Pay attention to your critics — at least some of them


Take a look at my Yahoo! Finance column for this week: 239 people rated it an average of two stars out of five. Which is an improvement, because yesterday the average was one star. Also, there are 94 comments, which can be fairly represented by the one that I copy and paste here:

“I think this writer will need to be looking for another job soon.”

This is what I do with negative comments like those. I look for someone who really understands what I’m doing and still doesn’t like it. Those people will give constructive criticism. I don’t always have to follow it, but it’s good to listen to, just to hear another perspective besides my own.

The trick to accepting criticism is to figure out who to listen to, by figuring out who is listening to you. Here’s an example of a guy who is listening:

I read your blog.
I found it a remarkable concentration of bad advice.
That’s ok, it was fun to read.
Have a good day
Continue blogging.

It’s really easy for you to decide that everyone doesn’t understand you. I do the opposite. I assume everyone does understand me, and I give them a chance. For example, I get a lot of long emails from human resources managers who are arguing with me. I read every word of those emails in case I can learn something.

If you can’t learn from people who think your work is crap, then you will get stuck. You need to know what you are doing well and what you’re not doing well, who you are reaching and who you aren’t. This will help you shape your career.

When I started writing career advice, i didn’t even understand that I was writing it for younger people until my editor told me that the oldest people at the office thought my advice was nuts. I thought really hard about why they thought I was nuts. And then I turned up the volume on what they hated — because their criticism made me understand what differentiated me in the career advice world.

Of course, some critics (like that voice inside you telling you to give up) are bad bad bad and you have to turn them off. But don’t turn off all criticism: Mine your critics for people who can help you understand what it is that you do well.

22 replies
  1. Sarah Dillon
    Sarah Dillon says:

    Just clicked through to your Yahoo column Penelope – and wasn’t surprised to find it as thought-provoking, well written and informative as most of the stuff on your blog. That’s not to say I’d apply your every word as a hard and fast rule in my life, mind you – but who ever said that that’s what “advice” was about?

    You turn things around and give people another view on things that have become so humdrum and boring that there really doesn’t seem to be any other way of looking at them (usually because a host of so-called experts have piled onto the already oberloaded bandwagon, trotting out the same old, same old, ad nauseum).

    And so often, in the process of turning things around, you say things that other people don’t dare say, but have often wondered about (or worse, have had their heads buried so far up their own behinds they’ve never noticed!)

    So if you upset a few readers, too bad! Keep on with your fantastic attitude, and keep on with your fantastic writing!

  2. Stever
    Stever says:

    Another thing to consider when you’re getting negative comments is what those same people are saying about other people in a similar field.

    I work in tech-support and often get attitude from people because another techie (often from another IOC) didn’t give them the results they hoped for.

    I dug through some of the other articles — and Suze Orman doesn’t even get rated on some of her stuff. The ones that I saw where she did have a rating only had ratings from 70 or so people.

    … so I guess what I’m trying to say is; congratulations on having 239 people that read your article and thought about it enough to rate it.

  3. Carmine Coyote
    Carmine Coyote says:

    I looked at your Yahoo column too, Penelope, and I can’t honestly understand why people would see what you have written there as crap.

    If anything, it looked a little too conventional to me (and I’m 60 years old).

    I’d like to see more advice for career-minded people on how to trust their judgment and sense of their own needs in seeking a job, instead of giving in to all the orthodox rubbish there is in too many career columns about fitting in, being a good team player, showing unfeigned commitment to the company, blah, blah, blah.

    Don’t let the nay-sayers, armchair critics, and assorted jerks of this world get you down.

    I admire your willingness to see what you can learn from them. I mostly ignore the carping idiots.

  4. AJ
    AJ says:

    I have a little saying:

    Every jack*** thinks he is a critic.

    I mean, most of the bad comments are by people who I question their judgement. Like: “I have deliberatly not chosen good candidates because they were job hoppers.”

    Hello, you just said you passed up a good candidate … duh?

    I maybe disagree wtih your #7 point, because I’m also a writer and I know people have Googled me, but I think it’s a good column! Last week I got a new job – I wrote them a short proposal of what I could do for the company. It took me an hour or two, not a week.

    Most people can’t move outside their own experience. Your column probably didn’t apply to these naysayers, but they can’t fathom that it might be useful to others.

  5. august
    august says:

    Your blog tends to remind me of what I don’t want my life to be like. The exception to this is when you talk about your family; then you come alive and sound like somebody real.
    I can’t remember why I subscribed to your feed and I usually skim your posts, especially when you have a list! The lists are terrible.

