In the May 20, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader with a trust fund just can’t get it in gear:

I got a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature three months ago, and I’ve been unemployed ever since. The only job that my Ph.D. would lead to directly is an academic one, but I was so tired of the academic world that I had to do something else.

trust_fund_babyI come from a wealthy family, and they’ve set up a trust fund for me, so I’ve had enough money to survive on, but just barely. I thought I’d use this time to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. And guess what? I haven’t. I thought at first that I’d like to be a freelance journalist writing commentary on current events and the arts. But it’s very difficult to break into that business.

So I’ve decided I’d like to get a normal job. My family really wants me to get a life, and they’ve got a lot of money, so they’d pay for any kind of training. And so that leads me to my question here: What kind of training is the most likely to get me a middle-class job as soon as it’s done?

Personality factors are important here. I’m intelligent and hard-working, but I don’t really have people skills. I can usually be polite with people, but not friendly. I’m not good at small talk. At a recent dinner, I was talking over a career in financial planning with my family, but they said that I don’t have the people skills for it. They’re probably right. I need anonymity. I would not be good at anything that required a great deal of schmoozing.

Probably a lot of the other typical job tracks for humanities people, like editing and publishing, would require a lot of schmoozing, too, so you’ll understand why I’m leery of them.

So, what would you recommend for a person like me?

Nick’s Reply

Your candor is a good sign, so I’m going to be extremely blunt with you. Sorry if I sound like I’m punishing you for your family’s wealth. I’m not. It’s clear that you could not live on your trust fund anyway, but I want to help you get past it, because I think your money is stopping you from moving on with your life.

You need to work. Any kind of work. If you didn’t have the little bit of money your trust fund provides, you’d be tackling any job you could get to pay the rent. The outcome of that would be a process of exploration and elimination. You’d quickly learn what you like and don’t like — at a very fundamental level — about the jobs you’ve taken.

Get a job

Flip burgers. Wash floors. Wait tables. Work on a production line. Do some typing. Answer phones. Crunch spreadsheets. Anything. I’m not suggesting that any of those might turn into a career, but rather that the experience of working would illuminate life and work in general for you. In any of the jobs I’ve listed, you’d be part of a larger company that encompasses all kinds of work and jobs. (For a good start, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 1: Jump-Start Your Job Search.)

For example, crunching spreadsheets at a public relations company could illuminate editorial, marketing, finance and other kinds of functions. Working a production line could teach you a lot about working with your hands. Like a rock band once sang, life is a minestrone. There’s a lot in that bowl, if you take time to look, and it’s all quite filling.

Get to know everyday people

Once you start working at any job, you will also meet your biggest challenge: dealing with people. Forget about anonymity. It’s not an option, especially at your age. If you let your lack of “people skills” be the excuse for not doing certain kinds of jobs, you will die half a person. You need to get close to other people if you want to find yourself. Trust me: You are one of us, and us has nothing to do with wealth.

Know where I developed my people skills? While I was in college — a shy, introverted, relatively asocial kid — I worked summers and holidays in a factory. My co-workers had third-grade educations, fast cars, long knives, drug habits, crazy girlfriends, very spicy food in their lunch bags, mean streaks, happy-go-lucky attitudes, and very high standards about who they called their friends.

It took a while, but I finally lost my holier-and-more-educated-than-thou attitude and learned to pay attention to the people around me. By the end of my first summer, I had friends who would take a bullet for me. (I mean that literally.) I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud to be accepted by other people. I graduated from that factory with a lot of people skills. And I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. I passed many hours doing menial, repetitive work fantasizing about things that interested me. That’s how I found some direction — by working very hard, getting lost, and taking time to think while I collected a paycheck.

Start your life

Your bit of money is killing you. I’m not suggesting you throw it in the river. I’m suggesting that you get a job — any job. Learn to work with people, no matter how awkward it feels. (Don’t worry. If you’re rude or inattentive, they will slap you into shape, literally or figuratively. We all need that sometimes. I know I did.)

Your experiences with others will bring your real interests and motivations to the surface. And that will drive your choices. If you come up with something you’d really like to do, don’t do it. Make yourself wait until you’ve had a chance to change your mind. If you’re still focused on that one thing, then go do it. If it doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to move on to something else. (For help getting in the door, try Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Attention.)

The first rule: Make choices now. No sitting around trying to figure things out. No waiting for your family to bless your choices. Work.

