You know that people make snap judgments about you based on your appearance. But it turns out that most of those judgments are right. In a study where people viewed photos of CEOs, the people were able to guess the personalities of the CEOs accurately just by looking at their photo. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal)

Sometimes it’s about body language, and sometimes it’s about tone of voice (the Economist reports that men with appealing voices are better looking, and better looking men are smarter). One of the easiest ways to change peoples’ perceptions of you is with your clothes. I have hired a consultant to help me with this (recommended) and I have managed my wardrobe myself, on camera (not recommended).

So I’m not great at telling you how to make your voice more attractive, but I know a bit about dressing to manage your image, and here are some ideas:

Best way to choose an interview suit
Spend more time choosing the tailor than the suit. A bad suit makes people think you look bad and a good suit makes people think you deserve a chance. So, since a good suit won’t get you a job, don’t break the bank. Buy a just-barely-okay suit and take it to a good tailor. The thing you pay for in an expensive suit is fabric that doesn’t wrinkle and that lays well on your body.

Since you are having your cheap fabric tailored, it will lay well on your body. And if you don’t sit a lot before the interview, it won’t wrinkle: Voila, an expensive suit that wasn’t expensive.

Best way to feign an expensive wardrobe
The first three months on the job, buy shoes. If you think people don’t notice shoes, remember that managers in Google all wear the same shoes. It’s not an accident. Good shoes can make bad clothes look good. And don’t forget polish. Polishing silverware is outdated. Polishing shoes is not.

Most overlooked aspect of clothing
You can wear the same great glasses every day, so you get the most bang for your buck when you splurge on them. If you are wondering if your glasses are out of fashion, they are. If you don’t have enough money for a nice pair of glasses, wear contacts. Note to penny pinchers: When I have been short on money, I have never suffered from keeping disposable contacts in much longer than recommended.

Best long-term strategy
The world is not tracking the number of outfits you have and when you wear them. So if you can afford it, buy a few well-made outfits instead of a lot of cheap outfits. Low rotation is your best long-term strategy. Build a wardrobe of good clothes that fit well and you look like you’ve got your act together. Note to penny pinchers: Don’t forget to include the return on investment you get when you buy nice work clothes and you wear them on a date.

Best ways to look older
Red lipstick for girls. And conservative earrings—like diamond studs or plain pearls. (You can buy both as fakes. The only way anyone will ever know is if you lose an earring at work and show no apparent concern.)

Guys, look more mature by ditching accouterments like a baseball cap or an iPod hanging from your ear. Also, buy glasses. They make you look older.

Best ways to look younger
Botox, of course. But for starters, get your eyebrows professionally tweezed and your hair professionally colored. And smell like a grapefruit.

Getting hired even when you’re not qualified is one of the most important skills to have if you want to keep your work life interesting. Because if you are always taking jobs you’re qualified for, then your learning curve is really flat, and your work life is really boring.

So here are three ways to get hired when you’re not qualified for the job.

1. Create a project from a different arena that interests you.
One reason my resume is so varied is that I have always done two things at once so that I can switch up as soon as my learning curve flattens. For example, when I was playing professional beach volleyball, I was also writing stories every day. So I was ready to go to grad school as soon as I got tired of volleyball.

In grad school, I didn’t have to write–the writing was done. This was when the Internet was emerging as a mainstream tool, and I realized that my writing was perfect for the Internet. So I took all my printed out pages to the computer science lab and asked one of the professors to teach me HTML.

I wrote my master’s thesis in HTML. I might have been the first English graduate student in the whole country to do that. It got me a job managing the web site for a Fortune 100 company, even though I had almost no marketing or technical experience.

2. Take responsibility for your own education.
In my new job, I spent the next six months reading whatever I could about the Internet. I read about advertising and copywriting, I read about programming, I read about everything. I had no idea where I would fit in the Internet industry, but I knew I had to learn about it to succeed in my new job as Internet maven.