    But the post about finally writing those thank you notes to the doctors… Well, that’s what keeps me subscribed.

    * * * * * * * *

    Now this is a piece of criticism I take seriously.  A lot of people tell me I should write more about myself. (Except my mom. She is always worried people will know too much….) So I will do that more. August, thanks for sticking with me through the posts that you don’t like.


  6. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    One other interesting lesson that I think exists from the critiques of your Yahoo column is now people will hone in on one thing they disagree with and write off the whole article and author.

    There were ten(?) pieces of advice. Most I agree with; one I didn’t (the not-worrying-about-typos-in-the-resume item). But I keep thinking about that one and running arguments through my head about why I disagree. I’m guessing that some of the one-line critics fell into the same camp.

    I now can’t remember the other advice which I recall agreeing with.

    This is probably human nature. You remember what stimulates you — good or bad.

    It is also the impact of saying provocative things — which in certain circumstances can be good. Sometimes there is no such thing as bad publicity. Everyone is thinking about what Penelope Trunk said.

    * * * * * *


    This reminds me of study I read that when people meet you, initially they remember most clearly what they don’t like about you. I guess it’s the same with columns :)


  7. Mary
    Mary says:

    I’m really intrigued that so many people would take the time to comment, and some so passionately. Why did it strike such a nerve?

    I looked through the comments, and the most constructive one I saw was that your advice was generally good, but some of the headers didn’t accurately reflect what you were suggesting to do. They seemed a little–oooh, inflammatory!

    That struck a nerve because our firm’s design for a big installation in Columbus Center touting the wonderful world of Time Warner Cable has the title “Home to the Future”, an idea our client wanted to push even though the technology they wanted to show was things you can do today. Mis-titling our installation has got us pretty soundly mocked in New York Magazine.

    As far as the not worrying about typos advice, I took that to mean don’t waste your time worrying about it if you discover you have a typo after you send your resume. I’m all for that–although I would be concerned with more than 2.

    I was working on a proposal for my firm to get a project for a big college basketball association. I decided to end the thing with a wink to our client–“working with you would be a slam dunk”. Weeks after the thing was sent out, the project manager who was preparing for the presentation/interview came up to me and said “working with you would be a slam duck?” Well, all I could do was laugh. I put duck instead of dunk. So sue me. P.S. We got the multi-million dollar job despite the duck.

    * * * * * *

    Ooohh. This is very interesting about New York Magazine. I actually love this magazine. So, to hear that they dissed someone for a misleading headline makes me think I need to be really careful.Mary, I’d say sorry about the bad press, but, as Wendy writes above, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And now, look, my whole blog community knows about the wonderful world of Time Warner Cable. You could only get that opportunity with some bad press :)


  8. Vidya
    Vidya says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I went over and read your column and also left my comment.

    The reaction seems very vehement. You have a fun informal style of writing – which is what draws a lot of readers to you. But it seems like the readership in yahoo finance is looking for more “traditional” stuff. I was suprised.

    One weird thing is that comments are not updating out there. The last comment is from February 1st. I don’t know if that’s a system glitch or a job that runs every night.

  9. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    My thought is this: if you weren’t writing something that resonated with people, even perhaps in a way they’re not entirely comfortable with, they wouldn’t bother to comment at all. There are plenty of writers who put their stuff out there and get no response – because no one’s reading and no one cares. Also, the whole point of the Internet today is to facilitate a two-way dialogue and the sharing of information between members of a community. In that vein, I bet Yahoo! considers your column a smashing success.

    I believe you’re doing the right thing by looking for the nuggets of constructive criticism you can use, Penelope. Smile and nod at the people who are angry because you’ve struck a nerve, or are complaining because they long to be heard in the way that you are.

  10. Mitchell York
    Mitchell York says:

    My suggestion is NOT to read the comments on Yahoo. I remember the days when I used to follow stock boards on Yahoo and the common denominator of most commenters was their incredibly low level of intelligence about the subject, the English language, etc. I think the only thing that matters is the number of people reading your column. If they don’t get something out of it, they’ll stop reading. As long as your numbers are growing you are being successful.

  11. Liz
    Liz says:

    I think that what people don’t understand yet about your column on Yahoo is that you are giving advice not just to “get a job” but to get a career, and enjoy your career. That’s why I enjoy your blog and now your columns.
    Case in point–the job hopper advice. Clearly someone interviewing you will think twice about you if they see a lot of job hopping. But what I understand from what you wrote is that jobhopping is very common so probably won’t be the dealbreaker for the prospective employer, but makes the difference to you between finding the job you love and just a job.
    I do think that your column is more relevant at certain points of the career cycle (like starting out, or changing fields) than others (late career folks, retirement). And not everyone will be comfortable applying all your tips. At least they are thought-provoking.

