One of the things I love most about the advice-to-grads motif is that you learn a lot about the advice giver from the advice. When you force yourself to give short, smart advice, you end up focusing on the stuff that matters most to you.

Sheryl Sandberg, for example, gives amazing graduation speeches, but she always touches on how more women can live the life she is living, and they should aspire to that. That’s what’s important to her. JK Rowling focuses on feeling okay if you fail. It makes sense: she has spoken of how she was on public assistance and suicidal before she was queen of all publishing.

My advice focuses on challenging your preconceived notions. I think this is what I do best, so, of course, I tell people to go out in the world and do this.

Who you take advice from is important. I hate people who are snobs about career advice. You can get great advice from people who are terrible at life. And you can get terrible advice from people with grand successes. The trick is to understand where the person is coming from when they give the advice .

So, I’m going to give my advice here. And what I’m hoping is that you guys will give snippets of advice to June grads as well – in the comments section. And as you give the advice, notice what the advice you give says about the person you are. To me that’s always more interesting than the advice itself.

My advice: The job market is not what you think it is. And that’s why finding a job is so difficult when you graduate. So here’s a list of seven things that you need to know to do well in the job market. You need to know a lot more, for sure. But these are probably seven things you don’t know, because most people who have been in the workforce for years still don’t know them.

1. Your resume is not your work history. It’s a marketing document. Tell people what they want to hear about you. Leave out the other stuff. That’s not lying—that’s selling. A great way to write a resume is to write a draft version of the resume you’d need to get the job you want and then work backwards to gather the experience to make that resume true enough to send out.

2. Your career is not a one-word answer to a common question. Your career is a story. When someone says, “What do you do?” you need a great answer with a story of how you got there to back it up. Do you know what makes any answer a great answer? The story you tell. People like stories. Read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick to learn to tell good stories about yourself. The book won’t teach you overnight, but overnight you’ll believe me that telling a good story about your career is one of the most important skills you can develop. Because people hire people who have good stories.

3. Your title is not about the job you have, it’s about the job you’re getting. The duties of your job are independent of your title. You can be on a great project as assistant to the assistant of nothingness. And you can have the title VP of everything and be responsible for getting coffee for people. All day long. So the title you have at the current job doesn’t impact your job. What it does impact is what job you get next. Get a title that will make you sound a little more like a good fit for the job you really want. Often that will make up for experience you are lacking. And don’t get an inflated title because you’ll look like you took a demotion on your resume when you go to a company that doesn’t give inflated titles.

4. Job hopping is a tool for career development. No one is going to manage your skill building except you. And you learn fastest by going from job to job and keeping your learning curve high. The average workplace learning curve starts leveling off after the second year on the job. So you can imagine the career death that non-job hoppers experience. This is why you need to get in a positive job hopping groove—get a job, make a big contribution to their bottom line, feature that on your resume and move on to the next challenge.

5. Entrepreneurship is for building your resume. Your company can fail. It doesn’t matter. You can build your company in your parent’s basement. No one needs to know. What people will see is that you’re a self-starter, you are full of ideas, and you can execute on them. So what if they don’t work? You tried.

The most important thing, though, is that if it’s your company you can assign yourself all the projects you need for resume building. Entrepreneurship helps build any type of career. Do you want to go from sales to marketing? Start a company, do all the marketing, and then put that on your resume. Done. You’re ready to move into marketing. Keep using entrepreneurship as a skill-building path and you’ll never be stuck in a career you don’t like.

6. The best job location is near friends and family. It used to be that new grads moved all over the country. There is no money for that today. It used to be that new grads flocked to New York City. But most of you should not move to NYC because the competition—for everything—creates constant, low-level dissatisfaction, so it’s worth it only if you have to be the best. (Here’s a test to see if you should be in NYC.)

The biggest relocation mistakes people make are when they start thinking something matters more than living near friends and family. More misguided thinking on location: you need somewhere special to do your best work. You probably don’t. I work from crazy places – like my son’s favorite skateboard park. If you tell yourself you can do your best work anywhere then you remove a big barrier to becoming great. And anyway, the Sartorialist says that in the future, everything will be a coffee shop.

