Tag Archives: advice for recent grads

Do One Thing Really Well.

that is a photo of me about to eat all the pizza

Last month, on a road trip back from New England, I had the best pizza of my entire life.

It was at a place called Sally Apizza in New Haven, Connecticut, a restaurant that’s been there since 1938. The pizza was incredible. Everything they did — the crust, the toppings, the sauce — was perfect. Right now, even just thinking about that pizza, I’m trying to figure out if there’s time for me to get on a train and make it to New Haven before Sally’s closes tonight.

Like I said: Their pizza was unbelievably good.

Here’s my favorite part of the Sally’s experience, though: The menu. This is what their entire menu looks like:

the Sally's meu

You’ll notice something about that menu: Sally’s does not sell the usual Italian fare. They don’t sell salads, or mozzarella sticks, or calzones, or pasta, or any sort of side dishes. They sell pizza, and drinks to go alongside pizza, and nothing else. That’s the way they’ve done it since 1938.

Turns out you can stay in business for 78 years selling only one thing if that one thing is that good.

There’s something to be learned from a place like Sally’s. When I was coming out of college, my skill set was like the menu at a New York diner: I did a little of everything, but nothing particularly well. I had written for print, blogged, edited video and audio, and even gotten into photography. I was OK at everything.

When I tried to figure out the first step in my career, I found myself stuck. I could do a lot of things, but I wasn’t sure what one thing to focus on. I didn’t seem fully qualified for anything.

So for that first job, I applied to everything — and I mean everything.

I applied to jobs as a reporter and editor. I applied to jobs on the radio. I even applied to a job as one of CNN’s new backpack journalists, despite the fact that I’d never been on air.(1) I didn’t hear back from anyone, because hiring managers could tell that my experience was a mile wide and an inch deep.

If I could go back, I’d tell myself to focus a little more in college. Yes, it’s good to be well-rounded, but it’s even better to have one killer skill that people can’t ignore.(2)

I’d tell myself: You can always improve your skill set later, and you can always move from one field to another. But especially for that first job, having a specialty sets you apart.

When it comes to careers, we could all be more like Sally’s Apizza: Do one thing, and it really well.

———

That is a photo of me about to eat all the pizza at Sally’s. (Two of us ate enough pizza for about 6 people, and I’m not embarrassed by that at all.)

  1. A fun fact: I applied to that CNN job in every single bureau they had, which meant I applied for the same job about six different times in six different cities. I didn’t realize one HR department handled everything, and they grew increasingly more annoyed with me as my applications kept rolling in. Whoops!
  2. Maybe it’s even connected to whatever weird/fun thing you make on the side!

Get Ready To Grab That Baton.

usain bolt running

I love the Olympics, and I think there’s a lot to learn from watching them. I’ve written before about the Yellow Line Theory. I’ve written about the importance of keeping your eyes on the road ahead. And with the Olympics just a few days away, here’s this year’s big Olympics idea.

— — —

I’ve talked to a few groups of journalism students this summer. They’re graduating next year, and they’re starting to ask: How do I get the first job after college? How do I successfully make the transition from college to the real world?

Here’s the way I think about it: College moves fast. Ever since you first got accepted to a university, your family’s been telling you: Enjoy it, because it goes by fast. And it really does. Three years blow by, and the last year moves even faster. The transition between the end of school and the start of your career is a blur.

In a way, it’s a lot like the baton toss in the 4×100 relay at the Olympics.

You’ve seen that race on TV. Each race has four legs, with the tiniest of transition areas for one runner to hand the baton off to the next. If you’re one of the last three legs, you go from a standstill to a sprint in a matter of yards.

Nail all four handoffs and you’ll save precious seconds, and maybe win the race. Botch even one — or, worse, drop the baton entirely — and you’re out of the medals.

the handoff

Whenever I watch that race, I always keep an eye on the men and women who have to run the final legs. Being a later leg of that race is fascinating to me. Those runners know what’s coming, but they still can’t move until the previous leg finishes. And then suddenly, there’s a moment when they go from a standstill to a full-on sprint.

