ice cream behind my back and catch it on a waffle cone, something I had done countless times with a pretty good success rate. Needless to say the ice cream didn’t go into the cone, but flew over the counter and into the line of customers hitting the lady in the head. Everyone in line thought it was hilarious except for the lady who got hit. I then explain to the interviewer how I managed to keep the lady from filing a complaint and keeping her as a regular customer.

    This story has helped me in several interviews to help convey my customer service skills and keeping my cool in a tense situation. Rather than listing things I would ‘generally do’ in such situations I can keep the attention of everyone in the room and leave them with a unique story.

  29. Marisa

    I’m almost thirty. I have a career I love, but it has nothing to do with my degrees.

    I have an English BA. I worked in the non-profit sector for a year after college, but decided to go on to grad school because I couldn’t figure out what I could really *do* with an English degree.

    I went on to get an MA in History. While working on my PhD (also in History), I took a position in IT at my University just to make some extra money. It was a “soft” position – not at all technical – but I liked the technie parts of my job so much that I ended up re-crafting the job to be more of a junior sys admin position.

    A year ago, I took a full-time job as a sys admin. I couldn’t be happier. I loved teaching, too, and will probably continue to adjunct after I finish my PhD. For now, I’m working in a challenging, interesting field, and still have enough spare time for my social life AND to continue my doctoral work. It is bliss.

  30. Brian

    Penelope wrote an article a month or so ago about blogging as a networking tool and I think she’s spot on. I’ve been blogging for a little over a month and have been contacted by 5 or 6 people who work in my industry who I wouldn’t have “met” otherwise. More importantly, someone contacted me about a job opening and I have a phone interview with his boss this afternoon.

  31. topseekrit

    I would have to say that I fell pray to the ‘do what everyone else is doing’ when I graduated in Spring ’05 with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. I wanted to work in the Defense Industry and landed my dream job. As a minority female in the Engineering field, I felt pressured to make it happen at a big time Defense Contractor. I landed the job, and tt turned out not to be so rosey as I’d hoped. After 6 short months I was looking for work. It took me 5 whole months to find another job! I’m now in the IT industry as an analyst, not close to Engineering, but its suffice. While I enjoy it, I’m more excited about launching my own business. Get this, it’s in Education! So, on the side I’m working to launch my company Teachers For Thought, LLC which is an education service provider specifically designed for teachers.

    Thanks for reading 😉 and this was another great article.

  32. Brian

    I am a 27 year old who did everything wrong as an undergraduate.

    I went to an engineering school and studied History and Political Science. Foolishly, I majored in History and Political Science because I excelled in those subjects in high school, and felt I wasn’t good enough to branch off into another area (such as business or computer science). I was afraid of failure.

    I combined my foolishness with a complete lack of forward thinking and laziness. I was aware that internships were somewhat important, and even contacted a professor about helping me get one. But, by the time I had gotten around to contacting the professor, it was already late in the season to be getting one. Then, when I was closing in on graduation, I seemed oblivious to the fact that once you graduate, you need to get a job. Rather than bust my ass, and go all out trying to find a good job, I sat around and thought that one would just come around.

    So, I moved back home with my parents, and sat around most days being less than productive. This continued for a month or so until a manager from a past employer contacted me and wanted to know if I wanted to come work for him. I said yes, even though the job wasn’t ideal.

    Looking back, I’m ashamed at what I allowed to happen. And while I would like to change the past, I have to remind myself that careers are not created looking backwards. This is important for me now because I find myself in a job that is not building any skills and has little room for promotion. Will I make the same mistakes as when I was an undergrad?


    Change, while not easy, is the only hope for a better life.

  33. J.R.

    Not that this is a democracy, but I vote for #19 to win the grand prize. Clearly they want the phone interview. And they’ve asked for it. More importantly, they carefully planned out an appropriate response to reach their goals. This was exactly what I was talking about in my post. I applaud Aditya.

  34. Brad Maier

    Hi Ramit,

    Honestly, I don’t have a career story because I don’t want a career. I want a life. I’m working right now to start a business that coincides with what I enjoy doing everyday. A business that I wont mind working on and definitely something I won’t refer to as a “job”. If I fail I will have at least gained valuable experience. Experience that is likely superior to what I’d get at the entry level. Besides, you only fail when you stop trying, so I don’t see failure in my future.

    Anyway, you often tell us that if we want something we should ask for it. Thus, Ramit, I was wondering if it would be possible for me to recieve one of the copies of Penelope’s book.

  35. Arthur

    I’m one of the many mid-twenties- college graduate- -still don’t know what the heck I want out of a career- guys. I got a degree because that’s what you were supposed to do after high school.

    I’m married and am very active outside of work, so for now I’m happy with whatever will pay the bills and allow me to spend time doing what I love outside of work (while paying off a mortgage, etc.).

    Although I wouldn’t say I have a “career” at all, I have already learned an important lesson. The last two job offers that I accepted came from previous employers. One year ago, I was unhappy at my job, but still worked as hard as I could and tried to remain pleasant. Although it wasn’t a job that paid well and had nothing to do with my degree (and wasn’t what I loved doing), I still worked hard. After leaving the company, they called me one year later to offer a position that pays 50% more than what I was making. I am entirely unqualified for the job, but because of the hard work and dedication that I showed while I was there, they were willing to hire me. This is much more important than anything I learned in college.

