Monday, March 31, 2008

Talking to People to Learn About Possible Job/Career Paths

The day I first learned that Los Angeles had railroad police, I was talking at a party to a man I didn’t know, and he told me that’s what he did. I had never heard of railroad police, so of course I asked him to describe in more detail what railroad police did.

That day I learned about a possible interesting career – not necessarily for me, but just a piece of information to be filed away for a future time.

And when you’re considering possible career fields for yourself, an interest in asking people about themselves and what they do can be very valuable.

I also remember the day a professor at a California college disparaged someone working in banking. This Ph.D. thought if you were in banking that meant you were a teller. She had no idea about the number of varied career paths all under the umbrella heading of “working in banking.”

We should all be careful with pre-conceived judgments about career fields for which we only know the popular image – especially if that image comes from television, movies or the internet.

While there are books about various careers – such as jobs in the medical field, in my opinion the best way to learn about a possible career path is talking to someone who actually does that job.

First, the person may bring up areas about a career that you would never even think to consider. Second, you can ask questions if something specific in the discussion sparks your attention. And, third, down the road you may be able to ask that person to write a recommendation letter for you based on your early interest in that job/career field. Or maybe that person will offer to help you find a “test drive” internship in that field.

Whenever you meet new people, or talk to people you don’t know well, ask them about themselves. And then ask about what they do. You might even ask about hobbies, because sometimes one person’s hobby is another person’s living.

The more you learn the more you’ll know, and one of the possible job/career avenues you learn about may just be the one for you.

Do you have any “unknown” career fields you learned about only because you happened to talk to someone who did that job?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Girl Scouts Need Marketing Help

The March 25th Wall Street Journal had an interesting advertising article by Ellen Byron titled “Girl Scouts Seek an Image Makeover.”

The Girl Scouts organization is naming its first chief marketing officer – Laurel Richie – and she’ll have the mandate of “modernizing the image of the Girl Scouts.” (Ms. Richie is a former senior partner and executive group director at WP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather.)

Reading this article I thought – here’s an opportunity for people wanting to test out a marketing career to offer marketing help in their own communities. This marketing help could be, for example, working with a single troop or having an unpaid internship with one of the 109 leadership councils (restructured from more than 300).

Although the organization is targeted at ages five to 17, you could be any age if you want to help get the word out about the changes in this organization and what’s now being offered for the target group.

Also, according to the Journal article, “Ms. Richie is hoping to increase the group’s exposure among demographics that have been underrepresented in its troops, particularly Hispanics, Asians and other groups.”

If you’re looking for a way to have some marketing experience as well as the possibility of a recommendation letter for future jobs searches, consider contacting your local Girl Scouts today.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Career Advice: Put Yourself Out There – Politely

I received an email about an illustrator/graphic design position at a Los Angeles company. Whenever I get such an email, I stop to think who I know that might be interested.

I forwarded this email to someone – let’s call him Jeff -- looking for work after being laid off when a web company closed.

Jeff emailed back thanking me for this announcement and saying that he’s interested in the position but he doesn’t have all the job requirements.

I suggested to Jeff that he reply to the job opening – telling the company truthfully what he had just told me – and adding that he’d appreciate it if the company kept his resume on file for future job needs.

Here are the exact words of Jeff’s reply to me: “Wow. I was kind of shy doing that but you have a point! Will do!”

And my next response to Jeff was that he should NOT be shy. The more people he sends his resume to the better. You never know who knows who.

Maybe the person receiving Jeff’s resume will pass it along to someone looking for a person with Jeff’s skills. Jeff’s resume can’t be passed along unless he first sends it.

If there’s a reasonable connection to a job posting (Jeff has all the required skills except one) and as long as you’re honest and polite – go for it!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box for Career Skills

For learning most career skills there is the tried-and-true path, the one that most people know about and have followed. Yet, in some cases, thinking outside the box for certain skills may give you an advantage over people who have followed the well-traveled road.

Here’s an example:

Aspiring writers ask all the time: “How can I improve my writing?” And the usual answers include taking writing courses, reading books on writing, and studying examples of good writing.

