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If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? (charlesbivona.com)
200 points by rlivsey on July 28, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 147 comments

I'm 35. I'll try not to be too critical. Moral of the story:

Being educated doesn't say anything about you being smart.

Here's the rub. A college degree is a specialization. That's why you "major" in something. It was never designed to be an extension of high school. So, you should get a degree in something that you are both passionate about and also accept the limited career paths that come with that particular passion. If the career paths are limited and/or not to your liking, assume that the degree will not help you find a job. You may as well use the money to travel instead.

The further you deviate from the career paths that are attached to the degree you obtain, the more worthless it becomes. Attempting even greater specialization along this field of study only enhances this effect; it will not correct it.

So, Mr. Masters in English: Why are you not focusing your search on the career paths that are attached to the degree that you have; assuming this is actually a passion of yours, namely teaching and/or writing?

Applying for random positions because you figure your degree actually means something is about as stupid as applying to the space program and for all the same reasons. You do not have a catch all pre-requisite. You have specialized training, and you receive little to no benefit over the random person on the street when you are evaluated for suitability to this position if the training isn't aligned with the job you are trying to get.

Not realizing this after years and years of education isn't very smart at all, really. Sadly I know you aren't alone.

Personally, I have a BA in English with a minor in CS. Except for my first year out of college (performance analyst at a pension consulting firm -- I had applied to their computer department!), I've spent my entire career in computers. I've ticked most of the boxes -- coding, junior DBA work, junior sysadmin work, spec / doc writing, system architect, team lead, Director of Programming, and now Co-Founder.

I am incredibly glad that I majored in English and not CS or something "more practical." English in particular and Humanities in general teach you the most valuable skill there is: effective communication. Everything else you can self-teach or hire, but it's really, really hard to find a more efficient system for learning good communication than by writing 5-10 page papers 2-4 times a week for four years, while having to participate in class discussion (frequently on things you haven't actually read but were supposed to, which teaches you a lot about active and reflective listening).

Not to seem like a downer but it sounds like your trying to justify your choice of major. I do it too, though. I majored in physics and am a web developer guy too now, and I try to convince myself that I learned how to comprehend difficult topics and solve intricate problems while I was in college, but there's this sneaking suspicion I have that that time (and money) might have been better spent doing what I'm doing right now.

Lest anyone get carried away here I'd like to say that my Eng Lit Honours degree from a prestigious British university consisted of writing 2 papers every 3 months, listening to seminar presentations which were often copied wholesale from Wikipedia, and participating in 'discussions' where 90% of the people had nothing to say but still graduated. The idea that it turns you into an elite analytic/communicative essay writing engine was in my case pure fiction. I did write some high quality critical essays but it wasn't exactly a habit. I think I got by on previously acquired abilities. I deeply regret taking that course.

Be very careful though that you don't misinterpret what I said to mean that there is no value whatsoever in your English major. While over the course of a career you may draw on that experience - the same way, for example I draw on my military experience - more than anything else, what got you employed in this field was your CS minor, and what keeps you employed is your wealth of experience.

Being a good communicator is a bonus, but - sadly perhaps - I've never seen anyone get hired for their communications skills alone.

You've really never seen anyone hired primarily for their communication skills?

Not without any other relevant experience to speak of, no. I've seen good communicators beat out poor communicators, but there is almost always something else that makes them attractive to the employer as well.

There are many fields (for example media, PR, some civil service positions) where communication is the primary skill being assessed - written in the CV & spoken in the interview. If you have a non-maths written component to your interview, you're being judged on your communication skills/literacy.

I agree there is often something else required too - but not always in a 'first' or 'graduate' position.

To be honest, I thought it was rather obvious to those of us in this thread that if the primary technical skill for the job is communication, then having good communication skills is having good technical skills.

I believe the topic however centred around communications skills as ancillary to other technical skills that were part of job description.

Sorry if I caused confusion.

No apology needed - thanks for the clarification.

Humanities academics can obfuscate meaning just as proficiently as any engineer. See: http://www.info.ucl.ac.be/~pvr/decon.html

I am incredibly glad that I majored in English and not CS or something "more practical." English in particular and Humanities in general teach you the most valuable skill there is: effective communication.

Indeed. Norman Mailer believed that the highest moral good was to follow your own passions -- and if you happened to kill a few people along the way, so much the better. Serves 'em right for falling lockstep into the dangerous and dehumanizing machine of American culture. But despite this moral reprehensibility... damn, what a communicator he was!

(Yes, one of my undergrad English profs was a total Mailer fanboy.)

The English majors I've known have never struck me as especially good writers. Philosophy was a little better--you stretch your communications skills more when you have to discuss more complicated ideas, and philosophy is generally more complicated than literature--but by and large even that was not especially useful. I learned a lot more about communication through internet discussions than through any form of schooling, largely because feedback was stronger and more immediate.

Specialization can definitely be a negative when you apply for a position where your degree doesn't apply.

As an employer, if you see someone applying for a "billing specialist" (read: fairly unspecialized) job with a masters or PhD, you instantly think: "This person is not going to be satisfied working this job, this person is going to want to get paid too much, etc"

Exactly, which is basically what the author of the post is feeling.

