When I heard about Whoa! My Boss is Naked: A Career Book for People Who Would Never Be Caught Dead Reading a Career Book from a friend, I wasn’t exactly rearing to read it. While we’ve been planning lots more books coverage on The Gig, there are 50 terrible career books like this for each good one, and this one happened to be written by a Stanford classmate, Jake Greene, who, while I didn’t know him personally, was widely held to be a pretty nice guy with good ideas and access to all my personal contact information through the alumni page.
So while I steeled myself for the brush-off I’d inevitably have to give him, I gave it a flip-through. And found chapter titles like, “Get Up, Get Out, and Do Something: Fold up the futon. It’s time to get your hands dirty,” and, “40-Year-Old Q&A: Lessons in BS from Hollywood’s favorite virgin.” Then there was the “Toolish Tendencies Test” in the appendix. And once I was wooed enough to actually read, the winning opening line: “This is not another ‘Corporate Tools for Corporate Tools’ handbook.”
There was something, it seemed, to this Jake Greene guy’s approach. In fact, the 28-year-old marketing consultant was a little unexpected himself. He’s married, wore a suit(!) to meet me, and would rather talk on the real phone than e-mail or text. And he hasn’t always wanted to write a book to share his wisdom. (Hah.) Whoa! grew out of his observations on the road working for a real-estate development startup, a collection of journal entries that eventually started to look like a book.
So to start us off in our ’08 books conversation, I thought we’d take a more unorthodox approach with this one and have some fun (before getting back to the serious stuff, of course). In Whoa!, Greene argues that pop culture’s a great prep tool for twentysomethings in the job market, especially since we all for the most part grew up on it — Cosby Show, Full House, everything ever aired on MTV. And that’s even more true today, with the rise of reality TV and all its contrived challenges.
So we decided to put some of Jake’s thinking to the test. He and I spent some time watching reality TV and reading major newspapers, then settled in to argue high-school-debate-style about which wins out in the arenas that matter, from initiative to interviewing skills, and pick winners in each. Of course, being that, as writers and Yers, we love both papers and pop culture, we had a hard time picking sides, so we tried to switch it up in each category, to keep it fair and fresh — and allow us to show all our embarrassing knowledge of the highs and lows of modern media. And when we were done, we tallied the score to crown the king of the Newspapers v. Reality TV smack-down.
So what’s better a primer for the Gen Y job-seeker? Supernanny or the New York Times? Read on to find out…
And see a quick, photo-filled version here
Lesson 1: Building a Better Resume
What better resume-builder is there than the New York Times? There’s the actual careers coverage, of course, but take something like the Vows section. Every Sunday, it forces dozens of couples to distill their lives into a few hundred choice words, a skill we could all use. And what is a newspaper profile but an inside look at what people remember, how they remember it, and the many ways in which it can be spun. Which, after all, is what a good resume is all about. But perhaps the best part of reading a paper is the collected quirkyness of it—a place where politicians and athletes appear alongside Portishead and the Brooklyn Flea Market, a recent Sunday Times. It’s that kind of energy that makes the best resumes, and nothing captures it quite like a good newspaper.
I like your material and memory argument, but the Vows section? Really? Also, if you want to see writers mingle with washed-up band members, watch The Surreal Life. Reality TV shows viewers what can happen if they don’t take their resumes seriously. Every season premiere of The Bachelor/Bachelorette is full of “customer service specialists” (waiters) and “entrepreneurs” (unemployed slackers). These upgrades are easier to spot than Janice Dickinson’s “cosmetic enhancements.” And what about how your prioritize your experience? My sister reminded me that Erik from Survivor is identified as “Ice Cream Scooper.” My guess is Erik — who’s also an an Eastern Michigan University student and athlete — listed his part-time dairy duties a bit too high on his Survivor application.
WINNER: Newspapers. Because we’d rather be worth a Vows column than end up an ice-cream scooper.
Lesson 2: A Little Initiative Goes a Long Way
It’s not easy to end up on reality TV. Witness the crazy lines of people hoping to be the next American idol, top model, or Real World, um, star. Never mind the ones who do multiple shows. That takes work! But for true reality initiative, look no further than Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Just about every episode has the sisters taking on some new challenge head-on. Like the time brother Rob wouldn’t introduce them to his new girl. Solution? Steal her number from his phone and interrogate her over coffee, of course. Khloe refuses to get a boyfriend? Secretly sign her up for a dating site. Duh! Even 12-year-old Kendall gets in the act. Offered some cash for chores, she contracts the work out to the local dog-walker at sweat-shop rates. Ethically questionable, for sure, but ingenious nonetheless.
Every issue of every newspaper is filled with people showing initiative, whether in business, sports, entertainment, or at the community level. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find stories in the paper in which nobody showed any initiative. Read about that ambition and it just might rub off. Beyond that, it takes initiative on the part of the reporters to track down stories and sources. (Significantly more initiative, I might add, then it takes Flava Flav to read cue cards.) And it takes initiative to report the news in real-time. And to meet deadlines every day in order to produce a respectable product. Stop every once in a while to appreciate the efficiency and perseverance it takes to (in the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn) “Make it Work,” and hope that rubs off on you, too.
WINNER: Newspapers. Because you need to learn the right kind of initiative, not the kind that ends in labor abuses.
Lesson 3: The Art of the Interview
Just turn on Bravo. The “face-the-judges” portion of any Project Runway or Top Chef episode provides both effective and tragic strategies for handling tough interview questions. And the people answering aren’t seasoned industry leaders like the experts in the paper. They’re young, inexperienced, and prone to making mistakes we can learn from. The same goes for dating shows. Many writers (myself included) liken the interview process to dating — both involve anticipation, conversation, humiliation, and (if you get lucky) consummation. And that makes dating shows, with their over-the-top characters doing all the wrong things, like instructional videos for interviewing. Great example: I think Daisy from Rock of Love said “like” and “ya know?” at least 50 times during her video testimonials. Yikes.
Point taken. What can compete with Daisy’s wide eyes and red lips, whatever the heck they’re saying? Still, the one place a newspaper really can help you is in an actual interview. Because I can’t tell you how many recruiters have told me that they’ve been most put off by candidates’ total lack of current events knowledge — in their industry and in general. And sure you could Google that info, but chances are that Google’d take you to a story that somewhere, sometime, came from a newspaper journalist. And no, cable news is not a viable alternative; you do not want to remind your interviewer of a vaguely interested anchor glossing over the meaningful issues and packaging the rest for maximum sensationalist effect. So read, for crying out loud.
WINNER: Reality TV. Because reading can’t make you sweat like Heidi Klum can.