Honest Language

I’ve written in various places before about how there’s an arms race between recruiters and job seekers, and it hurts the market as a whole.

One of the weapons in that war is something I call “resume language,” which I’m absolutely sure you’ve encountered, or perhaps even used. In fact, you’ve probably gotten a lot of advice that you should use it, which is a symptom of the aforementioned arms race.

What is “resume language?” It’s words and phrases you’d never use in any other writing, professional or otherwise, made to inflate the appearance of your accomplishments and responsibilities.

I’m a career coach. I could say “I leverage cross-industry actionables, utilizing best practices and focused metrics to spearhead personal career development initiatives.” Here’s my real deal: I’ve been around the block a bunch, and I was a recruiter for a long time, so I know this game well and can help you beat it. That’s “resume language.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. You should absolutely describe your duties in detail, and focus on what actual skills you learned and what things you accomplished. If you’re putting your job as a cashier on a resume, you shouldn’t put “I was just a cashier.” You weren’t “just” anything. You should put that you learned the importance of combining accuracy, speed and friendliness. You should put that having to account for your own cash drawer made you focus on personal responsibility. And it’s fine to describe how those skills and traits will translate well into the job you want. But what you shouldn’t do is say you “pro-activated end-client fiscal transaction process.” Stuff like that sounds absurd and everyone sees through it immediately.

Now, anyone who has listened to me give career advice for more than 30 seconds has probably heard me say just how… freakin’… POORLY almost all job ads are written. They’re terrible. That’s because they have their own version of the “resume language” problem, where they’re trying to make the job sound much more complex or interesting than it really is. Some jobs are just simple and not exciting, and that’s okay. But recruiters, as part of the continuing arms race, are trying to both filter out lots and lots of candidates, while simultaneously trying to attract specific high-end candidates. As a result, they doctor their job ads with endless repetition, additional absurd requirements for skills, experience and credentials, and even their own version of “resume language.” For instance, check out this little snippet of a recent job ad I found:

Yes, you read that correctly. “Outreach telephonically.”

The primary responsibility is to call people. It’s a telemarketing role.

Why don’t they just put that? Well, because telemarketing has a bad rap (mostly deserved) and they won’t get as many applicants if they just say it’s a telemarketing job. But this ruse only works until… about the first 5 minutes of the interview. I guarantee you their conversion rate is horrible, not to mention their turnover rate for people they do manage to hire. If you think your job is so bad that you have to fake people out to even apply, you should probably look at why. Figure out why people don’t want to be telemarketers, then make it different at your place of employment, and then say so!

“This is a telemarketing role! ‘Oh no, no way,’ you’re saying. But we’re not like that soul-numbing job you had selling vacation packages to mid-West senior citizens on the Do Not Call list. First, 100% of our outbound calls are in response to a request made on our website within the last 24 hours, so it’s all people that have specifically requested a call for more info. Second, we’re not a scripted boiler room – we train you to be a subject matter expert, and then you interact with our customers like a human, answering their questions in normal conversation. We’re here to help people! If that’s the kind of team you would do great work with, we want you to outreach telephonically… I mean call us!”

That’s the sort of job ad I’ve written for companies when I do the hiring. Spoiler: It works really well. Skipping the arms race always does, regardless of which side of the hiring desk you’re on.

I’ll close out this post by telling you what I think the biggest, most central problem with the current state of the job market is. The arms race is horrible, but I think it’s a symptom. I think the central cause is this: Job seekers are expected to reach out to employers, instead of the other way around.

Before the era of the internet, there wasn’t really a better way to do it. If a person wanted a job, they had no choice but to “hit the pavement” and bring their resume to every employer in town, or start dialing down the phone book. An employer that wanted to hire someone had no good way of reaching out to specific candidates, so they had to just advertise that they were hiring, cast a wide net, and hope the best fish leaped into it.

Then the internet took over a lot of industries, including the old function of the “classifieds.” The replacement technology appeared, but out of habit we simply used it the same way as we’d used the old methods, instead of realizing the potential it had to change the game entirely.

I think job boards should work in the reverse of the way they do now. I think a board like Indeed should be all posts from job-seekers, to which employers respond. If I was a recruiter looking to fill an opening for a marketing specialist, I’d start filling in my keyword searches based on the expertise I wanted, and start looking through the postings from potential employees. Then I’d send out requests to interview to them.