Recently I gave an “outside the box” answer to this question because the person asking it wants to be an advertising copywriter. Now anyone who has ever seen, heard or read an advertisement knows that a good ad starts with an attention-grabbing headline and, in most cases, has very brief copy after the headline.

I suggested to the aspiring copywriter that he take improv stand-up comedy classes. Why? Because improv stand-up comics have to come up with short and attention-grabbing sentences. This could be excellent training for writing advertising copy.

This idea met with enthusiasm from the aspiring copywriter. While he said he had never even heard of improv classes, he could see how this might help his writing. I told him it was thanks to my father, who started taking improv classes at an advanced age, that I got this idea. (See my father’s blog at

Do you have other examples of “outside the box” answers for acquiring certain career skills?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life After Active Military Duty

The front-page of the March 25th Wall Street Journal has this news blurb:

“Returning veterans earn less than civilians and have a harder time finding work, a government report concluded.”

An hour after reading this news item I received a message on MySpace from “Jay.” He told me about a website to help former military personnel earn good pay in civilian jobs.

I’m not endorsing this website because I don’t know enough to do so.

What I am saying is that this is a very important topic – civilian employers frequently do not adequately value the skills and talents that ex-military personnel have learned in the military. And this leads to the lowered earning power and harder time finding work.

One reason for this may be because civilian employers have never been in the military themselves. Thus these prospective employers have no idea what skills and talents are learned. And putting “Reconnaissance Marine” on your resume probably doesn’t mean a great deal to people who have no experience with the military.

While national programs to help ex-military personnel enter civilian life are needed, I also believe that ex-military personnel must learn how to leverage their service skills for the civilian workforce.

A Reconnaissance Marine, for example, must figure out – by himself/herself or with help from others – how to translate military skills into civilian work skills. Here’s a partial list of military skills that are very important in business:





People can be taught civilian skills such as marketing or bookkeeping much easier than people can be taught teamwork, cooperation, initiative and preparation. These four skills are best learned while actually doing them – and these skills are practiced every single day in a person’s military career.

I will return to this subject sometime in the future. I have the letters I wrote home to my parents while my husband and I were stationed in Munich, Germany. In the letters I complained that my husband was losing valuable years out of the workforce. And my mother wrote me very encouraging letters about all the skills and knowledge my husband was gaining that others were not.

(For my blog on military topics in preparation for the release of my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL, go to

It’s important to focus on all these important “business” skills that military personnel utilize every single day. These skills can be great assets to any prospective employer.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Watching What You Post on MySpace and Facebook

We’ve all heard people say that our reputation is one of our most precious possessions. And that once our reputation gets tarnished, it’s very hard to untarnish it.

Another one of the advice points from the book by Harry H. Harrison Jr. -- “1001 Things Every College Student Needs to Know” -- is:

“You need to know many career and graduate school plans have been derailed by pictures of drunken, half-naked students being posted on Facebook and MySpace. Employers and graduate school admissions officers have computer access too.”

In FLIPPING BURGERS AND BEYOND I spend a great deal of time discussing how to protect your image. The advice ranges from getting a professional email rather than something such as “sexyme” to looking the part for the type of job for which you’re interviewing. (Proper dress for an established engineering firm may be totally different than for a start-up web company even though in both cases you’re interviewing for a website designer position.)

Yet the most important advice for preventing the destruction of your image is when I discuss being careful what you put on any public online space. Anyone and everyone can and probably will see any R-rated photos you post.

Before you upload the photos of your most recent birthday party, check that all the photos are “decent.” If there are any that you wouldn’t want your current employer or a prospective employer to view, do not put them on your profile page.

Strive for a clean public image in person and online, and your career opportunities won’t be limited by one silly antic or racy posted photo.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Using a Lull in One’s Career to Explore New Possibilities

I’ve just been in contact with a 30-year-old man laid off a month ago when an aspiring web company threw in the towel. I don’t know the particulars of his story – his ultimate goals, where he wants to go from here – yet I’ve been giving some thought to what opportunities there might be at this time in life for him.

