Straight Talk About Your Career

People place a premium on being positive. That extends to career advice. As a result, I believe that important negative statements go unsaid. I’ll remedy that here.

Many people fail to land a good job because they’re lazy, yes lazy. Psychotherapists may make those people feel better by labeling their laziness “fear of failure” or blaming it on their good-for-nothing parents, but I’ve concluded that most of the time, the core reason people don’t land a good job is laziness. Ask yourself honestly: Have you worked hard enough to find a good job?

Networking isn’t for everyone. Yes, 2/3 of jobs are acquired by networking. But most of those are obtained by natural-born schmoozers or by already well-employed people who network their way into even better jobs. If you’re currently not well-employed or tend to not be instantly likeable, and especially if your network is small and unlikely to help you, you could end up homeless before networking lands you a job. Focus your job search on finding lots of on-target ads to answer and doing a great job of answering them.

Procrastination is career cancer. You may have first acquired the habit of procrastinating in school. You waited until the last minute to do an assignment or study for a test, the adrenaline rush motivated you, and lo and behold, you got a good grade. Soon, you became dependent on the adrenaline to get you through an assignment.

But there’s no grade inflation in the real world. Procrastination is career cancer. If you must do a task, please start it as soon as it’s assigned. Be aware of the moment of truth: when you’re deciding, consciously or unconsciously, whether to start the task or procrastinate. If you say you’ll start it later, chances are you won’t until the last minute, at which point, you probably won’t have time to do a quality job.

When you reach a hard part, struggle for no more than 15 seconds. The odds are that additional struggling won't help. At the 15-second mark, decide to get help, to come back to it later, or that there’s a way to complete the task without doing the hard part. People tend to procrastinate hard tasks because they fear they’ll never figure out that hard part—that’s agonizing. The 15-second struggle technique makes tough tasks less painful.

Owning a home with a big mortgage usually hurts your life more than it helps. It often forces you into a career that pays well to compensate for its not being intrinsically rewarding. Spending a lifetime in an unrewarding career usually hurts your life more than a nice house helps it.

Unless you’re smart, driven, and well-connected, do what is commonly loved (e.g., the arts, media, biotech, fashion) and you risk starvation. If you’re a more average person and your passion is commonly held, do what you love as a hobby.

Higher education is America’s most overrated product. Yes, if you do school much better than you do life, school may be your best bet for career enhancement, but other people should avoid a long back-to-school stint. Consider foregoing State U let alone Private U for You U: a combination of mentorships, articles, books, workshops, and conferences.

The musts for successful self-employment Self-employment makes ever more sense in an era in which you usually must be a star to land a good non-offshoreable job. Self-employment enables you to instantly go from schlepper to CEO. However, to avoid failing you (or your partner) must:

1. Be a self-starter, not a procrastinator.

2. Be smart enough to quickly solve real-world problems.

3. Have a nose for buying low and selling high.

4. Make a good first impression.

Even more important:

5. Keep your business simple: selling one high-profit-margin, not-faddish product or service that requires a small investment. One example: Help website owners drive more traffic to their site.

6. Don’t innovate; replicate. Most innovations fail—at great expense. So, only wealthy individuals and corporations can afford to risk innovation. Most people are wise to copy a successful business in a different location or to buy a franchise. Interview at least a half dozen franchisees before signing on the dotted line.

7. Hire smart, fire early. Put the time into hiring a great person. If, in the first day or two, you sense he or she is not working out, fire the person fast. Significant improvement on the job is rare and each day you wait increases the risk of having to endure a painful wrongful termination suit.

Enough of the negative. Next week, a column in praise of a kind of worker that most people criticize.

© 2007, Marty Nemko

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He is the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in (NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on . 400+ of his published writings are available free on that website and is a co-editor of Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.

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