Part of the problem is that there is almost no career path for the specialization called "Masters in Humanities." Even with a PhD, the career path is very limited. I've watched my sister-in-law, with a PhD in English and teaching experience, pretty much give up on her career because it is nearly impossible to find a tenure-track position in the humanities.

"Smart people" evaluate this prior to spending 4-5 years and a shitload of money trying to obtain a "Masters in Humanities".

Does it really take this long to get a "Master's in Humanities?" It only takes 3 years to get a law degree. FWIW, my sister has what effectively has a "master's in humanities." It took her 18 months and she makes 6 figs working at some sort of think tank in DC, so I think the individual matters a lot more than the degree...

Most M.A.s in humanities disciplines take two years, although many students stretch it to three; PhDs take somewhere between five and ten. Ten is the median for English PhDs and many others these days, according to Louis Menand in The Marketplace of Ideas (http://www.amazon.com/Marketplace-Ideas-Resistance-American-...):

"People who received their PhDs in English between 1982 and 1985 had a median time to degree of ten years. A third of them took more than eleven years to finish, and the median age at the time of completion [BREAK] was thirty-five. By 1995, 53 percent of those with PhDs that had been awarded ten to fifteen years earlier had tenure; another 5 percent were in tenure-track positions. This means that about two fifths of English PhDs were effectively out of the profession as it is usually understood (146).

He goes on:

"It was plain that [by the 1980s] the supply curve had completely lost touch with the demand curve in American academic life" (147), at least as far as PhDs are concerned.

The point about careers in "humanities" are well taken.

I think the OP's sister has taken a really unusual route.

"I think the OP's sister has taken a really unusual route."

Maybe that's true, but for positions like the one she's in, the educational background tends towards the humanities, not towards STEM degrees.

Also, I always assumed that English PhDs take forever because people do it part-time, which is usually not an option with STEM degrees (although is often an option in CS).

10 years to get a PhD!! Ten years is about 1/4 of your "working" life....

I have no idea, but if you figure 3-4 for a Bachelors, plus an extra 2 for the Masters, I assume 4-5 years of work.

They evaluate it and... then they are all supposed to pick another subject, because of... money? Well, I hope you are happy: I certainly wouldn't have been if those were my most important criteria for choosing my education.

Applying for random positions because you figure your degree actually means something is about as stupid as applying to the space program and for all the same reasons. You do not have a catch all pre-requisite.

I'm not disagreeing with you, but I wanted to note that Mathematics is, IMHO, as close to a "catch all pre-requisite" degree as you get, at least in the sciences and engineering.

I'd like to, one day, have the option of doing a Ph.D. in the informatics/CS field but am first doing a plain old math BSc because it opens so many doors if I choose to go a different route later.

I believe he put in the comments that the author is now a professor. So I'm assuming he is teaching English or something related to his PHD

Let's see now...

You took bad advice from the wrong person.

You dumbed yourself down.

You played the role of some other person, not yourself.

You played someone else's game without expressing what you were really thinking.

You settled for an inappropriate job.

You're bored to death and wasting time in a dead end job for 6 months now.

And you call that "Damn Smart"?

[EDIT: The only smart thing you did (following up with a nice Thank You note) is the only thing that got you the job. Please don't attribute your "success" to anything else.]

I think the title was supposed to be the train of thoughts for everyone who got his original application. They thought he was too smart to apply for that given job, so they did not even invite him for the interview, since he would have to be rich, if he was as smart as his application implied, in THEIR opinion.

All I took out of reading this article is that he should have been looking for higher level positions based on his qualifications. If he was so smart, he should've set his sights a little higher for a more rewarding and/or challenging position.

intelligent people tend to undervalue themselves while unintelligent people tend to overvalue themselves.


All of the above are not a recipe for success, and may set you on the slow road to ruin. There's a tradeoff between holding out and trying to get a job which is really appropriate, and just taking any dumb job which comes along. It might be true that there are still many more dumb jobs than ones requiring high intelligence, and ultimately everyone has to pay the bills somehow.

If at all possible you should avoid wasting your time in a job you don't care about with people you can't relate to pretending to be someone other than your real self. Your time is limited, and it's a good idea to try to figure out what you want to do with your life, then act accordingly.

It got him a job and time to look for a better one.

In the comments he says he worked there for 3 years, until going back to school for a PhD:


I think he was doing a bit of exploration in terms of strategy for how he would proceed with his life.

One of the questions that he was trying to answer, I would estimate, is whether it is advantageous to "dump oneself down"

Jay-z talks about it in his song moment of clarity. "I dumb down for my audience And double my dollars"

So, I don't think it's about being smart rather than trying something new and seeing first hand the result. And of course, writing about the experience so we can all learn from it[that's if it is in fact true].

Exactly. That's what it means to do what you have to do when all things are not equal. When you can pay your bills you can afford to get choosy about work, but not everyone has that privilege. He played the game he needed to play to avoid a desperate situation.

I expected this article to be something totally different. I think it was a great article, though the title had little to do with the moral of the story.