Second rule: Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. But don’t feel you must explain it to anyone, least of all your family.

This is not career counseling. It’s life. Don’t let “the world of opportunity” bog you down. Don’t be too rich to land a job. The opportunity you need is to see yourself work with other people. You’ll learn a lot about yourself — no matter what the work is. Sometimes menial work is better. Sometimes you can learn more by working with laborers who are closer to “work” than white-collar “professionals” are.

Please start your life now. Don’t let yourself develop a disdain for the world that is matched only by your fear.

By the way. I, too, was a Comp. Lit. major for a while. The result: Today, my friends are puzzled by my reading habits, but they have no idea that Turgenev, Nabokov, Dickens and Flaubert have influenced my writing style as much as Lenny Bruce. :-)

Never let any of this boggle your mind or make you despair. A fine mind can have a good time with any kind of work if it stops worrying. No more education — at least not yet. The best training for you is on-the-job-training. Go work anywhere to start. But go work.

(Beware of career counseling. For many, its sedative properties can be lethal. To get on your own path, try the short version of Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. The full version is in one of my PDF books.)

Did you discover yourself (and other people) through an unlikely job? What kinds of work have you done that shaped your work ethic? Which job taught you how to be a successful human?

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  1. I agree with Nick’s advice, and I also would like to recommend the aptitude test at It’s not cheap, although in the context of a career I think it’s a pretty good value.

    JOCRF helped me find my direction after many years of searching, and led to work and hobbies that match my unique strengths – changed my life. I hope and trust they can do the same for you.

    To put it in context, I only have two pieces of career advice I give to everyone who asks, and even a few who don’t: Nick’s book, and JOCRF.

  2. Just a few words about people skills…There seems to be some kind of misconception out there that most people like “schmoozing”. I’ve met only a few of them, and I would say it is 10-20% of the population in general. Like Nick, I also had to learn my people skills. I just watched other do it and found that the number 1 thing to keep in mind is to be curious about other people. Number 2 is that other people most likely don’t like “schomoozing” either (how often do people really like going to networking events by themself).

    It’s all about creating rapport with others. There’s a good podcast on this about how to create rapport when meeting others for the first time:

  3. Hi Nick.

    Great post. Your comments remind me of a great scene from the classic movie “Runaway Train”….

    Changing the way you think about work is the best way to achieve happiness in doing it ….no matter what it is.



  4. Fabulous advice! I agree with every word.

    In answer to your question, my first job out of college was working in a record store (remember those?) I was just a sales assistant and I eventually became a department head with the same company’s corporate office and traveled the world with them, but that first job is still my favourite ever. I made very little money but I learned a ton and worked with some great people.

  5. Something you can start while your looking is a beginning Dale Carnegie course. I decided I needed it while doing my MBA-level job. Every week you prepare and deliver a 2-minute speech to your class, which is a mixed group of people – whoever has signed up. Your instructor gives you appropriate positive feedback. You also read several Dale Carnegie books. The books helped me in my day-to-day job. Once I was annoyed that someone hadn’t responded to me for a few hours. The book said to assume something out of their control went wrong. When I contacted the person using that assumption, she confirmed it. Instead of an angry interaction, we had a mutually supportive one. Also, I once stayed late at work to finish a presentation to a staff meeting. The next day someone at the meeting said I had done such a good job I must have rehearsed it. I explained I had been there so late – he had seen me – that I hadn’t had time to rehearse. I didn’t mention that the Dale Carnegie training of giving short speeches weekly to the class had made me a much more comfortable speaker. Even if it sounds hokey after all your academic training, take the course. It will give you useful, practical approaches to employ in whatever you do next.

  6. While I agree in general with your advice, I would point out that there are people “on the Asberger’s scale” who will never have “people skills”. Sure they can get better at it, but may never ever be comfortable dealing with people…at all.
    There are some worthwhile careers that let you work heads down all day long, barely interacting at all.
    If our Trust Fund Baby (TFB) hasn’t looked into computer coding, for instance, that might be a good place to check. Getting the PhD indicates an ability to navigate a rules based organization and to leap through very specific hoops. Programming can be a lot like that. And it pays well. And it requires minimal people skills and contact.
    Yes, TFB needs more experiences. But it is just possible that it might be available in an area that won’t require a complete leap into the alligator pit of life.