  36. Andrew

    I entered college as a information technology major. Oddly, all I’ve ever wanted to do for a career was write. I new it back when I was in high school, and I sure as hell knew it when I was suffering through classes on programing in college. I was good with computers, but I looked in horror to a work life of hell centered around fixing printers for idiots. The only reason I had avoided English was for fear of low paying jobs, and as my Freshmen year drew to a close, I realized that doing what I loved was worth far more than an extra 10k a year, and I switched to English.

    Fast forward through three years of college where my grades were excellent and I got high accolades from my professors, and through two internships working for newspapers. My editors loved my work, and I even got one article cited on NPR and in the Washington Post.

    Now, I’m weeks away from graduating, with a full time reporter job working at a local paper awaiting me after a brief vacation. Sure, I won’t be making as much as I would have fixing computers, and I’ll be living at home to save money, but I honestly can’t say that I care. I love doing research and publishing great articles, and I have every intention of rising up to papers covering broader topics, which will hopefully include some more pay. I’ve come to realize that If have a reasonable wage, doing what I love it worth more in the end.

    I’d love to talk to Penelope Trunk about her own career and any suggestions she has for a new journalist.

  37. Willie

    My mistake was taking a job right after graduation — succumbing to the pressure of a stable job, to the fear and ambivalence of life after college. So I took the first job offer from a reputable company in defense contracting. “Good money, a stable job, what else could you possibly want?” my friends would say.

    In my own foolishness and confidence, I thought so too. But I have had 2 years to learn the hard way that I was wrong. Not only was I not happy with my job, I still do not know what I want to do. And unfortunately, my job doesn’t really allow me to explore different options. My parents believed that if I stay there a while longer, I would find something I like. I tried that too, but to no avail. I might as well try to listen to a crappy song in a foreign language, translate it to English, and pretend it sounds like a song that I like…

    I used to frown upon people who keep changing their minds about their major, but now I’ve come to admire them and their risk-taking. The bitter aftertaste of my hastiness has surely helped in that regard. I see now that I should have taken my time to make the best decision for MYSELF. Don’t let anyone else influence your decision, because it ultimately falls on YOU to bear the consequence, for better or worse.

    Now I am in the market looking for a new job — perhaps not my ideal job (yet), but definitely a happier one. I am only 23 now so I still have a long road ahead of me. And The Brazen Careerist would be a big help!

  38. Liz

    Before I graduated from college I decided my first real-world job should be working abroad. It seemed like a simple enough goal to me. I was realistic in expecting that the search would be a challenge. I was an above average student but I didn’t go to Stanford and I didn’t have any hard-to-find skills. Nonetheless, I wanted to get paid and work in my field. I figured there had to be a way. Anything is possible, right?

    After graduation, I continued working at my college supplemental hostess job. I continued living with the budget of a student. I sent out at least three applications a day. Family and friends tried to discourage me for various reasons, but usually because they cared about me and they believed I was just going to hit dead ends. Frustrated, I did something else that may have seemed unhelpful in my post-undergraduate efforts to join the working world. I booked a short trip to Belize. I needed some perspective, inspiration and time away from the peer career pressure.

    Having been to Belize before, I checked the popular forums for tour ideas and to get updated on the latest foreigners’ version of local news. And there it was, a job posting open to non-Belizeans and related to my field. On first read, I thought I had no chance at it. Still, I applied, and added in that I would be in Belize soon for a short trip. They replied and offered me an interview while I was there. I went. I got the job. Living and working in the tropics, in my field and earning more than enough money to pay the student loans every month.

    It was a great experience.

    Now, it is five years later and I still have to remind myself these things can be done.

  39. Almost 30

    I was harassed by both of the partners in my company at different times. I love the company because it’s small, growing, and it provides a service that I believe in. Emotionally, it was challenging to get over, but I didn’t feel like quitting something I enjoyed because my bosses couldn’t control themselves.

    6 months later I have to agree with the comment “Use harassment to boost your career.” I was able to get past it and learn from the situations. It has made me realize many things; that the bosses are human, it has given me more courage to ask for what I want. I have been able to make changes and demand pay raises. I’m not sure I would have had the guts before. Interesting situation where I was able to turn lemons into lemonade, when I wasn’t sure I would be able to.

  40. Carise

    Networking in college really helped me land my first job. A friend managed to convince his boss to hire me as a contractor without an interview. I don’t have the best school transcripts, but I’m blessed with being able to learn fairly quickly.

    On the flip side, I found my second job with the help of a recruiter who was doing a cold call. I probably did everything wrong (that one can possibly do) in an interview – I admitted I didn’t know how to solve a particular problem but if I had a manual, I’d figure it out, I got lost and showed up 30 minutes late, and I just tried to be as honest about myself as I could be. And strangely enough, they hired me. I love working here too – the work culture here is about integrity and character. I’ve never known anyone in person who has gotten such luck as I have. 😉

    And yet, there is much to learn for me in terms of the career and beyond…

  41. Sarah

    I mostly grew up in the US, moved over 1,000 miles to attend a college in the northeast, and instead of studying abroad, did my Master’s in England. Fell in love with England, as many people do, and about three months before my course ended, I got an IT support job at the university I was studying at. I hadn’t really been expecting to stay in England (didn’t really think I knew enough to get the job when I applied, and I wasn’t spectacular in the interview), but given that everything was falling into place, I decided to go with it.

