Why are almost all the bloggers in the Life at Work section at BNET women? I’m worried, because it’s never good for one’s career to be in a room full of women unless you’re a model or a stripper. Because where there are women there are lower salaries.

This is not a case of discrimination. I mean, it’s not that men get paid more for the same work that women do. It’s that women choose to do different work. I interviewed Al Lee, the quantitative analysis genius who combs through salaries at PayScale, and among the fascinating things he told me was that women and men get paid similar amounts for similar work but that women pick lower-paying fields, and lower paying paths.

So, for instance, neurosurgeons are men and family practice doctors are women. And social workers are women and psychiatrists are men. Al says that the best thing women can do to increase their earning power is “to choose fields dominated by men right out of college.”

I have actually been given this advice often in my career. For example, mentors told me to stay in line for management positions where I would be responsible for profit and loss for the company (product manager, for example) rather than go into support roles where I help people become stars in profit and loss but get no direct credit myself (human resources, for example).

So I went into tech. All men. And I started doing venture-backed startups. All men. And when I have been in departments that were all women, I either quit or switched to another department. Really. I am not stupid.

But all that careful work throughout my career and now I’m writing with all women. I am sure this is not good.

I went over the BNET to investigate the situation and I stumbled on Kimberly Weisul’s piece titled,Why Mentoring Helps Men More than Women. I clicked, mostly because I am always worried about not having the right mentors.

It turns out, I probably don’t have the right mentors, because women connect with people lower on the food chain than men do. I panic. I need to connect with business writers who are not writing work life stuff. No. Wait. I need to connect with Eric Schurenberg, who is editor-in-chief of BNET. I need to go out to lunch with him and make him love me, and then he’ll think of me first when he creates the power-writer’s group that lives on the home page of BNET and pops up in everyone’s browser with the urgency of a subscribe-now button on a porn site.

The thing is that Kimberly concludes in her post that women are getting ripped off. It kills me. I don’t want to be writing next to women who believe that women are getting a raw deal and then complain about it. I don’t buy it.

As I said, there is not a salary gap between women and men. There is a competition gap between women and men. Women choose collaborative, feel-good jobs, like writing in the how-can-we-all-get-along-better section of BNET and men choose the competitive, dog-eat-dog jobs like managing all the feel-good writers on BNET. That link is to Paul Sloan. My editor.

Will he even let me run this piece? I don’t know. You know what? I can’t stop writing about him. I have a little crush on him even though he won’t answer his phone when I call and he always returns my calls at 6pm central when he knows I won’t pick up the phone because I’m having dinner with my family.

Women: It is very bad to write stuff about dinner with family if you are trying to get ahead. Do not do this. People assume that if you have kids you will do less work. This may or may not be true – I mean, doing less work. But what is true is that you should not talk about family at work if you want to be in the all-boys departments.

However it is okay to talk about crushes at work because it is more of a single person thing to do. I mean, everyone has crushes, but only single people talk about it. So I think it makes me have a better chance of getting out of the girl ghetto at BNET if I tell you that Paul is a little shorter than I am, and not as good-looking as I am, but still, he is fun and cute.

I told this guy who wrote to me that I do not remember ever actually meeting him, even though he says we had a great conversation.

He wrote back. He was relentless, so I asked him to tell me a bit about himself. He wrote, among other things, “I'm the guy you want to date.”

It was such a direct response. And I like direct. Plus, he was going to be in Madison. That never happens.

Two days before the date, I checked him out on Facebook.

Then I wrote him an email. “You are way too young. I can't go out with you.”

He wrote back, “You should know more than anyone else that online identities are deceiving. And anyway, I'm older than you think.”

That was a good response.

So we agreed to meet at a diner. For coffee. I walk in, and right away I know who he is: The guy with the backpack.

We sit down.

I lean across the table, and in a low voice I ask, “How old are you?”