(I do know that he started out in life as a musician, and that there are often not numerous steady paying career jobs for musicians.)

Let’s take this young man’s case as an example. We’ll call him George. And right now George is looking for a full-time job.

Yet as he has flexible hours at this point, is there some place at which he could volunteer for a few hours a week? Some place that might connect him to a job in computer programming or a job connected to music or even a third area that he’s always wanted to try out?

Although he’s worried about finding a job to pay the rent, etc., could he look at this momentary hitch in his career as an opportunity to test drive another possibility along with meeting new people? People to whom he can tell he’s looking for a job. (Always tell people that you’re looking for a job; do not assume that people will figure this out on their own.)

There’s even the possibility, for example, of George taking a job at Starbucks. He doesn’t necessarily have to put this job on his resume once he gets a new position. But in the meantime he can reduce his worries about paying the rent and get out among new people. He might even get an idea for a job from a casual remark made by a customer.

Let’s hope George takes this unexpected break in his career to explore new possibilities while looking for a steady paying career job.

Any wisdom you have for George in this situation?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Graduating From College Takes Preparation

I spend a great deal of my time talking to teens and parents about getting into colleges. Yet there’s a related topic that I don’t usually talk about. This is going all the way on the journey – finishing college with a degree.

According to Harry H. Harrison Jr. in his new book “1001 Things Every College Student Needs to Know,” the statistics on the number of students who start college and then actually graduate are not encouraging. He says that “only 54 percent of college freshmen graduate within six years.”

Harrison has a great deal of good advice, and some advice with which I don’t necessarily agree. Yet this one piece of advice about college really made me smile:

“You need to know that preparation is a key to graduation. Showing up to class unprepared means a quick turn in the career path … toward flipping burgers.”

One problem, I believe, is that the Advance Placement courses taken in high school -- which are supposedly the equivalent of college courses -- give a false sense of security to incoming college freshmen.

“Hey, I’ve taken five AP classes in high school. I’m prepared for college work.”

Most incoming freshmen couldn’t be more wrong. And here’s one reason why this is so:

You took an AP class that probably met every school day with the same regularity as other classes. You knew you had to study each night for the next day’s class.

In college your classes will usually meet only two or three times a week. It’s very easy to put off studying because you don’t have this class the next day. Then, whoops, it’s class time again and you never got around to studying.

The truth is, having lots of free time in college instead of the structured high school day can be detrimental to your college academic record and your chance of graduating with a degree.

When in college try to study a little each night on each subject, the way you did in high school. In this way you will be better prepared for each class -- and better prepared to stay in college until you get your degree.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Learning Social Graces for Your Career

You may be one of those people who knows exactly what to say and do in any social setting. You’re at a baseball game with your office co-workers and you can yell at the ump with the best of them. Or you’re at a charity fundraiser cocktail party and you can easily mingle with people you don’t know.

For the rest of us, it can take years of observing other people’s social skills as well as practicing with friends before we get to that comfort level.

Being a journalist early in life taught me that people love to talk about themselves. If you show a genuine interest in people, they’ll usually be happy to talk about what’s important to them. And what’s important to other people should be important to you.

Here’s an example:

At work on Friday a colleague mentions that she is going to Santa Barbara for the weekend. The following Monday you ask her how Santa Barbara was. She’s pleased by this question because you’ve validated her by remembering what she said, and she feels good about you.

A smile is another “little thing” that can go a long way. Smiling at people as you walk around the office invites people to smile back. The next thing you know you’re saying hello to these people and they respond to your greeting.

FYI – Check that your smile is actually a smile. Recently a young person discovered by looking in the mirror that what he thought was a smile probably didn’t appear that way to other people. If this is also true for you, practice smiling a recognizable smile.

When you need to have people agree with you or promote a project of yours, the people with whom you’ve established a congenial “passing” relationship are more likely to go along with your project.

Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes leads to understanding and appreciating other people. And when you appreciate other people, they appreciate you.