7. The economy does not affect you. Sure, it’s true, this is not a great time in the history of the US economy. But you know what? You are not a spreadsheet, you are a person. Your career is not governed by the GDP, it’s governed by your ability to target smart opportunities and keep yourself learning and engaged. It doesn’t matter if it’s a market that favors employers because you are going to offer up your skills in the best way possible, no matter what. And people who do this well are employable no matter what the economy is doing.

73 replies
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  1. Taylor Wise
    Taylor Wise says:

    Thanks Penelope! I think there is a lot of good advice in this post for people who have been out of school for a long time too. I am going to link to this!

  2. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    Start a blog as soon as you graduate college, if you don’t have one already. It is easier to hold yourself accountable when you have an online audience versus private diary. The blog will be useful for networking, becoming a better writer and will help you establish your routine as a post-grad.

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    Right now, three years after graduating, I often feel like a wind-up toy that’s endlessly pushing up against a wall. To me, if I focus inwardly, just on myself, I feel like I’m moving. But once I look around I see that I’m not going anywhere, and especially not to the other side of the wall where I want to be. The trick, of course, is to find a different way, to keep going, even when it feels like you’re going backwards or getting lost. It’s very hard, so I am trying to make small steps. I have found that other people are the best resource for new ideas and opportunities. So get out there and meet them– on Facebook, in the park, at the running store you always go to. Whatever. It’s very hard but I’m trying.

  4. Yuse L.
    Yuse L. says:

    Great piece Penelope.

    To me, starting your company is #1. There’s only so many ways you can rewrite your resume. But during those 3 months of looking for a job you could have added a handful of references. Every day, your resume grows stronger, you can make some money running your business, and you gain invaluable experience.

  5. Keva Dine
    Keva Dine says:

    esp. LOVE these!

    1. Your resume is not your work history. It’s a marketing document.
    3. Your title is not about the job you have, it’s about the job you’re getting.

    great post Penelope!

    Keva Dine
    Creative Recruiter
    The Keva Dine Agency, inc.

  6. Katy
    Katy says:

    I think the reason I read your blog isn’t that obsessed with changing careers. (I am, and I am taking steps forward, but that’s not the biggest reason)
    It’s because you force me to change my perspective.
    It hasn’t escaped me that the only other person IRL that inspired me that way was also an ENTJ. You have an ability to smash preconceived beliefs and change perspective, it’s like looking a fishbowl from above – or actually swimming in it.
    It’s the only kind of career advice I find useful right now, because when times are radically changing, changing perspective is the biggest issue. For me at least. Plus I’m just a huge pessimist.

  7. Joseph K
    Joseph K says:

    I highly encourage everyone to drive the terms “marketing document” and “story” into your head. Good, focused copywriting gets you the interview, and the interview is really first date. The process really favors the creative, the articulate, the attractive and the likeable, especially for young grads. Don’t focus on if that’s fair or not, just work on those things.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes. Such good advice. It’s just not the kind of advice people like to give new grads — it’s too cynical. But I really question all the rosy advice about go fulfill your dreams, blah blah. It just puts pressure on new grads because they can’t do what people are telling them to do.

      Penelope

  8. Jen Caballero
    Jen Caballero says:

    My advice would two things – 1) don’t forget to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life so you stay balanced. 2) don’t be afraid to take a position outside of your comfort zone because those are the jobs that give you the best experiences. With the different promotions or lateral moves I’ve made after a few weeks into the new job I usually say “Gosh I wish I could go back to my old role because it was so easy” and that is when I know I made the right decision to move on.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hear, hear on #1. Your career does not have to be EVERYTHING that you are, nor does everything have to be a professional experience (meaning, directly related to your intended career path. Arguably, everything could be a professional experience if you spin it right). Your other experiences will make for a better story of you – and you’ll probably gain something useful from them, too.

