39 Ideas for Your Career Success

Tips to help advance your career.

Posted Jul 07, 2018

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

On social media, I've been posting a Tip of the Day from my new book, Careers for Dummies. They should be of value for career-minded readers of this How to Do Life blog.


Keep career exploration short. Many people take six months or a year after leaving school to explore career options. Across my many clients who have done so, few have gained clarity beyond what could have been obtained from a month or less. In fact, typically, they’re more likely to remain inert. I’ve had many clients who intended to take a year off and 20 years later, still haven't committed to a career. They've dabbled around, often in dead-end work they’re unhappy with, and then found it difficult to get someone to hire them for a job likely to launch a decent career.

Start-ups are overrated.  Many job-seekers prefer start-ups, envisioning a relaxed, nimble culture and stock options worth a fortune. Alas, more often, start-ups are chaos followed by going out of business. Large companies have refined their processes, have deeper pockets, and in our brand-name society, boost your resume.

Be a patient advocate?  It requires a Magellan to navigate the labyrinthine U.S. healthcare system. Most people, especially when diagnosed with a serious disease, aren’t the best navigators. Enter the patient advocate. You help ensure the patient gets to see the needed specialist. You do research so the patient is more informed at appointments. You may accompany the patient to provide a second ear and ask questions, and check in on the patient in the hospital. You might sort through the bills and, if necessary, negotiate fees with the healthcare provider, insurance company, or government. Some hospitals and HMOs hire nurses and social workers as patient advocates, but significant unmet need remains. Assertive psychologically oriented types and lawyers could do well. Medical advocates may attract clients by contacting oncologists, cardiologists, and endocrinologists (they serve many diabetes patients,) or by speaking to support groups for newly diagnosed people.

Career in gene editing?  Even attributes previously assumed to be environmentally determined, such as political affiliation, are partly under genetic control. At the same time, techniques such as CRISPR are enabling researchers to develop gene therapies for preventing and curing disease and, subject to regulation, enhancement of everything from appearance to intelligence and maybe even altruism. In the 1967 movie The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman received a career tip: plastics. Today, if I were to give such a tip, it would be gene editing.

Combine an interest with a skill. A way to identify a well-suited niche is to combine a core skill of yours with a core interest. For example, an accountant who is psychologically oriented at core might specialize in doing accounting for psychologists, counselors, and coaches.

Go grungy?  Many people have rewarding careers in industries with grungy products, for example, janitorial, toxic waste, or post-disaster clean-up. But competition there is lighter, so it’s easier to land a good job and to rise to prominence and wealth than in a cool, commonly considered field.

Status is the enemy of success. Business school encourages students to start high-status, cool-sounding businesses, for example, high-tech, biotech, entertainment, or environmental. But high-status businesses attract the best and the brightest. Your odds of success improve if you compete with lesser lights. Status is the enemy of success.

Don’t innovate; replicate. MBA programs urge entrepreneurs to innovate. Easy for them to say. In the real world, new ideas are too prone to fail: You misread the market, have no comparable businesses to copy ideas from, and have to educate your market on your innovation. And if your idea works too well, a better-funded entity could compete you into the ground. The leading edge is often the bleeding edge; guinea pigs often die. Deep-pocketed corporations can afford to fund many failures to find one success. The would-be self-employed can’t. Don’t innovate; replicate.


Ask about the program’s employment record. When choosing a training program, especially in psychology, the arts, or journalism, ask, “What percent of students who start the program end up with a career in that field earning a middle-class living?”

Get tech-plus. Soft-skilled types, learn some relevant piece of tech. Tech types, develop a soft skill: clearer communication, emotional intelligence, public speaking, etc.

Working with a tutor is an underutilized, time-effective learning method. For example, rather than take a course, get a book, study manual, or read a few articles and then have a tutor start you off. You may find one at www.tutor.com or www.wyzant.com. Then keep a list of questions and problems, and use that as the basis of the next tutoring session.

Career changers, write a White Paper. When wanting to learn something that will facilitate a career change, read a dozen articles you unearth from a Google search. Each time you find a nugget—something fresh, not obvious, and important—copy and paste it into a Word file. Massage your nugget file into a 2-to-3 page white paper you’ll title, What’s New and Key in (insert the field.)" Include that paper in your applications for jobs.


