Jewish World Review August 23, 2004 /26 Elul, 5764

Marty Nemko

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Consumer Reports

Nemko's Rules: A contrarian approach to career and job finding | Over the last year, I've made a number of recommendations that are contrary to conventional wisdom. I thought you'd find it useful if I summarized them all in one column.

If you're older than 20, career contentment will probably not be found by waiting for the right career. Most people for whom there is one quintessentially perfect career identified it before they were 20.

Nor are you likely to find career contentment in a "cool" career. Why? Because, in the end, most people's career contentment is determined by being in a job with the following characteristics:

work that isn't too hard or too easy
work that uses, or could be molded to use, your core ability(ies.)
is ethically sound
good-coworkers and boss
reasonable compensation
reasonable work hours
opportunities to learn
reasonable commute.

Because of supply and demand, it's much easier to end up with such a job if it's NOT a "cool" career. That's especially true in the Bay Area because there's so much group-think: it seems everyone wants to work in one of just a few fields: non-profit work, public policy (from the Democrat side only), and the arts, for example.

So, NEMKO'S RULE #1: Do what you love and you'll probably starve.

COROLLARY: If many people love what you love, do it as a hobby.

COROLLARY: Look for work away from the madding crowd.
Supply and demand means that in fields popular in the Bay Area, for example, nonprofit work, that many people will apply for one position. That enables the employer to offer low wages and demand long hours, even if the closest the employee ever gets to a spotted owl is a pile of accounts payable statements.

COROLLARY: Status is the enemy of contentment.
You are most likely to find career contentment in a not-high-status job or in self-employment. Why? Because the competition in high-status fields such as law or investment banking is fierce. That usually means long, stressful hours and ethical compromises in order to succeed. Also, if you do an aggressive job search (see below) for a not-high status job, you are more likely to get multiple job offers and thus be able to pick the job offering the best combination of the eight bulleted attributes above. Plus, because the employer knows there are not dozens of applicants dying for your job, you will probably, on the job, be treated better: financially and personally.

Examples of where the job market is NOT hypercompetitive? Court reporting, accounting, insurance, sales, health care, health care administration, fundraising, financial services, anything serving Latinos (entertainment, schools, hospitals, criminal justice system,) anti-terrorism, biotech (BA level), blue collar work.

NEMKO'S RULE #2: Think little, act much, while controlling risk. For example, if you're deciding whether to become a salesperson, don't spend too much time analyzing if it's right for you and don't sign up for an expensive training program. Instead, just read a few articles on what it take to be a good salesperson and watch a few salespeople in action. You'll get the sense of whether it's right for you. Another example, a client wanted to see if she might want to start a business putting on speed dating events for boomers. She asked me, "How do I learn how to create a website? And how am I going to get the money for the promotional materials and the hotel room?" I said, for now, keep it simple: "Use the community room in your apartment development (Cost: zero), place an ad on Craig's List (cost: zero, web experience required: zero), and see how you like it.

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Self-employment makes ever more sense in an era in which good non-offshoreable jobs generally are reserved for superstars. Self-employment enables you to instantly go from schlepper to CEO.

NEMKO'S RULE #3: The business must be simple: selling one high-profit-margin, not-faddish product or service. Examples: noise control consultant to homeowners near airports, mobile home park maintenance, handyperson, retirement coach, espresso cart(s), employee and shopping-mall-parking-lot-based oil changing.

NEMKO'S RULE #4: Don't innovate; replicate. Either copy someone's successful business in a different location or buy a franchise. I've heard good things about Merry Maids. Confine innovation to your hobbies.

NEMKO'S RULE #5: Don't get expertise. Hire it. It takes too long to get expertise and stay current. You can usually buy expertise for $20 - $75 an hour— a bargain.

Key basic question: Be honest with yourself: Are you too lazy to do the hard work of looking for a job?

NEMKO'S RULE #6: Include success stories and testimonial quotes in your resume, cover letter, pitch, and interviews.