Do you have any suggestions for speeding up the social graces learning curve?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Proper Etiquette for Young People at Job Interviews and at Work

On a visit to Chicago I had the opportunity to read the Chicago Tribune’s “Ask Amy” March 16th column in which Amy Dickinson addresses the problems of a small deli owner who can’t hire good help.

The deli owner’s complaints: “People show up wearing short tops baring their midriff, and rings in their noses, eyebrows, lips and bellybuttons. They often have very poor hygiene.” His complaints also included the taking and making of personal calls at work or checking cellphones every 10 minutes.

Then on March 17th The Wall Street Journal had a careers article by Carol Hymowitz entitled “Executives Teach Inmates How to Be Employees.” The article described how Mark Goldsmith, a former executive at Revlon and Shiseido, in 2005 launched nonprofit Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO) that works with 275 young inmates in upstate New York prisons and 150 at Rikers Island prison in New York City.

This nonprofit was launched after Goldsmith volunteered at the Rikers high school for inmates. And Goldsmith continues to work with these young inmates on preparing them for getting careers – not just jobs – after they are released from prison.

Considering the two articles, I thought how Goldsmith’s ideas need to be heard by all young people throughout the country as well as the young prison inmates with whom Goldsmith and other executives work.

According to the Journal article, Goldsmith says that the three most important things to say at a job interview are: “I’m never late. I work very had. I never get sick.”

Here’s the part of the Goldsmith story that most excited me, something that I talk about in FLIPPING BURGERS – making your own luck:

Goldsmith encouraged Larry “to talk directly to the hiring manager when he applied for a job at Target. When Larry wasn’t selected from a crowd of other applications, he stuck around until the manager noticed him and invited him to his office. Within an hour, he had a job.”

Larry told Goldsmith: “I got lucky.”

Goldsmith’s reply: “You made your luck.”

How can you make your luck in your next job interview?

Encouraging Women to Attend Graduate Business School – Part II

In my last post I asked the question: What do business people do?


That’s the thrill of a business school education – it can be utilized in so many different kinds of positions and industries.

Some of these positions you may be able to name – accountants, Wall Street stock brokers, marketing people, computer programmers . Yet these are only the beginning.

And what about industries? Oil companies, retail chains, consulting practices, brokerage firms, food manufacturers, automobile manufacturers. The list is endless.

This is where internships during the college years come in handy. Pick an industry that appeals to you – and get an internship in that industry. Then talk to the people who work there and see what education they have, what training they’ve gone through, what their goals and expectations are. You may discover that going to graduate business school after a couple of years of work experience could be just the thing for you.

Oh, yes, don’t worry about the math. Back in the Stone Age, I had to pass a calculus course before I started Wharton. I lived and breathed calculus for three weeks, passed the course, and NEVER USED CALCULUS AGAIN in my two years of graduate business school.

If you think graduate business school may be your destiny, go for it. And one day on television you may see "House" and "Boston Legal" make room for "Business Basics."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Encouraging Women to Attend Graduate Business School – Part I

U.S. law schools and medical schools in recent years have been successful in bringing their classes up to 50% women, yet top graduate business schools still cannot get classes of 50% women.

Many theories abound for why this is so. One such reason is that, while students usually go to med school or law school right out of undergraduate college, nowadays graduate business schools want their students to first have “real world” business experience for several years. This requirement, the theory goes, pushes women up against their “biological ticking clock.”

The problem is being addressed in several ways. One recently announced special Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is Harvard’s 2+2 , in which college liberal arts majors who are juniors apply to Harvard Business School. If these students are accepted, they are assigned a mentor to help them obtain a job in the business world for two years, and then they enroll at Harvard.

The other reason that women may not be flocking to business schools in the same numbers as to law schools and medical schools is because there is less understanding of what BUSINESS is all about.

You all know from watching television shows what doctors do (or don’t do in the case of “House”) and what lawyers do (or don’t do in the case of “Boston Legal”). But what do business people do?

In my next post I’m going to answer this question.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Learning From Graduate School Application Rejections

Yesterday a friend told me her daughter didn’t get accepted to a graduate program to which she had applied. This happened even though the daughter had made the first cut based on grades and standardized test scores and thus got an interview on campus.