That anticipation is a lot like what you feel as you approach the end of senior year. You start getting the big question: What are you going to do after college? You start applying to jobs. You realize that once you graduate, you’re going to have bills to pay, and you won’t have the crutch of college to hold you up anymore.

Except that you can’t full start the next phase of your life until that first one ends. You have to pass the baton from College You to Real World You.

So you sit there, full of anticipation, just waiting for the next leg of your life to arrive.

Some of your classmates will nail the handoff, and good for them! You’ll look at them a year or two after college and think: They’ve made it already. They’re so far ahead of me.

Some will botch the handoff. A few years after college, they’ll still be trying to figure out what career paths to take and what happens next. Sometimes, the next phase of your life shows up, and you’re just not ready to hit the ground running.

It happens.

The important thing to remember is: No matter how well or how poorly that transition goes, just keep running. Your career isn’t a race, and you’re not competing against your classmates. Once you get that baton, you get to forge your own path ahead at your own pace.

It doesn’t matter where you go, or how fast you go. The only thing that matter is: Are you bold enough to grab that baton and start running?

Get ready, class of 2017. You’ll be off and running before you know it.

— — —

Those GIFs from the 4×100 relay in 2012 come via this video.

How To Explain That Blip In Your Resume.

the Golden Gate Bridge, photo by Denys Nevozhai

I’ve been talking to a lot of recent grads lately, young people who’ve moved to New York and are trying to figure life after college.(1) The market seems to be improving for grads, but it’s still not easy. The best way to get a job is by accumulating a lot of work experience and a big network of friends who can open doors for you — and both of those are things that recent grads usually don’t have yet.

Which is why a lot of these grads have been asking me: Is it OK if I take a job I don’t love because I need the money?

The answer is: Yes, of course!

It’s OK to take the job that isn’t quite what you want — that content marketing job at the law firm; that graphic design job at the big marketing agency; even that job behind the counter at Starbucks — because you need the money. You do have to pay the bills somehow! And know this: Hiring managers were once in your shoes, too. They’ve all taken jobs because they needed to, not because they wanted to.

Here’s the important thing to remember: When you’re writing your résumé, that’s the perfect opportunity to craft your story and to shape all of your experiences into a personal narrative. Same goes for an interview. You can always use it to explain the “big picture” reason why you took a job, like:

– “I loved my boss, and wanted to have her as a mentor.”

– “I wanted to learn more about how to work effectively as part of a big team.”

– “I was trying to launch a new project, and needed a side gig to keep me afloat while I launched.”

Just make sure you’re the one putting your story out there first. With your résumé and your interviews, you can explain why you’ve done the work you’ve done and where all of it is taking you.

I wrote this a few weeks ago about narratives in sports, but it’s also true for you, the recent grad:

“We’re all crafting these narratives, and every bit of work we put in is a chance to flip the script. You can always keep going, and always keep working to rewrite your story.”

Remember: A single job isn’t going to define you forever.

One last thing: Last night, I was watching an episode of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” with J.B. Smoove, and Jerry Seinfeld told this story about one of his first jobs. It’s too good not to share:

“I used to be a waiter. I was doing stand-up for free at night, and I would work as a waiter from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I did the lunch rush, and a couple of times, J.B., I walked up to a table, and they looked up at me and said, ‘I saw you on stage last night! I thought those were professional comedians!’”

“And I would just have to go: ‘Well, not yet.’”

Like I said: Everyone has to pay the bills sometimes. Even Jerry Seinfeld.

But what I love most about that story: It’s a reminder that even then, Jerry Seinfeld had a career arc in mind. He wasn’t a waiter. He was always working towards becoming a comedian.

So it’s OK! Take that job that isn’t perfect — just as long as you know where you’re going and how the work you’re doing today helps get you there.

— — —

That photo of 5oo-foot view from above the Golden Gate Bridge comes via photographer Denys Nevozhai and Unsplash.com. 

  1. Way back in 2009, I wrote those three words as, “Life? After college?” And that still seems to ring true for recent grads.

Stuff I Didn’t Know Was OK When I Started My First Job.

feeling reflective

It’s okay to say, “No.”

