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.

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  1. lshields
    lshields says:

    Thank you for all of the hard work that you put into each post. I want to thank you for this post in particular though because I just graduated and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. This post and your entire blog really help me feel like things are more in my control and I can be proactive about building the life I want even when there is such discouraging news about the economy (thanks for #7!). I feel so energized after reading your blog, thank you again for sharing your advice!

    Also, I wanted to share with you the transcript of the speaker at my commencement address because your post got me to thinking about it in a whole new way and I also think you might find it interesting.

  2. Elizabeth Hawthorne
    Elizabeth Hawthorne says:

    Real very good collection of advice. I like especially your point about the best job location which is near friends and family. Couldn’t agree more. It is much easier to get over the challenges if you know you have your beloved ones some minutes far from you.
    If I may add an article to this wonderful source, about writing your resume: It might help a bit as well.

  3. Mandy Grzymala
    Mandy Grzymala says:

    Great post!

    As someone who is about a month out of college and happily settled in my first job (I know, I’m one of the lucky few), I really appreciate advice like this! It’s always comforting to hear that career changes and entrepreneurial spirit is something that people look out for. It brightens up those days of thinking about the ominous future before us recent grads.

  4. Ayman El-Ghazali
    Ayman El-Ghazali says:


    I like this advice, it is very non-conventional. Everyone out there says “work hard” and you get places but the fact is emotions, politics, fate, and other factors come into play. I really liked points 3,6 & 7 because it is very encouraging to our young folks (not that I’m that old) to start being optimistic about their future.

    I carved my own career out as a DBA at my last job because there was a gap. I was initially hired just as a Report Developer, so don’t let job title hold you back!.

    One point I would contest is point number 4. Job hopping can help but it can also hurt and there maybe a way to “job hop” within your own company to help your career. Let’s talk about the hurt first. You lose your vacation when you job hop and I’ve found it difficult to negotiate more vacation days anywhere I go. You could potentially job hop into a promotion, which would help you learn and earn more obviously. So there is a definite positive, and change can sometimes spur motivation. Now with regards to “job hopping” at your current employer, you could create a new position or alter your current position to allow you to gain new knowledge or specialize in a place you would like to. It wouldn’t hurt the benefits you’ve already accumulated and tenure at a company comes with many of them.

    Hope this helps out a bit, or a lot :)

  5. Tom McCollum
    Tom McCollum says:

    Great insights––thanks for sharing. I am passionate about communicating to this group and visibility is central to success, particularly with the internet being the NEW first impression!

    Thanks again!


  6. Claudia Gomez
    Claudia Gomez says:

    I think this is great advice. As a future MBA graduate from Emporia State University I am currently working on marketing myself to find a job I will enjoy. I definitely agree with Penelope on that “Your resume is not your work history.” I’ve heard this so many times from my university’s career services, but yet sometimes I don’t apply it as I should. Also, the part about entrepreneurship is excellent. In my opinion, everyone should at least try to build their own business at least once in their life time (which I’m in the process of doing) to gain some valuable skills.

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