    Finished my exams and started the job two weeks later. On my second day of work, we received news that my work permit application had been rejected. At first I thought we could appeal or work around it, but in any case it would’ve been expensive, and the department I was working for wasn’t particularly well-funded to begin with. So I resigned myself to not being able to stay in that job, in a town I knew with colleagues I liked, and applied for various other open positions in England and back in the northeast. I applied for any and all IT positions in England, but focused my US job search on web design/coding, which is what I’m really passionate about. In both places, though, I narrowed my search to non-corporations. I did an internship at a PR firm in college, and the idea of everything I did during the day going toward the goal of more profit didn’t sit well with me.

    I kind of got offered a web job in the UK, but they understandably backed down in the face of the visa issues (“we would hire you if…”). I had a phone and follow-up webcam interview with a non-profit in DC, but I decided not to take it because the pay was comparatively low, the work was a combination of web and IT support, and there was the implicit feeling that they really wanted someone who was an activist about their cause, rather than someone who was merely in agreement. It was risky because at the time it was my only job offer, but I did have the safety net of being able to move back with my parents if I needed to while job hunting. I also had never had a purely dedicated web job before, even though I had the skills.

    After that, I had a phone interview for what is now my current job, followed by a second phone interview which was unnervingly short and seemed more a confirmation from upper management that I was ok to hire. I didn’t think they’d actually do anything until they saw me, either in person or by video conference, but I got the job offer over email soon after. It’s a web design position at a university, so pretty much exactly what I was looking for.

    It turned out really well, but it could’ve gone badly in so many ways, in retrospect. I’d only been to Boston once before, to visit a friend in college. I had no idea what the office looked like, who the people were, what the environment was. I certainly didn’t know how much the cost of living is, or I might have negotiated my salary more! And of course my new colleagues knew nothing about me either. Turns out that one of my co-workers went to my high school, 10 years apart.

    One thing that my manager told me when we first met (over lunch before I actually started) was that my references played a huge part. I am still be very good friends with people I worked with and for in college, and I am lucky that they also happen to be excellent at verbal communication (something I’m not great at myself). Their very high recommendations and the fact that I am still in contact with them really worked in my favor on the personality/character level.

    I’m 23, and most of the people I work with have been here for a long time, more than one, and sometimes two decades. I’m happy with my job for now, and I have a lot of room for redefining my job description to really tailor it to what I want it to be, such as moving it away from design and more into coding and user experience. But I worry about getting too comfortable and possibly getting stagnant, which would be a death toll in the web industry these days.

  42. Laura

    By far the most…interesting…job I’ve held landed me in front of multiple clogged toilets with the objective to unclog the monsters. A few weeks earlier I applied for and won the job of Maintenance Manager of my college co-op. My school, UC Berkeley, has a very established and popular co-op system in which small groups of students live in and operated their own homes. My esteemed position of Maintenance Manager came with one huge perk: the much coveted Single Room. It was worth it for that alone. I learned a ton during my tenure and wouldn’t trade it for all the Drain-o in the world. There are few twenty year old college girls who can claim they know the complete how-to’s of house maintenance. I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone and learned this new skill-set. Whenever such opportunities arise I know to just stand tall, get a firm grip, and plunge in.

  43. Mike

    During my senior year in college (1998), I interviewed a lot with local NC engineering companies, but my heart was in SoCal. Ever since I could remember, I wanted to try living/surviving in SoCal. Long story short, I never accepted any of my offers straight out of college. Instead, I packed up a Ryder truck and headed west. I finally stopped six days later, on July 4th, in San Diego. Despite sending out literally hundreds of resumes, it took me nearly six months to land my first “civil engineering” job… I was down to about $200 in the bank, loaded with credit card debt, and took a job as a soil testing technician (not even real engineering, but a great learning tool) for a small engineering firm. Outside of work, I contacted my university in NC about starting an alumni club in San Diego. As it turns out, the club was a success, as quite a few alumni had made their way through the years out to San Diego. That alumni group served a dual purpose, to enjoy a common bond with fellow alumni, but also to help me network. As it turns out, one of the guys in that group hand-carried my resume to his boss’s desk and I was offered a much more flexible, lucrative, and rewarding position. I’ve been with that employer for 7 years now, my salary has more than doubled since I started, and I’ve been able to fly all around the world to do my job.

    Not bad, considering my first contact with this employer began casually over a beer while watching a college football game.

  44. Dawn

    Every once in a while at your job, you get to find out how you are valued.

    My last job was my best job, in many ways. I earned more money than I had before. I had great benefits and worked with bosses that seemed appreciative. I got to learn and try new things.

    I made several close friends that I still keep in touch with (they closed our office and most of us were laid off after more than five years together, some longer). I worked with hundreds of coworkers on a regular basis and got along swimmingly with most of them.

    But as always, whenever you work with a large number of people, there is always a bad apple in the lot. There was one woman in my office was more like the devil, but that’s a different story.

    John S. was a business manager that I’d worked with for several years. John was always “stirring the pot” (as another coworker put it). He would casually snoop in the bosses office when she was out, he’d butt in where he didn’t belong and he was a tattle tale. Makes you wonder why he was a manager, doesn’t it?