But man I can relate. When I graduated with my Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degrees, I thought the world was my oyster. I found a sweet job called Marketing Engineer that required both a well-formed understanding of engineering and a knack for marketing and communication (I had those!). Turned out to be nothing more than a glorified technical support job (at least 6-7 hours of my work day). After 8 months, I was totally depressed, my side startup was suffering because of it, and I had to quit. No amount of money was worth that feeling all day, every day.

I totally sympathize and if you are on the startup path it sounds like quiting was the right move.

But I think your expectations for an entry level job are too high. One thing newly minted adults would do well to realize is your first few years at any job are going to be spent doing the grunt work. If you go into it expecting to spend your days oscillating between mind numbing boredom and hectic days filled with busy work, it's a lot easier to deal with. People with this perspective know opportunities for better work will arise -- and seriously, two or three years is just not that long.

>One thing newly minted adults would do well to realize is your first few years at any job are going to be spent doing the grunt work.

Is this what most people experience?

The earliest bits of my career consisted of me getting thrown in to situations for which I was in no way qualified, then being expected to sink or swim without much help. Often nobody at the company really knew how to do the job I was hired for.

Great fun, really; by the time I figured out how to "swim" I usually decided it was about time for a new job.

I guess that's the thing... when there are problems... go solve them. If the boss doesn't give you more work, go find some.

I had something similar, but we're lucky. If you go to work for a "big company" they'll have their whole dumbed down training program, you'll have to learn to push paper around "their way", etc.

is this always so? when I was working for yahoo a few years back I got my little brother a internship. He did a whole lot of useful work; on his resume he brags that he replaced three temps, and he's not exaggerating... he really was more productive than three dudes from a well-known technical body shop.

I mean, I think the difference is more in the person than in the job. At yahoo, if my brother wanted to, he would have been able to skate by doing almost no real work at all... but he didn't. well, part of that was me pushing him a little... if I get you a job I expect you not to embarrass me. But I think he would have done useful things anyhow.

In my experience, yeah, you aren't always expected to accomplish much... but if you decide to do something useful anyhow, people almost never go out of their way to stop you. (they might not help you... but they won't stop you if you don't require anything of them.)

I remember my first programming job was littered with finished projects that were never put into production because that would have been work. (I converted our access billing system from a shared-file db that was crashing once a week because 300 people accessed the file over a NT share at the same time to an ODBC connected database... never implemented because the parent company was going to replace it anyhow. We continued repairing the database for the rest of the year I worked there.)

But enough of the shit I wrote had enough of an 'immediate need' (customer impacting seemed to be the line) to get implemented that I was pretty happy with the job.

Actually, that job was /really satisfying/ because so much was so obviously broken that a few small fixes on my end (a three line patch to apache to make dynamically configured mass virtual hosting work with our weird naming scheme/directory layout, and a few lines of c to make our pop3 redirector use a real db rather than a seperate file for each of our three million emails to determine where to redirect the user) made some really dramatic improvements to the service. Yeah, that was really, really fun. Honestly, I'm not sure I've been quite as productive since.

Part of it might have been that nobody knew what to do with. I was hired up from tech support (god, I sucked at phone tech support) to the NOC, but the rest of the NOC were network guys and i was hired as a programmer. (Hah. that was a laugh. I had read the white book in high school, and I taught myself perl while I was on phone support at night.) and the boss was some leathery EE who was great fun at first, then it was switched out to a MBA who wanted to be my friend, but otherwise pretty much let me do what I wanted as long as I didn't piss off the ops guys.

Funny story, I found one of the ops guys who worked with me at that job many years later, after the .com crash... working in a deli, and I hired him.

Depends on the company, and your manager. Y! is still fundamentally a tech company and they've had a lot of really good people there over the years.

IBM or Lockheed Martin, probably quite a bit different. (I have in fact gotten in trouble for implementing something useful at one particular job I briefly held. It made people look bad, and I was written up for not staying in my lane.)

hah. well, I've never seen that, but I imagine I have massive selection bias (I mean, if you are a 'by the book' company, you are pretty much going to bin my resume right off... there's no "education" section.)

The only time I've gotten in trouble for 'getting out of my lane' is when I started to take over someone else's project, but didn't finish, which seems reasonable to me.

Your experience pretty well mirrors my own.

My first several jobs I was thrown into the deep end and expected to find my own way back up. Typically about the time I'd get a solid handle on what I needed to do, the job turned into something I was much less interested in.

You're telling me, my expectations absolutely were too high in this case.

However, at this particular company, it was actually the accepted culture to hate your job and hate the company. Seriously, people seemed to compete with each other at how miserable they were. 2-3 years would not have made a difference here.

That aside, assuming it would have gotten better in 2-3 years, is it really worth spending 2-3 years of your early-twenties being miserable, convincing yourself that it's necessary and will get better at a later time? Afterall, that's what everyone at this company had done, except replace 2-3 years with 20-30 years; they were in it for retirement.

Where do you draw the line? I guess that's a personal decision everyone has to figure out for themselves. My line was 8 months.