I also talked with a wide range of people in my job, so I could learn from them. My next job was being the interface between the IT department and the marketing department. They were not communicating well. How did I know how to communicate with IT people? I have no idea, except that I had read so indiscriminately that I actually sounded knowledgeable about IT issues, especially for someone who went to graduate school for English literature.

3. Just apply.
I have not always had jobs I loved. I was at an advertising agency, and I was really, really not suited for the work. So I was unhappy and desperate to get out, and I started sending my resume out in sort-of indiscriminate ways.

This is a bad job-hunt tactic, and I don’t recommend it, but one of the side benefits was that I sent my resume to jobs where I did not meet the requirements. For example, the job I got had a description that included “MBA required.”

How did that happen? Most of the time the manager or HR person writing the job descriptions has little idea what they really want or need. So write a good cover letter about why you’re a good fit, and ignore the part about qualifications you don’t have. Talk about your track record for delivering what they want.

If you can do that, then you can apply. And doing that makes you are a better candidate, better than they know they need.

It’s a myth that time away from the workforce will undermine your career. This myth is based on outdated ideas of the workplace. And it’s an important myth to bust, because in today’s post-feminist workplace, the majority of women say that given a choice, they would not choose full-time work when their kids are young.

Here are some reasons why it’s safe to interrupt your career to have children. And, in fact, most of this data is relevant to interrupting a career for any reason — not just kids.

1. Demographic trends make women ages 30-50 valuable at work.
We all know that as baby-boomers retire, Generation X is not big enough to replace them, and Generation Y does not have the experience to replace them. But demographic trends have created a much bigger labor shortage than anyone anticipated.

There is a labor shortage in Generation X that no one predicted, and it’s because of increased fertility, according to James Vere, author of the paper, “Having It All No Longer: Fertility, Female Labor Supply, and the New Life Choices of Generation X.” He says, “The women of Generation X are not only having more children than the baby boom generation, but also supply fewer hours to the labor market,” and this makes women who do go back to work more valuable than people could have anticipated.

The other contributing factor to the Gen X labor shortage is that Gen X men do not work the long hours that baby-boomer men worked. Instead, those aged 18 to 37 are more likely to view family as an equal or higher priority than work, according to the Families and Work Institute. And the majority of those men are willing to sacrifice pay to spend more time with their kids, according to the Radcliffe Public Policy Center.

So it is no surprise that McKinsey Consulting reports that, “Finding talented people is likely to be the single most important managerial preoccupation for the rest of this decade.” (via 2020resumes)

2. Women adapt to job changes better than men do.
Companies might be better off hiring a woman who has taken time off from the workplace than a man who is switching companies.

Why? Because high-performing women do better at leaving a company and finding a new one than high-performing men do–in general, women keep up their high performance and men don’t. This study is based on the finance industry but the findings (published in this month’s Harvard Business Review) apply to most knowledge workers.

And even though women typically have a more difficult time than men navigating in-house politics and finding mentors, these women respond by being better at cultivating relationships outside of the company. Which means that they are in a better position than men to make a switch to another company.

According to the study, women start a new job stronger because they are more strategic when planning their careers (due to lacking the boys-club connection). “Women took greater care and analyzed a wider range of factors than men before deciding to uproot themselves.”

So ironically, all the worrying that women do about how to reenter the workforce after having kids probably pays off.

3. Social networking makes on-ramping much easier.
Ten years ago, the work it took to maintain a network during extended maternity leave was prohibitive. Dealing with a three-month-old during the day, and showing up to conferences and events at night, for instance, is a route for only the most intrepid of new moms. But social networking tools have brought the moms out of hiding.

Generally, the people using social networking tools are outgoing, value-oriented, high performers who were well connected to begin with. The tools are easy to use from home and the strengths of the mommy-blogging network are testament to the popularity of social networking tools among women taking time off from the workforce.