  9. Carolyn Yohn
    Carolyn Yohn says:

    There is more than one right way to be successful, to define your success, to live your life. #4 and #7 here are spot-on in terms of my employment experience (now 2 years out of college)!

    In terms of hard skills, learning your way around the internet, building a website and using HTML seem to be in demand no matter what your field. Every employer will want a website that gets updated with some regularity, and their older employees don’t always know how or care.

  10. Jim
    Jim says:

    Be likeable. I give this advice to students all the time. It something they don’t teach you in school, or usually even tell you of its importance, but beleive me, it’s important.

  11. Charles
    Charles says:

    Find out what skills the hiring managers are looking for. Take initiative and learn the big picture. Don’t sit around waiting for a job. Get out from your desk and volunteer to help out with projects so you can meet people, learn the system and how things work. Volunteer with the applicable professional association so you can learn the industry vocabulary.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The comments, like this one, are full of good advice. And it reminds me of how long I had to work before I realized I needed to do this stuff. Life would be so much easier to know this early on. It’s remarkable to me that advice like “get up from your desk and look for work” so important and so infrequently talked about.

      Penelope

      • Karen Rundlet
        Karen Rundlet says:

        Honestly I try to explain this to one of my direct reports and he doesn’t get it. I try to explain that if you don’t look for work and create work for yourself (in this bad economy) senior level bosses may think you have no work, no value and eliminate you.

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I completely agree with Jim; be likable. Also speak up at meetings, don’t be afraid to talk to the bosses boss say hello and smile. Work late once In a while, if you say you will get something done by a dead line get it done, take a day off occasionally just because, and when you quit stay in touch with a few people who you respect.

  13. Tanya Lacourse
    Tanya Lacourse says:

    Love this advice and completely agree. My favorite piece of advice is: you don’t have to figure out what you want to do (with life, with your career etc), just figure out what you want to do next.

    Breaking it down like this is far less overwhelming.
    This advice also meshes very well with your previous point of learning a few key things in each role.

    • Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven)
      Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven) says:

      Exactly. Lots of young people are intimidated when deciding what to do because they feel like it is THE thing they’ll do during their life, instead of just looking at it as what they’ll do next.

      I started out as an OB nurse, founded and folded a small business, wrote a murder mystery that was rejected by all the finest publishers, wrote freelance for magazines, started a blog, and eventually published 2 books. All that happened while giving birth to 4 kids and adopting 6 others. Life is as interesting as you make it. Oh, and in case you can’t tell by my resume, I am an INTJ. So glad to have discovered your blog yesterday.
      Mary

  14. jill
    jill says:

    thanks for the link to the jk rowling speech; I really took it to heart.

    I’m going through a very hard time right now and need to take her advice.

  15. Cathy Krizik
    Cathy Krizik says:

    My advice — It’s all about attitude. Yes, your skills and experience are important but not as important as the attitude you bring with you. I’ve hired a fair number of people and more often than not I knew the outcome of teh interview at the handshake. That might sound horrible but, I’m just keepin’ it real.

    Quick story — I was on my professional career path, doing well, moving along nicely until my employer unexpectedly went out of business. Gulp. I was unemployed with no savings. Gulp. So, I did the unthinkable (to my high-brow college-educated family), I got a job at Bloomingdales. Retail? Me? Eeeek. This was not in my career plan. But, I made the most of it. When I went to a friend’s fancy-pants, country club wedding as a Retail Customer Service Associate, I held my head high and talk without apology about how I was learning how to sell, about working on commission, about merchandising and how I now had an up close look at the salary most people live off. I will never forget the reaction I got from the doctors, lawyers and professors. They were fascinated, not because I now knew how to sell, but because I was projecting a positive, engaged, curious attitude. I was unashamed and that spoke volumes.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to teach someone how to be positive and curious — Humanities Course: Curiosity & Attitudinal Survey 101??? But from my experience, my inquisitive attitude and a willingness to look for the good is the most valuable asset I have — far more than my actual skills and work history.

    And yes, this advice to college graduates is the perfect representation of me. So there.

