Ryan and Ryan P found this great test by JT O’Donnell to find out personality type. Of course, we have each taken tons of personality tests, but what I really liked about JT’s test is that it was only twenty questions, and it revealed each of the three of us perfectly.

The test immediately explained why Ryan P is writing posts about how crazy it is to work with me, and I’m writing posts like the one about a rash on his upper thigh. Because really the test lays bare each of our very different ways of operating: Ryan P is an empathizer, I am an energizer and Ryan is a commander. Basically, Ryan P and I are sick of Ryan being a dictator, and now I know why. And Ryan is sick of Ryan P doing nothing, and now I see why – because a commander would never even notice the work of an empathizer.

Also, I have meetings with each of them every day trying to help everyone to get along, and now I know why: I am someone who is always optimistic and I want everyone else to be happy too. Great for blogging, difficult for corralling two ornery twentysomethings who keep calling their parents to get a second opinion on what I say.

When I was in grad school, let me just say right now that I never read a complete book for any class, but that didn’t stop me from having some favorites. And one of them was Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosexual Desire. I read this book for a course about.. um. I can’t actually remember. But each week in this course we watched a Hitchcock movie and then talked about deconstructionism and homosexuality.

So, anyway, this book I loved was about how in the history of English literature, men related to each other through women. Even if the men were not gay, they were often mediated by a woman. I remember thinking to myself that this is such a lame way to function and that only lame women would put up with this position in life. But look, here I am. And actually, it does not feel lame so much as useful.

I can see that I have had this position at work a lot. Men who are getting along at work can talk about football and go to strip clubs together. But men who are not getting along at work do well to put a woman in between them. Women seem to be natural mediators.

Right now is the time when people will start gearing up to write a comment to me about how gender is complicated, and the lines are not so clearly drawn anymore, and I am peddling stereotypes. This might all be true, but I get the temerity to talk about gender lines from danah boyd, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, and my hero when it comes to philosophizing about identity. She found that in the blogosphere, in general, men link to men and women link to women. This is because gender stereotypes are generally right, and men and women are very different.

Okay. So back to my idea that I am the mediator. I don’t mind, because I’m good at it. And I don’t mind that Ryan P doesn’t churn out work really quickly, because he does a lot of things that Ryan and I are not great at, like having the patience to meet with people day after day for long and languishing lunches.

Each of us has strengths. But let’s talk a minute about weaknesses. We each have weaknesses, too. So why don’t we stop trying to work with them? Why not admit the stuff we are not great at and move on? I think a lot of people take a test like JT’s and then ignore the fact that the test reveals what we should NOT be doing as much as what we should be doing.

For example, I should not be making labored decisions where I gather tons of information. I’m not like that. I make fast, gut-level decisions. This is why I was terrible as an account manager in an ad agency: I had to justify every decision to my client and I kept thinking, “Whatever. It’s just my instinct. Please just shut up and trust me.”

You need to recognize what you are not great at, and stop doing it. It will help the people around you to get more work done, and it will help you to perform more like a star.

And for now, I have stopped asking Ryan to have empathy for anyone. And I have stopped asking Ryan P to analyze business models. The act of letting someone work in the area they are strong is such a gift, and of course I want to give that – I’m an energizer.

My son’s I.Q. is in the top .05% of all preschoolers, but he attended preschool in a special education classroom. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism typified by a distinctly high I.Q. and a notable lack of emotional intelligence. Asperger’s is thought to be genetic, and it is surging among kids in places like Silicon Valley, that attract math and tech geniuses who often have sub-par social skills.

We know one boy with Asperger’s who taught himself to read books when he was two years old. Scientists surmise that learning to read books so fast consumes the part of his brain that should be learning to read social cues.

My son’s special education classroom was full of kids like that one — who used to pass through the education system labeled eccentric geniuses, only to graduate having never learned social skills and consequently falter in adulthood.

Today, educators take a child’s lack of social skills seriously. Parents should also. For educators, any nonverbal learning disability (like not being able to tell if someone cares about what you are talking about) is treated as significantly as a verbal learning disability (like not being able to speak.) Yet I am stunned by how many parents brush aside recommendations from educators to get help for their children by saying to themselves, “My child is so smart.”