I like the converse: "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"

It's attributed to MIT's Paul Cootner, supposedly as a comeback to a money manager who asked him why, if Cootner was so smart, he wasn't rich?

That response didnt make much sense to me :(

Who's smarter? Money manager guy who does a good job of getting paid in a system that is universally regarded as broken and overpaying everyone involved to do a crappy job, or the professor who reinvents some area of science but only makes 90k?

Depends on your definition of smart.

Which definition are you using and what's the alternative definition and what are the pros and cons, that way only I guess can we find if the rich guy or the smart but relatively poorer guy is smarter.

It's the equivalent of saying "Yes, Madam, and you are ugly, but I will be sober tomorrow." If you're smart but not rich, you can try to get rich. What do you do if you're rich but not smart?

Spend the money on entertainment, probably.

hire 10 smart people

An action that would imply intelligence, I'd say.

That reply is the non-subtle way to call someone stupid.

I've never run into this myself (BSc Comp Sci, MSc Management), but that might be because most jobs I've had have come through word of mouth / networking. Plus, once you've got a bit of a career history, your education doesn't matter much compared to your experience.

I've spoken to plenty of friends/employers who don't care about degrees at all, but not many who would actively count that against applicants.

As other people have said, it most likely depends on the kind of jobs you're applying for. Being massively over-qualified for the position you're going for can certainly act against you as you're more likely to get bored and move on.

The problem probably wasn't having the masters degree so much as having the masters degree and applying for jobs with titles like "administrative assistant"

moral of the story: don't trust "careers counselors"

At least the counselor got him a job. What is strange is that he apparently gave up on his job hunt despite being underemployed in his new position.

I wonder at some of these stories I read where people spend months looking for work as if it were some kind of game. Do they not eat or live under a roof? How do they pay for those letters and faxes?

When I left school, I temped in warehouses, factories, offices, whatever, while I was hunting for a programming job. When I lost my programming job some years later, I temped at a bank until I got another programming job.

I've learned something useful from every job I've had, whether I was underemployed or not. He (the author of the article) can probably learn a lot about organizational behaviour being an admin assistant. He can also take that time to think about what he really wants to do as a career. Your first few jobs (or the degree you have) don't define what you end up doing in the long term. You really have to play it by ear.

From the sounds of it, the author didn't have much work experience. What else can he apply for?

Around the time I finished my undergrad, there was a recession (almost 20y ago), and most of my liberal arts peers were taking customer service jobs. When you're fresh out of school, you gotta start somewhere.

get a job that counts. Even if you have to be underpaid, or work for a small employer. Work in your field. Working in fast food (or data entry) doesn't get you on that upward path to where you want to go... with a degree and a year of data entry experience, you have no more than you had with just the degree.

I have relevant experience going back to when I was 15 on my resume. sure, my first cable monkey jobs paid less than fast food, but it lead to better things.

If you are willing to work for menial labor wages, you can almost always get work that requires skills. there are many small businesses, all attempting to cheap out on hiring. take advantage.

my first job? I worked at a shady computer repair place run by an Iraqi woman. I was paid by the piece (usually a dollar or two below minimum wage) which, I was told, was more than the last (much older) guy got, though, as the woman explained, "You are much better than he was."

It was actually a really great experience (except, maybe for the lack of air conditioning in the living room where we worked.) and I got massive discounts on used computer parts until I moved out of the area, so even financially, it worked out okay.

get a job that counts... work in your field

The guy had a Masters in English. Having an English degree does not necessarily mean you are qualified to be a writer or teacher.

Depending on where he lives (small town vs. big city), I think the options could be more limited than you think.

Then write documentation. Everything needs documentation. Sure, it doesn't pay that great, but neither does data entry, and it's at least in the field, and even if his degree was in comparative literature, he should be able to handle writing documentation for something.

I'm trying to say that the ability to write clearly is a valuable and marketable skill. Granted, it doesn't always get the pay it deserves, but people /will/ pay you for it because it /does/ add value to the business.

Writing documentation is a skill that requires more than a good command of the English language. The technical writers that I've hired in the past didn't even have English degrees, but were excellent at what they do.

I don't think the copywriters in the media agencies I worked at had English degrees either.

I've only hired one English major in my career, and that was as a software developer. He was -much- better at writing code than he was at writing prose.

Frankly, a lot of people don't know what field they belong in when they first graduate. I have a social sciences undergrad and an MBA, and I've been "out of my field" doing technology for 90% of my career. Most of my friends in the tech industry also don't have engineering or CS backgrounds. A lot of them have diverse backgrounds like poli.sci, etc. And most of us started our careers doing stuff like "admin assistants" etc.

an English degree is not required to write well. However, writing well, one would hope, would be required to obtain an advanced English degree. I'm focusing on the ability to write well as a marketable skill.

Yes, you need to add that to something else to be useful, usually, but the ability to write well is fairly rare, and it's a skill the guy has, so it's a good place for him to start.

>Writing documentation is a skill that requires more than a good command of the English language. The technical writers that I've hired in the past didn't even have English degrees, but were excellent at what they do.

non-technical products require documentation as well.