  16. Dan
    Dan says:

    Be present in the moment. Work really hard to keep your promises. Make eye contact with people and have a good handshake. Listen to people when they talk, introduce yourself to people and ask questions. Learn to admit when you are wrong and learn how to graciously accept both postive and negative feedback.

  17. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    Penelope,

    Love this post, especially when you say that your career is a story. When I interview people about their career paths, what emerges is a really interesting story about how each individual’s specific life circumstances, experiences and personality contributed to his/her decisions in life, which has everything to do with one’s career path.

    Suzanne

  18. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Always be a life-long learner – you’ll need to ADAPT to the constantly changing landscape with new and refined skills to be successful.
    Learn to ask good questions and then listen – really listen to what’s being said by the other person.
    Multiple source from reliable sources.
    Read the other comments for more ideas and to gain a broader perspective.

  19. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers
    Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers says:

    I love your advice here…So many people do not realize job search means you need to know your story and tell it well so it is relevant to key, target audiences.

    I’d add a point about having online profiles. New grads (and everyone else) should think about how they want to be known online. I advise clients to create social media profiles and social resumes (professional websites) to help them maintain control over what people find when they Google their names. Google your own name. If you don’t like what you see, take steps to take charge of your online identity.

  20. diana
    diana says:

    It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than to be a small fish in a big pond.
    But it is best of all to own the pond.

  21. Tina
    Tina says:

    I disagree about taking advice from people who are not successful in the area they are advising about. That being said, just because someone isn’t great in one area doesn’t mean they are terrible in all areas. I wouldn’t take relationship advice from someone who has a crappy home life and a nightmare partner; but that same person might have a great career and a wealth of insight to offer on the work front.

    • Deborah Hymes
      Deborah Hymes says:

      Tina, I understand the point you’re making, and although it *sounds* reasonable there are exceptions and exceptions. I’m thinking specifically of a marriage counselor I know who was really worried about her clients finding out that she was going through a divorce after 17 years of marriage.

      But the fact is, she’s a *fantastic* therapist. And it’s also a fact that some relationships simply run their course, and that the healthy, life-affirming thing for people to do is to part ways and keep growing, learning, living happily.

      And there are surely examples like this in every area.

      • Tina
        Tina says:

        Hi Deborah
        I agree with you. I should clarify – I guess I was thinking more about people whose love lives are absolute trainwrecks and give really terrible advice to others, rather than someone who is going through a difficult time (divorces aren’t always ‘failures’). As I was writing I was thinking of my sister, who went through a horrendous break-up from her emotionally abusive, cheating, alcoholic boyfriend. All of the crappy advice about sticking around and giving him a chance (when he wasn’t even interested in staying in the relationship) were from other women who were so terrified of being alone themselves they would put up with a bad relationship. All the best to your counsellor friend – I am sure her clients benefit from her life experience, and this experience will be no exception.

  22. Rose
    Rose says:

    I agree with #6…inside America. But for pete’s sake, don’t be afraid to get a passport and live somewhere else! I live in China and my quality of life is high and jobs are plentiful. And in the long-term, I’m looking to settle down in a country that’s stable, with a good government, and lots of benefits. Once you live in a country with affordable, accessible health care, America doesn’t look so hot anymore.

    • Ebriel
      Ebriel says:

      Too true, Rose. I live in Beijing, and the optimism here in every industry is refreshing.

      In 2003 I moved to Asia, and knew I wouldn’t live in the US again. My family, friends and I get on fine, there were just more opportunities on the other side of the world. Back then China was towards the bottom of my list, and still isn’t an easy place to live, but it’s changing rapidly.

      Google “American Dream” and “China” and you’ll find many others who’ve landed here to create a future they can’t at home.

  23. katsprat
    katsprat says:

    Go to grad school now. But only in a paid program. (Don’t go into debt for law/med/grad school. There are workarounds for debt for whatever degree you want. It just takes time, research, and experimenting to find them.)