    So one day, John goes walking by my cube and notices that I am goofing off in some fashion. Now, this doesn’t really concern me too much because I’m a hard worker who always completes tasks ahead of schedule, helps others out and has a positive can-do attitude. Not to mention that I usually showed up early, would work overtime if necessary, traveled to support meetings and learned to do anything and everything my bosses needed (isn’t that the definition of administrative support?).

    But John felt differently. He went and discussed the matter with my supervisor. And then it had to go to our director. I was pissed.

    I was in a cube that had zero privacy and apparently any asshole out there who felt entitled to meddle, could.

    The solution? My director got approval from the VP to pay a company to come in and rectify the situation. About $1K+ later, my cube opening now faced a wall.

    Thank you, John.

  45. Richard

    About 6 years ago, my last year of high school, I had an internship in the IT department in the local city government. Being a typical teenager, I thought I already knew how to do everything that they showed me to do.

    One day, I was given the task to start re-imaging all the new PC’s we just got in. They showed me how to do it, but of course I thought I already knew how it was to be done. After about 30 minutes of re-imaging these machines (15 at a time), I get a call from my boss. Apparently, there was A LOT of network traffic, so much that there wasn’t enough bandwidth for the VOIP phones to work. I didn’t think that was such a big deal; until my boss politely informed me (read: yelled) the ONLY department using VOIP phones was 911 — they had been down to receiving only about 10% of their typical call volume. Oops.

    Turns out that if I would have paid attention in the beginning, I would have learned that I was supposed to disconnect my network from the main network — to avoid this exact kind of thing.

    Lesson learned: You don’t know everything (EVER!), and there is always something you can learn.

  46. Aaron S

    After graduating with a degree in civil engineering in May of 2004, I took a job with a slightly below average salary for my field in a city I loved in the upper midwest. My living expenses were probably higher than they should have been for my age and income and to top it off, my student loan grace period was over and another $300/mo was coming out of my pocket. I was scared that I was having trouble saving. I simply did not think I had the money to save much or contribute to any investments or retirement plans.
    To my advantage, however, I was working for an up and coming medium-sized engineering consulting firm with a great track record of client focus and customer service. My particular group within the company focuses on a market sector with great stability and relatively little local competition, which has allowed for significant and sustained growth over the last 5 years.
    After relatively quick development and expanding responsibilities, I was asked in the spring of 2006 if I would be interested in an on-location project where I would spend up to 3 weeks/mo in New England working directly with a client on a project. On a bit of a flyer, I said yes. My overtime and percent billable immediately skyrocketed (not without some accompanying stress and sacrifice of being away from friends for extended periods). It has turned out to be the best decision I have EVER made. My profile has raised within the company and I have been rewarded for my sacrifices. In 2006 I received a bonus of over 40% of my salary, which is practically unheard of for someone at my type of company with my experience. Further, my salary has increased over 35% since the day I started.
    These financial gains now make it possible for me to work on my own investments to the extent that I have a starting point for a brokerage account and I was able to afford to fund a Roth IRA for the year 2006.
    What I have learned is that success will not come without sacrifices and risk-taking, but the opportunities to succeed are out there, you just have to be ready for them and enthusiastically accept!

  47. Brian

    Thank you for bringing Penelope’s book and blog to my attention, Ramit.

    It’s been ten years since I graduated from college, and I’ve been so torn choosing what has value (for me) and what will earn me a living that I’ve ended up paralyzed between them. I’m now thirty-two years old . I work at a university–and I love having access to all that a university environment offers (especially the libraries)–but I end up so exhausted from my day job that I end up not really pursuing my art. I make 26K–the most I’ve ever made–and have no opportunites for promotion. I have a hard time seeing value in things, and constantly research how I can find a better career path that I will not dread having to face every day. What I have learned intellectually–but not yet internalized–is that this “research” can often be a convenient way for me to avoid making a major decision. A wise professor once told me to “just choose something”–and move on. While I can’t yet take that advice myself, it may be the best that I can offer your readers.

  48. Don

    I graduated in December from college, and am now starting my thesis for an M.S. After this, it’s likely that I will continue on for a Ph.D in the same field. Despite this, I really don’t quite know what type of ‘career’ I want to have yet, let alone what specific area.

    Throughout college (at a good public institution with in-state tuition), while I didn’t have a job outside of a summer research position a couple of years, I watched my spending. I bought books used, tried not to eat out that often, didn’t get new clothes, had no television in my dorm, no videogames, etc. If I wanted to watch a DVD, I’d hit the library. As for the summer jobs I had, I saved the money that I got, tax free, from the fellowship that supported me in the lab.

    As a graduate student now, I live at home. I make a decent stipend, and will have another paid research position this summer working on my thesis. I save almost all of my take-home pay, and invest it in a thought-out portfolio, as well as maxing out my IRA.

    The end result of this? I didn’t go to an expensive college, so my student loans are already all paid off. I watched my spending and saved as much as possible while my expenses – health care, housing, food, etc. – were low due to being in school. When I finish school in the foreseeable future, I’ll have enough saved up, with no debt, that I’ll be able to think about a career without any pressing need to get out there and start pulling a paycheck. Sure, I don’t know what I want to be doing, but I’ve managed my finances so that that shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t know if this counts as a full career story – likely not – but it seems at least an introduction and the first few pages.