Like I said, he'll need to learn some other things to go along with the writing ability, but having the writing ability there up front helps a lot, and hopefully allows him to find an employer who might be willing to take a chance and be patient while he learns the rest of the trade (at a lower pay rate, of course, than an experienced documentation writer)

>And most of us started our careers doing stuff like "admin assistants" etc.

Really? what is the upwards path there? I mean, is it easier to jump from 'admin assistant' to IT than to just jump into IT with no experience at all?

No, it's work experience. Being around office politics, talking to people in different roles, learning how to be a professional. If you're an admin assistant in a tech co, chances are that you'll get exposed to whatever systems they're using as well. Every job has something to teach you, including, yes, fast food jobs. I grew up in my Dad's fast food restaurant, and I learned more about human nature and the importance of always thinking about quality than I have at any of my more "professional" jobs.

My first job could be considered an "admin assistant job" by all regards - I had no official responsibilities related to tech. My boss saw that I knew computers well, and I got to work on their home-grown CRM system, and I set up a national BBS system (yes, I'm that old) for their not-for-profit. I also got to write a lot of technical documentation while I was there, and after that I made the jump into the tech industry as a documentation writer for a startup, which opened doors into development.

So yes, you can make your upward path into tech as an Admin Assistant.

Interesting story. Yeah, I managed a BBS at my highschool... I'm just a hair under 30, so those were the last gasps of the BBS systems, but eh, it was fun.

i think the author of this post needs to drop his intense feelings of superiority and entitlement as they are obviously not backed up by any real world metrics. sorry, much of academia is completely disconnected from the real world. just because you made marks doesn't mean the rest of the world should bow before your superior intellect. sheesh, the nerve of some people...

The impression I've gotten is that what a Masters of English most prepares you for is a PhD in English. A distant second and third would be editor and writer. Then maybe a journalist.

I read a lot of comments mentioning how the author is overqualified for the jobs he's applying to.

But we've gotta consider two things:

1) We're currently in a depression/recession. Jobs are scarce out there.

2) He has a Masters degree in English! Compared to most of us on Hacker News, we don't have experience job hunting with an arts degree.

One mans recession is another mans opportunity.

The events happened at least three years ago.

Sounds like a situation he put himself in by having no goals and just looking for anything that comes up.

Instead of doing that, he could have done research in what opportunities his degree opens up for him and specifically target those areas in his job hunt.

In an ideal world perhaps. In the real world, sometimes you just have to suck it up to avoid an even more desperate situation. I think it's clear that's what he did.

I find the idea of paper degrees being somehow a synonym of "smarts" a bit elitist.

As far as getting rich goes (at least in startupland), there's a big difference between "so, what can you do?" and "so, what can do to help me"?

If life isn't turning out quite like you expected, perhaps it'd be "smart" to be a bit more proactive?

"Life is too short to walk around reluctantly doing crap work" -Bruce Sterling

And life can be even shorter if you don't.

That's a false dichotomy. The issue is not doing crap work, the issue is doing it reluctantly. If you put a little effort into your work and think of the big picture, even the stupidest job can be considered a success if you pair it with a solid Plan-B and an exit strategy.

Work on crap, but also work on your dreams while at it. What do you have to give up beside TV and idling? I bet this English graduate did nothing on his spare time but read Walt Whitman. If he is so smart, why hasn't he reverse-engineered human interaction and learned how to build rapport with people? Hint: you meet people on their terms when you need them. Learn to mimic their personalities and walk in lockstep with them.

It's not a false dichotomy. It's not true to say that life is too short to spend doing crap work because some people don't have the choice to make a living in any other way, no matter how reluctant their decision is and no matter how much it cuts against their dreams.

It pains me to extrapolate data from an anecdote, really, but I think it's just something worth sharing.

Few years ago there was a lady from East Africa who walked around my work building and sold canned beverages out of a picnic cooler. I have watched her come pester us during our lunch breaks and sell us coke for a $1. The vending machine sold it for $1.25, but the lady had more variety in beverages. If you said you didn't have change, she would put a cold drink on your desk and was happy to collect her money the next day.

She then moved on to homemade sandwiches and coffee, eventually graduating to a folding trolley.

I went to visit the building a few days ago to see the people I knew. She no longer sells quick meals, but has her own office in the building where she runs a convenience store / clothing store / dollar store. She will sell you food, socks, deodorant, cigarettes and printer ink cartridges. Her son, now in his teens, doubles as a delivery boy and runs errands for the whole building.

Everyday success story that you wont see in Mixergy (unless Andrew wants an interview, and I will happily put my home-girl in the spot :-)

Nice story. However, I think you are mistaken if you somehow believe this anecdote somehow disproves the idea that some people don't have the choice to make a living in any other way except through crap work, no matter how reluctant their decision is and no matter how much it cuts against their dreams. If we are to believe the statistics on small business failures then for every enterpreneur who succeeds like the woman you have described, there are dozens of others who fail. So I don't hold it against someone when they choose not to gamble with their livelihood for a slim chance of success.

