There is no opening act. Let’s just get started:
1. Don’t Ask How
Don’t ask how you can help. Do your research and figure out a way to help.
When people email and ask how they can help, it creates more work for me. Now I have to think of how they can help. I don’t know them or what they are good at.
I’ve emailed senior people before with the same question. The web holds more information now than it did the day before. Do your research, figure out what is valuable, and then email and deliver.
2. Work for Free
Yes, you must work for free. It’s not popular or scalable. I don’t care. You have to be willing to do what others won’t to get what others cannot. Ryan Holiday followed a similar strategy when he started working for Tucker Max, Robert Greene, and Tim Ferriss.
You won’t always have to give your work away, but you may need to sometimes in order to get ahead.
3. Do Your Research
Before any career move, you need to research the company, product, and founders extensively. Great opportunities won’t fall into your lap (unless a quality recruiter finds you).
Don’t take a job because you applied and they made an offer. Research the company. Learn about their industry, competitors, and unique advantages. Are they a commodity business that the bottom will soon fall out of?
4. Research Includes Checking Out the Team, Too
If you are invited in for an interview, it is not a meet and greet – it is a trial. Come prepared with a story and well-thought-out questions, like a lawyer would.
You need to see how strong the company’s/department’s team is. Ask qualifying questions that get the information you need to make your decision. The skill level of the team is more important than the compensation package. You can learn invaluable lessons from an experienced team of peers and leaders.
5. Research Also Includes the Leadership Team
This is critical. Businesses become extensions of their founders and executive teams.
Are the leaders of this company experienced in this field? Do they know how to recruit strong team members? Have they exited before? What incubator selected them? How are their egos?
These are all questions I ask before joining a company. You should know the leadership team’s background from college forward.
6. Determine Your Ideal Company Size
Some love to work in the hectic environments of startups, wearing many hats at once, whereas others like to focus their efforts on specialized niches in larger companies. Company size determines the kind of work you do and the things you learn.
7. Learn About Your Manager
You don’t always interview with your future manager. Find out who your manager is going to be. Find out if you will be interviewing with them. Do not accept a role without knowing who you will be working for and what they will be like as a manager.
8. Steal From the Best
Learn what everyone around you does. Listen to them in meetings. Listen to how they interact with customers on the phone. Pay attention to how managers get their employees to do work. Steal the top performers’ best techniques and strategies. Practice them until they become your own.
9. Be a Person, Not a Brand
Everyone is worried about becoming a brand. That comes later – if you are lucky. Focus on being a person and connecting with other people. Say “Hello” and “Thank you.” Call people by their names. Treat people like people. Treat them how you want to be treated. Work on your skills. You are not a brand; you are human.
10. Follow the ’40 Percent Rule’
“I’m tired. I have done enough for one day.” This is a lie. You just lied to yourself.
We all do it. Just adopt the “40 percent rule“: When you think you’ve reached your limit, you’re only 40 percent of the way done. When you believe you are too tired to go on and have given it your all, recognize this is not true. Your mind set that limit. It is a self-imposed limit, and you can surpass it. Strive for another 40 percent. You can do it.
11. Solicit Feedback
Find someone you can trust who will give you candid feedback. In some companies, people hide bad news or sugarcoat the truth to keep from hurting others. Most people only tell you the things you do well.
I once worked with the vice president of a company on an app I was developing. At one point, he told me: “Your user interface looks like crap.” I wrote down his exact words and thanked him for his feedback. He was the only customer who told us the truth.
Find someone who will give you honest – even if harsh – feedback. If you want to grow, you need this valuable perspective.
12. Follow Up
Everyone sends emails, takes notes, and does work – but no one follows up. I’ve received my share of emails from recruiters and founders asking me to join their companies, but only a handful ever actually follow up. Talk to these people. Some have hired me. It can happen to you, too.
13. During Interviews, Ask Open-Ended Questions
Ask open-ended “how” and “what” questions – e.g., “What were you hired to do here?” or “How will you measure the success of the candidate who accepts this role?”
These questions are powerful because they require more than a simple “yes” or “no.” People often reveal details about their thought processes, values, and beliefs when answering open-ended questions.
14. Leave When You Have To
Most people don’t learn this until late in their careers, but you must leave jobs to continue to grow and earn more.
“But I have a good job, and they treat me okay!”
It depends on what you want. If you have been at the same company in the same role for a long time, you cannot complain about feeling stagnate or that you aren’t compensated fairly.
15. Connect the Dots
It’s good to have goals and an ideal destination in mind. However, things change. That ideal destination no longer shines. You learn something that spins you off into a new career direction. Pay attention to these moments.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” – Steve Jobs
16. Only Work on Things That Interest You
You can always make more money as an investment banker – but does the money really interest you? Spend time defining your interests. Focus your work on them.
17. Drink Coffee – Three Cups
If you don’t like coffee, that’s fine. You can drink other things that have caffeine.
No caffeine = no energy and no creativity. Drink three cups, then get to it!
18. Improve Your Cold Email Skills
Cold-emailing is a superpower. Cold emails give you access to people you normally cannot reach. They also open doors for jobs and business deals.
19. Market Yourself
You could be the best person at your job, but does anyone know it? You must market yourself for people to find you and recognize your accomplishments. Is your LinkedIn up to date? Does it describe what you do?
You don’t have to be a writer. Hire someone on Fiverr to help you write your resume or LinkedIn bio.
20. Move Jobs Every 18-24 Months
We don’t live in the same world as our parents did. Two years at a job is, for us, equivalent to 20 years at a job for them.
Think strategically about your company’s competitors that may want to hire you. What company would you love to work for? Send a cold email, find out what the organization needs, and see what lines up for you.