Smart is not an endgame. Even in a toddler.

To understand why, look to the workplace. After where you go to school, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail. I link to this research all the time, but frankly, if you need research to understand that the people who are best at office politics succeed at the office, then you are missing basic social cues already.

But here’s more evidence: Nine out of ten business schools consider communication and interpersonal skills “highly underrated as a differentiating factor for students,” according to CareerJournal. And Jeff Puzas at PRTM echos a cacophony of workplace voices when he says, “Most of what I do every day as a management consultant has to do with interpersonal skills, not my I.Q.”

And when you think about someone finding his way to success in the real world, consider the Wall St. Journal’s list of the traits that recruiters look for in business school candidates:

Communication and interpersonal skills

Original and visionary thinking

Leadership potential

Ability to work well within a team

Analytical and problem-solving skills

Notice that most of these skills are independent of intelligence. Smart is even less of an endgame for adults than children-and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than prior generations.

So, it’s time for us to stop making excuses for poor social skills and start taking the problem as seriously as educators do. It’s painful for both children and adults who cannot navigate social settings. Kids sit on the sidelines on the playground; adults can’t maintain close relationships. It’s a limited life and it’s limited in the area where people have an inherent need to thrive.

I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger’s – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.

Parents: Stop pretending that your child’s I.Q. matters more than their social skills. Get treatment for your child as soon as a professional recommends it. Respect that the risk of not being able to transition to the work world is significant, and so is the risk of waiting to see if your child will fail despite being brilliant.

Human beings learn social skills best at a very young age, when their brain is still forming. So celebrate that the government provides free training for children lacking social skills by using it. Start studying the playground. Respect what often seems insignificant to parents with small children-diagnoses of speech delay or disorder, and diagnoses of sensory integration, for example. Those issues threaten future development of social skills.

As an adult, one of the hardest parts of having low emotional intelligence is that you don’t realize it. People who are missing the cues have no idea they are missing them. So the most unable often have the least understanding of where they fall in the spectrum.

I’m going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it’s probably because of poor social skills. People who don’t know what they want to do with themselves but have good social skills don’t feel stuck, they feel unsure. People who are lacking social skills feel like they have nowhere to go.

Lost people feel possibilities. Stuck people do not feel possibilities. Ask yourself which you are. And if you feel suck, stop looking outside yourself to solve the problem. You need to change how you interact with people.

Another idea for how to figure out where you fall in the social skills spectrum is to take a self-diagnostic test. Here is one at Wired magazine about Aperger’s, and here is one about emotional intelligence. Or give a test to the people you work with – a 360-degree review will tell you in no uncertain terms if you are being held back because people don’t like you.

Hold it. Did you just say, “If people don’t like me maybe it’s their fault!” Forget it. People with good social skills can get along with just about everyone.

So help your kids to form intimate relationships with peers, and help yourself, too. In fact, as an adult you can learn how to compensate for lack of social skills by watching how schools are teaching the kids to do it.

Pay attention. Because when it comes to our job – no matter what our job is – it’s the relationships that make us happy, not the work. That’s why I.Q. doesn’t matter.

I woke up today with crust all over my left eye: Pinkeye. And on the way to the bathroom I stepped on edible gold-leaf dust for decorating cupcakes. And apparently sometime in the night the cat ate my son’s map of Wisconsin. And threw it up.

At times like this, I wish there was a morning-after type anti-depressant that you could take as sort of an immediate pick me up. I remembered my agent once told me that Advil works that way, once in a while. So I popped a couple.

They did not work. I put antibiotics in my eye and tossed on an old sweatshirt and jeans that are so big they fit like sweat pants. And I headed out the door to go work.

Then I turned around, and went back in the house.

I think people do startups for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we are not even sure what the reasons are until after we get started.

I moved to Wisconsin from New York City a year ago. It was a traumatic move, where we had to leave almost everything we own behind. And there was big culture shock in Madison when we got here.

The way I dealt with the trauma was blogging every day (therapeutic structure to a crazy life) in my pajamas (a nod to the fact that I was working alone and in fundamental disarray).