What are you going on about? If someone's choice is to sell soda to nerds on their lunch break or be unemployed, what are they gambling? Or do you mean the soda lady should have been more realistic and taken a job in the salt mines, because the snack business is too risky?

I'm not GP, but if I were, I think I'd have meant that she did, in fact, spend time doing "crap work," albeit not the crappiest work out there.

I don't buy that.

Have you ever read Fish? http://www.charthouse.com/productdetail.aspx?nodeid=11010

There is an art to everything it's just a matter of finding it and you can learn a great deal from even the most tedious work.

"There is an art to everything it's just a matter of finding it and you can learn a great deal from even the most tedious work."

Go down to your local sweatshop and try telling that to some of the people working there. See what they have to say about it.

I think you are missing the point here.

I am talking about an opportunity to turn crap work into at least challenging work.

I have worked some pretty crappy jobs myself from packaging crab cakes to cleaning at 3 in the morning to sorting packages. There is always things to focus on that will make it worthwhile.

When I was 22 I was head of sales for a small telemarketing business. The people working there where young and the job pretty freaking boring but hard as hell. The average number of individual orders that people would accomplish in a day ranged from 5 to 40. Which meant that I had some frequency to play with. So I invented a bunch of games that had bonuses attached to them.

Sales went up 200% and that is for the people on canvas.

You might not choose your own job, but you do choose how you approach it.

Dumbed himself down for a job he was over-qualified for and ends bored to depression. Sounds about right.

Do you have a better suggestion?

Yeah. Learn how to get a satisfying job instead of taking bad advice from an incompetent career counselor.

Maybe doing 3hrs worth of data entry this the most economic value this guy can provide. In that case, he better learn to settle.

The answer is right there in the article. “I learned all I needed to know in high school, ya know,” he argued. “I wanted to make money." The way to get a job is to convince your boss you can make him money. This is why businesses hire. Instead of trying to impress potential employers with yours smarts, or relate to them like a frat boy, impress them with your understanding of the value you provide and how you add to their bottom line. Then you'll get hired.

Nick A. Corcodilos talks about this in Reinventing the Interview:


(Great book, but probably not worth buying. If memory serves, it is a little repetitive, but it is short and you can read it in a bookstore in one sitting.) Or go read back articles from Ask the Headhunter.

I've had a lot of success relating to the employer like a frat boy. It's way easier to get hired this way than actually knowing how to do something.

I really hope there's a good deal of fantasy into this story.

Gladwell, in his great book Outliers, argues that IQ is only related to success to some extent: above the intelligence level that allows you to get a MSc without great difficulties (this is obviously a fuzzy metric), adding much more doesn't have a big impact. Other factors (was programming your hobby at 16 and you got access to a workstation when it was not common?) make the difference.

Good point.

Brains can only take you so far. Passion, skills, experience, luck, timing, instinct... those elements are also in the success/riches equation.

If You're So Incredible Rich, Why Aren't You Happy?

Because I'm smart.

Money certainly has utility, but it's not the be-all and end-all of my existence. It enables freedom in choices but doesn't become the reason I make choices.

And it certainly has let me chose not to work with someone who is impressed by 'dumbing down'.

It enables freedom in choices but doesn't become the reason I make choices.

Well isn't that nice for you? Too bad it's not true for everyone.

It is true for everyone that money enables freedom in choices.

My point is that it's worth avoiding reaching a point that you need to be rich for some reason like "more = better".

Considering I've spent my career in the opposite position, I've never fully understood this mentality.

But America is littered with over-educated, under-employed people for some reason. I recall working service jobs as a student with unhappy coworkers - career waiters, cooks or store clerks - in their mid 30's with Masters degrees and that was back when there was no recession to use as an excuse.

I'd attribute it to entitlement, maybe just a personal disposition of not being very driven, and the fact there are many people who's only real talent is excelling at school...

A polarizing article not meant to entertain or educate, but to gain traffic from those searching for 'smart and rich'. If the story were true, I’d feel sorry for him; creating an ideology based on the corner of a puzzle piece makes you horse-headed and ultimately miserable.

Fortunately, it’s not, and he has successfully brought attention to his personal site, which, because of the content, is pleasantly ironic. My left-handed compliments to the chef.

If you're so damn smart, why don't you start a company and then consult?

I've seen the pattern that internally many companies work the way the article noted. That is, insecurity and ass-kissing go way down to the bowels of the company.

However, I have found that the problems created by ass-kissing are solved when you sell yourself not as an employee but as a consulting expert/guru. Then, intelligence and other awesome qualities are then marketing tools.

Am I the only one that read the article and thought that part of the problem had to do with the fact that he was sending out "thousands of resumes" in the last two months?

I really expected to come to the comments on this post and see a lot of responses about that. It doesn't sound at all like he was trying to target his market at all. It sounds as though his plan was to simply spam his way to finding a job.

I don't get the mentality of sending out thousands of resumes. I sent out one to get my current job because I wanted to work there.

I don't get it, either.

Most of the jobs I've applied for after I've graduated college, I was able to get at least an in person interview, and several times, was able to juggle between several offers; I've only applied to roughly five or six jobs in my whole career so far. Why? Because I actually took the time to look at their website, see if it was something I was interested in, and even come up with work-related questions that I could ask them in my cover letter.