  12. Stefani Quane at Lawlady, Inc.
    Stefani Quane at Lawlady, Inc. says:

    I think your writing is fabulous. I think you are fresh and enjoyable to read. I guess you appeal to a 43 year old single female who struggles with finding the right voice for her blog. Yours makes me feel more comfortable with mine. Thank you.

    Stefani writing at

  13. Frank Knight
    Frank Knight says:

    I clicked through to your Yahoo! Finance article about career advice on a lark expecting to find the usual poor advice. I was amazed by your intuitive ‘counterintuitive’ writing.

    And yes, it is certainly generational. Older people are horrified by the lack of modern structure in the workplace.

    I was so disgusted with watching clock watchers get promoted by foresaking their families 14 hours every day. Penning people in together for 10 hour work days cuases such a waste of resources and lives but that will soon be a thing of the past.

    I left my corporate career to write a novel [due out this June] and help with my wife’s web business: as a result of the ‘old rules’ and the red tape involved with accomplishing simple tasks.

    One thing that you may wish to note is that change is the only constant and those able to adapt are happier and make more money than those who sweat the ‘bad rules’.

  14. Tim
    Tim says:

    I think what got people so riled up about your column is that they are frustrated when they run into people in the real world that seem to have followed your advice! I’m a corporate recruiter (yes, yes, I know) and I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to look and look for that perfect candidate that has all the qualifications that the hiring manager is demanding and running into the kind of people that follow your advice. If I see a resume with the right kind of experience but that person hasn’t stayed in any job for more than 18 months if drives me crazy because I know the hiring manager wouldn’t ever consider that candidate. If they would just show a little commitment and professionalism they might get the job. I have even corrected spelling errors on resumes before passing them on to hiring manangers because I knew that they would otherwise get sent to the trash can. Most people seem to think that recruiters are grumpy gate keepers that deny you access to hiring managers that you are sure would love you. That is NOT the case. We are measured on how many people we hire. We WANT to hire you. Stop giving us reasons not to.

  15. Tony
    Tony says:

    Ditto on your advice. As a late twenties male I still haven’t decided what to be when I grow up. I guess the guys with the gold that make the rules haven’t figured out that we are on to them. After twenty years with a company you have nothing to show for it. Folks get layed off for the sake of the bottom dollar. I happen to be in a job I love, after four years pay plans have changed and I am making less now than when I started. Forced to look for a new job…..enough ranting Great advice keep up the good work

    Tony Gonzales

  16. Pamela Slim
    Pamela Slim says:

    Penelope, you are a better woman than I am! I would have been curled up in a corner in a fetal position instead of objectively analyzing the merits of the comments.

    What irks me is not that people disagree, but how they choose to challenge and question the advice. I don’t know why our society is so bent on saying things like “the worst advice EVER … etc.” instead of rationally pointing out where they disagree and respecting your opinions.

    All I can say is, THANK GOD I don’t work in the halls of the corporations where 10 year job stints, no gap of more than 3 days between jobs and perfection at the cost of humanity is the norm. Yuck.

    Keep on trucking, and congratulations for setting a good example for dealing with criticism gracefully. Most would never take the risks that you do, and reach as many readers the world around.

  17. Allison Williams
    Allison Williams says:

    I’ve been a theatre professor, and in advising students for auditions, I often say, “If you have a great monologue, and you feel it shows you well, and you’ve gotten good feedback on it from people you trust, trust your instincts. And if a director looks at you and says, ‘Why did you pick that piece, it’s terrible’, then count your lucky stars that you’re not going to end up working with someone who doesn’t have the same aesthetic you do, and can’t find a better way to inspire you about their aesthetic.”

    Yes, we should absolutely pay attention to criticism, especially when it’s someone who understands but doesn’t agree, or when it’s someone whose work we admire or respect. But both your work here and your column over at Yahoo suggest that for young people – or anyone who has initiative and ideas and drive – it can be just as valuable to weed out employers with fuddy-duddy habits as to get called in for an interview with a firm you’re not a good match for.

    Is it harder to get a job when you’re not playing by the old rules? Often, yes. But if you’re truly motivated to do something new and fresh and different, it can be worth working harder to get the job you really want, who look at something like job-hopping and say, “What will you bring to us in your first 18 months, and how will you leave your successor clear instructions?”

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