Learn about nice from Paris Hilton
We all know that networking is the way to build a career. It’s the how-to that’s so difficult. Today, most of the advice about networking says: Be nice, and people will be nice back. And, building a network helps a career because you can ask for a favor when you need one. But you can’t call in favors if you’re not giving them out all the time.

Chartreuse has a great post on this topic: Why Paris Hilton is Famous: Understanding value in a post-Madonna world.” Paris Hilton is the queen of giving out favors. She understands the value of passing along information. So she builds her business (herself) by giving out favors (publicity). You need to do something similar in your career. Like Paris, your job is to network: be nice, give people information they want, do favors whenever you can. That’s what networking is.

Job hunters, choose networking over keyword optimization
Here’s a little reminder that you probably won’t get a job by emailing your resume to a large human resources department. The article, Sorry, no one’s reading that resume you sent, describes the automation of the corporate hiring process. Bottom line: It’s very automated.

One of my most popular columns was 6 tips for job hunting online. This is because sitting at your computer trying to figure out how to get past someone else’s computer is less stressful than connecting with real people to build a network. But really, you’re better off spending your time building a network than optimizing the keywords on your resume. When you have a network of people you’ve already helped, someone will push your resume past the automation process.

Two tidbits about etiquette
I think I’m pretty good about workplace etiquette, which, by the way, is everywhere etiquette, because the bottom line in etiquette is be considerate everywhere. But there are some times that I falter.

Geoffrey Fowler writes in CareerJournal how annoying it is when someone in the US says to someone working outside the US, “What time is it there, anyway?” I confess to having done this before. But I won’t do it again.

Another rule I have broken: Asking the unanswerable question via email. Guy Kawasaki wrote a funny and insightful post about this problem:

“Do not fabricate unanswerable questions… the open-ended question that is so broad it should be used in a job interview at Google. For example, ‘What do you think of the RIAA lawsuits?’ ‘What kind of person is Steve Jobs?’ ‘Do you think it’s a good time to start a company?’ My favorite ones begin like this: ‘I haven’t given this much thought, but what do you think about…?’ In other words, the sender hasn’t done much thinking and wants to shift responsibility to the recipient. Dream on.”

This is a piece I wrote for the new leadership section at Forbes.com.

Of course a good education and talent are keys to building a successful career, but for most people, school is over and the parameters of their talent were set on the day they were born. So what can you do now to get ahead? Get a mentor. In fact, get a stable of mentors for guidance on multiple aspects of your career.

“Executives who have had mentors have earned more money at a younger age,” writes Gerard Roche, senior chairman at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Additionally, his research shows “those who have had mentors are happier with their career progress and derive greater pleasure from their work.” The majority of executives had mentors in their first five years of their career.

But finding a mentor is not easy. For a lucky few, mentors can be found through a privileged network of relatives, family friends or your parents’ business associates. For everyone else, the search requires patience, a clear focus and the self-confidence to be a nudge. “Not everyone can depend on nepotism,” says Alisyn Camerota, New York-based correspondent for Fox News. “I got where I am by turning reluctant people into active mentors.”

The easiest way to create allies is to build a reputation as an overachiever. That’s what Camerota did during an internship early on in her career at a Washington, D.C. —based news bureau. After earning the respect of her boss throughout the summer, she came to rely on her for advice and support. Eventually Camerota felt empowered enough to walk into her office and say, “My internship ends in a week and I don’t have a job. Can I have all your contacts?” She said yes. Camerota copied the whole Rolodex onto a legal pad by hand and cold called the contacts until someone agreed to interview her. Those calls later led to a full-time job.

Mentors aren’t just important for those starting out. They’re essential to rising through the ranks, too. “Obtaining a mentor is an important career development experience for individuals. Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within the organization (i.e., get promoted more quickly and earn higher salaries), and report more job and career satisfaction,” says Lillian Eby, professor of applied psychology at the University of Georgia.