He says, “I knew you'd ask that.” He says, “Twenty-five.” Read more

Brian Wiegand is a very low-profile guy who has sold three companies, most recently to Microsoft. He is big enough that TechCrunch writes about him as a good bet for anyone betting. But the bane of Brian's existence is that his exits have all been for under $50 million.

This is enough for him to have a private jet and be King of Madison (Wisconsin), but not enough for him to get a lot of respect in Silicon Valley. A quote from my advisory board member who lives in Silicon Valley: “For big VCs, $50 million is a rounding error.”

So Brian is not looking for people to mentor or boards to sit on because he is consumed with running his fourth company, Alice.com, which will compete with Wal-Mart and Target.

I do not tell Brian that I will have a hard time ever missing a trip to Target to shop at Alice because Target has such great clothes that are so cheap they are almost free.

Well, actually I did tell him that. And I told him a bunch of other stuff, because I decided that I need him as a mentor. Eventually, I got him to agree to be on the board of my company. Here's the process I took to convince him to help me. And these are good steps for anytime you have someone you'd like to ask to be your mentor: Read more

It's a big day, and I'm excited to take a pause from work with the rest of the country to watch Barack Obama give his inagural speech.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about the day of service. How Obama wants the country to come together in the name of service. And I heard MTV declare, last night, that the next generation is Generation S. For service.

So I'm thinking about service, and how all our efforts to help people, really, are aimed to make them more indepdent. And that's what work is about: Taking care of ourselves, mentally and financially.

When you mentor someone in the work arena, you are providing that service. So often we pick the superstar to mentor. Or the up-and-comer. Or the one who can help us with our own networking. But you can use your work skills to help someone pull themselves out of a bad spot. A really bad spot. Work skills are very powerful. And so is mentoring.

So when you think about service, don't' think of it as separate from work. Obama stands for all the things that we do, on this blog: Personal responsibility, transparency, honesty, change even when it's difficult. This inagural day is the beginning of meshing the public life and worklife so that we are living the values we believe in, wherever we go.

Think about how you can focus on service at work. Each of us has a lot of tools at our disposal. If we take the time to use them.

Is no one going to say that Sarah Palin rocked the vice presidential debate? Who is so arrogant to think that they could do better with just five weeks’ preparation?

She did a great job. She memorized speeches that she trotted out in good moments. And she had such nerve! Most of us would be too shy to flagrantly disregard the question, but she knew that was her job. She knew her job was to give set up answers and fit them in the best she could, and she did that. She delivered her lines very well. She played to the camera. She was friendly, and charming, and eloquent as long as you didn’t mind that she talked about whatever she wanted.

The thing is that most of politics is not about giving the right answer. It’s about giving any answer the right way. The world is not bashing Kennedy for beating Nixon in the classic debate where Nixon wore all the wrong stuff and the wrong makeup and could have said anything and he still would have lost. No. No one is complaining about Kennedy’s dependence on style in that debate. And we didn’t generally bash Reagan for being a great orator even though we thought he was probably losing his mind even before he got to office. He was still a great orator and could deliver his messages in a mesmerizing way.

Read more

I noticed in the New York Times Book Review last week, there was a nice review of Jim Krusoe’s new book, Girl Factory. I was happy to see that, because Jim Krusoe was my first—and most influential—writing teacher.

Jim teaches creative writing at Santa Monica College, (and his faculty page reveals so much about him). He lets anyone join the class, but you have to read your writing out loud. This weeds out almost everyone. Because first you have to write something. And then you have to let everyone rip it to shreds. In front of you.

But wait. It gets worse. Because Jim edits. He slashes most of the writing he reads. And then, if you’re new to the class, you assume he’s wrong, so you read out loud what he has cut and you hear it fall flat as soon as it leaves your lips.

Try it. Read something you wrote out loud to a friend. If it’s bad, you’ll feel right away that boredom has overcome the room. If you have even one flat sentence, you hear it when you read it out loud.