I suggested to my friend that her daughter call the graduate program and ask what she could have done to have gotten an acceptance. In other words, what could she have improved that would have made the difference?

Was her essay not strong enough? Were her interviewing skills weak? Or were there just too many applicants with similar backgrounds to hers, and the graduate program wanted a more diverse student body?

My friend wasn’t sure that her daughter should try to find out why she hadn’t been accepted. After all, it’s one person’s reason. Maybe that person didn’t think highly of her daughter’s interviewing skills yet another person would think highly of the same skills.

Because I could see both sides of this question, I said that, if the daughter got into at least one of the other four graduate programs to which she applied, then there probably wasn’t a need to find out what she could have done to improve her admittance chances at the other schools.

But if the daughter didn’t get accepted into any of the four programs, she might consider checking with these schools before she begins applying to other graduate programs.

What do you think? When would it be a good idea to try to find out why you weren’t accepted somewhere? And when would it not be a good idea to try to do this?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Formatting a Resume for Internships

Everyone has an opinion about formatting a resume. Some people like education listed at the top; some like education listed at the bottom. Some like hobbies included; some don’t.

Here are the important points no matter what resume format you use:

1) Make sure that your resume has no spelling or grammar mistakes.

2) Only capitalize proper nouns.

3) Have someone unfamiliar with your information read your resume to ensure that everything makes sense.

4) Go for ease of reading above all else – don’t use several different fonts and other fancy elements that muddy the readability.

5) If you have a passion, there should be items on your resume that indicate this passion.

6) Make sure that the most important information STANDS OUT.

Resumes are written in partial sentences, so forget about complete sentences starting with “I was.” In a resume there is no need to say: “I was a lab assistant at a radiation laboratory.”

Instead you list the name of the lab, then a dash, and then the words “assistant” or “lab assistant.” Under that line of information you write a brief description (see below.) As it is your resume, it is clear that it is you who performed the research experiments.

Universal Lab – Assistant January-March 2008, Los Angeles

Performed research experiments on rats to determine the missing gene that may lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s under the supervision of the head of the biogenetics department.

And choose strong action words that convey positive images – performed is one such word. You wouldn’t, for example, say instead: “Did research experiments.” Of course you did them. Performed, conducted, etc. are stronger words. Use specific visual images that catch the attention of the person reading your resume.

Any other tips you have for effective resumes for internships?

Monday, March 10, 2008

How to Fill Out Your First W-4 IRS Tax Form

You’re excited when you arrive at your first day of work for your first real job. Then your new employer hands you a W-4 form and tells you to fill it out. You have no idea what to do.

Below is advice from tax attorney Mitchell R. Miller. (This information is also available at along with other valuable free information.)

If you have a simple tax situation (see * below for who doesn’t have a simple tax situation) – do the easy part first: Fill in your name, address, and social security number on lines 1 and 2. Check the box in line 3 for single or married.

Only one thing remains – how much income tax withholding should be taken out of your check.

(A lot more than just income tax will be automatically taken out: there’ll be social security tax, state disability, medical insurance, 401(k) contribution and others, depending on your employer and state. You’ll undoubtedly be surprised – unpleasantly – when you see how much you actually end up with after taxes.)

Income tax withholding is expressed in terms of “allowances” as in “How many allowances are you claiming?”

The “allowances” are just a rough way of figuring what your income taxes will be for the year, and trying to get your withholding as close to that number as possible. (Some people like to get a big refund check when they file their return – it’s like forcing you to save – but that’s really a waste because you don’t earn any interest on that money. Instead, open a savings account and put in some money religiously, even if it’s only a few bucks every payday.)

Here’s how to calculate the correct number of allowances:

Step 1: Figure out how much you’re going to be making between now and the end of the calendar year.

Step 2: Ask your parents if they are claiming you as a dependent on their tax return.

Step 3: If you’re going to make less than $5,000 this year before taxes, write EXEMPT in line 7.

Step 4: If you’re going to make more than $5,000 this year before taxes and you are claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax return, put a “1" on line 5.