Seek a launchpad job? An underdiscussed career launchpad is a receptionist job at a brand-name employer, for example, Google, Disney, Gates Foundation, even the federal government. Competition isn’t as fierce for those jobs and once in, you get to meet many people who could catapult you.

Walk in the employer’s shoes. Job-seekers, put yourself in your target employer’s shoes. Ask yourself, “Would stating this make me more or less likely to want to hire this candidate?"

Don’t stress about your resume’s length. You needn't worry about whether your resume is one page or two. Include any information, concisely, if  you think it would make an employer more likely to hire you over other candidates. Also, it’s better to spread the resume over two pages with plenty of white space than to cram it onto one page.

Use a highlights letter instead of a resume?  If your resume is unlikely to be top-of-the-stack, even if an employer asks for a resume, it may be wiser to substitute a highlights letter, which lists your key accomplishments and attributes that would make your target employer want to hire you. Of course, some employers will nix you for not sending a resume but when day is done, if you have a long employment gap or are a career changer, you’ll likely land a good job faster by casting your lot with a highlights letter.

Leverage your alumni. Especially if you attended a small college, at which bonds tend to be strong, alumni connections can be powerful. Of course, you could access them through your college’s alumni directory, but it may be easier to home on useful ones at www.linkedin.com/alumni.

Tap your weakest leads first. Job-seekers, when asking for leads from your network, first contact the people least  likely to help you. That's because your first few reach-outs won’t be as polished. When you have your act together, jump to your top leads so you still sound fresh. That’s analogous to the printer who uses cheap paper for the first few copies and then, when the pages are printing well, substitutes the high-quality stuff.

Join or start a workplace alumni group. That can fruitfully expand your network. If you’ve worked for a large organization, even as an intern, but no longer do, join or start an alumni group. One may exist as a LinkedIn or Yahoo! group. Its members share an affinity with you and so are more likely to introduce you to prospective employers or otherwise be helpful.

Get on a program committee. A particularly potent way to get involved in your professional association is to get on its program committee, which meets multiple times to select speakers for local and national conferences. You thus get to know its members better and, possibly to invite speakers to the next conference, an opportunity to interact with heavy hitters.

Maybe you needn’t network. Most people need to network...but not all. Possible exceptions:

  • You believe your resume will, often enough, be top-of-the-stack for your desired position, or you’re already well employed and positioned to move up.
  • You’ve made major efforts to improve your networking skills, you’ve tried them extensively, and they’ve yielded too little fruit to justify further effort. You’d be wiser to focus on creating excellent applications for advertised jobs.
  • You find networking distasteful or ethically unacceptable. Indeed, a case can be made for networking being a ploy for getting a job you wouldn’t deserve on the merits. Such people might want to try to land the job the traditional way, simply by answering ads well.

Treat interviews like first dates: You’re both checking each other out. Read the vibes, intuit what the boss will be like, ask a few probing questions. If allowed, ask one or two during the interview, not just at the end. That will help you vet the job, demonstrate curiosity and interest, and you won’t appear desperate. Sample questions:

  • If I turned out to be an excellent employee, what would you hope I’d accomplish in the first week or month?
  • Every office culture is different. What would you say differentiates yours?
  • Every boss has a different style. How would you describe yours?
  • What should I know about the organization (or workgroup) that might not appear in the employee handbook?

Compress your job search. Job-seekers, in negotiation, you gain powerful leverage if you have another job offer in hand (or a few in the skillet.) That’s why it’s wise to do a thorough job search, all compressed into a busy week or two. Reaching out to every prospect in just that week or two maximizes your chances of having another job offer at the same time as you’re negotiating for the first one. That’s also why, even when you’re feeling relieved that your job search is finally over, you shouldn’t stop looking. And when you have an offer, or even sense that one might be coming, trumpet that news to all your leads. Having one employer want to hire you often motivates others to want to, perhaps at an accelerated rate to avoid losing you. Everyone wants what’s hot. That would be you.

Focus on non-cash negotiating items. In negotiating your compensation, it’s usually wise to focus on non-cash items. That’s because the amount of additional salary you wring will be taxed at your top rate—federal, state, and local. So typically, you lose half of what you negotiated, you've used negotiating chits (You can't negotiate everything), and the employer gets nothing in return. In contrast, if you negotiate for, for example, a better-suited job description, the right to telecommute for part of the week, or a training budget, both you and the employer benefit, and you’re not giving half of what you’ve negotiated to the government.