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.

It’s okay to ask for what you want.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.

It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.

It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)

It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.

It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)

It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)

It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)

It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to feel completely lost.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.

It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.

To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.

— — —

I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.

Before You Take A Leap, Find Your Anchor.

an actual anchor

It can be scary when you make a big life change, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. When you change something so central to your life, sometimes you struggle to find stable ground to stand on. The changes can feel overwhelming.

But I think there are ways to make a big life change without getting overwhelmed. The secret is having an anchor.

An anchor is any source of stability in your life — a constant that stays with you even as you undergo a big life event. It’s a bridge from one stage of your life to another. An anchor could be something like:

A stable relationship with a S.O.

A job you really like.

Strong personal friendships.

Strong relationships with your family.

It could even be a hobby or activity. If you’ve go to regular yoga classes or volunteer on a weekly basis, that could be a strong anchor for you.

The more anchors you have in your life, the less intimidating a big life change will be. The anchors are there to keep you grounded and make sure you feel connected to your true self, even as you make these life changes.

I’ll use myself as an example here.(1) I have a few anchors in my life:

I’m in a wonderful relationship with my S.O.

I have great friends here in New York.

I have several close family members in the city.

I have a really good job.

So let’s say I decided to make a huge life change and move tomorrow to work at BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles office.(2) I’d still have two strong anchors: The relationship with my S.O., and my job. A lot would be changing: I’d be leaving New York, and the relationships with family and friends I have here. But I’d still have two huge constants to help me throughout the move.

Making huge life changes without those anchors is so hard. I did it when I moved to San Antonio. I was single, I was starting a new job in a new field, and I didn’t have friends or family in the city. And looking back, I was so overwhelmed by the move. It was too much to take on all at once. There wasn’t anything that felt familiar to me, and it affected my day-to-day life.

The next time, a big life change will be easier for me. And it can be less stressful for you, too! If you can find an anchor to keep you grounded throughout the change, it makes a world of difference. It might be the difference between you surviving and thriving through the change, or not.

———

That photo of a boat dropping anchor comes via photographer Woodrow Walden and Unsplash.

  1. I’m not planning anything big! I’m just an example, I promise.
  2. Again, I’m not! It’s just a hypothetical!

What Do You Want In A First Job?

Barcelona — Alexandre Perotto

My youngest brother graduated in December (congrats, Sam!), and he’s out searching for his first real job. We had a nice talk about it last weekend. He wanted to know: What should I be looking for in a first job?

I think the list of things is pretty short:

1) A great boss
2) A great team to work with
3) The opportunity to take on real responsibility

That’s it.

Great bosses often turn into great mentors. Great teams provide you with the structure to learn how to do great work. And, of course, any opportunity to own a task/project is a wonderful thing for a new hire.

How do you know if you’re coming into a situation with a great boss or a great team? You can always look at their previous output of work. I also think it’s important to ask questions that can reveal how the boss/team will use you. Questions like:

-How does the team work together?
-What types of personalities do you work best with?
-What projects need help right now that I could work on?
-What kind of opportunities for growth do you see for me in this job?

Almost as important as the answers is this: Does your future boss seem invested in you? Do they make lots of time for you during the interview process? Do you get to meet 1-on-1 with the team? How do they describe the opportunities available there? You’re looking for interest, engagement, and positivity. An interview’s like a first date: If the chemistry isn’t there, or if something’s off, you’ll sense it.

It’s funny: Looking back, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I took my first job. Instead, I was thinking about whether or not the money was any good. (It wasn’t, but I didn’t care — unless I took a job as an investment banker, the money was always going to be lousy.) I was thinking about whether or not it had great benefits. (My first job offered two weeks of vacation. Media companies don’t offer much in the way of vacation because… well, they don’t have to. It’s part of the deal.) I was thinking about whether or not it was the “perfect” job for me. (At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of Google’s 20% time when I really should have been obsessed with working hard and proving that I was capable of taking on bigger projects.)