The first time Jim heard me read my writing, he said it was the best he'd heard anyone read in his class in a long time. Then he slashed everything I wrote for the next six years. Sometimes I’d hand in three pages of writing and he’d leave only five sentences.

But this is the thing about those five sentences: they were great. And here’s why I became a dedicated follower: Because I felt like he understood my compulsive need to write my life. And I understood his goal, which was to have interesting sentences. So when he cut full paragraphs that I thought were important because my sentences were boring, I felt grateful that he saved me from banality.

And I channel him every day that I write a post. I think to myself: Is this sentence one that Jim would cut?

I am not so arrogant as to think that Jim would even bother to read any of my sentences today. But I do know that the lessons I learned from Jim are the essence of good blogging. You can't be boring on a blog. People will stop reading.

So if you want to know how to write interesting paragraphs, read the authors who are famous for their ability to stun sentence by sentence. Try Jim Krusoe. Try literary types who sacrifice plot for prose: Ken Sparling, Martin Amis, Ann Beattie. (And, when you are feeling ambitious, Marcel Proust.)

I tell people all the time to pick a mentor rather than picking a job. Jim Krusoe is my first experience with this. He didn’t teach at a college I had ever heard of. And he didn’t even write books that I understood. But he is legendary for churning out well-respected writers, year after year.

Find a mentor with this reputation, and then work hard to make sure you each understand each others’ goals. What you’ll get out of this relationship is a new way to be more of your true self. And this is the best kind of job we can ask for.

We don’t have to find our true calling from a mentor. In fact, what I found from Jim was confidence to think that I should keep writing and see what happens. A good mentor opens doors, in our minds, and you can find that at any job, any company, anyplace your connection with someone is strong.

The first time it hit me how important mentors are is four years ago, when I interviewed Ellen Fagenson Eland, former professor at George Mason University. She gave me stunning statistics about how important mentors are to your career.

Eland gave me a seven-step plan for finding mentors (yes, you need a small group of them). And since then, I’ve written about other aspects as well — mostly as a way to keep myself focused on the task because it’s so important and so difficult.

Getting mentors is difficult because it’s just like dating: You have to invest a lot of time in a lot of people to find the ones who will really change your life. Over the years, I’ve had lots of different types of mentors. The eccentric CEO who showed me that success does not preclude weirdness, and my secret mentor who popped up unexpectedly. But the one I am feeling best about right now is a guy in Palo Alto, Chris Yeh. He turned out to be a real gem, so I’m going to tell you how it happened.

1. Recognize someone who thinks in ways that complement you.
I was interviewing a guy for my column in the Boston Globe, and I asked him, as I often do, if he had any friends who would be interesting to talk with. He gave me Chris Yeh’s name. I was immediately struck by Chris’s ability to talk on a wide range of topics that I care about a lot. And as a Harvard Business school grad living in Palo Alto, he brings a fresh perspective to my own.

2. Do favors. Again and again.
I immediately thought to myself, what can I do for Chris? I asked him what he is aiming to do next, what his plans are for the future, where he’s headed. He said he wanted to write a book about fatherhood, so I put him in contact with my agent.

3. Stay in touch continually.
I did not actually do this myself. Chris did. He would call at random times, just to say hi. I know very few people in business who do this. Most people email or IM, or, if they really want to talk on the phone, we schedule a call. Chris was different—I was not really his friend, and we were in different time zones, so he made the effort to figure out when I was most likely to be able to talk. Now I see that this as a super smart approach I should have initiated myself to build the relationship.

4. Ask for a formal relationship.
When I started my company, I asked Chris to be an advisor. He said yes, and then he told me the best way to use advisors, based on his experience at his own companies: Call at times you know are easy for them to talk, keep them up to date, and ask them what you should be asking them about.

The first time I asked Chris, “What should I be asking you now?” I felt silly. After all, it’s a line he fed me. But now I use it with him all the time, and it’s actually an invitation for him to tell me what he thinks I’m missing, which is information I wouldn’t get if I directed the conversation the whole time.