NEMKO'S RULE #7: Especially if you don't have direct experience, you must prove you have indispensable transferable skills: reasoning, quick learner, ability to motivate difficult people, excellent work ethic, etc.

NEMKO'S RULE #8: Use The One-Week Job Search: Contact 25 people who like you and ask for leads. Cold-contact 25 employers you'd most like to work for, and answer 10 on-target ads. (For sources of ads, see Also, just turn this page.

NEMKO'S RULE #9: In answering ads, state, point-by-point, how you meet each requirement in the ad.

NEMKO'S RULE #10: If your resume won't put you ahead of the pack, don't include it. Instead, submit a one-page Qualifications Brief that includes a career summary or job objective, and a bulleted list of your achievements and qualifications.

NEMKO'S RULE #11: In cold-contact, networking, and interviews, use a ten-second pitch in which you say what you're looking for, proof you're good, and why— if you're so good— you're looking.

NEMKO'S RULE #12: Unless you have lots of time and are likeable by most people, do not make networking your primary job search method. If you have the gift of gab, spend some time cold-contacting potential employers and try to get a job created for you. If you don't, focus on doing a great job of answering ads. See Rule 7 for sources.)

New ways to network:

  •,,, Make clear that you ARE asking a favor.

  • Online groups. Find them using the "Groups" tab on Consider groups outside your normal milieu. Recreation-oriented groups are fine.

  • Newspaper announcements of promotions often list names of just the sorts of people you'd like to ask for a job or informational interview.

  • Strike up conversations with strangers at meetings, concerts, sporting events, political rallies, and on airplanes.

In all of the above, at the right moment, give your ten-second pitch.

If your lead has good potential, try to set up a face-to-face interview.

NEMKO'S RULE #13: Ask for what you want. Most people have been trained to be passive, but politely asking for a job for which you are qualified, or for a few minutes of advice is appropriate. The person is a grown-up. He can say no. Usually, he'll say yes.

NEMKO'S RULE #14: Consider leaving the Bay Area. The Bay Area is a tough place to find good work. Because of the great Bay Area weather and the presence of Stanford, UCSF, and Berkeley, and this being the world center for gay people, the Bay Area attracts many of the world's smartest, most driven, most educated people. Compounding the problem, many companies are leaving the Bay Area because of the high taxes and high rate of employee lawsuits.

Even if you're not a job seeker, the Bay Area has many liabilities for people in the middle class. The tax rates are high and most of your tax dollars goes to pay for services primarily used by people who pay little or no tax: schools serving students from low-income families, public hospitals, the criminal justice and prison system, etc. Plus, there is a moratorium on new roads in the Bay Area for the next 20 years and mass transit won't be convenient enough for most people, so traffic will only get worse. In addition, the cost of a home is among the nation's highest.

So, especially if I wanted to buy a house and had a bright child whom I wanted to send to the public schools, I'd consider moving to the Gulf Coast of Florida, Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington State or Vancouver, British Columbia.

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400+ of Dr. Nemko's published writings are on Comment by clicking here.


07/29/04: Are you lazy?
06/17/04: We already send too many students to college
06/11/04: The case against work/life balance
05/13/04: The Dumbing of America and how to make it (and you) smarter
04/26/04: Do you talk too much?
12/08/03: How Open-Minded Are You, Really?
11/05/03: Driven to an early grave
08/18/03: The Truth About Teaching
05/12/03: Today's #1 hirer
04/30/03: What Are You Good At, Really?
04/10/03: Career advice I'd give my child
03/04/03: Under the radar: The One-Week Job Search
02/11/03: The World's Shortest Course on Managing Diversity
02/03/03: The Good Employer
01/29/03: What do you want to be when you grow up?
01/15/03: Passion Finder
12/18/02: Curing procrastination
12/12/02: The World's Shortest Course on Self-Employment
12/05/02: Men as Beasts of Burden
11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2003, Dr. Marty Nemko