Routinize.  Ritualize a disdained big task. For example, a job-seeker might start each day with 10 minutes of procrastination, two solid hours of job-seeking, and the rest of the day not worrying about the job search. Repeat.

Max your to-do list. Write to-do items every night before going to bed or first thing in the morning. Check your to-do list (and calendar) throughout the day. It feels comforting to check those items regularly so you don’t forget something important. Also, it feels good to cross items off the list.

Keep utterances under a minute, and talk 30 to 50 percent of the time. To avoid being perceived as long-winded, keep your utterances under a minute and, in a two-person conversation, speak 30 to 50 percent of the time.

Anger prone? Avoid trigger situations and people. If you’re hotheaded, rather than the difficult task of trying to control your temper once incensed, it’s usually better to put yourself in situations unlikely to trigger anger: a job with few negative surprises and with co-workers you respect, plus a personal life with people unlikely to trigger you.

Tweak your job description?  When you’re starting out on the job, your stock is high. It’s a good time to ask to tweak your job description to accentuate your strengths and skirt your weaknesses.

Form a board of advisors. Four years ago, I invited the seven colleagues or friends I most respect to form a board of advisors. Since then, we’ve met monthly on Google Hangout from 7 to 8 p.m. The structure is simple: After three minutes of small talk, I ask, “Who’d like to take the floor?” Someone volunteers and shares a problem on which s/he wants the group’s input. The group asks questions and tactfully offers suggestions until the person cedes the floor with, for example, “Thank you. Who’d like to take the floor?”

Chime in last. Be the last to speak up on an important topic. Your silence may generate curiosity about what you’re thinking or may make some wonder whether you’re thinking at all. So, when you finally speak up, your comment may attract particular attention. Also, by waiting until others have had their say, they're less eager for you to finish so they can add their two cents. Perhaps most important, waiting enables you to incorporate the best of what’s been said and to avoid making an obvious mistake. Of course, by then someone else may have made your good point but it’s generally worth taking that risk. Besides, it’s not all about you. If a good idea is brought up, that’s to everyone’s advantage, even if you weren’t the person who offered it.

Criticism isn’t a dirty word. Tactful criticism accompanied by a suggestion for improvement is part of a supervisor’s job. With in-office employees, manage by walking around, giving in-context feedback. Strike a balance: Criticize too rarely and you’re not providing enough feedback. Criticize too often and you’ll likely demotivate.

Hirers: Weight brains over experience. For most positions, intelligence, drive, and being low-maintenance trump specific experience or skills.

Hirers: Recruit by asking for referrals from trusted colleagues. Relying on respondents to a job ad is risky. As someone who has coached countless job seekers, on average, weaker applicants do more to hide their weaknesses, for example, papering over employment gaps and poor performance on previous jobs.

When hiring, interviews should consist mainly of simulations. For example, if the candidate will be running meetings, have the person lead a brief mock meeting with the interviewer(s) playing the role of the attendees. Also, probe claimed accomplishments, stating, for example, “Tell me the details about how you saved the company $200,000.” Avoid questions that can be coached in advance, such as “Tell me about yourself” or “What’s your greatest strength and weakness?”

Keep a time-effectiveness voice whispering in your ear. I’m helped to get a lot done by having a little voice always whispering in my ear: “Is this the best use of my time?” That makes me conscious of time sucks — for example, watching TV for too long, listening to my whiny friend yet again, or trekking to my second cousin’s third wedding in Altoona.

Procrastinators, take choice out of the equation. Given a choice, many people too often choose not to work. So if you foundationally accept that you need to prioritize work, contribution, and getting stuff done, do you want to try to get into the habit of not even thinking about whether you should do your work? To make it not a choice?

Use the 1-minute task. Often, a big project is daunting, so it’s tempting to procrastinate doing it. But one minute is a friendly, not-intimidating amount of time. So it may help you get the ball rolling to ask yourself, “What’s my next 1-minute task?” Do that and then force yourself (yes, force yourself) to do the next 1-minute task, and the next. Often, that’s enough to keep you going: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

Yes, be nice, but more important, be good. Many people smile, engage in chitchat, and hold the door open for little old ladies, but when it comes to money or power, they choose expediency over ethics. Judge people not by easy niceness or what they claim but rather by what they do when they could profit from doing something unethical.

I read this aloud on YouTube.