In case you’re wondering about the power of blogging in one’s career, take a look at Carol Wapshere. She took time off to care for family members and then relocated to Switzerland for her husband’s career. She started a blog in order to raise her profile in her industry before going back, and it worked and landed her a consulting job , and then a speaking gig at Microsoft’s TechDays conference.

This is not an isolated case. I get emails from women like Carol all the time.

4. The new idea of career means retrieving yours is not all that hard.
Most of the literature written about the duress of the on-ramp is by baby boomers who can’t stop obsessing about the glass ceiling. Most of the women taking time off to have kids today have no ambitions of breaking that glass ceiling because what’s above it is so absurd. That makes taking time off to have kids not as big a risk to them.

Look, if you want to shoot straight up the corporate ladder to the CEO position, don’t have kids. Corporate life is not changing as fast as corporate press releases would like you to believe. CEOs do not take care of their kids. Someone else does. And the difference between a father’s ability to get to the top versus a mother’s is night and day. Men are more likely than women to cope with extreme delegating of parenting. This is not a judgment; it’s a fact that is sitting right in front of us.

But most potential parents today are much less consumed with money and prestige, and more concerned with personal growth and flexibility. So taking a position below the last one is not as upsetting as it used to be. People do not think of a career as a straight shoot up the corporate ladder. It’s a winding path, and there’s lots of room for children.

Happiness is not really different in each person. In fact, science shows us happiness is basically the same for all of us. And our roadblocks to happiness are all basically the same as well — that we each think we are special and the research doesn’t apply to us, so we just keep trying to earn more accolades or more money.

That said, here are some checkup tests to take to see how you’re doing in the happiness department.

You were born with a genetic disposition to being happy (or not).
Scientific American writes about hedonic adaptation which is basically our ability to return to our regular level of happiness no matter how much money we have. (The classic study for this is from the 1970s which found that after two years, lottery winners were no more happy than they were before the big win.)

So instead of making the irrational assumption that you are different than the rest of the human race, try accepting that you aren’t, and look for happiness somewhere other than money.

In fact, your set point for happiness is mostly genetic – based on how optimistically you approach the world. But you can make a 40% impact on your optimism level by changing your daily routine in relatively small ways – like doing a bunch of random acts of kindness in one day, on a weekly basis.

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s new book, the How of Happiness is packaged to look like a sequel to Daniel Gilbert’s bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness, and it sort of is a sequel. Lyubomirsky is a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, and she describes twelve steps you can take to change your happiness set point – and the science behind those suggestions.

Wondering if you’re an optimistic thinker? Here’s the test. (middle of the page)

Burnout undermines your happiness, and it’s not about time.
Burnout has little to do with how many hours you work and a lot to do with the type of work you’re doing. Burnout comes from not being able to achieve what you want to achieve even though you are working hard to get it. It’s a situation where you have goals you can’t pin down (like if you work for four bosses) or goals you can’t meet (like if you have an impossible deadline).

People who are most susceptible to burnout are nurses in pediatric burn units because the goal is so clear and so urgent – stop the pain in small children – but it’s an impossible goal to meet.

Other people who are susceptible, though, are lawyers, who are at the beck and call of clients who generally cannot be pleased because they are in legal trouble and upset about it, and even if they are not in legal trouble, who likes spending money on a lawyer?

The thing is that a lot of lawyers make a lot of money. So the money part does not ward off against burnout and might even make you feel more compelled to stay in a bad situation.

Are you on the road to burnout? Here’s the test. (middle of the page)

Stop telling yourself it’s about your job.
One of the first things people think when they are unhappy is that they need to change their job. Maybe they’ll get a job that pays more, or that allows them to be their true self, or will be their dream job.

But you know what? A job does not make you happy, it only makes you unhappy. And forget about that raise, because the incremental happiness you get from earning more than, say, $100,000 is barely noticeable. (Yes, even if you have a family of four in San Francisco. Stop thinking you’re the exception to every rule. It’s a flaw that undermines your ability to change.)