    As an ending note, I read Penelope Trunk’s column in our local newsmagazine “The Hook” each week, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that she has a book coming out soon.

  49. Jigish

    My biggest mistake so far:

    Has been to not take my past-time activities more seriously and not having tried to excel in them.

    At 26, I’ve a Bachelors in Engineering (India), Masters in Computer Science (USC) and 2 1/2 years of work experience as a software engineer. I’ve made really good progress at my job. In this time, I got promoted to Sr. Software Engineer and today, I make 50% more than what I earned 2 1/2 years ago (which was a good salary to begin with).

    However, I find myself a bit stuck when I think of applying to top-notch (top 5) Business Schools since I really have no other achievements to show outside my domain of Computer Science and Softwares. I feel I need to be a bit more well-rounded for my application to stand out. I’ve only recently started taking my past-time activities of ballroom dancing and league cricket more seriously.

    I believe that excelling in more than one field that are quite different lets you grow as a person & professional really fast as compared to what you would learn by focussing on only one field. I am trying to gain as many varied experiences as I can since that’s what’ll help me a lot with my long term objective of starting a business of my own.

  50. TJ

    Failed startups make excellent resume material.

    During my summer before senior year, I decided to start a small company while working on a full time internship. I got together with a friend and worked evenings and weekends to get the company off the ground. The company did modestly; we recovered our initial investment and made a small profit.

    Once school started, it became difficult to continue with it and we had to eventually close the company down. I however included it prominently on my resume. At all the interviews I attended the interviewers expressed great interest in it. I was angling for this overseas position with a Fortune 500 company. During the interview after the few standard questions, the entire interview was focused on my startup. I explained in detail on the lessons that I had learned and what I would have done different the next time around. The interviewer said he was impressed as I was the only one he had interviewed who had tried starting a company. I did get the job beating out very qualified people. So if you debating on whether to start off on your own, go do it – worst case scenario you’ll end up with a very comfy corporate job.

  51. sfordinarygirl

    My biggest career mistake was settling for a job just for the sake of having one.

    I majored in journalism and dreamed of working in newspapers as a reporter. My first job didn’t go very well because I needed to work on my writing so my boss and I agreed to a voluntary separation. So I didn’t know what to do at that point except move back home and feel guilty for months that I failed at being the reporter I wanted.

    When I came back I started to look for journalism jobs again but at a place where I could learn more and have more time to write stories without the daily deadlines. But my family kept telling me there was no future with newspapers … they were saying how it was a dying breed, newspapers aren’t making money and etc etc.

    So when a company called me back for interviews about positions they had open, I took it not fully realizing I was setting myself up in a dead end job.

    I believed my family before trusting my instinct and skills. I felt guilty also because I wouldn’t be making a lot of money for awhile and my father had high hopes of me becoming an engineer or hold down a career with six figures.

    I realized taking a job just for the sake of having one now is painful. Every day I think about how I gave up telling stories just so my family could say they were right. Now that I fully realize the consequences of settling, I’m trying to dig myself out and find a better job doing something I love.

  52. Dima

    When I got my bachelors degree in Computer Science I realized that I really have not learned anything in past four years. I wanted to work on avionics systems for airplanes so I decided to go to grad school instead (at a different university of course).

    Fast forward two years, I have a week before I graduate and I have already secured a job working on flight management systems for the top avionics company. Moreover, all four major players in the field were interested in my qualifications. The past two years have been pretty intense, but in the end, it feels good to achieve my dream.

    On the separate note, after reading your blog, I am also planning on starting my side business later this year. Nothing big, but it’s a start 🙂


  53. Adil

    I couldn’t agree more about job hopping until you find something that makes you happy. I graduated 4 years ago and have held as many jobs in 2 continents. I also did a co-op program which placed me in 6 different jobs for a total of 2 years of experience while studying. When else are you going to be able to move around like this than in your twenties? Most people I talk to ask, “But, don’t employers hate it when they see someone who job hops because they view them as not loyal?” It’s true that most interviewers have asked me this question. However, I find that it’s one of those questions that interviewers themselves don’t emphasize too much as long as you don’t come out and say “i’m not loyal.” or “i get bored real quick.” If you’re good and they like you, they’ll hire you. This is especially true if you look for work while working. Remember, most companies try to steal good employees from their competitors rather than trying to train someone new to the industry.

    Another piece of advice I can give is to not convert a hobby into a full-time job. This may sound wrong, but it’s right. Working on the same thing for 8+ hours a day just by nature dullifies it. You’ll quickly find that you have killed the very thing you used to look forward to. For me, it was programming. I remember the times when I could spend hours on a project, completely lose track of time and even miss meals without knowing it.. Today, my home computer looks like a standard PC with no development tools on it. Leave your hobby at home and instead pursue a career in an field you’re good at and in an environment that suites you. For example, if you’re a people person, pursue a job that requires human interaction. If you get bored easily, find a job where you’re always doing something different.

