I am going to be a better person at self-promotion because I don't brag enough. Ryan Paugh, who was basically my intern when I met him, and now he’s almost my boss and definitely my social-skills mentor, tells me that I am popular because I’m interesting but that I suck at self-promotion. (He uses, as an example, the day I promoted an event on my blog a few hours after it actually happened.)

I do not tell Ryan to shut up because he has taught me a ton about myself since the day I started working with him. And in fact, he makes me feel qualified to tell you how you can fire up your career by paying close attention to the people with the least work experience.

1. Recognize interns are gatekeepers to the good stuff.

When it was time to promote my second book, I went to Keith Ferrazzi, author of one of my favorite career advice books. I needed a quotation from Keith that said something like, “I am The Great Keith Ferazzi and I can tell you for sure that your career will be crap and you will die drowning in the blood of a rabid coyote if you do not buy Penelope Trunk's book.”

Just so you don't get confused, I'm going to start calling my first book my first book and my second book my second book. At this point, I have written enough about oral sex and family atrocities that you will not be shocked to hear that my first book is really a memoir that my publisher – out of the University of Colorado — decided was too disturbing to be sold as a memoir, so it was published as a novel.

Anyway, another thing Keith is great at is hiring interns. Keith's intern, and gatekeeper, at the time of the publication of my second book, was Ian Ybarra. Ian said sure, he could come up with a quote. (It did not have animal references, but still, it was a nice endorsement.) Ian could see that I was a book-promotion novice, so he started giving me tips: Trade email lists, give speeches, pitch bloggers. Note: this was five years ago, when no one pitched bloggers.

Wait, please. Do not send me your book because I get too many. I'm sick of getting copies of business books. (Note to all publishers: I am getting really good at self-promotion and my blog is about to really take off, so could you please start sending me books with literary merit? Here's my address: 15010 Oak Grove Lane, Darlington, WI 53030.) (And, a note to people who are going to say aren't I worried that if I publish my address that stalkers will come get me in my sleep. Check me out on Google maps. The farm is so remote that even a stalker would be scared to go there in the dark.) (Finally, a note about using parentheses: Can we talk about style? Can there be more talk about style in blogging? Are links inherently parenthetical? What if each thought in a post is parenthetical, but they all add up to something that is central to our lives? Is that innovative or is it too e e cummings?) It's so difficult to be original.

2. Don’t rush on the phone; interns chat about things that really matter.

Then, one day, Ian wrote to me that he was moving with his girlfriend to Beloit. And then to Saudi Arabia. Or something like that. I can't remember where he moved, but he grew up in a really really small town in a state that gets joked about just like Wisconsin. And he told me about how MIT courted him because he had high SAT scores in a weird zip code. When I worry about my kids going to a rural school with no orchestra, I hang my hat on hopes painted with broad brush strokes of the tidbits of Ian's life that I may or may not remember correctly.

The next intern was Ryan Geist. I love him because I met him when he was at a big job at a big firm where I would never have been able to go to when I was his age because I was too busy not doing what the world expected me to do. What I love about Ryan is he gave those expectations a chance, and he was brave enough to say he didn't like them, and he landed on Keith's doorstep.

At the same time Ryan was there, so was Sara Grace. She called to get a quote from me. And I started talking to her about what she does. What her aspirations are. And she started telling me all these ways that Keith repurposes content. I was blown away. He is great at turning everything he writes or says into a post. The thing that really struck me was that he records interviews and has them transcribed in India and then edited into a post. That's a great idea.

3. Let an intern show you your weak spot: you’ll love her for it.

That's a great idea because reporters ask interesting questions. And then I end up talking about topics I hadn't thought about talking about before. The reporter uses 10% of what I say and the rest is gone. Poof. I do about five interviews a week, so recording them seemed like a good idea. But I realized that I actually like the process of writing. I don't like the process of reading what I already said. (I wonder, does anyone actually like that process? It seems solipsistic. And shut up to all you people who think everything I do is solipsistic, self-promotion. Here is a list of people who are a thousand times better at self-promotion than I am and I wish I could be any of them for a day:

Guy Kawasaki

Jason Calcanis

Ramit Sethi

And probably all you people who say that I'm in love with myself and never shut up about myself are also people who rant about me into a recorder and then hit replay so you can listen to yourself rant.)

4. Lay groundwork to get a job from the intern one day.

So goal number one is to be better at promoting myself.

And goal number two is to be better at using all the content I generate to create more posts. I am also not good at this because once I generate the content, it bores me. I want to move on. So I'm not sure how I will meet this goal either.

But here's a start:

Esquire contacted me this week about how to quit. And I decided it might make a good blog post. I see that it's taken me too many words to get to it. So it's hard to say that it's the real subject of this blog post. But maybe you will like it:

Don’t do an exit interview. If they wanted to hear your ideas about how to make things better, you wouldn’t be quitting, would you? So this is really just a way for you to burn bridges and annoy people. Don’t fall into the trap. If they insist on an exit interview, say nothing negative. At all.

Send a thank you note. Anyone you worked closely with should get a hand-written thank you note. Bring up specific times when they surprised you with kindness, made your work better, invigorated you with their own contagious brilliance or creativity. And, if you are thinking that you work with people who merely make you want to hit your head on a brick wall, remember this: Intelligent people can learn from anyone.

Take a vacation. You probably think about work all the time, not because you’re a slave but because you like solving problems and learning new things and meeting interesting people. Which is what work really is. This means that the only time you can really take a vacation is in between jobs. So do that. Don’t start the new job right away.

Have humility. You are probably not quitting to take a job that sucks, right? So, since you are quitting for a better job, you don’t need to shove it in peoples’ faces that you are moving up in the world and they are not. The world is not a race to a McMansion, the world is a contest for who can be the most kind-hearted and tolerant. That’s what makes a good life—you’ll get kindness in return. So be gracious and grateful.

Think of quitting as a networking event. These people are no longer your co-workers, they are the network that will help you get the job after the one you just got. And don’t forget the entry-level people who look like they couldn’t help anyone. The interns will get big jobs one day, and they will remember each person who saw them for who they are and who they could be.

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  1. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    “because you like solving problems and learning new things and meeting interesting people. Which is what work really is.”

    OMG. See, this is the problem. My work is NOT like this, and should be. Time to quit.

  2. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    I guess I’m kind of slow. When an intern is starting out, and I’ve got more years of experience and expertise in my field then he or she’s been alive, how does befriending them enhance my career?

    I’ll help them and mentor them, if they’re willing to listen and learn, but they’ve got a long ways to go to know more than me, and know the most senior and respected people in my industry, who are the ones who can help my career most, at this stage.

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