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My Favorite Career Tips

Choose a career, land the job, and succeed.

pxhere, public domain
Source: pxhere, public domain

I’m guilty of contributing to information overload: 1,471 posts on alone. (Thank you for the more than 9 million page views.)

So, if only as penance, I thought I’d take the time to describe, for each major career-related topic, what I believe is the single most potent but not obvious tip.

Choosing a career. That can be simpler than one might think. After 5,700 career counseling clients and having tried a variety of complicated and simple approaches, I generally consider the following simple approach to be wisest:

Choose a career that emphasizes your core ability (e.g., words, people, data, or entrepreneurship) and for which you have an “in”: whether it’s a family connection, previous experience or expertise, or even just what you focused on in school. You see, people’s happiness in a career depends far more on how well you’ve vetted an individual job opening and whether you’ve adapted it to emphasize your strengths and skirt your weaknesses than on which career it is. Yes, if you’re more of a word person than a people person or hands-on person, pick something that uses that, but if you try to narrow more than that, you increase your chances of having sat on the sidelines too long waiting for some "perfect" fit. My book Careers for Dummies profiles 350 careers, arranged by “word careers,” "people careers”, “self-employment opportunities," and so forth. Scanning those can quickly enable you to home in on a good fit.

Landing a good job. One size does not fit all. If you have a strong network of well-connected people who like you enough to go to the mat for you, great: Networking will be your best tool for landing a job. But if your network is meager, focus more on doing a great job on your LinkedIn profile, resume, and in answering ads: customized resume, cover letter, plus a piece of collateral material such as a white paper that you write to demonstrate your expertise in the job you're applying for. The latter is particularly helpful to career changers.

And as previously mentioned, if you're to be satisfied with your job, vetting is important: In interviews, as on dates, they’re judging you and you're judging them. So ask questions such as, “What would you expect I’d accomplish in the first 30 days?”

Negotiating compensation. The battle is often won and lost before the actual negotiation. Using people you know and databases such as Glassdoor, Payscale, and, learn your approximate fair-market value. Then be soft on the employer, harder on the numbers. Plus, focus on the non-cash, non-taxable issues, for example, your training budget and tweaked job responsibilities to suit your strengths, both of which benefit both you and the employer.

My typical rule of thumb: Reject the first offer, accept the second. Anything more that you get beyond that second offer can impose undue risk that the offer will be pulled or, at least, that expectations for your performance will be raised so that if you’re not great, you could be on the chopping block.

Onramping. Your star may never be brighter than when first hired. If you haven’t already, this is the time to renegotiate your job description to accentuate your strengths and skirt your weaknesses. Do that in your first meeting with your boss. At that meeting, also get clear on what’s expected of you and how the boss likes you to interact: frequent questions in-person, brief report-ins by email, etc. Also have one-on-ones with key stakeholders, the purpose of which is not just to establish rapport but to learn the unspoken rules in that workplace and perhaps about your boss.

Growing. Where possible, opt for “The Hey Joe School": asking a person in your office for help. That provides just-in-time learning about what you now care to learn about, The Hey-Joe School also incorporates an understanding of your workplace, and it’s free. Also excellent if obvious, is a just-in-time Google search. Such searches give you access to the wisdom of the world, instantly, for free, and Google-search’s algorithm tends to put the most valuable sites within the first few search results. You do need to be good at Google search. To that end, here’s an article on the subject. Don’t forget about videos: We often learn better by seeing something in action, for example, how to run a meeting or conduct a performance review.

Time management. Take lots of short breaks rather than a few long ones, let alone long vacations. If only because, as they say, sitting is the new smoking. Get out of that chair for a few minutes every hour, if only to walk up and down the stairs a couple of times. The walking and deeper breathing will refresh you and help you concentrate.

Procrastination. I promised to cite not-obvious tips, but the following has helped so many of my clients, I can’t resist. It’s the classic "baby-steps" tip. Many of my clients have reduced their procrastination by, when resisting a required task, taking a deep breath and doing the first one-second part of the task, then another, then another. Often, those few seconds of baby steps are enough to get the momentum going. Similarly, when reaching a hard part, struggle for just a minute. Then decide whether to get help, come back to it later when you can view the problem with fresh eyes, or go forward and get the task done, but without conquering that roadblock.

The takeaway

As always, short, simple tips risk being simplistic, but I hope you find at least something of value here.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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