For the most part, when I had to show up to meet someone somewhere, I would pull things together a bit. Although when Ben Casnocha met me in Madison for breakfast his first comment was, “You don’t look like your photo.” And when I met Rebecca Thorman, she blogged about my ratty shoes.

So it was clear that I wasn’t holding things together that well. And when I convinced Ryan and Ryan to move to Madison to start a new business with me, I decided I had to go back to dressing up for work. Not suit and skirt or anything like that. But not pajamas. Not ratty sneakers.

And something happened – immediately I felt differently because I was back to getting dressed to go to work, because there were people I had to see every day. This moment converged nicely with the blossoming of my speaking career, which is one of the most lucrative career moves I’ve ever made, so I spent a lot of time at Bloomingdales, buying Joe’s Jeans and DKNY tops, to replace the expensive jeans and black tops that I bought six years ago, which was the last time I had to get dressed to go to work.

Then I started wearing makeup. Not a lot, but enough so that I could mark the difference between cleaning up cat puke and writing a blog post. And I felt a little more organized, a little more focused.

So today, I walked out of my house in ratty clothes and no makeup and I turned around. Because now I know that one way to feel better – maybe the most noninvasive anti-depressant of all – is to get dressed up to do work. The best days of work are those when I have the self-confidence to attack the hardest things on my to-do list with the most vigor. And one way to bolster self-confidence is to dress like someone who is self-confident.

Here is an open letter to all the parents, aunts and uncles who write to me asking for advice about the twentysomething in their life who is an incorrigible underachiever:

Lighten up! No one should be labeled an underachiever in their twenties! The first thing you should ask yourself is whose standards are you using? This is not the same workplace that existed ten years ago. There are new rules, and you need to stop applying the old rules to someone who has no need for them.

The people who know exactly what they want to do when they are 22 are called, in the land of sociology, “fast starters.” And today that is only 12% of the workforce. In general, these people are conservative, taking paths their parents took, and do not ask a lot of questions. The majority of twentysomethings today move back home with their parents , job hop every 18 months, and refuse to pay their dues.

And you know what? These are all good decisions. To you, these decisions might look like decisions that losers make, but the world is different. Do you know what a loser is today? A loser is someone who doesn’t take the time to get to know herself. A loser is someone who saw his parents earn a lot of money and not get happiness from it and still deludes himself that money will make him happy. A loser is someone who looks for fame or prestige. A loser is someone who lets someone else tell them what success looks like.

Today success is personal. It’s about using the years of emerging adulthood to figure out what works for you. This is time to experiment – try things and quit them and try other things. This is a time to have gaps in resumes, red in bank accounts, and a suitcase packed, ready to go at a moment’s notice. These are symptoms of someone who is learning a lot and growing a lot.

Personal growth looks a lot like being lost. Lost is okay. Who wouldn’t be with twenty years of schooling and no preparation for adult life? People grow more when they are lost then when they are on a straight path with a clear view of where they are going.

Don’t tell me that your kid is a bartender and will never grow up. Bar tenders have some of the best social skills in the workforce, and social skills are what matters. Bar tenders are not underachievers. Also, did you ever stop to ask your bar-tender kid what he does during the day when he’s not pouring drinks? He’s probably doing something fun and cool and a little risky that you didn’t have the guts to try til you had a midlife crisis.

And don’t tell me about your kid who isn’t finishing college. No one said college has to happen right away. No one has research to show that if you do college right after high school you will be a happier person. But people do have research to show that if you take time to find yourself during your twenties then you will avoid a quarterlife crisis. So maybe it’s okay that your niece is taking a year off of college to travel in Thailand. Or knit sweaters.

Stop judging the twentysomethings. Instead, look at yourself. Why is it so important for your twentysomething to make choices that you like? In fact, the most successful people in today’s workplace are making choices that would have seemed absurd ten years ago. And things that are true today were not true ten years ago.

And have a heart. It’s not easy to be a twentysomething today. These young people grew up with tons of structure, tons of adults watching over them, tons of accolades. It’s a hard adjustment to go into the adult world where there is none of this. The most successful transitions happen when the person making the change receives time to adjust, space to grow, and support for tough decisions.