Though, I would still say that it's a numbers game, but you still have to make a decent effort for each job you apply for. It's almost like dating, in a way.

I was able to get at least an in person interview, and several times, was able to juggle between several offers

This alone suggests you were in a somewhat different situation than that of the author. Resume carpet-bombing is what people seem to eventually do when they aren't getting offers.

Some people (such as myself) have a hard time landing interviews for some reason[1]. During my final year in college, I sent out no fewer than three dozen resumes to potential employers (all of whom were hiring); only four of those companies asked me to come in for an interview.

[1] Note that that "reason" was no doubt due to my inexperience and not knowing how to properly market myself at the time.

Not getting contacted back can many times also be a fault of the company hiring. Sometimes it takes weeks to hear back, sometimes they want you to stop by tomorrow while you clearly wrote you're on the other side of the country.

Just another indicator not to take job hunt too personal and making sure to look into every opportunity available.

And if they turned you down? Then what? Eventually, after scores of weeks of silence, you'd start blanketing too.

> after scores of weeks of silence, you'd start blanketing too.

Actually I wouldn't, but my situation is probably different than most people just looking for a job. I wouldn't let it get to weeks of silence. I'd just move on.

I meant after weeks of sending out resumes to companies you wanted to work, and hearing nothing back. That would be most people's experience.

If this story is trying to convince me that it makes sense to dumb down credentials ("at least I was employed") it was not successful. He apparently sent out his resume to roughly every business he saw on the street. Perhaps if he had represented himself better on it, he would have gotten a different job that doesn't suck.

You haven't been out on the market lately, I suspect. People don't read resumes anymore, so there's no real chance to impress anyone. They scan keywords. If you try to represent yourself well, chances are you won't be keyword-rich enough to get attention.

What was your graduate degree in? Could you apply that to create value somehow?

Staying alive and being able to pay the rent is creating value too.

No, that's consuming value.

Then we disagree on the value of staying alive irrespective of one's productivity level.

You're being intentionally ignorant of the way everyone else uses the term "creating value," which describes work that improves the world around you, not just work that happens to keep you alive.

It's not just the one that comes up with a concept like sanitation that creates value. It's also those in the government that have it implemented that create value. The garbage man that executes the work also creates value, by reducing others of the burden of having to worry about garbage.

A great many people contribute a little, so a few can excel. There wouldn't be universities if everyone had to hunt for their own food. Most people create value and asserting that this person doesn't is shortsighted, especially since this job enabled him to start a PhD... who knows what wonders may come out of that.

Except my point is that you can still improve the world around you (create value) even if your work does not do so. In that sense, maintaining your own survival is also a means of creating value. On the other hand, you seem to define "creating value" in excessively narrow terms by accepting whatever preconceived notion you insist it is defined by.

That is creating value to himself! The original point was about creating values to others.

How on earth can you be smart and not realise the rules of engagement in the world? Not you personally, but the guy who claimed he was super smart.

Clearly the story is not about being Smart. More in the lines of: you can get a dog job if you learn to bark. But then don't complain if you are not a dog, don't ask for meat and eat the bones that a dog eat.

OP should have simply done something interesting in the extra 5 hours per day that his employer was paying him to do nothing. Read a book, write memoirs, work on a side business...

Because money isn't my primary aim in life.

The 'dumbing yourself down' skill comes very handy when talking to most girls at bars/clubs.

Because you want to date the girls who can't keep up with you intellectually? Whatever floats your boat, man.

I though that what zavulon is saying was common sense. I assume people who are downvoting him don't hang out in bars and clubs much, or aren't going there to pick up girls.

Are hard to read font colors a new trend or something?

#666666 for body text makes my eyes bleed

That's because #666666 is the color of The Beast.

It is actually the colour of the Beast Beast.

and it is not optimal contrast with the white background, nor black for that matter.

Ah, but it is even less optimal with a background of #777777

I'm smarter than Obama, why I'm not President of America?

Quote: '“This letter is too well written.” He fiddle [sic] with the pen as he read.'

While I think this story is largely fictitious, when someone argues that they're downtrodden and victimized because they sound smart -- in verbal or written form -- they're often missing the forest for the trees.

Unless you're debating esoterica of a specialized domain, the smartest people manage to communicate in a simple, effective manner(1). The person accused of using too many syllables, in contrast, tends to be someone who isn't actually terribly smart at all, and the compensation is a verbal find/replace of commonplace words with a cargo cult collection of "smart" words, because that's what they think smart people do.

When someone says "you're too smart", or "you sound too smart" or "try to dumb yourself down", most of the time they're not really saying that you're too smart. They're saying "can the act."

(1) - The best example of this, I think, was Richard Feynman. He never tried to sell the idea that he was smart -- anyone who needed to know that already knew it -- but instead managed to communicate the most incredible ideas clearly and effectively.

>> When someone says "you're too smart", or "you sound too smart" or "try to dumb yourself down", most of the time they're not really saying that you're too smart. They're saying "can the act."

