Thursday, March 3, 2011

Career Advice from the Unemployed - Part 1

What’s that, you might be thinking? Take career advice from someone who’s unemployed? Who do you think you are, Charlie Sheen? Look, it sounds crazy but I wanted to lay out what I’ve learned from my failed job searching of the past year. Learn from my wisdom. But mostly, just hire me, please?

  1. “No One Cares About Your Career But Your Mom...and You” - Carol Bartz (
I just recently picked up this little tidbit that helpfully summarized the truth it took me a while to learn. A few months ago I was reading a career book that suggested you should set up networking lunch meetings with people working in the field you’re interested in. What kind of blithely overly optimistic wacky tobacco was that person smoking when they wrote that? Here’s the truth. People are busy. And most people are selfish. Some are openly so, but others are in denial about this. In this economy (ha right it’s getting better?) the people who are established in their field don’t really care about helping others, and those who are becoming established and might want to help don’t because they’re worried about their own jobs and don’t want the competition. So, that pretty much leaves you. And your Mom. I guess the basic lesson I drew from this is: unless a relative’s name appears somewhere in the title of the business/firm/etc. you alone have to make everything happen. Or not. You could play on the internet all day.

    2. “Just Get Your Foot In the Door!” What door?
I’ve heard this one at least 1,196,493 times (the number of Twitter followers @charliesheen has at the time of writing). It’s like everyone is running around with an undiagnosed disease that makes them see doors everywhere. And they all happen to be open just wide enough for a foot to fit in. Here’s the reality: entry level jobs either don’t exist or exist purely to suck you dry and kill your soul. And I’m not talking about this in a pseudo-Jeff Bridges hippie hipster anti-consumerism way, like “yeah man, corporations rule the world, man, man”. I mean it in all seriousness. Starting out, you are totally expendable. You have no training or experience. In short, they don’t need you. By that I mean, they need someone to do whatever menial task is out there, but they don’t need YOU to do it. And being valuable is all about being needed. Without a specialization, without having a niche in such a way that NO ONE ELSE can do something exactly as well as you can, you don’t matter. Your name will fade from water cooler gossip faster than Charlie Sheen wins (sorry can’t help myself!).

    3. “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.” Absolutely True.
Saying this as humbly as I can, because I’m just a schmuck like everybody else,  I would say I’m on the more educated side of the spectrum. I’ve had some amazing opportunities to attend some great schools, for which I’m truly grateful. I’m an avid reader of “The New York Times” (a major news publication you might have heard of...sorry of which you might have heard). I would probably do pretty well on Jeopardy and Cash Cab, based on my track record playing from home. But you know what? Nobody cares. Seriously, no one cares about any of the general stuff you know, your familiarity with current events, or your critical thinking skills developed by a liberal arts education. Why doesn’t anyone care? Because knowing the thesis of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism doesn’t help make anyone money. It might help make me money if I was worried about my salvation, but by itself knowing that fact doesn’t put a dime in anyone’s coffers. Employers don’t really value critical thinking skills because the more people think, as independent thinkers, the more threat there is to the corporate ethos and to management, which is bad for you. In addition, knowing stuff generally doesn’t help when it comes to knowing how to do specific things, which I guess is what a job is. The main point here is, lots of people are smart and work hard, but not a lot of people have the connections necessary to get in on the superb cronyism and nepotism running rampant in corporate America and the government. So get out there and start ingratiating yourself to powerful, important people. If you see a Mercedes in a parking lot, just start washing and waxing it. Whoever owns it will thank you profusely, albeit nervously, right before they call the cops.

Well, that’s all for now, but check back for more posts in this series! Also, get to work you lazy bums! No more government handouts!


  1. I often wonder how certain jobs ever get filled. Nobody ever says "I want to change old people's diapers when I grow up" or "I wanna take phone calls from angry customers in a cubicle all day." We can't all do what we want to do. But out of necessity, there are plenty of people willing to do mediocre or disagreeable stuff for a living. Which makes the attachment of career to identity all the more preposterous. After a while, you get used to that permanent "WTF am I" state, even after you get a job.

    I spent a long time after college wondering what I was supposed to do. I think most people do. I wanted one of those expendable foot-in-the-door kinda things you mentioned... Just lemme start and I'll show you I can push a pencil as well as the next guy. And when I finally got one of those jobs, I was miserable. Enough to take a huge pay cut and go back to summer camp. Which was awesome. I've gotten to do some pretty cool stuff not having a career, and it led to a pretty cool job. Er, life.

  2. Thanks, Jim, for the great insights. I totally agree.