Why do I think this would be a better method? Because a very small number of smart employers already do this, and it’s wildly successful. It takes a bit of effort, but it saves a lot of time and money in your search costs. As a recruiter, when I had to fill a particular vacancy, the first thing I did – way before posting job ads – was just search for people with the skills I wanted. You know… I recruited. Those people aren’t invisible anymore. They have blogs, websites, LinkedIn accounts, Twitter accounts. They’re active on Quora or StackExchange or any number of other places, and they’re already showing their work in an honest way, devoid of confusing “resume language.”

They’re ready to have an honest conversation about work. If you are as well, you’ll get them.


I can’t wait to get a self-driving car.

Once I get over my initial paranoia, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy turning all of my driving time into reading time. I spend a lot of time behind the wheel, and I’d much rather spend that time in a book.

I’ve tried audio books, but they’re painstakingly slow. I’ve tried adjusting the speed upward, but the issue is just that I can read much faster than I can listen. I can process written information faster than auditory information, so even speeding up the recording doesn’t help me. I get antsy.

I appreciate that there are people all over the world working on things like self-driving cars and hosts of other innovations to let me do more of what I love and less of what I don’t. I appreciate the great machine of the world economy constantly improving my life.

What new innovations have given you more time to do what you love?

You Can’t Lose

How would you like to never lose again?

All it takes is a paradigm shift in your thinking. When you attempt something, the outcomes aren’t success or failure. It’s not win or lose. It’s win or learn.

Learning is a lot less automatic than we hope it is. Experience is the greatest teacher, but we also have to mentally show up to those lessons. You can hit the same brick wall hundreds of times if you never stop to think about what’s happening.

But if you do think about it, you can change the rules. You can define outcomes as only being one or the other: You win, or you get better.

Imagine a new game at the casino. Fairly simple rules. You can bet a dollar on a machine with exactly 50/50 chances to win or lose. If you win, you win your bet back plus 1% – so you’d be up $.01 if you won. If you lose, you lose your bet, but the percentage you gain if you win goes up by 1 point. So you’d lose a dollar, but now you’re at 2% if you win next time. Lose again, and it’s 3%. And so on.

Do you see the way to win? The most you’d have to lose is $100 bucks before you’re at even odds. And after that it’s all gravy – the odds would be in your favor after that point, because you’d be betting a dollar if you lose against gaining an extra $1.01 or more if you won.

That can be your life! As you learn something new, early struggles may feel costly in lost time or discouragement. But that’s only the early setbacks. Those early days are also the days where you can gain the most knowledge the quickest, so if you push on, you can rapidly find out that you’ve leveraged those setbacks into huge future gains.

I’m going to tell an embarrassing story. When I was a teenager, I got scammed. The details of the scam aren’t super important, but I basically gave some money away online because I thought I was buying something of value that turned out not to exist. I lost about $180. Not a huge amount now, but to teenage Johnny it was a decent chunk of change. Despite my embarrassment, I told my dad about it, how I’d been scammed and had little recourse. I wanted to see if he had any tricks on how I might get that money back.

His advice was profound. He explained that in the time I might spend trying to get that $180 back, I could easily make that much again – or more, by doing more productive things. And I shouldn’t consider the $180 a loss in any case; I should consider it a payment to the universe for incredible knowledge. That’s a small price to pay to learn a LOT about how to spot scams and not get taken again in the future, considering that Future Johnny would have way more money. True enough, I’ve not only avoided ever being scammed again, but I’ve saved a few other people from similar schemes that I spotted when they didn’t see the warning signs.

I didn’t lose. I learned.

Back to that hypothetical casino game – if you gave it any thought when I presented it to you, you probably realized that it was very lucrative in the long term. Some people, however, don’t think in the long term, and in the short term that game seems horrible. The first roll of the dice you’re betting a dollar against a penny, a terrible deal. In the same way slaving over a deep fryer for minimum wage can seem like a bad deal, or doing some design work for free, or anything like that. Just like the casino game though, it’s a great deal – if you’re willing to put in the work and time.

And most importantly, change your thinking. Win or learn. You can’t lose.

Faster Horses

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they’d have said ‘faster horses.'”

Regardless of whether or not ol’ Hank Ford actually said that (it’s pretty dubious), it’s a great quote and it gets to the heart of a great issue – identifying problems is not the same skill as solving them.

I try to live by the maxim that “there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.” Sometimes ideas spontaneously pop into your head, but there are other times when you’re deliberately turning on the creativity engine and trying to work through one or more issues, either by yourself or with a team. In those circumstances, don’t edit or censor yourself. Throw anything and everything at the wall to see if it sticks.