The thing that increases our happiness is our relationships. A job cannot make those better. However a job can make you so unhappy that you can’t relish the relationships in your life.

Do you want to know if the problem is your job? It’s not likely, but here’s the test.

Align your goals with what really makes you happy.
A lot of you are probably incredulous. Maybe you think the American Dream is about getting a good job and earning more money than your parents. But the American Dream used to be about moving west and buying land, and now we see that as something for older generations that doesn’t apply to us. So maybe the idea of more money and better jobs is the new detritus of the American dream, and if you don’t believe me, maybe you have an outdated outlook.

Wondering if you think like your grandma? Here’s the test.

The debate continues about whether and when a recession is coming, and what the markers would be. Most of us are in no position to do the analysis ourselves, but you don’t need to be an economist to know that if people are talking about recession, you should do some thinking about what you would do if one occurs.

As a gen-Xer, I am a master of recessionary times: I graduated into one of the worst job markets since the depression and then lived through the dot-com bust.

But since we’re not actually in bad times right now, the question really is, what do you do in a job you have if you want to get ready for a downswing in the economy? Here are four ways to prepare for a job market that might turn sour:

1. Specialize
People think that if there are fewer jobs, a wide range of skills makes someone more employable. It’s not the case, though. In a tight job market, employers can hold out for the perfect fit. And if you are not clearly defined as a specialist, then you are not going to be a perfect fit for anything.

Researchers have found that you get the most benefits from specializing after you have three to five years of experience under your belt. So don’t specialize too early – because you won’t have learned enough about what you want. But if you have a few years of experience, and you see layoffs looming, try to get on some focused, short-term projects that will allow you to market yourself as a specialist in something when you have to get your next job.

2. Do something great – right now
Most people have been participants in the last decade of manic job hopping. Which means most people have followed a pattern of performing well at a company, writing those achievements on their resume, and then making the next hop. This works in a job market where you can control when you leave.

But if you get laid off before you accomplish something significant, you will end up with a dark spot on your resume – a place where you did not do anything particularly notable.

So do something now, fast, that you will be able to quantify as an achievement on your resume – as in completed X project in X percent less time than anticipated, or saved X dollars by working twice as fast as normal.

3. Consider graduate school
There’s a reason why so many Generation Xers went to graduate school: There were no jobs in the early ’90s. In a down job market, grad school is a way to enhance your skills when there are no available jobs that will do that.

One of the most popular choices is law school because a law firm provides a clear path (and an A in organic chemistry is not a pre-requisite). I have never been a fan of law school as a fall-back plan, because 44% of practicing lawyers recommend that you do not go into the field.

That said, law firms have become much more accepting of people’s personal lives since the last recession. Many law firms have retooled how they operate to give people more time to have a life outside work, and they have changed their policies to accommodate different stages of life.

Grad school is a treacherous route, though: Be careful about spending money for a degree with no career path to follow it. But also, be careful of investing in a career path you wouldn’t want to follow.

(Hat tip: Elise)

4. Focus on the quality of work and quality of mentoring
The hardest thing to do in a bad job market is to keep your learning curve high. If the market goes sour, instead of focusing on the perfect industry or the perfect company, focus on developing new skills. And then refocus your career into a more suitable industry or location when the job market gets better.

By cultivating a great mentor in your current job, you can make your job a spot where you can wait out an economic slump should one come. So instead of focusing on the negative predictions of economic doom, focus on the positive conversations that build a solid mentoring relationship, and you will weather the storm better because you won’t weather it alone.

I have a disorder called prosopagnosia, more commonly called face blindness. It means that I have a hard time seeing faces.

It took me about a month to know what each of my babies looked like. I remember thinking how it’s a miracle that the human race survived when it is so difficult to remember what your baby looks like. And it took me three months of dating my husband before I could imagine what he looked like when I wasn’t with him. In the beginning, each time we had another date, I would think, “I sure hope I’m attracted to him. I think I am. I was the last time.”