Have some patience. Most people find what they want to do with their life by the time they are 30. Really. And they are already putting so much pressure on themselves to find a good life. They don’t need more pressure from you.

For those of you who graduated from college before happiness courses were available, you’ve got some reading to do. But luckily, almost all of the books I have seen on this topic are very interesting.

One of these books is Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment by Gregory Burns, a professor of psychology at Emory. His research includes athletes, S/M practitioners, even sex with his own wife. And he concludes that doing something outside your comfort zone makes you happy — it can trigger a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a mood-lifter.

You already know this intuitively at work. You look for interesting, challenging projects, and you have a fit when work life becomes routine and your learning curve flattens. When someone asks you why you job hop, tell them about this research – about how it is abnormal NOT to job hop.

But what about at home? You watch TV, surf from your sofa, cook dinner but don’t venture past pasta. Instead, use the same standards at home that you have at work: If you are not challenging yourself and learning to do new things at home, Burns’ research suggests that satisfaction with your life will be elusive.

This conclusion is supported by the research that says we don’t get happiness from our jobs alone – it’s something bigger than that. I quote this research a lot when people tell me that they are unhappy and they think they would find happiness if they could just find that dream job: Think harder about what you do outside of your job.

When I graduated from college, I was really, really lost. I had strings of stupid jobs. I was in a new city. And I had no friends. It would have been a great time to watch TV after work, but I didn’t grow up with a TV, so it never occurred to me to buy one. Instead, I read books.

I read a book a night because I was so worried that I was wasting my life and I thought if I read a new book each night, something would happen. And it did. I felt satisfied with how I was spending my time. Sure, I was lonely, and scared that my life would never turn out to anything meaningful. But I learned a lot at night. I really stretched myself and read difficult novelists, big ideas, and non-fiction that was out of my comfort zone.

More recently, I found myself vegetating in front of my always-overflowing email during the nighttime. And I realized that I wasn’t feeling very good about it. So I switched everything up and started running at night. It is hard to motivate yourself to go running at 9pm after putting unruly kids to bed, but I did it, and I felt great. And I’m convinced that it’s partly because the run is challenging and, at some point, the email is mind-numbing.

So stop using work as an excuse to not do anything challenging after work. You grow when you challenge yourself, and you need to grow in ways that can only happen outside of work in order to be able to grow at work as well.

But this does not mean you have to go, go, go. In fact, I would guess that for many of us, sitting silently doing nothing would be very challenging. I actually know a bit about this because sports psychologists love meditation as a way to overcome obstacles.

When I was playing beach volleyball, I couldn’t get my jump serve to be consistent. So I spent twenty minutes each night imagining myself going through each step of my serve: Sitting on the floor, with my eyes closed, not moving. Some people learn to meditate by saying a mantra. I learned to meditate with a visual manta – my jump serve. And even now, when I imagine the serve in my head, I feel my body relax.

Visualizing my jump serve became my favorite part of my day. And one day I hope I can sit still for that long each day again. But for now, that’s an after-work challenge that is probably too much for me.

Jobs in the nonprofit sector are growing at a faster rate than jobs in the business sector. But this might not even be the big news. The big news is that the difference between the nonprofit sector and the business sector is shrinking, according to nonprofit veteran Seth Rosen who blogs at technovist.com.

“As the nonprofit sector professionalizes and the most successful for-profits recruit people with a drive to do something that includes a real public benefit, the culture of the sectors will look more alike. In twenty years the difference between nonprofits and for-profits may simply be their IRS classification.”

One of the biggest issues Generation X and Generation Y have is that they want to have impact. Nonprofit giving among Gen X, for example, has become very grassroots, as Gen X wants to be able to see clearly what change they are helping to instigate. And Gen Y has made it clear that working at a company where they don’t understand how they fit is absolutely untenable – they want to make a difference. Everyone wants to know how they make a difference – whether it’s for-profit or not-for-profit.