    Lastly, never be ashamed or scared of negotiating a salary. Don’t be difficult and the worst that can happen is they’ll say no. But, chances are that even if they don’t meet your expectations, they’ll give you a small bump. If they don’t and you truly believe that you deserve more, do not accept the job. A cheap company is the worst kind of company to work for. Been there, done that. As I have grown wiser, I have rejected plenty of offers from plenty of reputable companies and better opportunities have always arisen.

  54. Liza

    Talk to people, and tell them you’re looking for work. Have chutzpah.

    I got a great research assistant position in graduate school, because I went to a party where I met a famous (MacArthur Fellow) professor who had just been the subject of an incredibly mean, horrible article in a local magazine.

    After “nice to meet you,” I told him I’d seen the article, and that what I’d gotten out of it was a question: “Why am I not working for you?”

    He looked startled, and I basically said that I thought I had the skills he needed to be better understood in the community. He asked me to come in for an interview on Tuesday, and of course I got the job.

    I got my first job after law school through similar networking a few months before graduation. I volunteered for a committee of the State Bar, and chatting with a lawyer after my first meeting led to him asking for my resume.

    Since he owned his own small firm, he was nervous about hiring someone full time without getting to know them first. I agreed to work for him as a part-time clerk until graduation. The gamble paid off and it was a great first job.

  55. S

    Another true story from my work experience…

    During my Junior/Senior year of High School I got a job as a telemarketer. With an hourly pay of $9/hr and commission on top of it, I felt it was worth a shot, and get me used to cold calls, phone confidence, etc…

    Selling products like Girl Gone Wild, Highlander Collectible Items, Gold Coins, Travel Clubs, gets you all sorts of crazy people on the other end, who on top of their normal levels of craziness, hate telemarketers.

    One day, I placed a call to a lady who really really liked the pitch and wanted to purchase the item. After 20 minutes of the “pitch” she said “okay I want to buy it, but you’re going to have to call me in about an hour, because I don’t have my credit card by me”.

    Confused as to the situation, and not willing to lose a sale to someone to lazy to go upstairs and grab her purse (or so i thought), I tried to persuade her to purchase.

    She then informed me that her credit cars are kept in her freezer, under a rock in a bucket that was filled with water. Of course since it was in the freezer, this bucket of water was a bucket of ice that she would have to let melt in order to get her credit cards from.

    She said she did this because she had a horrible habit of impulse spending and needed something to slow her down and think about the purchase.

    I called back an hour and fifteen minutes later, and she politely said I let the bucket melt half way, but by that time I realized the product wasn’t worth it to buy.

    I politely thanked her for her time and hung up.

    Interesting thing though was that I learned a lot from this lady, in that if you have a problem with spending do whatever you have to do to stop yourself, even if it is literally FREEZING your credit cards.


    ps. Since no doubt many of you are curious, my best seller was Girls Gone Wild which netting about 7 bucks a video. Not bad for a high school kid looking to make a few quick bucks.

  56. Ranjan

    I have had over 16 years of work experience and have just realized that I don’t want to continue doing what I’m doing right now. But the thought of making a shift/jump is a bit scary.

    I want to shift from mediocrity to something more challenging. Maybe that’s where the book might help.

    Penelope is a charmer. Hoping to get the book:)

  57. Brian

    Brian from comment 30 again (don’t enter me in the contest twice), I got the job!!!

    And here’s Penelope’s article that I was thinking about (it’s actually about networking, but point 5 is about blogging):

  58. James

    A colleague told me that her dad, a high school principal, got an e-mail from another principal in the state. That principal, in fact, had e-mailed EVERY principal in the state to tell them this story:
    A candidate for an art teacher position came to interview in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap. When the principal asked the candidate to come back the next day dressed for an interview, he became indignant. He told her “You obviously don’t know what an art teacher does” and turned to storm out of the office. On his way out he uttered an expletive.

    She in turn, e-mailed every principal in the state this candidate’s name along with this story. This candidate obviously didn’t know what a principal could do!

  59. Quest for a Mentor » financial zen

    […] Oddly enough, I also managed to come across a book review (and a chance to talk to her!) at I Will Teach You To Be Rich – another site I […]

  60. midwatchcowboy

    Take advantage of the freedom you have to discover what you hate to do and hopefully, what you love to do. You’ll not feel as free in you career choices if you find yourself married, with a kid or two.

    I’m happy that I found my avocation before I found myself responsible for three other people. (but it’s tons of fun)

  61. milqman

    For a period after my graduation I worked for Intel. The facility was large enough to have it’s own cafeteria (where a majority of employees would normally eat lunch). Well, one day, in the cafeteria, a guy I didn’t know sat down and struck up conversation with everyone who was already there. One thing led to another and I got on my rant about how the work I was doing was trivial, simple, and hardly deserved a college degree as a requirement (I am an engineer). I continued on this path, talking about how this particular job (not career, there’s a difference) was just a stepping stone to a real career, at a company that could utilize my talent. I also made it abundantly clear that I would take every little bit of training they would offer me, then leave to get my MBA when the time was right. The guy was unfazed, almost spurring me on, and very curious about what other observations I have about the place, and what my other plans are, etc. After what seemed like a very long time, it is clear to me people are ready to get up from lunch and go back to work. So I follow their lead and get up and follow the pack out. As we walk to the elevator, the guy who was sitting next to me lets me in on a little secret. “That was Dave, he’s your boss’s boss’s boss” he said, with a look that can only be described by the assumption that he had somehow mistakenly seen me shout racial slurs while dancing naked on the cafeteria table, burning an American flag. I didn’t get fired, or even talked to, but I did get a wink and a laugh every time I saw Dave in the hallway from that time forward. I have always been a fan of brutal honesty, but that was a *special* moment.