    Sure, this isn’t for everyone. This is why it works for me (when nothing else did):

    1. You can mostly work from home (or wherever you please).
    2. People care what you think (it’s your job to think).
    3. You pick your project.
    4. You set your hours.
    5. You set your deadlines and targets.
    6. You’re really a writer and artist too, if you care to do your job in a way that your results will be comprehensible to other human beings. Good luck finding another steady job as a writer and artist.

    I guess what this says about me is, I require a huge amount of freedom to function. If I have it, I will drive myself to work constantly because I love ideas. (INTJ, obvi.)

    Don’t tell me the private sector gives you this too, for people who are good enough in one way or another. Because there is so much sexism in the private sector that I spent years as the underpaid, shittily-titled underling of men with the same degree as me. Then I kicked their asses in grad school, where something like merit-based metrics came into play again.

    I’m just sorry I wasted precious 20-something time in dead-end private sector jobs, trying to run my own companies, etc. Now every year I spend getting more glorious education takes a year off my fertility clock, and I could’ve spent these years earlier.

    Oh no – it’s going to be one of those nights if I post this! https://xkcd.com/386/

  24. Ebriel
    Ebriel says:

    New college grads: work for a year in your field, live with parents if you have to, and save up as much as you can to work and travel the world for the following year. How much depends on your destination region, $5K at the least. Double that would be better.

    But not aimless travel (a bit at the beginning to break you in, and a holiday at the end). Travel with a set of goals and a purpose. Do your research, use your year of working at home to network online like crazy, set up internships and meetings in your destination country(ies). Sites like LinkedIn, Gumtree, Lonely Planet Thorntree, will all be a good source for info. Some Working Holiday Visas have restrictions on the working types and hours, but if you schedule your time, internships are a possibility, concurrently/between paid stints at other jobs.

    Defer your loans for a year while you travel if you have to. Sell your car and everything else, rent out your house if you own one, pack up your life into a few boxes, shove a few essentials into a backpack, and go to another part of the world for the adventure of a lifetime. (Buy work attire at your destination, or have it tailored in SE Asia enroute.) This is what many Australians and Europeans do between high school and university (but with your degree you have more work options). It expands your contacts dramatically, and can increase your employability worldwide. You will never regret it.

    Find more basic info here: http://www.workingholidaysforamericans.com

    I recommend getting a Working Holiday Visa for:

    1. Australia

    ¬ The economy is doing incredibly well (it was hit only shot-term after 2008 due to its stringent banking laws) and has great long-term prospects due to its close ties with China, a burgeoning superpower which needs Australia’s natural resources.

    ¬ The beaches, rainforests and outback landscapes are out of this world. Sydney (better for business/partying) and Melbourne (better for art) are fun cities with thriving cultural scenes.

    2. Singapore

    ¬ Didn’t know about this visa until now – Singapore’s a fantastic opportunity for a business/financial college grad. Competition for good jobs will be tough, but do your research and you can find a niche. Mandarin is spoken – it’s a great place to learn Chinese – but the English is fluent too.

    ¬ A thriving city, very clean and developed and hooked in to the rest of the region (Malaysia/Indonesia are incredible & affordable nearby destinations). It’s ‘Asia lite’ and good for new travelers.

    3. The UK

    ¬ Forget the weather, there’s a lot to like about the UK. This is where I did an internship at a renegade gallery/Biennale in a former legwarmer factory, the summer after my graduation with a useless painting degree, and where I realized I had a lot more to learn.

    ¬ While Britian’s economy has suffered along with the Euro’s woes, its major cities still have a lot to offer for new grads in the cultural and financial industries. Much of it naturally centered on London, but consider Edinburgh and Manchester as well.

    All these countries are expensive, but have a thriving backpacker scene suitable for finding short-term affordable accommodation and jobs. All have English as a national language, and high quality business and educational opportunities.

    (Penelope, didn’t intend to hijack your post!) I hope this is useful to a few readers.

  25. MaureenSharib
    MaureenSharib says:

    You gave 7 things.
    So will I.

    1. Get up early.
    2. Stay sober.
    3. Be willing to do anything in a job.
    4. Pay your bills when they come in.
    5. Related: Don’t procrastinate.
    6. Tell the people who matter to you how much they matter.
    7. Don’t offer excuses. Just say you’re sorry.