Perhaps some people who use big words are putting on a show, but that's far from universal. Big words stay in our language because they convey subtly different meanings than their simpler synonyms. But there's a trade-off between being precise and being easily understood, and to get it right, you really need to know your audience. A lot of people hear "you sound too smart" because they're going over their audience's heads.

I get this a lot - I come from an articulate, educated family, and I was brought up using big words. I think in big words and long sentences. I read lots of books. So I have to consciously simply my sentence structure and my vocabulary around most people. It's not necessarily that they're "not smart." It's just that they're used to simpler words and structure.

It's almost as if we speak subtly different dialects. I have to do the work to translate, so that they don't have to. Most people haven't read many books, and don't think in big words. People usually talk to similar people, so they may not even have a mental concept for this translation. But they know and notice when someone's unusually hard to understand.

Now, if you use bigger words than your audience, and you're also subtly condescending (because you think you're smarter, e.g.), people often assume you're trying to "sound smart," even though you're actually bad at communication and lack self-awareness. The same thing happens when you use lots of jargon and acronyms, only that alienates an even wider group of people.

edit: formatting

I can attest this is true. While I use a much broader vocabulary then most people, I don't often get criticized for it. I think this is because I don't use my vocabulary as a tool to condescend to people. I don't throw big words into small talk, I use big words when I have to to explain complex subjects. This makes it feel more inclusive than exclusive.

I know it's hard to believe, but there are people who legitimately enjoy finding the exact right word. This is like trashing someone for working on an open source project - they're just doing something they love the best they know how. In this case it's not strategically optimal and finding that out was a (perhaps overdue) shock.

You are operating from the perspective that the "right word" is the one that the dictionary defines as the most accurate based on the context. If the people you are communicating to will receive the message better if you choose alternative, less correct as far as dictionaries are concerned words, the message will be better received.

I see people make this mistake all the time; it's important to recognize that the ultimate goal of language is to communicate.

>I know it's hard to believe, but there are people who legitimately enjoy finding the exact right word.

Absolutely. There is an appropriate time and a place for such an exercise, however, and having the cognizance of when and where is useful.

>This is like trashing someone for working on an open source project - they're just doing something they love the best they know how.

I don't think it's anything like that. The submission is about a person who had purportedly been sending out thousands of resumes with nary a bite. Their angle is not "Clearly I'm doing it wrong", but they instead resort to the tried and true "everyone but me is stupid" angle. I don't patronize that thought process because it's the hubris of failure.

Yep. Self-induced lobotomy is a very useful skill.


And I'll say what I like because this is the internet and I will care about you as much as you cared about my five minutes.

Your tone is patronising. You are shouting at me, I feel like a little child in a very dark room with a very tall man shouting at me and I have watery eyes and will any moment start crying.

First, English Literature. That is arts. Arts and business are two different things. With english lit you write the subjective rubish you did and make me feel very bad for no reason whatever.

Second, is this all fiction?

Third, how old are you? - just to say I didnt read it all, I didnt wanna cry and didnt like the darkness.

Fourth, it is not smart to study English Literature, you read book instead.

Fifth, it is not smart to apply to jobs you are not qualified for.

Sixth, get a proper degree!

Seventh. Are you saying that someone who went to Harvard would be looked down compared to someone who went to, well I dont know about there in the US, but a rubish university by reputation, unless you were appying to be a bin collector?

Or are you saying that really employers do not want smart people - smart by the standards of reality - that is great university reputation and numbers or letters in your paper- when applying for the jobs which kinda - if not in reality than perception - require a lot of responsibility and someone's intellect you can trust when making far reaching decisions?

To Conclude, I don't like you, whoever that wrote it. It is grim, it is shouting at me, at no point, as far as I read anyway, and if you were so smart you would have made my reading pleasurable and I would have finished reading it, did I think that you showed any reason for me to think that you are smart, your article is full of generalisation, opinions,

You know, perhaps if you are smart enough you will understand this, you article gives those same emotions as - and this is brutal - as those articles written by journalists in populous newspapers did when they were arguing for invading Iraq. I do not say it is of that grave scale, it gives those same emotions.

So god let me pray that you do not become a journalist and so too god I pray that your articles, if of the same kind, do not find their way to HN again.

I'm lazy as fuck. That's why.

It would appear that you talk like a fag, and that your shit's all retarded.

Why are you voting this guy down? It's a quote from Idiocracy.

Is that supposed to be a reason? How does being a quote from Idiocracy make it worth posting?

1. Because this isn't reddit. Random quotes add little to the discussion.

2. Because it misses the point, in that the problem is the author, not everyone else being stupid.

No humor allowed. Got it. Thanks.

I said nothing regarding humour.

I didn't vote him down, but without quotation marks or attribution, it simply looks like a slam toward the author. And I haven't seen the movie often enough to recognize the quote immediately. (I've seen it once, and the only quote that I remember is from the Costco greeter.)

It also doesn't help that the remark is homophobic.

I'm sorry that you lost so much karma over this. For what it's worth this is the funniest comment I've seen in a while.

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