By accident, I stumbled into a few really good bosses who gave me lots of opportunity. I got lucky. My first job was pretty much exactly what I needed it to be. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

Sam (and others!): Be smarter than I was. Don’t worry about finding the perfect job. Just find the best bosses and the best team you can. It’s the best decision you can make at this stage in your career.

———

That photo of a courtyard in Barcelona has nothing to do with this post, but it is pretty! And it was taken by Alexandre Perotto for Unsplash.

One Thing You Should Know Before You Send In Your Résumé.

photo-1432821596592-e2c18b78144f

Over the past three years, I’ve been lucky enough to hire a handful of really talented candidates to join my teams, first at Stry.us, and now at BuzzFeed. In the process, I’ve looked at a lot of résumés.

And here’s what I can tell you: Everyone — and I mean, EVERYONE, from entry-level candidates to experienced hires — struggles to write a good résumé. It’s understandable! This is something they don’t teach you in school. It’s tough to figure out what you should be doing with your résumé.

So here’s a way to think about it:

A résumé isn’t a listing of everything you’ve ever done. It’s not a complete catalog of all your work.

A great résumé is more like the book on your career — and as the hiring manager, I’ve picked up the story on page 60, and I’m quickly glancing through the previous pages to find out if I should keep reading or not. A great résumé shows me your career path, and makes it clear to me why the job you’re applying for is the next step along that path. Every job listing, college degree, side project, and skill listed should serve as a milestone along that path.

If I was a hiring manager at a law firm, and I was hiring a new lawyer for my team, I’d expect to see certain milestones on your résumé: A law degree, internships or jobs in the field, and maybe even a side project or a background in relevant clubs at your school (the debate club, Model UN, etc).

You don’t need a background that’s quite as specific to work at BuzzFeed, but there are milestones that should stand out. I’m looking for a relevant degree (creative writing, journalism, communications, and English lit are popular ones), and job experience that involves a combination of writing and content production. And I want to know that you’ve worked on long-term projects that require collaboration and organization. (If you’ve been a part of launching a big project, that’s a huge bonus!)

Let me put it another way: Within 60 seconds of reading your résumé, it should be glaringly, ridiculously obvious that this is the job you’ve been working towards all along.

Before you write a résumé, ask yourself this: What do you envision yourself doing in the next decade? What do you want to accomplish in that time period? And how does this next job keep on you the path towards completing all of those goals?

With those answers in mind, you can tailor your résumé around your intended path.

If you’re applying slightly different types of jobs — maybe you’re applying to work on my email team at BuzzFeed, but also applying for a writing job over at Refinery 29 — that’s OK! But your résumé shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. Your résumé should be tailored to each specific job. It should be clear why your skill set has brought you to my door.

Because if you don’t, you may be out of luck — there’s a good chance I’ll be onto the next candidate after only 60 seconds.

———

That photo of a desk comes via Unsplash and photographer Dustin Lee.

10 Things That Will Save You So Much Trouble At The Office.

photo-1416339442236-8ceb164046f8

1.) Don’t send emails if you don’t have to. If you can walk over to someone’s desk and explain something, do it. If you can make a phone call, do it. Unless it’s something simple, don’t send that email. It’ll save you time in the long run.

2.) Say “Congrats!” If someone kicks ass on a project, send them a quick note. It can be three sentences. It can just be a link to their project with the words “Nice job!” in the subject line. Even a small gesture makes an impression.

3.) Be direct. Don’t sugarcoat things. Don’t bury bad news. Just be straightforward with people, especially around bad news.

4.) Set limits for work. I don’t respond to emails between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. I set that expectation early on in my job. There are often nights I’m up working past then, but unless something’s on fire, I won’t respond until the morning. It’s all about setting your personal boundaries. Own your work — and don’t let your work own you.

5.) Be prompt. I try to respond to all texts and all emails within 24 hours. Think about how you feel when someone responds to one of your emails a week late. You don’t feel valued, right? Always try to respond promptly (not immediately, just promptly).

6.) Say “I’m sorry.” Take responsibility for your actions, and sometimes, take responsibility even when it’s not your fault. Nobody wins when you pick a fight.

7.) Be nice! Hellos and remembering names go a surprisingly long way.