As Camerota’s career progressed, she realized her main goal was to be a broadcast journalist. More specifically, she wanted to be in front of the camera. But for two years, she was stuck behind the scenes for America’s Most Wanted. That changed when Lance Heflin, the shows executive producer, became her mentor.

Camerota’s tactic of working hard and asking specific questions made Heflin aware that she was coach-able and focused on her career, attributes that attract the best sort of mentor. So by the time Camerota asked Heflin to help her get on-camera, he told her that if she was willing to do the work, he would help.

Camerota spent the next six months making terrible tapes. Heflin’s coaching started with her appearance: “Do not wear green ever again. Do you ever see people wearing green on TV?” Then he moved to more nuanced tips: “Treat the camera like it’s your friend,” he told her. And he showed her a tape from a broadcaster he liked, walking through a house as he talked to the camera, making the audience feel like they were right there with him.

The duo went through countless such show and tell sessions. And every now and then, Heflin would say, “Stop. Rewind.” And he’d go back to where Camerota smiled at someone or looked at the camera and raised an eyebrow. “That’s where you threw a nickel through the screen,” Which was his way of saying, “Something came alive here.” You can’t ask for advice like that. You have to inspire it.

Camerota’s hard work and raw talent earned her an outstanding mentor who devoted a large amount of time and energy to showing her how to become a television reporter. Keep your eyes open for someone who loves to help people grow.

There are more of those people than you’d think and they may need you, too. “Both mentors and protégés report benefiting from mentoring relationships,” writes Eby. Make your move now. Test the waters with a few people who seem like they might be good mentors. Ask specific questions, and heed the advice. You might find you get more than you asked for.

It’s hard to find a list of large, stable companies with good perks that will let you tour with your rock band once a month. So here is a very useful list with a very bad title: 100 best companies for working moms. For one thing, the title is insulting to dads. But also, these companies have qualities that apply to a much broader spectrum of workers than just parents.

Things like flextime, stable paycheck and good insurance plan are actually hard to come by and are also great for someone like Bill Hewett, a guy I interviewed a while back who had been in a rock band for years living without insurance and needed to get his diabetes under control but didn’t want to give up his music.

It is no secret that most workers want a job that accommodates their personal life. And it is no secret that people like stability in their lives. Sure there is a huge trend toward entrepreneurship, but many people, like surfer Matt Rivers, are starting their own companies so they can live the life they want.

This is a list of companies that might allow you to live that life without having to accept the instability of starting your own company. This is a list for people like yoga maven Sarah Kenny who focus on a passion that is necessarily outside of their work.

So take a look: You don’t need to have kids, you just need to have a dream.

What’s the problem with most managers? They are so involved in getting their own tasks done that they fail to manage. Bruce Tulgan writes that undermanagement is an epidemic, and Adecco reports that half of American workers think their managers don’t take performance reviews seriously.

Continue this behavior at your own risk. The Financial Times (subscription) says:

“Generation Y grew up rating peers’ physical attributes, pop culture creations, teachers’ style and grading practices, and products. No surprise, then, that there are websites drawing decent traffic for people to rate their bosses, their clients, and their customers. The tone of online commentary is often racy and retaliatory.”

I was not able to find any of these sites. Leave it to the Financial Times to tease us with this information and provide no links. But still, you’d better Google your name right now, just to make sure your underlings haven’t started rating (or berating) you.

Hat tip: James in the UK

Jenn Satterwhite has been ranting in my comments section, which has made me very happy. She is bringing up difficult issues and she is making me nervous about posting responses. This seems good.

One thing Jenn brought up is that she wishes women would stop arguing among each other about the stay-at-home vs. career issues. I think Jenn imagines a very supportive environment where everyone makes a decision that is best for them.

I imagine an environment where it’s okay to rip each other to shreds.

Here’s why: Back in 1994 when I was writing about myself online before everyone else started, American Book Review asked me to review online writing. In my review I stated that most of the writing sucked. The editor told me that you can’t trash people who are on the forefront. “They are trying something new,” he said. “Be kind.” So I found nice things to say about generally tiresome writing.