5. Invest time.
I had talked with Chris for hours and hours without meeting him in person. When I interviewed Edward Hallowell about his book, Crazy Busy, he described his research about face-to-face contact—how meeting for a just a few minutes changes the nature of a relationship. So I decided to meet Chris in person. On a trip to Los Angeles, I decided to fly to Palo Alto especially to meet him.

The trip took a lot of time, but I discovered that, true to what Hallowell says, meeting in person makes the relationship feel qualitatively deeper by virtue of the fact that you get that whole other layer of nonverbal communication.

Addendum: I called Chris this morning to make certain it was okay to use his name in this post. And he said “Sure, and tell people if they can’t find a mentor, they can ask me questions”?and you can link to Ask the Harvard MBA.” So there’s the link. And see, I told you—you have to keep doing favors.

Do you ever search 43 Things? I love going through it to see what goals people have for themselves. I like seeing where my own goals and accomplishments fit in with everyone else’s.

On 43 Things, 21 people want to learn to take criticism but 77,000 people want to get a promotion. You know what’s wrong with this? The way to get a promotion is to take criticism well, but most people don’t know they don’t do it well.

Everyone knows they are supposed to get a mentor. And in fact, getting a mentor is one of the best ways to get a promotion. But few people understand that the best way to get a mentor on your side is to take criticism well. This means not only hearing it, but acting on it immediately, and reporting back to the mentor that you have done that.

Which means that a key to finding people you can learn from is finding people you can take criticism from. There’s a great discussion on the blog Vineograph about how hard it is to find critics to trust. This is as true for wine recommendation as it is for career recommendations. The conclusion on this discussion is that you have to know a bunch about the person before you can decide if you trust their criticism. But before you trust someone, you have to start listening.

So I listen to tons of people, always looking for new, competent critics who I might be able to turn into mentors. People always ask me how I deal with so many negative comments on my Yahoo column. The answer is, I read them looking for good critics because you never know where you’ll find them.

Do not choose your critics because they are the best at constructive criticism. Your best critics may be totally undiplomatic; you need to find the people who best understand your best attributes. If they understand your strengths, then they understand when you’re not using them.

For this reason, I listen to Michael Kemelman who blogs at Recruiting Animal. He rips on me all the time in his blog. And he rips on people I publish, like Ryan Healy. But Michael is smart (and funny) and I have always known that he understands me even as he makes fun of me.

Last week he confirmed this. He sent me a list of four of his favorite posts, and the list means so much to me because they are posts that are only at the very edge of career advice, and they are my favorite kind to write.

So, here’s the list of favorite posts from one of the harshest critics I listen to:

The Fine Line Between Boasting on a Resume and Lying

Choosing Between a Kid and a Career

Happy Passover from my Blended Life

Confidence Boosters that Work for Me

Don’t jump so fast for that promotion or raise you’re about to win. Today’s workplace is largely unstable — people get laid off and job hop constantly, and in general, staying anywhere more than five years is a career liability. Your learning curve flattens out so much that you’re not gaining skills fast enough to stay competitive in the field.

In this environment, training is worth more than a promotion or a raise, and in fact, you’d do well to make a trade if someone offers you either. Training is the new currency of the workplace. Here are four reasons why:

1. Promotions are stressful.
When you get offered a promotion, it’s supposed to be a reward for good work. But in fact, most promotions derail you.

Think about it: You’re creating a career path that’s customized to your skills, strengths, and personal goals. How could anyone else create a path that’s right for you? Unfortunately, most companies structure a single corporate ladder and promote people upward whether it’s good for them or not.

In fact, most people do good work and then get promoted into a position they’ve shown no aptitude for. This is most pronounced when, say, a creative person or technical person gets promoted into management. In fact, most promotions are so misguided they’re more stressful than divorce.