8.) Don’t be a jerk! It is shockingly easy to be one — especially in an email or over Gchat. At any office, you don’t have to be liked to get stuff done — but you do have to be respected, and nobody respects the jerks in their office.

9.) Remember these rules for email: Don’t reply all to inter-office threads. Use Gmail’s Mute button liberally. And don’t be afraid to use smiley faces and exclamation points — they’re really good at communicating tone.

10.) Be someone who delivers on promises. I always seek out the people I know will deliver their work on time. There aren’t enough hours in the week to wait for other people to get their crap together. Work with people who get shit done — and be one of those people yourself.

———

That photo of a workspace comes via via Unsplash and photographer Jeff Sheldon.

One Little Piece Of Advice For The Class Of 2015.

525742850_58e2a1ec7b

Hi, there! Congrats on graduation — and welcome to the world of unemployment!

You’re probably already applying to a million jobs online, and not hearing anything back from employers. And worse: You’re living at home with your parents, and they’re going to keep asking you the big question:

Why haven’t you gotten a job yet?

At first, this won’t bother you, because none of your friends will have jobs either! But then one friend will get a real job, and then another, and then you’ll wake up one day and your parents will have slipped an LSAT prep book under your door.

This is the point at which you’ll start to think that your parents might murder you soon.

But it’s OK! You will get a job eventually. And in the meantime, here’s what I suggest:

Make a list of 50 people in your city or in your field that you admire. Don’t stop at 15 or 20. Make it all the way to 50.

Then find their email address or mailing address, and write them a note. Make it short — 5 sentences or less. Tell them that you’ve just graduated, and you admire their work, and then tell them that you want to bring coffee to them and ask 3-4 questions about how they got to where they are.

This is very important: You have to offer to bring coffee to them. People HATE leaving their office in the middle of the day if they don’t have to. But anyone can make 10 minutes if you promise to bring them free coffee and not waste their time.

So here’s what’s amazing: A lot of the people you email/write to will actually write back and take you up on your offer! You’re a recent grad, and everyone’s been in your shoes before. There are a lot of really smart, really talented, really powerful people out there who’d be happy to help you… just as long as you come to them and don’t waste their time.

Now all you have to do is show up with coffee and make your 3-4 questions count. And then afterwards, write the person a thank you note. Don’t write an email — write a letter and mail it to them. This part is important, too.

Will this land you a job? Well… maybe not. But if you do this — if you send 50 notes, if you bring them coffee, if you don’t waste their time, if you follow up with a note — I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll meet at least a handful of people who you can build a relationship with. They’re people you can send links to or drop a note to say hi every once in a while. And they’re the kinds of people who also control a lot of the hiring at companies. Maybe they won’t be able to offer you a job today. But they’re going to be the people who — when they hear of a job in the future — might email you and give you a heads up, or even make an introduction. In the long run, that network can be a hugely valuable thing.

Good luck, Class of 2015.

———

That photo of graduation comes via Flickr’s Andrew Schwegler.

Are You All In?

All in

“Only those with the courage to take a penalty kick miss them.” — Roberto Baggio

 
I was sitting on a park bench last week, waiting for a friend down by the Brooklyn Bridge. There was a man and a woman on the bench next to me. The man was hunting for a job. The woman was trying to offer advice.

And her advice was perfect:

I want to help, she told him. But I won’t be all in if you aren’t all in. I won’t be in more then you are.

I love that.

I’m in a funny place in my career: I’m 26, and I’ve had a few victories, and I’ve seen some stuff. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve figured out a few things.

And one of those things is that I really do want to help people. That’s why I’ve got the Tools newsletter. That’s why I try to take time to meet and talk with recent grads looking for advice.

So many people helped me when I was right out of college, and I want to pass that help along to the next wave of reporters.

But I can’t help everyone, and there’s a reason: Not everyone is all in. Some people aren’t willing to bust their asses to do something, and I’m reluctant to spend my time on and throw my weight around for someone who isn’t really going after it.

Prove to me that you’re in, though, and I’m much more likely to go in, too.

That photo of someone going all in at a poker tournament comes via.