  7. Hi Nick,

    I agree with you about just getting started. I always assumed I’d be a medical doctor because that is what my father is but I could never envision what it would look like for me. I landed an internship one summer at a psychiatric hospital and I was hooked. I changed my major and never looked back. After college I did research because I assumed that’s what I should do. I was miserable and was fired within three months. My turning point was just finding any job in my field and I ended up interviewing for a job in an industry I had never heard of before. It turned out to be the driving force for me in my field and I have learned that you really need to try everything. I am currently working with a population I thought I would never be able to understand and had no desire to work with. You really need to try everything to figure out who you are and makes friends with unlikely people along the way. Having money is helpful because you can take a low paying job while you are finding yourself and survive but you do need to put yourself out there and not get to comfortable.

  8. TFB: You just got sound advice from a dutch uncle.
    Listen to it.

    There’s an article in today’s NY Times titled “do what you love”. Read it. Especially the part about people who hated what they worked at, but they did it well, so they could put their kids through college.

    That trust fund? Surely it didn’t fall from the sky. At some point, somebody actually had to earn those funds.

    Nick’s message: get off your ass and go do something.

    Mine: Journal. You can write. Write. One hour, before dawn, every day. THEN go do something. Start by volunteering at a local soup kitchen or food shelf, and see how you start to feel.

  9. Well said, Nick and commenters.

    People skills has never been a problem for me and I still have friends from 1st grade.

    Sometimes the mindless repetition of some jobs is just what you need to make you see where you might go.

    My Dad always said that working hard jobs while you’re young showed you what work was and why you didn’t want to do it.

    There’s a story about the late Senator Ted Kennedy that relates to this. He was campaigning for U.S. Senate and while shaking hands one cold morning outside a Massachusetts factory a worker asked him “Is it true you have never actually had a full-time job?” Kennedy shook his head warily and admitted this was true. The worker smiled and said “Let me tell something. You haven’t missed a thing!”

    Get out there and try different things. You might find something that flips the switch!

  10. I’ve been a reader of yours for years and want to say… “THAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER GIVEN.” Wonderful! I would add, volunteer. GOD Bless

  11. Nick –

    I’ve been reading this blog for, I believe, close to 10 years, have read ATH a couple of times, and recommend you to everyone all the time.

    This post,along with ALL the comments so far, is one of the best (if not the best) you’ve shared.

    TFB – you state, “I would not be good at anything that required a great deal of schmoozing.” So you have a choice: either get good at schmoozing, or, get good at something, but in either case, get moving. And, oh yes, you can do this, you really can.

  12. I suggest you visit a Toastmasters Club. Go to , type in your zip code and just visit a nearby club, or a couple of them. This will get you in contact with very motivated people, add to your people skill and possibly help you find yourself. But of course while doing this get a job.

  13. Nick,

    Great advice that shows a ton of wisdom.

    TFB, like you I had poor people skills but I was good at school. I entered a PhD program in history because it was the path of least resistance. I bailed when I realized I did not want to teach, and took a job that landed on my lap through a friend.

    I got slapped around a lot in those early years and I deserved all of it and more. I thought I was superior because I’d been to fancy schools. Trust me, that attitude is not a good foundation for making friends and influencing people. Eventually my arrogance was beaten out of me, thank goodness.

    Today my people skills are way better than average. Yours can get there too. It won'[t be easy and may often be painful, but it’s worth it. Better relations with people will enhance your enjoyment of life in ways you can’t imagine. Stop hiding and get out there.

    Very best wishes!! You will do great!

  14. I still think my best boss ever owned a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Shop. I worked there one summer during college. I still remember the feeling of checking the schedule for July 4th and seeing that not one employee was scheduled. Our boss had given us all the day off – even though no one asked. It was a gorgeous sunny Fourth and I had a fabulous day that included public transit to the beach and big city fireworks. My boss worked something like 14 hours straight scooping ice cream with near constant lines of customers. You can bet we all did just about anything he asked of us for the rest of the summer. I learned the power of the occasional grand gesture….and I can still scoop a mean sundae! I learned more about customer service, how special ice cream can be for someone with low income, something about the business, that vanilla is the most popular flavor, and even a bit about Jewish practices around death from a coworker who had another job. Every job I’ve had was an education waiting for me to notice all there was to learn.

  15. Nick,

    Thank you for your wisdom. Three jobs shaped me in my early life (which I am still in, and still struggling.) The first job was at a natural foods store where I learned how much the boss matters. I had a so, so section manager that did OK, but when he went to get married I was under the tutelage of the store manager. WOW, it was like a totally different job, all the things I learned about inventory, stocking, ordering, organization, was just off the charts.