Today, everyone is an online writer and criticism runs rampant. Similarly, in the 1970s it would have been completely uncalled for to throw stones at a female CEO. and today, throwing stones at Carly Fiorina is progress.

We will have more progress when we can throw stones at moms who make decisions we don’t agree with. For example, there is some point at which a high-powered, dual-career, nanny-run family is treading on neglect. Let’s mark that point and start throwing stones. Who is protecting the kids? Who is protecting society? Stone throwers. So take a stand.

I will be happy when the war is not between stay-at-home moms and working moms but between parents who refuse to put up with neglect and those who convince themselves it’s okay. In a world where men and women are sharing care and creating careers that accommodate family, this will be a genderless discussion with bombs exploding. That’s what I want to see.

Henry Kasdon learned to break dance on his mom's tennis court. Now he's a dance teacher who is astute enough about marketing to change the names of moves from the Brooklyn to the Brookline. He is a successful dancer; he's getting ready to switch careers to trial law. “I want my kids to be taken care of,” he says. Not that he has any now, but Kasdon is a man with a plan.

The odds are, recent college grads will be working for the next fifty years. That's a long time. No one expects to stay in the same job for fifty years, and probably not even the same career. So why not have a starter career before you get down to the business of making enough money to buy a home or raise a family?

A starter career is similar to a starter marriage but without the pain of divorce. Pamela Paul, author of Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, says, “Once you're at the end of a starter marriage, you realize all your mistakes, misperceptions and false expectations that you had, and you can make better decision next time.” And the same is true for careers. Pick a starter career with the best of intentions, but be ready to learn from your shortcomings to make the second one even better.

A starter career is serious business. This is not a McJob to pay the bills. You might need one of those in your life, but a McJob is not a conscious, career decision so much as an acknowledgement that starving is painful. A starter career aims to accomplish something; otherwise you're just spinning your wheels, biding time.

A starter career should have meaning to you. Sonja Lyubomirsky, assistant professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside, describes meaningful work as a job that meets a core goal. “People have important goals that come from inside themselves, for example personal growth, community or relationships. Jobs that allow you to meet intrinsic goals will lead to more happiness.”

Kasdon is audibly elated when he describes how he's grown as a dancer and how he has helped other people to learn, which is what makes his dancing a starter career rather than just a sideshow to pay bills.

It should be too risky to do later. Barbara Reinhold, director of the Executive Education for Women program at Smith College, generally recommends that if you can squelch your spending, you should make some money before you launch a low-paying career; if nothing else, creative juices work better when they are not diverted to financial crises. But in many cases, there is no time to wait. For Kasdon, we're talking knees. A break dancing career will not be available to him physically later in life. For others, like math rockers, the cool factor precludes breakout success as a forty-year-old, so you should get out your CD earlier than that.

Paul says that most starter marriages are to college sweethearts. Read: Married for love and not earning potential. And that's what you should be thinking with your starter career. The money can come later — the second time around. Jason Cole, managing director of Abacus Wealth Partners, a national financial planning firm, says when asked about people in their twenties: “We encourage people to pursue their passions. They'll have a lot of years to earn money. Sure you'll lose something by forgoing the ability to put money away, but you need to balance what is most important to you.” (Savor these words because you will not qualify for any more advice from Abacus Wealth Partners until your net worth reaches $1 million.)

You might think a starter career is risky, but there are dangers to taking time to make some money before you do what you love. Reinhold warns that a good paying career straight out of the gate leads to “golden handcuff syndrome”. She writes that, “You have to be careful not to grow your tastes with your income”? anesthetic spending is the phenomenon where you spend and spend to try to forget that the lucrative work you’re doing doesn’t really fit you.”

For those of you not totally convinced of the financial genius of a starter career, take solace in the fact that even if you don't begin saving for retirement until you're 25, you'll be ten years ahead of the average baby boomer.

I write a lot about how people have to be likeable to get what they want in life. I get so frustrated, though, because everyone thinks they are likeable. Maybe to their dog, yes, but in my experience most people are not nearly as likeable as they think they are.