When I played professional volleyball, I knew if I was playing someone with a tough serve, or a hard cut shot. I recognized opponents during a match. But away from the beach, many times I didn’t recognize those same players. They were always surprised. And I always said, “I don’t recognize you with clothes on.”

What I meant was, “I keep track of people by how their bodies move, and it’s easiest for me if you are wearing a bikini.” I thought everyone kept track this way. I thought I was just stating the obvious. I thought I was normal.

But now that I know it’s a deficit, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I play games with myself – can I recall someone one minute later? One hour later? Can I recall someone I had two lunches with? It used to be incredible to me that anyone remembered a face. Now it’s incredible to me that I have walked around with this disorder my whole life and not known.

Today, I read a lot about catering to our strengths. The research instructs us to focus on using our natural strengths and not worry about our weaknesses. It’s tough advice to follow, though. Because once we know our weaknesses, they become a source of embarrassment and we want to fix them.

A weakness, after all, is a potential vulnerability, and we feel like we will appear stronger if we make sure to hide our weaknesses. It’s one reason why people are shocked when I blog about getting fired, or not being able to contain my own jealousy. But to me, it’s a relief to show the weakness because then I don’t need to spend energy hiding it.

And the faceblindness is such a good example of how to ignore a weakness. I am very in tune with bodies–I can identify people by how they walk and how they carry themselves. I never stopped to think about how weird I am in the world because I can’t remember faces–because I didn’t know. Instead, all those years, I practiced remembering everyone’s voice and gait, instead of stewing over the fact that I couldn’t remember their faces.

It’s a great model for how to operate with any weakness. It’s an extreme example of not focusing on fixing a weakness but compensating with strengths.

If you say, “I’m disappointed that I have this weakness. I wish I were born differently,” then there’s nothing you can do to see things more optimistically. But if you say, “There are pluses and minuses to this situation, and I do get to have a different perspective on the world that is interesting,” then there is room not to live with such regret.

Focusing on how to overcome a problem, instead of focusing on the problem itself, is a healthy thing to do, of course, but it’s nice to know that there’s research to back this up. Thinking about how I compensated for faceblindness gives me confidence that I could do that for other skills where I am aware of a weakness.

Now that I do a lot of public speaking, I am flying a lot – two or three times a month. There are a lot of perks to travel, like expensive hotel rooms and a break from my kids. But my favorite perk is meeting sales guys.

Warning: here come generalizations with no data to back them up. Most people who fly on Sunday night and Thursday night are consultants – all those young people who clawed their way to the popular starter jobs at Deloitte and Ernst & Young. But most of the people flying during the week are speaking or selling, and the people in those careers who travel a lot are men. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been meeting a lot of sales guys.

It’s great for me, because I was not born with good social skills, I’ve learned them. So I see the time on the airplane as a time for learning specific tips from people who make a living from having good emotional intelligence.

Here are three things I’ve learned from the sales guys I’ve met.

1. Count how many times you interrupt someone.

If you ask a sales guy why they are good at sales, they always say they are good listeners. And then, in fact, they display those skills during the flight.

I am not a good listener. I spend the flight hearing myself interrupt. Constantly.

It sounds like a moment that is bad for my emotional intelligence work, but really, it’s good. It’s good because it allows me to go to the next step, which is asking myself why I am so reluctant to wait to hear what someone has to say. That’s where I am now – asking myself that.

And I think I’m on the right track, because I think better social skills come from asking yourself better questions about why you are the way you are.

2. Learn to read very specific types of language.

Last week I was having lunch with a guy I met on a plane. He will have a fit when he reads this because the first thing someone with high emotional intelligence tells me when they sit down with me is that I can’t write about them in my blog.

We were talking about what his company could do for a blog strategy, and I was thinking about how I could convince him that his company should pay my company to do something. And Mr. Salesguy asked me a question, and I didn’t like what the answer was going to be, so I started trying to think of another answer.