    The second job was at a sandwich shop. I learned that I didn’t really enjoy putting together sandwiches and wasn’t very fast with my hands. But I met some awesome people that I would have never met and that was worth more than $$.

    The third job was at a winery. I loved that job, I learned all about wine, the different grape varieties, the different ways climate matters to the growth of the grape, and how to deal with people who have had too much to drink. It was a really fun job and my co-workers were awesome!

    While I haven’t cracked the entry level jobs yet (at least in regards to a career), I have learned a lot from each job. But I have also had a really hard time getting any jobs, and still need to work on being better at job hunting. It takes work to get paid work. But oh man, as someone who has huge gaps on my resume, I know the value of work.

  16. Very good advice! everything I know about the world of work was learned out on the factory floor and I have an advanced degree in an organizational science and several years of job experience in other settings.

  17. Nick, your advice is excellent and I have really enjoyed reading this thread! I agree 100% that TBF needs to find a job – any job.

    I started working at age 10 (clerking every Sunday in my dad’s drugstore) and I’ve enjoyed every job I ever held. Fundamentally, I believe in the value of work. It is wonderful to become competent at something (anything), work with a team, contribute in some way, stretch our skills and see ourselves in new ways.

    It’s also great to be intimately involved with people other than family and friends. As so many noted, at work we meet people who are different from us. If we’re smart enough, we learn to shed our assumptions and broaden our viewpoints.

    At some point we need to find work we love, that’s truly fulfilling. But any job at all is educational and rewarding in its own ways – thus valuable!

    However, I must put in a word for career counselors and coaches – when the time is right, they can provide invaluable advice and guidance. Their job is not to tell people what to do/who to be but rather to help them discover a path and pursue a goal. I’ve been a professional resume writer for more than 20 years (talk about fulfilling work!) and I’ve seen how much coaches/counselors can help.

    Bottom line: Every person’s journey is different. The lucky ones discover the value of work and find work they love.

  18. oh, and my spider-sense tells me your reader could be a great accountant even if he was told that he did not have the “people skills” to be a financial adviser.

    I know your reader didn’t ask for my opinion, but shame on whoever told him this in the first place. It is not helpful.

  19. This was a terrific article, Nick! My teen daughter asked me the same question with regards to a major in college. I told her I can’t pick her life out for her; and if she will just start taking classes, a path will become clear. I can now use “sound bites” from your article which will make me appear so much smarter. Thanks.

  20. Hi Nick – In regard to your post today. it seems to me that Mr. PhD might benefit if he considered a training called Dependable Strengths. This training was designed by Bernard Haldane in the middle of the last century but it is the basis for much of the career screening and aptitude testing used today – and he is the father of most of what we teach (along with Dale Carnegie) about finding work. Most importantly, Dr. Haldane’s “articulation process” really is effective in helping people find their passion so-to-speak. This process does NOT tell you what career you should go into – it DOES help you to distinguish between things you have learned how to do and even do well, but don’t love to do as opposed to you what you do because you actually love doing it. I may not be expressing this as clearly as I should but suffice it to say that there is a Dependable Strengths Research Center at the University of Washington and a DS institute that offers training through WOIS as well as in seminars. If you or anyone else is interested you can get more information from Tami at:

    Tami Palmer, Deputy Director
    WOIS/The Career Information System – Dependable Strengths

  21. Your best post yet, Nick. I got a big laugh out of the description of your factory co-workers.

    I know those people too. They called me “Wonder Woman” down at the plant where I worked in in the “Yard” as a fork-lift driver, and later as the first female truck driver the company ever had. I’ve never worked harder in my life. I learned my limits and how to get past them, probably on pure stubbornness, but that experience provide a confidence that I’ve built my life on.

    Now, to the person who wrote in. There’s one thing I’d like to question: the term “schmooze.” Schoomze means “idle conversation” or “chatter.”

    That’s not really what most people are looking for in their interactions. If you sincerely care about what people say, who they are, how they are feeling that day, you don’t have to make “idle chatter.”

    Ask someone how they are, and really listen. Ask them about their work, or their family. Don’t ask yes or no questions. Make eye contact. Really listen to what they have to say.