I thought of this because I was reading a list of five tips to be likeable:

1. Be positive
2. Control your insecurities
3. Provide value
4. Eliminate all judgments
5. Become a person of conviction

And I thought, this is a great list. I should put it on my blog. Then I thought, forget it. People will read the list and think they have all these qualities and then move on. But don’t do that.

The problem is that the most unlikeable people are the most clueless so they are the least able to become more likeable. Harvard Business Review ran a whole issue on incompetence (via Ben Casnocha) and the conclusion is, among other things, the incompetent don’t know they are incompetent.

So here’s an idea that can apply to likeable and unlikeable people while avoiding the uphill battle of getting the unlikeable to confess: Find the item on the list that is your weak point and force yourself to get better at it. No one is equally good at all five things. Improve on one. Taziana Cascario, professor at Harvard, does research in this area, and she told me that the biggest barrier to being likeable is not caring. So just pick something on the list and improve on it and stop analyzing whether or not people like you.

I am going to improve on number four by being less judgmental. After all, I just wrote a whole post about the misguided-and-unlikeable and how much they annoy me.

I interviewed Gloria Steinem. She’s promoting her new undertaking, GreenStone Media, a radio station founded by women for women. There were nine bloggers on the call with me and we each got to ask a question.

During the interview I was routinely sidetracked by:

a) Gloria Steinem is the revolutionary we talk about when we talk about feminism. She is huge. I felt incredibly honored to be talking to her.

b) The other nine bloggers are huge. Not huge like Gloria Steinem, but huge like smart writing and big audience and I was dying to know what they were thinking about the call.

c) Emily Rice put the call together, and she identified ten top bloggers across blogging genres — tricky to do. Rice will generate publicity for GreenStone Media in an area that would have been hard to reach. I think she is a publicity genius and I got sidetracked thinking about ways to become her friend.

Here’s what happened on the call. The women asked very interesting questions, and Gloria gave very interesting answers. But the two were not particularly related.

Here are examples. (I am paraphrasing in places. If you need to hear the whole interview, here it is) :

Q: (From Catherine Connors) In your keynote speech you say that women want less conflict on radio. One of the criticisms of the mommy bloggers is there’s too much camaraderie. It’s too rah rah and we don’t disagree nearly enough.

A: (From Gloria, of course) People complain about the Oprafication of media. I think, if only the media were as good as Oprah we’d be in a different world. There is such a premium on agreement that we forget to tell the truth. There really can’t be community if it doesn’t include the freedom to say what we feel.

See what I mean? Catherine brings up an interesting topic that is very this-moment. And Gloria says some inspiring stuff that would have been an equally good answer to fifty questions people asked twenty years ago.

Q: (From me) In your keynote speech you say women are reading more than men and getting more college degrees than men. You say it like that’s a positive. But right now girls are working much harder than boys in high school and in college and it seems to me like a trickle down from women doing more work than men everywhere else. Do you see this as a problem?

A: Women need to ask themselves the revolutionary question, Is this really what I want to do?.. When mediocre women do as well as mediocre men, then I’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

Again, I bring up a topic that is very current, and Gloria gives an answer that spans decades. So this is one reason why Gloria is an amazing figure in history; the answers she’s been giving to the media for the last twenty years still resonate. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a press conference with some political figure who is sticking to talking points.

So for a minute, let me move past Gloria Steinem and GreenStone Media.

I want to tell you about the women on the call. I love their blogs because they are so honest and well written. I loved that each of us was so nervous and excited about talking to Gloria, and each of us was so eager to hear what the others would ask.

But, when you get a group of women together, the stay-at-home moms separate from the career moms. So it’s no surprise that the moms divided here, too.

Jenn Satterwhite, said, “If you are a mommy blogger you’re written off.” This is true. Many women dread working in an all-women space. And I personally have lost a job giving career advice right after I wrote about being pregnant. (“You should write for a working mom magazine,” my editor told me.)