  26. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    #6 Is something I have chosen to live by with a twist. I have avoided long commutes. I live in Orange County, CA where our large extended family also lives, and for years the really good opportunities to get that next title or whatever were in Los Angeles. Which given traffic is now 1.5 hours each way. **blech**. I have managed to find good work within the same 5 square miles for 25 years. I have friends who ask “how did you do that?” Easy-I didn’t interview for anything outside my geography, and, of course, I am not a VP as a result. But the benefits — when I had a kid, I was within 5 miles of his school. I could bolt from a meeting and be at the school nurse in 15 minutes. Those years of hours that I didn’t give to the freeway, in hind site, I have used very productively with my jobs and my family. Sometimes I have regretted this decision (jealously mostly of friends), but at this stage in my life/career, I am really happy with my choice.

    • Rebecca
      Rebecca says:

      Off topic. I have never bounced into your twitter feed Penelope, and just did for some reason (should be getting ready for work). I saw that you were speaking in Anaheim. HEY. I live near. How about keeping a running speaking list on your blog somewhere so maybe we can stalk you a little and come up and say hi afterwards?

  27. Kim
    Kim says:

    I love these tips – I am four years out of University so not really a super-new grad, but I am still working on building a career so I can really use these strategies. #1, 4 and 7 particularly spoke to me. I think generally many new grads come out of school completely ‘green’ to what the job market and career in general is like and get a rude awakening once they are out in the ‘real world’ – at least I did. I had super high expectations, but have learned so much in only a few years. One piece of advice I would definitely give is that new grads be open to experiences that come their way – even if a job doesn’t fit your idea of a ‘dream career’ (they pay is low, you are at the bottom of the ladder in the company) you should still consider it. Everyone has to start somewhere, and you never know where something’s going to lead – you may discover a new passion or make a great contact that could help you in the future. Thanks for the great tips!

  28. Jennifer Muntz
    Jennifer Muntz says:

    I whole heartedly believe that career hopping is a tool for personal and professional growth and development. Because of career hopping, I have a great skill sets and different experiences to draw from during an interview. It helps problem solving and my overall job performance. There is still the mindset that job hopping is a bad thing. How do we change that?

    I also think that job hopping is the best way to increase your earning potential. Rarely are companies handing out generous raises but if a company wants you bad enough they will pay to get you to come on board. That’s why having a variety of experiences (work, volunteering, etc.) and being able to sell your self is a critical skill. As for my resume, I created a one pager that looks more like a sales sheet. It contains the following: a pictorial timeline chart of my work history, my bio, my values and what I’m looking for in the next position. It’s a good way to stand out from the crowd.

  29. Gillian
    Gillian says:

    OK,here’s mine. When I graduated I looked for every possible relevant job, and I became very good at putting cover letters and applications together. So when a job came up for which I only ticked about half the boxes I put together a cover letter and sent off an application, I figured I had nothing to lose.

    That was the job I got. They needed someone immediately, and someone who could learn fast. So, apply even if you don’t look like the perfect candidate. This is apparently something men are more likely to do, as a woman I had reservations, but by then I could put together a cover letter pretty quickly. In my industry and country the cover letter is more tailored to the job than the CV, for you it may be different. Put together your argument why you are a good candidate into your cover letter. If your application is first looked at and you are first interviewed by HR this may not work, but if someone who will actually work with you sees the application they will spot what’s relevant.

    Also be prepared to apply for short-term positions (if it’s somewhere you are prepared to live!). This post was to cover for someone on 4 mth maternity leave, but I got my contract extended for a further year.

    So apply for anything you think you would like to do, that you might be able to do – depending on the situation you may be the right person for the job, even if you don’t have 5 yrs experience in a very particular area.

  30. J.
    J. says:

    Great tips. My tip expands upon tip #6. Capitalize on your new freedom by taking some time to decide what type of life would bring you and your loved ones the most long term happiness and meaning, and then plan backwards, fitting your career into that greater framework.