    If you ask about their job, and they say, “I’m an accountant,” you can say “I’m looking for a career direction right now. How did you make that choice?” “Do you like what you do?” “Would you choose something else, looking back on it now?”

    You’re not looking for advice; you are asking for other peoples experience. Then, when they answer, thank them. That’s making a connection, not “schmoozing.” Show an interest, don’t make idle chatter–that’s a waste of time.

    You might just make a friend, or find a mentor. In the meantime, Nick’s advice is good. Get a job, any job. Work for a temp service and answer phones. Seeing the inside of many different businesses is a great way to find a place where you might fit. And working in the mailroom, you hear everything about the company–everything. And you never know, you might just find a career by pushing a mail cart, or answering phones. I did.

  22. On the people skills front – I learned so much about interacting with people at many levels when I studied qualitative research methods – how to ask questions so people will open up about their work and their life. The core piece of advice from that method: when talking to others, seek to be interested, not interesting. Nobody cares that much about you if you are genuinely talking to them and really listening to what they say.

  23. Cut to the chase. Enlist in the Marine Corps.

  24. Don Harkness: A person doesn’t need to join the military, they could just join the Air Force (wink). Worked for me. While my brother in the Corps was sleeping in tents, Air Force guys at the same TDY were sleeping in the hotel across the street.

    I’d vote for Toastmasters over Dale Carnegie courses because TM is created and run by the members – it’s collaborative. The clubs only exist because the members do the work of making them happen. DC is a company that offers classes with DC instructors telling you what DC has decided is right.

  25. Nick, wonderful article and fantastic advice.

    Lots of us aren’t schmoozers; it isn’t my favorite thing either–I’m much more of an introvert; I’m fine with good friends and people I know well, but the idea of meeting and schmoozing with total strangers–not something for which I’d be the first to volunteer.

    There are a lot of jobs that will force you to develop “people skills”, and like many of the other posters here and Nick, I count working in retail and waitressing/food service as a teenager as those lousy, low-paying jobs but the ones that taught me A LOT, not just about people, but about what I didn’t want to do.

    @Louise: I started working the summer I turned 10, but my father signed me up to pick cucumbers–hot, grubby, hard work. You lay on a slow moving “picker”, arms out in front of you as the picker moves over the cucumbers, and with your hands you move the leaves aside, pick cucumbers that are a certain size, and toss them into buckets placed just above your head. If you missed them, the farmers started throwing them (because they’d too big to sell) at your head and screaming obscenities at you. Too small, they couldn’t be used, too big, no good either. You could get 10 kids on one picker, and you’d work from 6 am until 7:30 pm, for the season (about 2 months). The wages were terrible, the work was hard and dirty, but it did teach me the value of hard work and what it meant to earn a dollar. The jobs I held when I was older–a teenager–in retail and food service–were learning experiences as well.

    I’m surprised at the advice given the TFB re not being a financial adviser. There are other aspects of that field–accounting is a good example, which is a much more solitary kind of job. Also, accountants work for all kinds of employers, from big corporations like Wal-Mart and Home Depot (where there are many accountants), the insurance industry will have an accounting dept., hospitals, schools, government agencies, and small businesses where TFB might be the only accountant.

    But to be an accountant means you have to like math and numbers, which s/he may not, given the Ph.D in Comparative Literature.

    @Doug: your recommendation of a job in coding is a good one for introverts.

    If TFB is good at math and science, then getting more education and training in science and doing lab work/scientific research might be an option. Much of it is solitary, painstaking work, and being a geeky nerd with questionable social skills means TFB would be the norm, not an anomoly.

    Another option might be a job as a cataloguer in a library. This too, will require more schooling–most professional library jobs require an MILS or an MLS (Master of Information and Library Science or Master of Library Science) degree. It takes most people about three semesters to earn the degree, is good in all 50 states without having to get re-licensed, re-certified each time you cross state lines. Cataloguers work entirely behind the scenes. They are the ones who determine where you find that book, CD, DVD, etc., assign call numbers for them, keep the databases updated, and cross list and cross reference everything so folks who don’t know the authors or titles of the items can still find them. Cataloguers have colleagues (fellow cataloguers and other librarians and staff), but don’t work with the public. I should know–one of my college work-study jobs was in cataloguing, and my third post-college job was in cataloguing (different library). Technology has changed the way cataloguing is done, so tech skills and good searching skills, attention to details are musts. If this sounds like a possibility, I’d volunteer at your local public library to see if this is something you’d like to do, or could do. Also: ask if you can talk to cataloguers about their jobs, what they like, what they hate, what they needed in terms of education, training, etc. Different libraries will have different needs. An academic library will require its cataloguers to have reading knowledge of at least two, maybe more, foreign languages (with the Ph.D in Comparative Literature, this shouldn’t be a problem), but a public library won’t.