Step 5: If you’re going to make less than $8,100 this year before taxes and you are not claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax return, write EXEMPT in line 7.

Step 6: If you’re going to make more than $8,100 this year before taxes and you are not claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax return, put a “1" on line 5.

Final step: Sign and date on the line just above 8 and give the form to your employer.

And, remember, you can always change your W-4 at any time if your circumstances change – for example, if you go from a part-time job to a full-time job or get a big raise. You can always ask your employer’s payroll people for help.

* You do not have a simple tax situation if you:

! have income from interest or dividends

! are married or supporting a child

! have your own business

! are a grad or professional school student and are receiving a stipend, or

! have anything at all complicated in your tax situation

In these cases you need to talk to an accountant. Or if you’re really ambitious, go to the IRS website – – and download Publications 4 and/or 919 and use these publications to figure out your withholding.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Your Resume: A Job By Any Other Name …

This weekend I saw the new movie “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” In the movie a destitute governess plays along as if she is the person sent to fill the position of social secretary to a young woman.

What’s interesting about the switch from governess to social secretary is that the skills Miss Pettigrew uses are basically the same in both jobs: applying common sense to the organization and behavior of someone else who – either due to a very young age or to a particular personality – is incapable of doing these things for herself/himself.

This re-direction of the same skills has much to do with your figuring out how skills you now have – from photocopying book manuscripts to entering expenditures in a computer program – can be applied in a new job or situation that you want to get.

For example, to be a good photocopier you must check that every page is actually copied. If you don’t check, you may later be reprimanded by a boss who unhappily discovered at midnight that the book was missing pages 420-423.

In a future interview for a job with more responsibility, you can stress how carefully you always checked such manuscripts, and that you never got a call from an enraged boss about missing pages.

While this skill may sound trivial to you, for a prospective employer this attention to detail can be very important.

Can you suggest other examples of what appear to be trivial skills are actually quite important skills?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Impact of Your Career on Others

Yesterday I talked about creating your own internships to check out the reality of what you want to be when you grow up. This got me thinking about unusual careers that people I know have.

And what popped into my mind was something a fireman once said to me about why he didn't like his career: "The best day of your life is the worse day for someone else."

And because this unhappiness about his career affected his relationships with his family, he was trying to pave the way into a new career. During the long hours at the firehouse waiting for "that call," he worked on writing screenplays. And he took vacation -- complete with his wife, children and mother-in-law -- in Los Angeles to attend seminars on getting your screenplays bought in Hollywood.

This was someone who had given serious consideration to the impact his career had on others, and he was trying to change that impact. Can you think of other careers that are toxic on those around them? How might those toxic careers be morphed into less toxic ones?

And check out for valuable information.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Importance of Internships

I'm currently in the process of revising the teen success guide I've written: FLIPPING BURGERS AND BEYOND: FIND YOUR OWN PATH THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE AND LIFE (

In the guide I stress the importance of internships for: college applications, learning about possible career fields, and trying out careers before committing to grad schools such as law and medicine. And one of my favorite aspects of internships is creating these yourself rather than trying to compete with hundreds of other people for formal internships.

Today's Wall Street Journal careers article titled "Students Craft Internships to Fit Interests" is exactly what I talk about in FLIPPING BURGERS. I particularly like the quote from Northwestern University grad David Fine about an internship he crafted for himself: "It helped me to realize that this is a feasible interest to pursue and a feasible career field." Yes! That's what I'm talking about.

And there was another article in today's Wall Street Journal -- a page one story titled "High Schools Add Classes Scripted by Corporations." The main point of the article was that engineering corporations provide high school curriculum about engineering topics. The corporations do this because there's going to be a lack of engineers in the near future.

Although there's some controversy about this approach, what's important for FLIPPING BURGERS is evidenced by Lancaster High School (Antelope Valley, California) student Amber Frauhiger. She was good in math and science, but had never considered pursuing an engineering career. Now that she's interested in the field thanks to the engineering high school curriculum, she's the perfect candidate to test out this field through an engineering internship she creates herself.

Do you have any stories to tell of internships you created for yourself?