In the old model of nonprofits, individuals are removed from the bottom line in a way that undermines the meaning of their work. Take Andrew Broderick, for example. He used to do fund-raising for hospitals. For him, the worst part of working at a nonprofit was how far removed the compensation system was from the bottom line. “I could raise $35 million or I could raise $1 dollar and I’d earn the same amount of salary.”

Recently, he switched to a sales position at Royale Printing, a short- to medium-run printing company in Madison, Wis., where his compensation is a combination of salary and commission. He feels more connected to the bigger picture, “If I make $10 million for the company I’d get paid accordingly.”

Nonprofits are responding to defectors like Broderick. “As there is more and more competition for resources there is clearly an awareness of how to be more efficient,” says Russ Finkelstein, associate director of Idealist.org, a job listing service for the nonprofit sector.

For example, Echoing Green is a foundation that gives grants to social entrepreneurs to create groundbreaking change in the nonprofit arena. The idea that these start-ups are accountable for creating measurable results is much more in line with the values of today’s workforce – no matter what sector they come from. And employees of nonprofits manage their careers with the same focus and drive as someone in the business sector.

Jen Cormier works at Make-A-Wish in Boston. She networks with people in her field, she thinks of herself as a marketing specialist, and she plans her path through a few jobs and then graduate school as carefully as anyone going for an MBA. Similarly, in the old model of the business sector, you earned a lot of money and left the doing-good stuff to the nonprofits. Today, though, companies understand the need to make a difference no matter what sector you are in.

“There are a lot of companies that are doing things that are more socially responsible because creating this sort of work atmosphere retains people,” says Finkelstein. Morgan Stanley, for example, gives employees time off to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Salesforce.com set up a foundation to afford employees paid time to help in their community.

It’s not surprising that the gap between for-profits and nonprofits is blurring because the search for meaningful work is permeating the whole workforce. People at all levels are looking to learn and grow in their work, according to Jennifer Deal, senior researcher for the Center for Creative Leadership and author of Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground. And while nonprofits have typically been the places to feed one’s soul, the business sector has woken up to the fact that one of the best ways to retain young employees is to help them grow.

One of the most shocking turns in today’s workplace is that it used to be that young people went to the Peace Corps to grow. Now people go to big accounting firms because they are leading the way in retaining young workers, by infusing work with meaning. You get a mentor, you get rotating responsibilities, and you get opportunities to volunteer, on company time. A study by Deloitte found that volunteer opportunities attract a stronger candidate pool in the business sector. And Ernst & Young rewards high performers with a Social Responsibility Fellowship.

Cormier says people discouraged her from working in the nonprofit sector as being unrealistic and a poor career choice. “A lot of naysayers told me wait until you get to the real world.” Other people will view socially responsible business with cynicism – firms providing do-gooder opportunities merely to win the war for talent. But you could also look at this as a sort of version of a golden age of capitalism: Finally, companies are giving back to the community in a way that touches employees at their core, and finally nonprofits are being run efficiently in a way that really does get help to the needy, and this, after all, is good for everyone.

We spend so much of our careers doing good work, meeting interesting people, and learning new skills. But it really all starts with one moment: the interview.

Once you get there, you need to be able to package everything together for a nice, neat presentation that’s memorable in exactly the right way.

Here are five mistakes a lot of people make — even people who are great at doing interviews:

1. Not preparing for a phone interview.

Most hiring managers screen candidates on the phone before they bring the candidate in for an interview. This is to make sure there aren’t any glaring problems.

A phone interview saves time. If you can’t get the answers to basic questions right on the phone, there’s no point in interviewers watching you botch those questions in person. Also, the hiring manager is looking for you to make a mistake that would rule you out. For example, not knowing that you shouldn’t take a call with a screaming baby in the background.

So instead of thinking of the phone interview as a precursor to the real thing, think of it as something you can prepare for. Learn the rules.

2. Misunderstanding the point of a face-to-face interview.

Hiring managers today have a lot of tools at their disposal to figure out if you’re qualified for a job. The Internet reveals your history, and often the content and quality of your work;LinkedIn can provide a plethora of references from people who have worked with you, whether you actually provide them to the employer yourself or not. And a phone screen can give a sense of your verbal abilities.