And he said, “Hey, are you going to lie to me right now?”

I said, “What?” I tried to say it in an incredulous way, but in hindsight I’m sure I just sounded panicked.

He said, “When you ask someone a question, if they are right-handed and they look to the left before they answer, then they are trying to recall the information. If they look to the right then they are trying to make up something new. You looked to the right.”

It was so smart of him. Because for the rest of the lunch I was very honest. Not that I’m not honest in general, but I basically gave the first answer that came to my head for everything because I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be able to control my eye movement. It’s a great way to get the upper hand in a conversation.

I can’t wait to catch someone else in this act.

3. Stop thinking your situation is special. It’s not. Rules are useful to everyone.

Here’s another thing I learned from sales guys. They ask the same questions everyone else asks on the plane, like, “Are you going home or leaving home?” I would feel stupid asking that, because it’s so conventional, but it works as a way to start a conversation. Every time.

These routine conversations are just social conventions to allow strangers to start talking. Which drives home to me that social conventions are there to help.

Take something as simple as holding a door for someone. Social convention says do it if someone is right behind you. But the rule is actually just there so the door doesn’t slam in someone’s face.

A lot of times, people think that their particular situation is so complicated that you can’t have rules – you just have to wing it. This is where having a threesome comes in.

I get a lot of books in the mail from publishers who want me to write a review. When I got The Threesome Handbook by Vicki Vantoch, I thought the publisher had gone nuts. But I noticed she is a sex historian and she writes for the Washington Post. So I took a look at the book.

And it turns out that a threesome is actually a very complicated social situation, and the best way to make sure everyone stays happy is to have rules that people follow. I’m not going to into the intricacies of negotiations, but chapter four is called “Strategies for Navigating Freak-outs, Jealousy, and General Messiness.”

And, winging it actually means guessing what people want. But guessing is hard.

So asking for rules is important, listening is important, practicing very specific skills is important. Also, making a public commitment to having better social skills is important, which is why, I think, I blog about this topic so often.

This guest post is by Susan Johnston who is 24 years old and blogs at The Urban Muse.

By Susan Johnston It’s easy to get screwed when you’re fresh out of undergrad and starting a new job. Nobody tells you this, because it doesn’t make a particularly inspiring message for a graduation speech or greeting card. But it’s true. In college, you had professors to encourage intellectual exploration and advisors to make sure you stayed on track for graduation.

Unfortunately, in the workforce your boss is looking out for the bottom line and you don’t automatically get assigned to someone who will look out for your best interests (you have to find your own mentors and even then they could have their own agenda). I graduated a year early, so I was especially eager and open to managerial manipulations. So, class of 2008, here are some situations to look out for.

1. You could get screwed on a project basis.
If you don’t know what you want from your job, then how can you expect anyone else to know what kind of work to give you? It’s not your employer’s job to help you find yourself, so if you don’t have a clear picture of what you want to do, then you are an easy target for tasks that no one else wants to do. Not every manager is good at delegating or figuring out other people’s strengths, so the employees who know what they want and ask for it make their managers’ lives easier. Those who don’t, get stuck with the leftovers.

2. You could get screwed out of money.
In the past, I’ve been promised raises, and I failed to get it in writing because I trusted my bosses. The first time, I was working at a taco stand over the summer and my manager got fired a week later, meaning I missed out on that extra 25 cents an hour (tragic, I know). The second time my boss gave me a verbal raise but never told accounting. I straightened it out a few paychecks later, but I should have emailed him to confirm immediately after our meeting and avoided the confusion later. Another unfortunate salary manipulation is what I call the preemptive raise. Basically, you get a small raise when you’re not expecting it and they know that you won’t try to negotiate. But you should always negotiate so that you establish yourself as someone who knows what they’re worth.