  62. CheeseLover

    I am 37 and have hopped around from job to job since college. I average 3-5 yrs at a job and have stopped listening when they talk about pension but pay close attention to 401k and matching etc. This article made me think about my career and what I like/dislike about it. Currently, I am doing Consulting and a large computer retailer and services organization.

    Let me get to the point… I learned a couple of things years ago that have helped me in deciding where to go next and may at some point help me to decide where to stay. 1) My family is most important to me (duh. Everyone says that), so while I will accept some travel, I will not relocate. After all, why take a job for a bunch of money and be sad that you can never see your family. After all, isn’t it about making you and your family as happy as possible? Money is a part of this, but not the biggest part. 2) Your company really could care less about you or your family. I have had bosses that care a lot about me and my family, but “the company”? Nah. So you need to do what is right for you and your family. There is no allegiance going either way so don’t ever feel bad about that. 3) (and most importantly and also most recently accepted/learned) Lately, I have been acquainted with or worked with several people that have worked their whole life with this dream of retirement. To some that was golfing, fishing, moving somewhere warmer (Ohio here) etc. Whatever the dream is, they get to that point or close to that point and… well … die. So the moral of the story of which I sometimes have to remind myself is; ”IT’S THE JOURNEY YOU IDIOT.” Hopefully the destination is nice as well and hopefully I make it to the finish line, but I will never ever sacrifice the journey with my wife and 2 girls to get there faster. This means that I may not be able to max out my Roth and 401K this year, but I am making a dent; and most importantly we are going to the beach with the kids this summer. This is something that nobody can ever take away from me (those types of memories). So, if you find yourself getting stuck in a situation like this (as in.. you are promoted and are making good dough… but are gone all the time), get out before you get “trapped”. You won’t regret it.

  63. BK

    I’m hoping you’re still accepting comments for the Brazen Careerist book!

    Here’s a quick run down of my life in the real world as of today. I am currently a graduating senior in my 5th year of college. I took the “average” college student’s path through switching majors several times through college and finally landing in Accounting. I was originally an Economics major that decided Communication was really my thing. I entered the school of communications for a year and a half and built up my transferable skills. However, I didn’t believe that this would be my career path. So I decided to switch over to the business school and chose Accounting because it was a specialty skill while keeping the ability to switch around different areas of business.

    As I am approaching graduation, I have gained many different job experiences under my belt as a waiter, salesman, cashier, auditor, accounting intern. I went into about 5 interviews and received 3 offers over a 2 month period. I have started my first job training during the spring semester as an auditor. In this job, I’ve picked up a lot of skills on the importance of internal controls and accuracy of reports. During the same time, it was by chance that a friend from college had called me up one day remembering a conversation we had a year ago. I had told him I was working at an upscale restaurant and gained a lot of experience in the field of hospitality and had extensive training through management there. We had a few lunches together discussing training of servers because he had problems that he wanted to solve with the restaurant he was managing. In the end, it turns out his family owns a few hotels and restaurants and offered to make me a partner in owning/managing his restaurant. Now I am developing the internal controls for his restaurant, developing the training for managers and servers, and doing the bookkeeping and forecasting budget statistics. In addition, I decided to leave the audit job after 2.5 months working there and take upon another full time job doing financial accounting that starts a few months down the road. These are the first few steps to my career but it started with a bang. In just two more weeks, I will be entering my new life career starting my own business as well as working in a corporate setting. Now that you have the overview of my past, I’d love to read the Brazen Careerist to walk into the real world with some more transferable knowledge under my belt!

  64. John Ratcliffe-Lee

    One word: passion.

    Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today and it’s hard to imagine I’d be able to recount the amazing opportunities I’ve come across over the past year.

    Half-way through college I took a photography class to fulfill part of my major’s requirements. I started the class not really knowing or caring and by the end of the semester it was 3am during finals week and there I was in the Fine Arts building perfecting and mounting my prints.

    When you’re passionate about something, everything else is 10x easier. All that “hard work” is worth it, you wake up eager and refreshed and the challenge of doing something new with whatever you’re really interested in doesn’t really seem like a challenge at all but really one of those joy-ride, elementary school field trips that you coveted when you were a kid.

    I was passionate about my photography. I wanted to show the world and people I knew how I saw them and my world. I created a web site and put some of my photos up there. As I traveled through life and tried to figure out what to do with my career, I jumped at opportunities and made the best of them. I put the building blocks in place for something, even if i wasn’t sure what it was just yet.

    Then, one summer day, I struck gold. A former colleague at an internship came across my small corner of the Internet and shot me an e-mail asking if I’d come in and talk to him about what has turned out to be, essentially, the best possible job I could be working at this point in my life. Maybe not the “dream job” but very well close to it.

    How did it all happen? Well, if I hadn’t found something I was passionate about then I can honestly say I wouldn’t be typing this story.

    Who cares if you don’t know what you want to do? Just do something. Enjoy it. Live it. Breathe it. Life is all about being passionate about things you love and the best way to make your career enjoyable is to find that passion.