    What are your values? What kind of life energizes you? What will you be proud of forty years from now?

    In some cases, these questions will lead you to tradeoffs. For example, which do you value more: professional accomplishments or time with friends and family? If you plan to eventually have kids, would you rather provide them with greater financial stability or more time with their parents? Do you want a varied career, or would you prefer to become an expert at one thing? Is it competition that drives you, or helping people, or invention, or something else?

    The answers to these questions can be a compass as you try to plan out your professional and personal life over the next few months, few years, few decades. Of course, much of life can’t be planned: serendipity acts on all of us. But it’s silly to think that you can craft a good life without any planning or self-knowledge at all. People who don’t take the time to learn about their own values end up making big decisions based on the values of others. Most importantly, though, it’s tough to overstate how greatly the game changes when you graduate college. For twenty years now, you’ve been playing according to a small set of shared rules: get good grades in high school so you can get into a good college, and get good grades and internship experience in college so you can get a good first job. Now that you’ve graduated, the rulebook is useless, and the script you’ve been following has come to an end. Now you get to write your own rules for what a successful life looks like.

    Take the time to do it right.

  31. CL
    CL says:

    The Sartorialist link leads to the Speculist. I was quite surprised that Scott would say ANYTHING about the future of the economy. I was glad that he hadn’t actually.

  32. GE
    GE says:

    My best advice is what you think you want to be when you grow up can change on a dime. Don’t lock yourself into a role because that’s what you went to school for. It’s ok to change your mind and decide to do something completely different. I think it’s very, very difficult to know yourself at 22 in such a way that determines your career path forever – so simply don’t look at it that way.

  33. heather mccurdy
    heather mccurdy says:

    This advice comes from a girl who faxed her resume to the wrong company and still got a job and even negotiated a higher salary than the ‘range’. So things were different in the late 90’s, but my advice to grads these days is to emply a version of organized chutzpah..
    1. Prepare yourself with as much knowledge as possible about your resume and interview techniques. Even though I wanted to work for an advertising company, I was able to utilize my soft skills to snag a job at a computer company.
    2. Understand ‘relational skills’ value. I used my creativity skillset to let the hiring manager that my research techniques were out of the box, but I could use standard writing skills to write a technical document. As Penelope preaches, know yourself. Also know how to phrase your traits to a hiring manager that is positive but doesn’t reek of BS.
    3. Organized Chutzpah: I opened the phone book and cold called every single ad agency in the metro dc area. I netted 8 interviews and had 2 job offers. Not bad for a girl who just moved from the sticks of MT to getting a job in DC in 6 weeks with an engl degree from a private school no one ever heard of.

  34. Deborah Hymes
    Deborah Hymes says:

    Penelope, I *love* this post! It’s all clear, basic, commonsense stuff that — for some reason — is counterintuitive to the way people think about work. I’m being self-serving here . . . your excellent advice validates points I’ve been arguing with friends and family over for years. Starting with my father, who’s been giving me the worlds-worst career advice ever since I graduated from college! =)

  35. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    Now that I know that my advice will be assessed to reflect me, I’m a little wary. But, here is what comes to mind:

    1. There was not one job I have ever gotten that wasn’t because I knew someone, or knew someone that knew someone; and there was no job I didn’t get when I had an inside connection. With a higher profile of job, I’m sure what constitutes as “knowing someone” becomes more strict / has a more stringent vetting process. But really, most employers will hire a known variable / sure guarantee of moderate success than the promise of great success from an unknown variable. Employers love a safe bet. Make it easy for them to hire you by making a connection to them in advance.

    2. Pursue your greatest interest, no matter what. It does not matter if your greatest interest does not seem to be career material. Do it anyway. You need to cultivate a passion through which to live the other parts of your life. Not just any passion–your highest passion. The best case scenario is that you make a career of it. Assuming that you maintain healthy relationships and take care of yourself (and family, if applicable), the worst case scenario is you feel more energized inside your non-ideal job, and energized in your non-work life. Plus, your highest passion can help you network to similarly minded people that can help you out.

