The Right Conversation will Get You What You Want

If you want to change your life, how do you do it? I used to think it was hard. Then I realized that most of the opportunities in life have come through one simple activity: talking to people…about stuff. Who you talk to, and what you talk about, ends up building your reputation, and gets people thinking of you in ways that lead to new opportunities.

You don’t always have the power to talk to the right people, but you always have the power to talk about the stuff you think is important. Once you start talking about what you care about, you quickly find the other people who care, too.

People Will Self-Select

Start by changing the conversation with your current group of friends and colleagues. They’ll make it clear really quickly if they’re the wrong audience.

A mid-50s postal clerk called for career coaching. She’s close to retirement. In her spare time, she’s designed a low-cost, easy-to-assemble housing unit she believes could revolutionize third world housing. Her co-workers all pooh-pooh her idea: “You should realize you’re just a postal clerk with delusions of grandeur. At your age, you should just be thinking about retirement.”

Those weren’t the people to talk to. Talking to me was a good next step. I don’t have third-world housing connections, but I know people who do and can refer her. She changed her conversation and is already getting closer to people who can help realize her dream.

Jump on Opportunities

Be on the looking during the conversation, and pounce on opportunities as they arise. Last year, I was going through career angst. The only things that seemed exciting: theater and saving the world. Sadly, theater is tough to make pay, and there weren’t any save-the-world job openings on Craigslist.

I was talking with my friend Jason about my desire to save the world. Lo and behold, he had just been tasked with the job of … creating a conference to save the world! Hosted by MIT, the SOLVE conference would convene movers and shakers, technologists and policy makers, and be about initiating real action to solve world problems.

I immediately asked to get involved. I presented my ideas to the SOLVE team, and was given an invitation as an attendee to SOLVE 1.0. Will SOLVE be the right vehicle for me? Who knows. But one way or another, it introduces me to a new community to talk to, who share my concerns and aspirations. And therein lies opportunity.

Change Your Life

Now it’s your turn to change your life by talking to people … about stuff:

  1. What change do you want to make in your life?
  2. When you’ve made the change, who will you be talking to? About what?
  3. If you can reach those people directly, pick up the phone.
  4. Otherwise, start having the right conversations, and let people guide you to the right audience.
  5. If you run out of people and still haven’t found your tribe, try Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc.

Is the very concept of work doomed?

I just read an excellent article on XConomy by Wade Roush in which he asks the question: is technology destroying the very basis of our economy to offer employment? And assuming it is (as a thought experiment), what might we do to stop it?

First, read the article. Otherwise, my commentary won’t make much sense.

First of all, I found it fascinating that Finland and Sweden have lower taxes than the US, despite having much better social benefits. “What!?!?!?” you cry, “lower taxes? But they’re inefficient, evil socialists! It destroys the prevailing Capitalism is Best Ever narrative to say such a thing!!!”

Well, let’s take a look. My state tax is 6.25%, my Federal taxes are 33%, and my FICA taxes are 14%. Add those together and we discover that I’m paying 53% in taxes, which is about 18% MORE1 than the 45% tax rate Wade quotes for Finland and Sweden.” The big difference is that my tax dollars go mainly to private defense contractors, private insurance companies, and other private providers of services hired by the government.

What about motivation?

Wade correctly points out that such welfare states have a problem motivating people to work. But is this a problem? If the promise of industrialization is coming true—to wit, that technology will free us to pursue things that are personally meaningful rather than productive—then decreased motivation to work doesn’t seem like a huge problem.

Perhaps what we need to do is make work either voluntary, or a phase of life (say, ages 25-40), after which you can continue to work if you enjoy it and are challenged by it, otherwise you must go out and create artwork.

Warren Buffett hasn’t needed to work in any economic sense during my entire lifetime (and then some!). But he has done so, and even took on the stressful job of running Solomon Brothers. Why? Not because the money was the big incentive, but because challenge and meaning, and rescuing an institution was important to him.

This implied theory that people’s only motivation is money continues to mystify me in an age where the #1 complaint people have about their jobs is that their jobs are meaningless, paper-pushing wastes of time that are nothing more than an excuse for a paycheck.

Do any of Wade’s solutions work?

I think Wade’s option #8 is really the only viable one. Solutions like “grow our way out of it” don’t solve the underlying systemic problem. First of all, you can’t grow everything fast enough forever, so you end up in the same situation somewhere down the line. Secondly, those solutions still cling to the notion that the only legitimate way to get paid is by doing valuable work. But if the fundamental premise we’re up against is that machines are devaluing the work rapidly, then any solution that starts with the assumption that there’s enough valuable work for everyone is doomed to fail.

As for retraining, I just have to laugh. People already accumulate a lifetime’s worth of debt for their first education that will let them spend a decade to advance to a solid, mid-level, middle-class job. While I hear this meme tossed around a lot, I challenge anyone who claims it’s possible to quit their job and retrain in another unrelated job that gives them the equivalent income. (Must be unrelated because again, the premise is that the first job has been rendered economically less vaulable by technology. Thus, the replacement job must be substantially different.)