  65. Twich007

    Going into college, I wanted to go into advertising, because I loved ‘ideas’ and print media. However, I chose a college for reasons other than it’s advertising department. In fact, I went to a college with no advertising department, so my major was ‘marketing’.

    Junior year rolls along, and I realize 2 things – 1. that i have enough time to get a second major, and 2. that this marketing degree is teaching me little except for a lot of vocabulary words.

    I had really liked my intro Finance class and, being more of a math oriented person, I thought it would be a good choice, knowing i could actually ‘learn’ something besides vocab words. Well it was a great decision. Not only did i get to meet more like-minded people, i also got to be in a special graduate class (as an undergrad) where we managed part of the university’s endowment.

    However, during senior year, i was still undecided as to what i wanted to do post-college. This and a hesitancy to ‘grow up’ lead me to not really try to get a job, telling myself ‘i’ll do that after college’.

    May rolls around and i’ve been lazily sending in a resume or two to jobs that i find interesting, mainly at ad agencies. At the few interviews i was granted, i find out there’s no real job description for ‘ideas guy’, at least not a job for a kid fresh out of college. You really have to be an art person or an English major, or else you end up as a ‘media buyer’ or something like that. And being a numbers guy, i was frustrated by the lack of measuable results typical of ad agencies.

    So I started looking for finance jobs. The problem with that is that all the good finance jobs are gone by late fall or early spring of senior year, so you’re left pecking at leftovers…absolutely no jobs at investment firms (they have hiring freezes so you can’t even get an interview).

    Long story short, I ended up being a bum for about 5 months and then having to go work an old college job for $8 an hour. I still pursued the occasional job, but there were slim pickings. My saving grace was my buddy’s dad, who’s company was in need of some financial analysts and took me on despite no financial experience (though i did graduate with honors).

    So lessons to college kids – no, you don’t have to figure out what you are going to do for the rest of your life, but figure out SOMETHING to do for the next year or two before you graduate college, because it can be tough landing a good job after you walk the stage.

    You get discouraged, and people tell you to just take any ol’ job so you have some experience, but that could be a bad decision if you are not highly motivated and end up working in a ‘temp’ spot too long. Figure things out while you are getting paid decent enough to be able to quit and not work for a few months if you need a career switch 2 years out. The end!

  66. Chiru

    Very interesting review. 🙂 well I wanted to write about a mistake I did recently when I was moving to a different job. I had a good working relationship with my boss and I wanted to help him out telling him about my move so that he can fill the position soon. But all didn’t go well when his boss came to know about it. They ended up walking me out a week before the day I mentioned on my resignation letter. It was a very unpleasant experience and my boss did not help me at all. One thing I learned was that in business it is always better to be cautious no matter how great a relationship you have with your boss. Hope that helps somebody!

  67. Kimble

    Although I’m just now finishing my first year of work after college, I have to admit that I’ve learned some great lessons. One of the more vivid lessons in my mind happened on my first day at work. I’m an engineer and had interviewed with this particular company once on campus and once at their headquarters. Although I understood that the company was manufacturing and that I would be working at one of their plants, I was completely unprepared for what that actually meant. Thus, as most people do, on the first day I showed up wearing suit slacks, (small) heels and makeup. My new boss took one look at me and said “I hope you’ll wear something more useful tomorrow”. After a day being shown all over the very large unconditioned plant on a hot day in June, I quickly bought khakis and polos. There is great advice in dressing for the job you want, but sometimes you really do have to dress for the job you have.

  68. Fusebox

    one page resume??

    Interesting. Id like to know what the stats are for people getting interviews with one page resumes.

    3 pages is probably more appropriate.

  69. Reviews of my book, hooray » Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk

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  70. JibberJobber Blog » Blog Archive » Book Review: Brazen Careerist - The New Rules For Success

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  71. Jason Alba

    Ramit, you have an amazingly talented readership – awesome comments!

    Here’s my best career story, in the making. I got laid off in Jan 2006 and began my very first job search (I had always networked into jobs and never “had to” look). After a few weeks I realized that personal, job seeker CRM was something needed and I couldn’t find it anywhere.

    So I set out to make it ( and it is being recommended by career experts across the globe. I always knew I wanted to own my own business but didn’t know that ugly unemployment would be the thing that finally took me to business ownership.

    It’s been gratifying and vindicating at the same time.

    Jason Alba
    CEO –

  72. Line

    I have a story to share that actually happened yesterday. I have a friends who after graduating got restless looking and waiting for the right job and instead started working at the sales department in a phone company. She didn’t enjoy it at all, but stayed there for two years since she found it harder and harder to find time to look for other jobs, and she had a steady paycheck coming in – but she really wanted something more challenging. Her work place opened up a copywriting position that they wanted to full up through recruiting internally , and she applied for it. She is a really nice person, but she didn’t have any real qualifications in the area. Yet they called her in for a follow up interview. Yesterday she found out that she got the job, and triple the salary of what she got in the sales/support department. She finally got her dream job, and I know that she will make it. The reason why she got it is partly because she is a positive person that you want to be around, but the secret was that she used the sales skills she got from her current, boring sales job. So, she literally sold herself to this position. I’m happy for her, although somewhat jealous – I’m still looking for my first job!