2. Raises are negligible.
What do you get in exchange for taking the huge risk of leaving something you’re good at to do something you’re unproven at? What do you get in exchange for derailing your personal plans to follow someone else’s path? A 3 percent raise (on average), or 10 percent if you’re lucky.

Let’s say you get a 10 percent raise. If you’re earning $50,000, that’s $5,000. After taxes it’s around $3,500 — if you even stay in the job for another year. That amount of money won’t change your life, and even if you think it will, consider all the extra hours you’ll be working because you got promoted.

3. Mentors make a real difference.

What will change your life? Mentoring. People who have a mentor are more successful than people who don’t, across the board. For example, people with two mentors are 50 percent more likely to reach their next career goal than people who don’t have mentors.

So one thing you could do is spend less time gunning for that promotion and more time focusing on what you need to do to get a mentor. For example, ask good questions of the people you admire, and spend extra time getting to know people outside of your core group of coworkers.

It would be great if you could take your money from a promotion and buy a mentor, but life doesn’t work like that. (Although you could take the money and hire a career coach.)

4. Training creates stability.

You can trade money for training, though, and that’s what you should do. Your career trajectory and your ability to create a stable income are dependent on your skill set. There’s no job stability in the workplace today, so you have to count on yourself by being very desirable to employers. You do this by getting lots of training, and mentors to guide you on how to use that training.

There’s a huge range of training available today — you can get trained in how to deal with your email, how to connect better to people you speak to, and how to transition from college to adulthood. Have your company pay for this sort of training — it’s the kind that changes your life.

While a promotion actually makes your life more unstable, training creates more stability in your life. And that, rather than more money or a promotion, should be the real reward for performing well in your job.

By Ryan Healy — Successful entrepreneurship usually includes a group of trusted mentors, according to Ben Casnocha, author of My Start up Life. But now that I’ve spent a few months in corporate life, it’s clear to me that having a group of mentors is important whether you work for yourself or for someone else.

However, the majority of people I know are not great at seeking out and developing these relationships. What I have learned in the past few months is that it’s easier than you think! Here are three things I have done that have helped me develop very rewarding relationships with mentors.

1. Find the right network
For twentysomethings, the easiest place to look is in your parent’s network. Take advantage of it because they’ve been developing these connections for years. Ask your parents if any of their friends or colleagues work in a field you are interested in.

If you are not lucky enough to have well connected parents, all is not lost. Networking groups are everywhere these days. MeetUp.com gives you a way to find people with similar interests. Or you can start a niche blog and comment on blog posts from field-related experts. Leave a few insightful comments and your foot is in the door to contacting them.

2. Reach out
Once you have made the first connection, the next step is simple. Reach out with a short email. Ask for a few pieces of advice. Assuming your contact replies, continue the conversation for a few days. Finally, ask if she is interested in meeting up for a quick lunch. Despite the ease of connecting online, face to face interaction can make a big difference in how quickly you make your mentor feel connected with you. At the very least, try to have a relatively long phone conversation to get to know each other.

3. Think in terms of frequency
After a face to face meeting and a few emails, you should be able to tell if your contact is a potential mentor or advisor. If she is, don’t be afraid to bug her! This is always the hardest part for me, but it’s the only way you can develop a good relationship. Send an occasional email or call with a casual, not extremely important, but honest question once in a while. If she is truly annoyed by this, then it’s probably time to seek advice elsewhere. But for the most part, I have found people genuinely like to help, especially older folks. The more contact you have, the stronger the relationship will be and the more interest your advisor will take in your career.

Finding a true mentor can take a long time, but almost everyone will offer advice and guidance if asked politely. Corporate cultures that encourage collaboration between young and old are absolutely necessary, but the responsibility of developing these relationships is in the hands of young workers. Reach out to someone. Take a chance. The details will work themselves out.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

Other Brazen Careerist posts on mentoring:

7 Steps to finding and keeping a mentor

How to ask for mentoring

You need a mentor now, here’s how to get one