3. You could screw up your image.
People worry about the stigma of job hopping, but sometimes it’s the only way to gain respect. Say you were interning somewhere and got offered a full time job at the company. Your parents would be elated, but I would caution you not to jump in without weighing your options. First of all, you’ll always be remembered as the Intern, so people will continue asking you to fetch coffee and locate office supplies. My first job out of college was as an admin but a new position opened within a few months and I grabbed it. Even a year after I’d moved up, people still treated me like the receptionist because that’s what I was doing when they met me. If your company thinks you’re worthy of a full time job, then trust your abilities and someone else will offer you a position with more money and more respect as well.

4. You could get screwed into working evenings and weekends.
If you don’t have 2.5 kids and a spouse waiting at home, then in many industries, you’ll be expected to put in extra hours (and no, you don’t necessarily get comp time or overtime). It’s not fair, but that’s just how it is. Take it from someone who didn’t have time to date her first year out of college, because she was running around helping at events on Friday and Saturday nights. I suggest you put in the extra time when you can so that no one can fault you when you have a family commitment or a friend’s birthday party. After all, you have outside obligations, too. Don’t let your eagerness to please prevent you from having a life.

5. You could get screwed by lack of feedback.
Lots of managers are uncomfortable giving feedback (especially negative), so they’ll avoid it if at all possible. For example, I once had a manager say to me “annual reviews are coming up in a month, but since you just started, we’ll wait until next year.” Fourteen months passed before I had a performance review, and I was blindsided by some of the comments I got, because no one brought up issues that had been going on for over a year! You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken, so you should take it upon yourself to check in with your boss periodically and avoid any surprises at your review. You could even ask what you need to do in the next six months to qualify for a raise. They may not give you clear directions, but at least you’ll show that you want to excel in your job.

Susan Johnston’s blog is The Urban Muse.

I have been auditioning to host a reality show about work, and I’m supposed to fly out to Los Angeles for a test run in front of a camera. My friend Sharon, hair stylist to the LA jet set, told me that I have to get my teeth whitened.

I am a big fan of taking advice from experts instead of arguing. And this seems like a good time to tell you that if you think you can tweeze your own eyebrows or color your own hair, it’s because you have no idea what an expert could do. Once you see the difference between great and not great, you would see you do not have great and you would not want that.

But I was not happy to hear that I needed to whiten my teeth. First, I didn’t think they were that yellow. And second, it’s expensive. Maybe my teeth were really yellow compared to people on TV, but if I don’t dislike my teeth, then I don’t get that good feeling like I’m getting something for my money. And of course, I just got fired from Yahoo, so money is not exactly flowing over here.

But I have always felt that when you are struggling with money, it’s really important to not let that derail your career. Your career is your own small business, and like any small business, if you don’t reinvest profits back into your career then you can’t grow.

In the past, this philosophy has led me to an expensive haircut before a job interview even though I had to use my food money to pay for it. In a higher salary bracket this philosophy looked like me paying to get expensive coaching for public speaking before I had any income from speaking.

Please, don’t send me emails about how you got a great job and you cut your hair yourself. I don’t care. What I’m telling you is that you better have taken the money you saved on that haircut and reinvested it in your career some other way.

So, this is how I come to tell you that I decided to spend the money even though I am technically in not-spending money mode until I replace the income I lost from Yahoo.

So I say to Sharon, “Fine. I’ll whiten my teeth.”

Sharon says, “Don’t do it in Madison. Do it in LA.”

She says this about everything. I thought she was being a snob, so I did a little test, with my bikini wax. I figured, how difficult is that? Why can’t I just do it in Madison? But you know what? It’s difficult. You don’t appreciate all the little hairs that are gone til they are not gone.

So I made an appointment to do the whitening in LA.

But then a TV station called.

The producer said he googled something like Obama generation y business and my blog came up, so he called to interview me about politics. I bungled a bunch of questions, like I mispronounced Kucinich’s name. Twice. And I predicted the New Hampshire primary to go to Obama after that had already not happened.