When you’re in the weeds of a problem or issue, you’re often in a bad position to judge whether an idea is good or bad. This is where multiple eyes and opinions are very helpful. Don’t gather together a think tank and then fail to use 100% of its power by not throwing out every idea! You never know which random thought will connect to something else and start a chain reaction to brilliance. Don’t be afraid of “sounding stupid.” It’s brainstorming; 95% of it will be unintelligible garbage and that’s just part of the process.

That goes both ways! If you’re on a team that’s doing some brainstorming, don’t be judgmental of ideas. Treat everything, at least initially, as gold. You want every brain firing on all cylinders, and not wasting precious processing power on self-censorship for fear of being chided. Our anxiety can be a powerful force against us, and if you want great ideas then you want to create an environment that lessens that social fear as much as possible. Practice saying “Awesome!” and writing stuff on a white board – you can pare it down later.

(Free leadership tip: When writing ideas from a team on a whiteboard or similar during a brainstorming session, don’t group ideas by contributor. Mash them all together; it’s a team effort. And that way later when you eliminate ideas during the refinement stage, it won’t look like you’re favoring or disfavoring any one person’s ideas.)

“Identify broadly; solve specifically.” When you’re identifying a problem, try to go as broad as you can. “Horses aren’t fast enough” is one issue, but going even broader you realize the real issue is “people want to get from point A to point B faster.” If you focus on the narrower problem, you try to improve the speed of horses. If you look at the broader problem, you see more potential solutions.

Solving specifically means you need to tailor an idea down to an executable concept. The broad problem of transportation speeds has many potential solutions, but you only need one good one. You won’t ever serve everyone, so get a solution that serves one niche really well and go from there.

Putting it all together: Identify a broad problem, brainstorm as if no one is judging, and then narrow down the best clear single solution and act on it relentlessly until you hit the next problem. Rinse, repeat. Call it the “faster horses” method if you want – an assembly-line for idea generation. Make the spirit of Henry Ford proud.

Reasons To Argue

People are far, far too quick to pull the trigger on an argument.

There are some very decent reasons to debate, mind you. But I’m going to give you a secret that can change your life for the better: Disagreeing with someone is not a good reason to argue. Not by itself, anyway.

You’d probably never know it from talking to me, but I have some pretty deep, strongly-held political positions. Things I’m passionate about. I almost never discuss them. Why? Because the cost is so high, and the payoff is so low.

A regular argument takes lots of mental energy and is unpleasant and taxing. That’s a high cost in time and stress, and generally I only do things that cost that much to me if they’re going to be extremely beneficial for me. Arguments don’t meet that criteria – not even close.

Consider: First, you have no guarantee that the person you’re debating with is even playing the same game as you. Are they trolling? Arguing in bad faith? Just looking to signal to their peers? Chances are good they’re not coming to the table with the pure intentions of learning and exchanging information. And you know that, somewhere in your mind, but the lure is strong.

Second, even the best case scenario is that there’s only the tiniest, almost infinitesimal chance that you change anyone’s mind or influence anyone in that format. Persuasion is a powerful force, but individual arguments are the completely wrong forum to apply it in. A stage debate where you have an audience – that’s a little better, because the point isn’t to change the view of your opponent, it’s to change the view of the audience. But even that is subject to many other factors.

Third, and this is the biggest component: So what if you do change their minds? Are they in any position to alter the world with their new worldview? Or did you do all that convincing just for someone to go “Huh, I guess you’re right,” and then change nothing at all about their lives, let alone the lives of others? If I convince Bill Gates that there’s a charity that will do better things with his money than what he’s doing with his foundation now, I have the possibility of making a huge impact. But if I have that same argument with Bill from Accounting who doesn’t even donate to charity, I’ve wasted a lot of breath.

So when SHOULD you argue? When you know the other person is arguing in good faith, you won’t damage treasured relationships, and you have a decent chance of influencing one or more people who will actually have a tangible impact on the world if they move closer to your position. It also helps if you know you’re right, but nobody’s perfect. That criteria sure narrows down the opportunities to debate, doesn’t it? Following those rules, you’d never have arguments at Thanksgiving dinner or with the person in line in front of you at Starbucks or with strangers on Twitter, would you?

This is a long way of saying “Pick Your Battles.” Don’t make sacrifices without cause. Don’t fight with loved ones, because they matter; and don’t fight with strangers, because they don’t. Take your deeply held values and act on them – make the world a better place. Build the world you want to see. You get there by acting, not by arguing.