    Another job might be prospect research–you research companies and people who could potentially give mucho dinero to your organization, nonprofit, university, but you’re not the one who has to hit them up for money.

    My SIL’s BIL is a sound engineer at InvenSense. He has the social skills of a nematoad (that’s probably an insult to some nematoads), is terrible with people. He makes 6 figures and works very much by himself and in small teams, so his human interactions are limited.

    A lot of lawyers also do a lot a solitary work–much of it research in a law library and writing. Not all lawyers are trial lawyers, or even deal with clients, but do all of the research/behind the scenes work.

    That said, I still think Nick’s advice is best. Get a job, any job, however lousy you think it might be, especially since you don’t know what you’d like or dislike. It is true that a Ph.D in Comparative Literature really only lends itself to a job teaching in academia, and not only did TFB write that s/he doesn’t want to be in academia but doesn’t have good social skills. Not all faculty have good social skills either, but you need to have SOME, so you don’t alienate your dept. chair, dean, and fellow faculty who will be voting on your tenure, if you’re on the tenure track (which is rarer and rarer these days) but you also have to have some social skills in order to work with students (who often have even fewer social skills than the faculty).

  26. @Steve: Toastmasters is good advice for those who want to or need to learn how to do public speaking. When I was a community college student, one of the most highly recommended courses on campus was a speech class, and it was learning how to write and give public speeches on any topic to any audience. It was a whole semester, the professor was fantastic, the class was small (20-25 students), and we all got lots of practice. If TFB lives near a community college, it might offer such a class–just another option for overcoming that fear.

  27. @Nick: one of the best courses I took at my 4 year college (after I transferred from the community college) was a course in Comparative Literature–Romanticism. To this day I absolute love to read to Blake, Wordsword, Rousseau, E.T.A Hoffmann, Chateaubriand,and others of that era. Special thanks to Professor Judith Ryan for making these authors and more so interesting and appealing.

  28. I am reminded of the classic “Common People”. The William Shatner version.

  29. @Nick and Eric:

    Here’s another youtube clip:

    You don’t have to be a fan of NCIS to be amused by the comparison of “worst jobs”.

  30. @ Don Harkness

    The USMC was my way out of a town with two career choices: paper mill or pallet shop. If only I’d had the common sense to stick it out for 20.

    The only real downside is the general perception of (Vietnam Era) veterans by HR.

  31. Wow – what a nerve this story has hit! Great comments and suggestions!

    @Tony: I agree about schmoozing. In its innocent form, it’s being curious about others! It’s fun!

    @Eric: I’ve never seen that clip because I’ve never seen the movie. It’s very poignant. And you’re right – it’s scary dead-on and raises big questions about people. Now I want to see the movie. Thanks for posting the link.

    @Sheira: Thanks for sharing your story about developing speaking skills. Most people avoid this like the plague. It’s a fatal mistake if you want to get ahead. Learn to speak to small groups. Learn to shape your thoughts for consumption. My favorite resource is Milo Frank’s little book, “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less.”

  32. @Doug Johnson: All points well taken, but I think TFB owes it to himself to get to know people and see if he can’t learn better social skills before burrowing his head in a coding cubicle. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve done it. Know lots of folks who do it for a living. But that’s not for everyone, either.)

    @Jasmine: I wrote about a “try everything method” that doesn’t take quite as long :-). It’s in my “How Can I Change Careers?” PDF book, in a section titled “The Library Vacation.” By doing it a bit vicariously, you can speed up the process sometimes! For those interested,

  33. Great advice.

    Regarding Asperger’s, I have watched younger people with various degrees of Asperger’s and similar conditions develop skills that they didn’t think they could, and more importantly, didn’t think they wanted, by doing no more than what Nick proposes.

    I also know of more than a few TFBs who struggled with searching for just the right thing, when most of us figure it out ad hoc.

    Also, to TFB, your liberal arts education will allow you to work effectively in many environments that demand the sort of research, precision, doggedness, and writing that it takes to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. I have a degree in music–I work as as GM in engineered products–and I while I never talk about it, I use those skills every day.