So what’s left? Whether or not you click with them — whether they like you. Remember that intangible thing that happens on a date when you decide if you like the person or not? The same thing happens with hiring.

This is what the face-to-face interview is all about. So make a great first impression, and focus on making sure the interviewer likes you.

3. Neglecting talking points.

When President Bush walks into a press conference, he doesn’t worry what journalists are going to ask him because he already has the answers he’s going to provide — no matter what the questions are. Such answers are called talking points.

Politicians want to frame an issue, so they listen to a question and then decide which of their talking points they’ll use to answer that question. In this way, each question they’re asked is an opportunity to get their own points across.

I once had a media trainer teach me how to stick to talking points, and it works for a wide range of situations — including job interviews.

You control what five topics you want to discuss, so you should pick five things about yourself that you want to get across in an interview, and each point should come with some sort of story or example. You listen to each question and then figure out which point fits in well for a particular question.

You’re not George W. Bush, though, so you can’t totally ignore questions that don’t have pat answers. But you’d be surprised how often you can answer an interview question with one of the five answers about yourself that you’ve prepared. This is a way to control an interview and make sure the focus is on your strengths.

A great resource for helping you understand how to frame your answer for any question is the “The Complete Q & A Job Interview Book” by Jeffrey Allen.

4. Thinking the job description is set in stone.

When you start an interview, find out what you’re interviewing for. Typically, the person who writes and publishes a job description is not the person making the hiring decision. Ask the hiring manager what the goals are for the position, and ask who the new hire will work most closely with so you know who’ll have the biggest say in whether or not you get hired.

And, if you get the job, remember that it could change all over again. Immediately. So don’t ever assume you know what your job is until you investigate. The only constant about your job description is that you must be invaluable to your boss in order to succeed.

5. Failing to close.

A job interview is a sales call, and all good salespeople know that you don’t have a deal until you close it. An almost-deal is not a deal, in the same way that a good interview is not a job.

So toward the end of the interview, if you think things are going well, say, “Do you have any reservations about hiring me?” Most hiring managers will answer this question truthfully, and it’ll give you a chance to assuage their fears.

This is a hard question to ask, because you’ll be faced with your weaknesses right there in the midst of the interview. But if you don’t take the time to explain how you’ll overcome those weaknesses it won’t come up, and you’re much less likely to get the job.

Rebecca Thorman is 24 years old. I met her when I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and spoke at an event she put together. I’ve been reading her blog, Modite, ever since.

By Rebecca Thorman As the workplace weather changes, Generation X isn’t happy to see Generation Y as the rainbow in their persistent rainstorm.

Both generations have similarities, sure. Technological savvy and the willingness to rebel against boomer norms brought us together for a short time. But as more of Gen Y enters the workplace, Gen X is becoming increasingly marginalized, and the fundamental differences of how we operate are now dividing us along fierce lines:

1. Different job markets
Generation Y is a demographic powerhouse entering into our choice of jobs. With the world conspiring in our favor, we’ve already pushed the limits of the foundation Generation X laid.

Generation X tried to change the status quo while entering into one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. They scorned the good ole boys, but had to play by their rules anyway, while millenials are able to create our own rules.

The fact that Gen Xers worked hard with little success beyond casual Fridays means that they are “only mentioned to be polite” in generational discussions. This is aggravated by Generation Y’s readiness to assume all the leadership positions when the Boomer generation retires. Gen X can’t seem to win and Gen Y reaps the rewards.

2. Cynicism vs. Idealism
Since the Gen Xers weren’t able to create the workplace change they desired, it’s no wonder that I get the feeling that Generation X is inherently skeptical of who I am. They’re weary of how easy success comes to me, of my desire to bring them into the mix, and of my idealism.

Unlike our older co-workers, Generation Y doesn’t operate out of fear or distrust, but the possibility of what can be done. I realize that Generation Y is new to the workplace. To Gen X, I just don’t get how the world works. And while it’s quite possible that we won’t change the world like we anticipate, why shoot for just the possible? Idealism is what changes the world.