Hard Work vs. Hustle

All hustle is hard work, but not all hard work is hustle.

“Hustle” is increasingly seen as not only an act, a thing you do – but as a quality. “That kid has hustle,” we’d say, and nod approvingly. At least, I would. It’s a tremendous quality, one we should all endeavor to cultivate in ourselves.

I’m sorry to say I learned to hustle much later in life than I should have. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and working on a more precise and accurate definition.

A young person works for a landscaping company, for example. They’re the first one on the job every morning. They work harder than everyone else, and they’re the last one to go home. The work up a sweat every day and they never complain – they always have a smile on their face. This person is a hard worker, but I wouldn’t call them a hustler.

So what is “Hustle?”

Here are my 5 definitions of Hustle (as opposed to just hard work):

  1. Hustle cares about results, and is willing to change methods. Hard workers work harder when they’re not succeeding, but hustlers actually change their methods.
  2. Hard Work is something to get done; Hustle is a lifestyle. Hard Work might work overtime, but Hustle never sleeps.
  3. Hustle doesn’t care about what others think of how they get there. Hustle would rather be a financially secure janitor with a side-gig selling refurbished couches than a broke, indebted corporate lawyer.
  4. Hard Work wants others to recognize and reward them for their efforts; Hustle doesn’t want any other hands in their pie.
  5. Hard Work doesn’t especially like change. They like to get good at something and then have that thing remain relevant. Hustle recognizes that everything is temporary and is always looking for the next thing.

Hard work is an essential component of success, and you’ll never avoid it. It’s necessary, but not sufficient. If your goal in life is just to make it to the end, hard work (plus a little luck) might get you there. But real success takes Hustle. Hustle is an external vision; it’s caring about the world around you and how it moves, and figuring out how you can help it move a little smoother. Hard Work can fell a hundred trees with an axe, but Hustle invents the chainsaw. Hustle isn’t “work smarter, not harder” – it’s “work harder AND smarter.”

Hard Work can sometimes have the negative side effect of building up a sense of entitlement. “I worked hard, so I deserve this.” Or, “I worked hard, so the world owes me this.” It can create the mentality that the only requirements for success are (or should be) not doing anything wrong, “keeping your nose clean” and “paying your dues.” Grind away for forty years and you get the gold watch.

Hustle knows if you want that watch, you have to buy it.

Case of the Mondays

It’s so rare for me to notice what day of the week it is.

It’s been a long time since I abandoned the pretense that there was anything different about two days of the week as opposed to the other five. The reality is that 24/7/365 you have things that need to be done and goals to accomplish. You can compartmentalize those goals, but I think it’s a mistake to do so too heavily.

We strive for things like “work/life balance” but work isn’t a separate thing from your life. You don’t hear the phrase “family/life balance” or “hobby/life balance” thrown around.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe that you have to absolutely, 100% love and feel passionate about your work in order to find meaning in it. But I also don’t think you have to absolutely, 100% love anything in your life. You’re allowed to think your kid is being a brat today. You’re allowed to ditch that boat engine you’ve been trying to salvage. You’re allowed to hate the paint color in your bedroom.

In other words, work is part of your whole life, not a thing you do just so you can get back to your life. You don’t have to love any part of your life all the time, so you don’t have to live and breathe your job in particular, but you should absolutely love the concept of working towards your goals enough that you aren’t excited about stopping at 40 hours, or on specific days.

If your chosen vocation is doing such a poor job of motivating you that you dread Mondays, then either you’re in the wrong vocation or you need to take a hard look at your own values. Maybe both.

Because whether you’re working or working out, spending time with your family and friends or time on that book, everything you do should be taking you closer to your next goal, your next happy moment, your next accomplishment. Why else are you alive?

No man, no.

“You ain’t tapped out yet, boy.”

Some of the best advice my father ever gave me.

Years ago, he and I were sitting and talking. I was stressed, as probably many 20-somethings are, about a number of things. In that particular conversation, I was stressed about money and the cost of supporting a family. My full-time job was okay but not amazing. And I was doing a sort of woe-is-me complaining session about how despite my full-time work, I wasn’t hitting my financial goals.

And that’s what he said to me. “You ain’t tapped out yet, boy.”

I had gotten it in my head that working 40 hours a week at a job somehow meant that I “deserved” to be meeting my financial goals, and that an unfairness had been visited upon me because that wasn’t happening.