So it did not surprise me that when Pamela Slim spoke she made sure to tell Gloria that her blog focuses on entrepreneurship, not parenting. And when I got on the phone, I said I write about work and parenting only as it relates to work. I said this because I would never, ever want to be called a mommy blogger. I’d lose half my readers.

But let me tell you something. While I was distancing myself from the mommy bloggers, I did something only a mom would do: built a fortress in my bedroom so that my kids wouldn’t bug me on the call; I had a mattress against the door to muffle screams and a dresser against the mattress to keep the door shut.

So in the end, we have a snapshot of women’s media in the new millennium: There is a group of bloggers asking contentious questions from the media’s edge. And there is Gloria Steinem, representing the establishment, and giving seasoned and wise but measured answers in an effort to promote her burgeoning radio empire. And while Gloria is marketing her conflict-free radio station, the bloggers are doing what they do best, celebrating conflict, even within ourselves.

Here’s the list of bloggers:
Catherine Connors, Her Bad Mother
Ingrid Wiese, Three New York Women
Jenn Satterwhite, Mommy Needs Coffee
K Smith, Almost Literally
Kristen Chase, Motherhood Uncensored
Leah Peterson, Leah Peah
Liz Gumbinner, Mom 101
Pam Slim, Escape from Cubicle Nation
Sarah Brown, Que Sera Sera

I want to take on one intern for the fall semester. I say semester, though you don’t need to be in college.

My motivation is two-fold. Of course, I want to offload stuff I don’t like to do on someone who might like to do it. But also, I want to mentor someone (see my bit on that in the post below). And I want to have conversations with someone about the topics I write about and should write about. The internship will be a great learning experience, but it will not be a great financial experience: unpaid.

If you don’t know that much about what I do, you can get an idea here.

Here’s what you will do that will be fun:

1. Learn to write a column.
You can author one of my columns, with my help, which will give you a byline in multiple publications.

2. Learn to make money from blogging.
Many of my blog entries are syndicated in print. I’ll help you to write one or two blog entries that can be picked up by my syndicate.

3. Get focus and traction in your career.
I’ll help you get to the next step in your career. My job is to figure out what people should do next in their careers and then write about it. I will take a lot of time to help you figure out your next step is. We can develop the skills you need and use my contacts to help you get there.

Here’s what you’ll do that I hate to do myself:

1. Research.
Here is the type of stuff I’d like you to help me find:
People who will talk about hunches that I have.
Academics who are publishing new research about business.
Trends at the intersection of business and personal life.

2. Basic changes on my blog and web site.
This is really annoying work that I don’t like to do, like delete spam, fix typos, find relevant links. I’ll split it with you, so that we both acknowledge that no job is all fun and games.

I’d like you to work 12 hours a week. Five of those hours will be you writing and me helping you. You can work whatever hours you want, from wherever you live. That said, if you live near me — Madison, Wisc. — you will get preference, because it’s fun to have lunch with people you work with.

If you’re interested, please send an email to penelope@penelopetrunk.com.

One of my best experiences as a mentor was when I inherited an IT department where the average age was 18. There were many men and one woman and no leaders. I sniffed around for who might be good at what in preparation for a departmental reorg. The woman, Sari, looked homeless at best, a drug addict at worst.

I started taking steps to fire her, but she kept turning in the best work each week. So when I met with her alone, I asked her a little bit about her situation — what does she want to do, what sort of experience does she have.

It took only a little prodding for her to tell me that she was 16 and a high school dropout and she ran away from home. I made it my mission to get her back into school. I gave her responsibilities that she would succeed at to show her that she was smart and capable. For months, I met with her each week: She told me that her family had drug and alcohol problems; I told her if she would look like she could command authority then I could make her a supervisor. Miraculously, almost overnight, she had a new haircut and a new wardrobe.

After two promotions, Sari gained enough self-confidence from work to apply to college two years later. I couldn't have been more proud writing a recommendation. Today Sari is a rising star in the software industry. And while she always thanks me for helping her to get back on solid footing, I am always thankful to her for teaching me how much we can do for each other, even in the workplace. Sari single-handedly gave my work meaning.