3. You vs. Us
The Gen X focus on distrust makes them solitary workers, preferring to rely solely on their selves to see a project through, while Generation Y tends to want to support and work together. A Gen Xer is often found at the office, squeezing by on their flextime, and blocking out the world with their iPod.

Generation X is no doubt feeling like a stepping stone generation, and many are, in fact, choosing to align themselves with Generation Y rather than fade into the background. The founder of MySpace went so far as to lie about his age.

I say the more the merrier. There is strength and value to realism, and there is strength and value to optimism. That’s why we have to work together. What can I say? I’m a team player.

Rebecca Thorman blogs at Modite.

People ask me this question a lot: If it’s such a good job market for young people then why can’t I find a good job?

The answer is that there are tons of really bad jobs being offered. For all the talk of flexibility in the workplace, very few companies are actually offering engaging jobs with flexible hours. You usually have to pick one or the other.

But many people are looking for special setups with a job – for example you need a lot of flexibility so you can write a novel, or you have no idea what you want to be doing and you want time to think but you don’t want to starve, or you only want to work for six months before you travel in east Asia.

Each of these circumstances screams: Retail. Or some version of a bad job that is similar to retail.

When I graduated from college the job market was terrible, so I have a lot of experience in retail jobs (and getting fired from them). So I thought I’d give you a primer on how to select a job from a smorgasbord of terrible jobs offers.

Get the word on the street
There’s tons of gossip about what it’s like at brand-name entry-level jobs. If you want to train during the day for the Olympics, work at Home Depot. It’s their specialty. If you have big medical issues work at Starbucks. Even people working part-time are sometimes eligible for their great benefits.

Alex Frankel wrote Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee. He spent two years working in the service sector and he gives the low-down on each of the big name brand stores that he worked at. And there’s a preview in Fast Company this month, which I will summarize.

Gap: Bad. Endless shirt-folding.

Apple: Good. Great employee education process.

The Container Store: Picky. You’d better love their product if you’re applying for a job.

Conduct your own interview
Look, it’s not like the service sector is overflowing with applications. Even though you are looking at dead-end jobs, you are still in high demand. This is still an employee-driven job market. So leverage your demographic luck and turn the tables on the interviewer. Conduct your own behavioral interview to determine if the manager at the terrible job will be good. (Note: If don’t know what a behavioral interview is, click here. If you want to know how to ace one yourself, click here.)

Kronos is a firm that teaches retail businesses how to hire good managers. Steve Hunt is from the talent management division of Kronos, and he says that the best way to tell if your manager will be good is to understand how the manager got hired. The company should have a clear set of guidelines for evaluating management candidates and the company should hire managers. Hunt recommends that you ask how the company measures and evaluates a manager’s people skills. How your manager answer this question can tell you a lot about how serious they are about making sure their managers aren’t jerks.

If all the jobs are lame, pick a mentor who is good.
I used to work for Esther Williams – the bathing suit beauty queen who was still sending a headshot from 1950 even in 1995. Well, actually it was I who was sending the headshot, since signing her autograph was my job. It was a great job because I was playing beach volleyball all day, trying to get on the professional tour, and I could deal with Esther’s fan mail at night.

It sounds fun, maybe, to people who like reading sappy letters from lecherous men, but signing the autographs was no walk in the park: She was always telling me to make her E loopier. But there was a redeeming quality about the job, and that was that Esther is a marketing genius. And I learned a lot from her about how to build a brand. This is when I realized that it’s not the job that matters but what knowledge the person you work for can share with you.

Recently, I went to Cornell to speak to the MBA students about networking. Whenever I go somewhere to speak, there’s a lively Q&A session afterward, and Cornell was no exception. I love the questions after a speech becuase I always learn so much from the discussion. I couldn’t stop thinking about the topic, so I wrote two posts on the plane trip home:

Yahoo Column: Three Common Networking Missteps. Actually, I had a list of four missteps. But one of them was that you need to be vunerable in order to connect with people. I linked to my post about my marriage falling apart, and my editor was like, If someone told me this, I’d think they were crazy. So now the list of missteps is only three.

Cheezhead Xtra: Networking with Jerks. This post is on Joel Cheesman’s new site. And he proves his likability by letting me write a post about why he is a jerk.