I know you’re thinking that I’m an idiot. But it’s very hard to be on top of all things workplace. I can’t also be on top of all things politics. But apparently it doesn’t matter, because they scheduled me to go on-air anyway, with four political pundits on a pretty big TV show.

And then I thought, well, I should just have my teeth whitened for this show. Because maybe all four of the pundits have really white teeth and I won’t and it’ll kill my chances of getting invited back to the show.

So I got my teeth whitened in Madison. I am not going to tell you where because the place sucked. Sucked as in they made a mistake applying the bleach and they burned my lips and I looked like I got hit in the face.

But you know what? With a little Benadryl, my lips deflated enough to give me a hot little Angelina Jolie pout. And with my new lips and my white teeth, maybe no one noticed that I had no idea what to say on the show when they asked me how the elections will come out for the Democrats.

And so, that one day confirms the following career advice:

1. You should tell people you are on TV, but only after the fact because then if you screw up, no one knows.

2. You should spend money on your career even if you don’t have any.

3. You should get your teeth whitened (and your bikini line waxed) in LA.

Bonus: I got the teeth whitening for free since they ruined my lips. But now I’m thinking that maybe I should take the $400 to LA and blow my lips up for real with Botox.

Just kidding. Sort of.

It is a cliche that everyone thinks they’re a strategist. The reason everyone thinks they’re a strategist is because they don’t know what a strategist does.

Get a reality check. Odds are you are not a strategist.
Strategy requires thinking conceptually and creating something from nothing. So, for the most part, if you need to see something in order to do strategy then you are not doing strategy, you’re doing editing. 

Strategists usually favor thinking about the future instead of the present; strategists I admire are bored by what is and focus on what could be.

Also, strategy means constantly making decisions based on incomplete information. It means taking intellectual leaps of faith that could derail many departments in an organization, and doing that with confidence.

The best thing you can do for your career is take a personality test to understand your strengths. If you are an INTJ you really are a strategist. If you are not an INTJ, the fewer letters you have that match that, the further away from strategist you are. So get some self-knowledge before you declare yourself a strategist.

If you’re not a strategist, find work that plays to your strengths.
So look, most of you aren’t strategists. But so what? It doesn’t mean you’re not brilliant. There are many ways to be brilliant.

It is a misconception that the strategists do all the important work and everyone else does grunt work. There’s plenty of important, interesting work that is detail-oriented and highly creative, such as building a space ship or doing cinematography.

A lot of people think that if they are not creative or technical then they are strategists. This is not always true. A strategist thinks very big picture and also thinks ahead in time. People who are not artists or programmers and think in terms of the here and now are managers. If you do that with charisma, you’re a leader.

If you are a strategist, then quit talking about it and do it.
Most people I have managed have told me, at one point or another, that their strength is strategy. For the most part, I hear this as “I don’t know how to execute what you’re asking me to execute.” This is why the best way to understand how to do strategy is to execute on other peoples’ strategies. You see first-hand what the common pitfalls of strategy are.

Stop complaining that you are a frustrated strategist because today people at all levels in the organization are getting more opportunity to show their talent as strategists.

This trend is partly a result of management theorists focusing on improving work for the lower ranks–not because improving entry-level work is ethical, but because the topic of how to be a better leader is exhausted, and academics need something fresh to write about, according to the Wall Street Journal

An example of this trend toward glorifying the low-ranking employee is the book Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders, by Barbara Kellerman, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Research like Kellerman’s should drive home to you that if you’re a strategist, you can do it from anywhere in the org chart. So think of a great strategy in your entry-level job and then develop a strategy to convince people in the company to listen to you. That’s a test of your strategic strength right there.

And if you’re not doing strategy in your current job, you might consider that you are like the guy who thinks he is a novelist but is not writing a novel: People do what their strengths are regardless of what their job description is. Real leaders will lead in any situation they find themselves. Real writers will always write, no matter what their day job is. And real strategists will always think in terms of the conceptual future, from any job they have.