  34. BTW: To all who called this one of my best columns, thanks, and thanks for taking time to say so! I wish I could predict your reactions!

    @Diana O: Nice summary and another way of saying it all. “Schmoozing” and “networking” have become “bad things” because they’ve been defined in silly ways and hawked as “methods” for getting jobs” by scammers who call themselves “career experts.” There’s nothing wrong with schmoozing – it’s fun. But if what you want is a job, it doesn’t work. Talking shop is far better, as you suggest. Empty networking is also a waste of time; making friends is not. Think about your objectives, and define your activities in ways that are helpful to you. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you influence people to help you in perfectly legitimate ways.

  35. @marybeth: Loved the NCIS clip. And I thought the guy was going to get kissed. Which of course is what I was supposed to think. But nobody gets a job like that :-). Great clip!

  36. People might have noticed in the news last week that the teenage son of multi-millionaires David and Victoria Beckham has just landed a minimum wage job. As well as learning the value of money, he will gain a precious insight into who he is and – the sort of self-autonomy that money alone cannot buy. It is a pity TFB’s parents did not insist on that at a younger age.

  37. @Paul Valenti: It’s important to distinguish between Bernard Haldane the man and Bernard Haldane the “companies.” Haldane sold his name long ago (he’s now deceased) and it has been trashed by a number of companies (and their offspring) that have been busted for scamming job seekers. See

    I’m not a big fan of Haldane’s in any case, but it’s up to readers to judge his methods for themselves. The better alternative is Dick Bolles and his “Parachute” books.

  38. May I please urge the writer to be as methodical as he wants to be? He just spent a long time getting a degree that he does not value much. So obviously he’s good at working at something he doesn’t value much for years. I’d say to him,look at all the jobs you dream about. Spend no more than 2 months full-time doing research on your dreams.

    Then, because he has no degree in that job, try to get into the lowest level, because that is how you will get hired in – at the lowest level. Then commit (mentally) to doing the job for 6 months, maximum. At the 6 month mark, either decide you like this area as a career and learn as much as you can to do the next job better than anyone else, or change to another field. Do the next field again at a low level for 6 months. Within 2 years you’ll know what you like and what you are shooting for.

  39. Great advice.
    Two things struck me that indicate that the writer needs to get a realistic view of his prospects. First, people who write commentary on current events that others pay for (as opposed to blog posts) have a solid background in journalism or a specific area. Second, it is not easy making a middle class salary right out of college any more. So I’m right behind the getting any job advice.
    In most jobs shmoozing is not required. Rather, it is listening to people. Hard to do sometimes, but not something worth dismissing.
    BTW good programmers need to talk to people also – to get requirements, to learn, to check their understanding of the problem. But we also get to spend a bunch of time not talking to people. So I agree it is a good possibility.

  40. This is my second comment on this thread :)

    I’m sure we’ve all noticed how meaningful, helpful, and well-thought-out the comments are . . . all the comments. I’ve already copied and emailed two comments, and I’m sure there’ll be more gems in the days ahead.

    And the spelling and grammar is great, which speaks, at least to me, to the level and professionalism of the commenters . . . it is so much easier to accept someone’s ideas when they are presented well.

    Just wanted to say “thanks” to all who took the time to contribute so far.

  41. Hi Nick and Reader with Trust Fund,

    That really intrigued me, the rock band that has a song about life is a minestrone. (Ironically, I’m reheating leftovers from Olive Garden, to the tune of unlimited breadsticks and extra soup.) I’ll have to add this to my ever-growing list of requests.

    It reminded me of another uplifting tune that says “Life is a highway, I’m gonna ride it all night long.”

    I was then really stunned to see Nick’s next heading spoke about working with everyday people. Yet another song reference! Reminded me of the hit by Sly & the Family Stone of “I Love Everyday People.”

    Reminded me that all work at some level has some dignity. When I lived in Miami Beach, my resident garbage collector said he could say what kind of person you are based on your trash. He was very funny, and far more accurate than any personality test. He spoke of the rich and the poor and us middle class too.

    I hope your “Trust Fund Baby” also gets inspired by everyday people, especially by becoming one of them. I was never at a waterfront home in Miami Beach, yet I got to see many sides of life there, from the rich guarded bridge islands to bartenders making great tips at South Beach bars. Maybe your reader finds their appropriate place(s) — yes, plural!

    Thanks for the medley of golden classics!