What do you think? If technology really has made a great many humans redundant for the first time in history, we’re in uncharted waters. Where do we go from here? Anywhere we want to. Where do we want to go from here?


  1. The math is a bit weird here. What I mean is that if I make $100 in the US, I pay 53% tax, leaving $47. Someone from Finland pays 45% tax, leaving $55. That’s 17.78% more than the Fins. Actually, to do this correctly would require looking at the different tax brackets and drawing a big graph of income ranges, etc. At the end of the day, however, it’s hard to argue that most middle class people pay much lower taxes in the U.S. If you factor in their need to pay for the services that Finland and Sweden provide nationally (e.g. health insurance, mortgage insurance, maternity leave, etc.), Americans definitely have lower take home pay to spend on non-essentials. 

Job hunting process

As we’ve been developing JobTacToe.com, we’ve been discovering that most job hunters we’ve encountered don’t seem to have particularly good process in mind. They don’t know what they should do each day. They have no metrics set up to know if they’re making progress. They just do what they do, and hope that it works.

The challenge for us as a business is that people don’t know they have a lousy process. If they don’t know they’re disorganized, they won’t think to visit our site to help put structure around their search.

I’ve taken a stab at an initial page called “Give me Job!” (quoted from our JobTacToe caveman job hunter Zak) that lays out at least a skeleton of what’s required. If you have any suggestions, please send them along. It’s hard, being intimately familiar with the job search process, trying to figure out what will be useful to someone who doesn’t know much about what is and isn’t successful.

Cover Letter

Related article: Ten Cultural Career Lies

This page is a companion to my audio program about how to write a cover letter. I would like to express extreme appreciation for the brave job seeker who gave me permission to use his letter for this program.

You can download the audio program here.

Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to finish editing the audio, so
the current version may have some starts and stops after minute 9.

The original cover letter

 

Dear Ms. Spotz,

I am a second year MBA student at Sacred Heart School of Business, wishing to pursue a consulting career at McConsulting & Company.

McConsulting’s track record of creating a powerful impact on client’s businesses and its focus on work-life balance impressed me the most when I visited McConsulting’s Delaware office during the Sacred Heart Delaware Trip (DelaTrip) in December. I have had a deeper understanding of McConsulting’s results-oriented approach and emphasis on employee development opportunities, in my 3 subsequent visits to your Delaware office when I met with Ms. Helene Roddik, Ms. Gonasiya Later, and my classmate Mr. Baron Nette. Since then I have met Mr. Dan Darkstone, Ms. Candice Englestein, Mr. Daniel Chen, Mr. Blake Prescott, and Mr. Anderson Macco on different occasions and have developed a passion for the firm.

My passion for results-oriented strategic advice goes back a long way in my career. I joined the Supply chain group at Bradford Mechanicals six years ago. It is here that I enjoyed challenging the status-quo of existing processes and implemented re-organizations that made an enormous impact to the entire company. I also developed strong relationships with executives in over 70 hi-technology suppliers/partners and performed strategic, technical and management due diligence to implement organizational changes in these firms. I decided to seek an experience in the financials side of the business while at Sacred Heart and joined the Delaware office of Citibank where I performed market and industry analysis, led due diligence efforts, coordinated cross-border deals, worked with Private Equity firms and developed client relationships in the technology sector. Prior to working at Citbank, I enjoyed my first part of the summer providing strategic advice to a leading telephone switching company in Austria.

My expertise and experience in successfully creating value and long-lasting impact for clients , several of them in the technology sector in the North East, have led me to believe that Consulting at McConsulting, Delaware is the perfect choice for me. I would greatly appreciate being considered for the closed list of candidates selected to interview with you. Should you require additional information, please contact me at (555) 555-5555.

Sincerely,

 

FEINE CANIDAYTE

 

The revised cover letter

Note The revisions are far less important than the reason behind the revisions. Listen to the audio for that! Then read this example, which shows how the points in the letter above can be related directly to employer goals and outcomes.

Dear Ms. Spotz,

I am a second year MBA student at Sacred Heart School of Business, wishing for the chance to become a strong contributor at McConsulting & Company.

I can help McConsulting deliver powerful, out-of-the-box solutions to your clients. As a member of Bradford Mechanical’s supply chain group, I was known for innovative thinking that reduced expenses by 20% and streamlined efficiency by reorginizing the departments. My relationships with over 70 high-tech suppliers and partners lets me bring you leading insight into industry trends, plus a strong network for helping McConsulting obtain first-person perspectives from major players.

I can also offer an approach spanning both business and financial strategy. At Citibank’s Delaware office, I performed market and industry analysis, led due diligence efforts, coordinated cross-border deals, and worked with Private Equity firms. My finance knowledge enhances my consulting knowledge by providing finance-oriented insight to supplement other strategic discussions.

McConsulting creates powerful impact on client businesses. From visiting your Delaware office and spending time with nine of your partners and associates, I believe we would be an excellent fit. Please consider me your interview list. I will call you Thursday at 3 p.m. to follow up with this letter. Should another time work well for you, please contact me at (555) 555-5555.

Sincerely,

FEINE CANIDAYTE