This is one of the biggest traps in modern America. “Doing what you’re supposed to,” and then hitting a petulant, indignant wall where you refuse to acknowledge that maybe that isn’t enough. You’re given this specific set of hoops to jump through – get good grades in high school, go to college, get a 40-hour-a-week job – and told that if you do them, everything will work out. And if it doesn’t, you get upset.

My grandfather supported his five kids and stay-at-home wife in a beautiful home in the suburbs by captaining a ferry. That’s awesome, but (pardon the pun) that ship has sailed. That same wife, my grandmother, watched me during the day so my mom could work 70-80 hour weeks at her corporate job and my father could drive a truck over the road, then my exhausted mom would take care of me (and later, my sister) on the weekends while my father worked his second job, a videography business that he ran.

And I was complaining that my 40-hour-a-week gig wasn’t, alone, making me as successful as I wanted to be.

“You ain’t tapped out yet, boy.” There were hours in the week unused. I got a second job immediately, working nights and weekends. I eventually even picked up a third sales gig, and that one proved lucrative enough that I was able to drop the first. Ever since that day I’ve never had fewer than two sources of income at one time. It’s much harder than just clocking in and out at a single 40-hour gig, but it’s also more secure, more lucrative, and more rewarding.

This is tough love at its finest. The world doesn’t exist for just forty hours a week – it’s there all 168. You have to sleep, you have to eat, you have to spend time with your loved ones and you have to pursue what makes you happy, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to those things. You are entitled to life, you are entitled to liberty. But you’re only entitled to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself. If you’re not happy yet, work harder.

You ain’t tapped out yet.

Music, Old and New

Here are three new (to me) albums I’ve liked recently. They aren’t the “three best albums of the past however many years” or anything like that. Just three albums I liked.

  1. Turkey Dinner by Pinky Pinky
  2. Elizabeth Moen (self-titled)
  3. In League With Dragons by The Mountain Goats

Here are my five favorite albums of all time (not necessarily in order):

  1. The Wall, by Pink Floyd
  2. Horrorscope, by Eve 6
  3. Flood, by They Might Be Giants
  4. Abbey Road, by The Beatles
  5. American Idiot, by Green Day

What are yours?

Time To Go

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. If at seventeenth you don’t succeed, quit being so stubborn.

There comes a point in every endeavor when it’s time to throw in the towel. I know that doesn’t sound very motivating, but it’s true. And trust me, it’ll get really motivating when you’ve thought about it.

Every activity you could engage in falls in one or more of the following categories:

  1. Things you’re good at.
  2. Thing you love doing.
  3. Things people will pay you for.

There are things I love doing that I suck at. I’m a terrible singer, but when no one is listening I actually really enjoy it. There are things I’m good AND that I love but that don’t have much value to society at large. I’m great at playing with my kids and I love doing it, but people aren’t beating a path to my door to hand me money for it. There are things people will pay me money for, but that I don’t love and I’m not good at. In theory people will pay me to perform heart surgery, but I’m not any good at that and I certainly don’t love it so it’s probably not a good idea. Even things I’m good at and people will pay me money for, I don’t always love. I wouldn’t say I loved construction sales, but I was good at it and it made me money.

You don’t always get to do things that fall into all three categories. If you do, it’s really awesome. But even if you don’t, that’s okay sometimes. Sometimes I do things I’m good at and people will pay me for, in order to have money to do things I love. That’s a perfectly acceptable trade-off.

Sometimes, however, you find something that doesn’t fit into ANY of those categories. You’re doing something you’re lousy at, doesn’t make you any money, and you don’t love. Maybe you’re trying to get better because you think the activity’s ranking in one or more of those categories will improve. And maybe it’s worth a second or third try to find out. But it’s probably not worth a tenth.

This isn’t me telling you to give up on your dreams. If it were your dream to do X, then X would at least have a high ranking in the category of “things you love.” I’m telling you to give up on things you hate, aren’t good at, and don’t make money.

This is surprising advice to many people. You probably have at least one thing you’re doing that meets that description.

You know what I hate doing? Yard work. I’m terrible at it; my gardens never grow, my grass is always yellow, etc. I get no enjoyment out of it. And it doesn’t make me any money – quite the opposite. It usually costs me money because I take so much time to do even simple landscaping tasks.

So I hire someone else to do it. I save money because I can work during those same hours and make more than I pay (yay division of labor!). Instead of “keeping at it” until I was good or until I loved it or until it made me money, I quit.

My life is better for it. It could be something as simple as yard work or as big as your current job. But there’s something in your life you should quit right now. Free up your life to pursue something that fits better into one of the three categories.

Maybe all three!