21. Spend Time With Your Bosses
The problem with networking is people do it wrong and with the wrong people. I don’t like the term “networking” because it suggests happy hours where you pass business cards around and leave without building relationships. A week later, a sales guy contacts you about buying his product.
Spend time with your customers. Better yet, spend time with your bosses and future bosses. Invite them to work out with you or to a social event that matches their interests.
22. Never Eat Alone
It may be common for people to eat their lunch in front of their computers, alone. Don’t do it. Invite someone to have lunch with you in the break room. Get to know the people you work with. Invite new people to join you for lunch. Be the person who gets people together. Be the person who makes work fun.
23. Stay late
One of my managers didn’t come to life until 6:30 p.m. My peers never got to see him in his element. They left the office at 5 p.m. Stay late. Stay at least an hour or two after most people leave. You can accomplish many tasks in this time and build the best relationships.
24. Come in Early
Get into the office an hour or two before the standard. This gives you an edge and it gives you undistracted time to practice your craft. The rest of the week will look effortless on your part if you come in early a few times each week.
25. Find a Plus, a Minus, and an Equal
In your friendship and professional circles, work to make connections with at least one of each:
(+) Plus: Someone a level or two above you who from whom you can learn.
(-) Minus: Someone a level or two junior to you whom you can help and teach.
(=) Equal: Someone at your level.
26. Ask for $12,000 More
Never accept a company’s first job offer. Ask for $12,000 more than the initial offer. I’ve seen too many candidates negotiate for $3,000 extra. That comes out to an extra $250 per month before taxes. If you are going to negotiate, make sure it is worth the effort. An additional $1,000 per month can make a big difference.
27. Track Your Accomplishments
Write down two accomplishments you are proud of each week. At the end of each month, you’ll have a list of eight things you are proud of, maybe more. When it’s time for your performance review, make sure to call attention to these items.
28. Choose Yourself
Jobs can choose you, but you can choose yourself at any time. Never apply to only one job. Hedge your bets by applying to a few roles or favorite companies at a time. Power comes from having options. You may find the company you wanted to work for does not want you. You can choose another role.
Or you can choose yourself. You can always do your own thing. People tie too much self-worth to companies they work for or titles they hold. You are valuable beyond measure. You can always choose yourself.
29. Negotiate the Percentage
“We’re thrilled to offer you a 6 percent raise!” That might be okay if your performance is average, but if you are a star performer, that’s not a fair raise.
Take time to review and consider each raise offer. Then, ask for a few percentage points more. Demonstrate the value you create. Most employers do whatever they can to keep top performers.
30. Break Up When You Need to
It’s okay to break up with your coworkers and friends if you have to. Maybe your career is going in a different direction. Are your peers a good influence on you and your family? If not, break up. Think carefully about the influences you allow into your life.
31. Consider the Source
Friends, family, and coworkers will always give free career advice. I’m giving you advice, and we don’t even know each other. Always consider the source of the information you receive. You wouldn’t take financial advice from someone who is broke, so why take career advice from someone who is “career poor” or who is unfamiliar with your role/industry?
32. Show, Don’t Tell
When you have an idea, create a rough draft or mockup of what the ideal might look like. Take a screenshot of a similar app or site, then annotate it to communicate your spin on it.
Showing is powerful. Your boss can see your idea come to life and make a more informed decision. No one reads business plans. Show potential customers what you mean. Create a prototype and get it into people’s hands. Watch how they interact with it. Listen for their questions and feedback.
33. Go Into Hiding
If you decide to leave your job to start a company or develop a product, it’s okay to hide for a little while you work on it. That’s part of ideation. Protect your idea as if it were a newborn child.
Don’t let people discourage you or keep you from working on what is important to you – but don’t hide in the dark for too long, either. You might end up creating something that only you want to buy.
34. Ask for Dirty Jobs
You’re probably familiar with Mike Rowe and his show, Dirty Jobs. He has fun, cracks jokes, and looks good doing the dirtiest jobs. If you can look good doing the worst jobs, you can do anything.
Don’t ask for the glamorous jobs or projects while you are coming up. Do the jobs no one wants. These jobs keep your ego in check while you develop your skills and work ethic.
35. Don’t Worry About What Other People Think
If the people closest to you don’t quite see your vision or understand it, that is okay. Don’t be afraid of them or of what they will say about you. Remember, they can’t kill or eat you.
36. Throw Everything Away and Start Over
I learned this from the comedian Louis C.K. One of the things he does that makes him successful is that every year or two, he scraps his entire show. New year, new material.
Don’t be afraid to start over and create new material.
37. Be Authentic
To be authentic, you have to tell the truth. Be authentic at work, with your boss, at home. Always tell the truth. If you believe something is low quality, say so. Don’t be a yes-man.
38. Have an Opinion
If all ten people in a meeting agree and say the same thing, I should fire nine of them. I do not hire for agreement. I need people to challenge my perspective and come up with fresh ideas. I hire people who are smarter than I am, people who are passionate and have opinions they are not afraid to share.
Be different. Be opinionated. Stand out.
39. Deliver Value
There are things you have to do at work, and there are things you do to add value. Deliver value with every keystroke. Don’t focus on busywork.
40. Get Eight Hours of Sleep
People brag about working 12+ hours a day and sleeping for three before doing it again. Research shows 7-8 hours is optimal. Find what works for you.
41. Set Deadlines for Yourself
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
Get the most out of your performance by setting a deadline for yourself. If you are new to a habit or skill, set a realistic deadline for mastering it. If you are good at meeting deadlines, try setting a hard, unrealistic deadline for yourself. You may not be able to accomplish the task within the deadline, but growth occurs when you accept challenges. Or you may find a new path that allows you to accomplish more with much, much less.
Clinton Buelter is the founder of ColdEmailForRecruiters.