  36. YJ
    YJ says:

    Penelope, I think you mean The Speculist, not The Sartorialist on the link to “in the future everything will be a coffeeshop”.

  37. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I ended up going to the linked article on The Speculist blog as a result of the comments regarding The Satorialist and The Speculist. And then read the article which I thought was pretty good.
    This sentence from the article – “And here’s the reality: the student debt of the college candidate controls, to some extent, his salary requirements.” – made me think about this post. I’m thinking of the financial literacy and other advice that teenagers need to get while considering their options BEFORE college, vocational school, or other education. They should be exposed to this advice and thinking about adult life options as a teenager to make better decisions later.

  38. kristen
    kristen says:

    Choose a job that a 6 year old can understand. Otherwise, at some point you may realize that your job is really pointless and contrived; a product of our consumer culture. Of course, you should get most of your life satisfaction from your friends and family but you can get a lot from your work as well. Best case scenario: “Do well by doing good.”

  39. Andi
    Andi says:

    It’s okay not to go to college. It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life. It’s okay to want to take time to figure things out. Just be sure that while you’re out there “finding yourself”, you take notes along the way, & come back with a plan of action.

  40. Rich
    Rich says:

    This might be the first posting in years that I agree with 100%. Especially #6 and #7. The only thing that I think I would add is to be patient. I graduated in a recession too (sorry Millenials, you aren’t the only ones) and took a job as a dishwasher for a few months just to pay the rent. 20 years ago we were told that the baby boomers were going to retire, and companies needed fresh leadership. Turns out they crushed the economy and are now planning to keep that corner office into their 70’s. Depend on yourself.

    You have access to media (blogs) and an environment that fosters starting your own business. Go for it! Don’t get roped into a ‘job’. Stay flexible (live with mom, keep expenses low, keep learning) and when the next big thing hits you will be ready to pounce. Good Luck! my 401k is counting on you!

  41. Karen Rundlet
    Karen Rundlet says:

    Make sure you are mentored by older people as well as younger people. Industries change. A younger person can tell you about entryways today, not about entryways of 20 years ago. But older people can tell you about surviving failures. They can share their mistakes. They can see trends.
    Everyone should heed this advice, not just new grads. Old grads could stand to be mentored by younger employees too.

  42. Kim Bushore-Maki
    Kim Bushore-Maki says:

    As a relatively new entrepreneur, I cannot agree more. I am learning the importance of packaging and positioning the services that I offer is the key to success. Why would a resume be any different?

  43. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    I’m eight years out of college. I received a degree in Political Science but now I am a Director for User Experience at a 60 person company. I work from home and can maximize the time I spend with my 1.5 year old daughter.

    If you had asked me 8 years ago, this is not where I envisioned myself at all in my career. I did websites on the side in college, which led to working a minimum wage job for a start up, which let me build my resume, which landed me a job at a large corporation, which led me to Chicago at a larger corporation which led me to where I’m at today. Whew.

    So my advice to new grads is this:
    1. The world is much bigger than you think. Be open about the type of job you think you want. I didn’t even know UX existed when I graduated.
    2. What you want now probably isn’t what you’ll want later. So keep you options open–no mater where you’re working. I thought I wanted to chase the title (VP of Whatever). Now, I’m very happy in my job where I can maximize the time with my family, while still doing good work with good people.
    3. Work for free or next to nothing. You’re used to being poor anyway, so why not take some risk and do what you’re interested in, and live as cheaply as you can until that becomes something that pays more? Without my $6.25/hour job for 9 months after graduation, I wouldn’t have had the graphic design experience that landed me the $20/hour corporate job that came next.
    4. Communication is key. I interview and make hiring decisions all the time and I’d rather hire someone that can write and speak than know 100% what I’m looking for. Make sure you’re putting yourself in positions that make you uncomfortable (giving presentations, meeting with influential people) to learn to speak clearly and effectively and write, write, write. Even if you’re in a technical job, people still need to be able to communicate.

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