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A Dozen Resolutions for the Career-Minded

By Marty Nemko

It’s really worth the effort to keep these resolutions:

Stop being so self-absorbed and narcissistic. Especially if you’ve been in therapy, you tend to think the world revolves around you. You keep looking inward, worrying, analyzing, fearing what others will think of you. Get out of your head and focus on helping others and on being productive. You’ll be happier, more successful, and better liked.

Talk more crisply, listen more intently. Most of us think we’re good communicators. Alas, few of us are. Keep your utterances under a minute, if possible, under 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, most people start thinking, “I wish he’d finish.” And when you’re listening, really listen to what your counterpart is saying and how he’s saying it. Also, ask follow-up questions. People love to be asked questions.

Act like a star at work. Whether you’re a clerk or a CEO, do the things a world-class employee would do, from the way you walk to the way you talk to the way you tackle hard tasks and difficult people. Act like a star and you boost your chances of becoming one.

Ask for what you want. It’s so simplistic, yet for fear of failure or rejection, people don’t ask. Resolve that from now on, if you’re asking for something reasonable, feel the fear and ask anyway.

Follow The World’s Shortest Management Course: Create a vision, inspire your supervisees to achieve that vision, don’t micromanage, fire the bad quickly, and take the time to hire great employees. As short as that “course,” is, it truly is at the essence of being a successful manager and leader.

Get your job description changed to suit your strengths. Don’t know what your strengths are? Make a list of things you’ve been praised for. Your core strengths lie within.

Request a special project that you’d find fun, would impress your boss, and the results of which would be visible to many employees. For example, if you’re a new and inexperienced salesperson, ask your sales manager if you could interview the other salespeople to create a booklet of sales tips and tricks. If your boss agrees, you get to learn a lot from the old hands and produce a product valuable to all. Instead of being seen as the green newbie, you’d be immediately seen as the up-and-comer.

Forgo State U for You U. When your career is stalled, it’s tempting to consider a back-to-school stint, but there’s an oversupply of degree holders. Thousands of people have spent years and fortunes on finishing their bachelor’s degree or MBA or even PhD to find that career doors did not swing open. You can often learn more of value, more quickly, and less expensively by forgoing State U let alone Private U in favor of what I call You U: self-and mentor-selected articles, books, workshops, conferences, and mentorships.

You might worry, “But an employer won’t be impressed with that.” They will be very impressed if you write the right cover letter. Imagine you were an employer and got an application letter from this candidate:

Dear Mr. Moneybags,

I suspect you’ll be tempted to toss my application because I don’t have an MBA but I believe I’m worth a look precisely because I chose to forgo it.

Having heard from so many people that they derived little of practical value from their MBA, I decided the two years could be more profitably spent.

I contacted marketing directors at leading Silicon Valley software companies and offered to work for them for no pay in exchange for their mentorship. A marketing manager at Hewlett-Packard took me on. After three months, I felt I had learned about as much as I could from him, whereupon I made a similar arrangement with a director of marketing at Cisco.

In those apprenticeships, I was deeply involved in a number of projects similar to those mentioned in your ad. In addition, I attended American Marketing Association conferences, read the best articles and books recommended by the AMA, and spent much of my commute time listening to relevant books on tape. To get the bigger picture, I even read a couple of books by leading academics.

But now comes the moment of truth. I believe I prioritized substance over form, but will you interview me?

I hope that you will appreciate my having developed a beyond-the box learning plan, that I was assertive enough to make it happen, and persistent enough to see it through to completion even though I didn’t have a professor and deadlines forcing me to do so. Perhaps more important, in working at the elbow of top software marketing executives, I learned a tremendous amount about how to do the job well.

I enclose samples of the deliverables I produced during my work at Hewlett-Packard and Cisco

Thank you for your consideration.


Jane Jobseeker

Would you interview that candidate? When, during a speech, I asked that question of the 200 executives in the audience, 90 percent raised their hand.

Procrastinator, overcome that career killer with this four-step method:

1) Be aware of the moment of truth. There is a moment when you, usually unconsciously, decide you’ll put off that task. Consciously decide whether it’s in your interest to do the task now or whether you’d really be more likely to do it later.

2) If you don’t know how to structure the task, ask for help.

3) Start with one-second tasks. Open the book, turn on your computer, whatever Those one-second tasks aren’t intimidating, and once you start, you usually find yourself continuing.

4) When you reach a stumbling block, struggle for no more than one minute. If you haven’t made progress within a minute, chances are that additional struggling won’t help. So after a one-minute struggle, get help or figure out a way to do the task without that hard part.

Remember the serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” So often, we let the unchangeable destroy our peace of mind: for example, a problem co-worker with whom we must work. Make that person as small a part of your life as possible, and when confronted with their laziness, stupidity, or tactlessness, just as you would with a brain-injured person, make the big effort to react with sympathy and gratitude for your superiority rather than with judgment and anger at their inferiority.

Job seekers, use the one-week job search. Concentrate your efforts into one hell week. Why? Because that maximizes the chances of your getting multiple job offers at around the same time, so you can pick the best one. The drips-and-drabs job search usually takes months by which time you’re grateful even for a lousy job offer. Besides, wouldn’t it be great to get that yucky task off your plate in just a week?

What to do during your hell week?

1. Answer ten on-target want ads. For portals to hundreds of employment websites go to and

2. Phone the 25 people who most love you and could help you land a job. Ask them for job leads.

3. Write and then follow-up call a hiring manager (not HR) at 25 dream employers, even if the employer isn’t advertising an appropriate job for you. Try to convince each employer to create a job for you.

4. If you’re looking for a job for which you have previous successful experience, contact five headhunters or employment agencies.

Never look back. Always look forward. My father spent his teenage years in concentration camps. When I was a teenager, I asked him, “How come you never seem angry about that?” He said, “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward.” We all have had bad things in our lives: parents or spouses who abused us, bad luck that impeded us, weaknesses our genetics perpetrated on us. But the people who spend time looking back, playing victim, have much sadder lives than those who never look back; always look forward.

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