How to land a job you love

Most people are delusional about their own abilities.

If you apply for a job you really want, and on your covering letter you say anything along the lines of “I don’t have any experience in this field, but this looks like a great opportunity because it’s exactly what I want to do”, then you are a moron. You’re all me, me, me, and not thinking about what you can actually offer.

Why would that person hire you over someone who instead says “You want someone to do X, Y and Z. I have done X, Y and Z in the past in these other places, and here are the results I delivered. I can do the same for you.” That guy is offering something valuable.

Do you know how you get a job in a field you’re interested in? It’s really simple.

– Do shit related to that field. Do it well and keep getting better. Do it for free.
– Document everything.
– Build up a track record of delivering results and improving abilities.
– Start charging money for what you do.

That is all. It’s really fucking simple. Not easy, but simple.

Read Recession Proof Graduate or watch Charlie’s speech here if you need more information. Also, check out Cal Newport’s great book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, which will absolve you of the notion that good jobs are handed out to people with nothing to offer in return.

I’m glad I worked terrible jobs

Working in a meaningless corporate cubicle job for 3 years was the best experience of my life.

It seems to be in vogue today to argue that rather than working for a big company straight out of college, smart, ambitious graduates (or dropouts) are better off striking out on their own and starting their own company.

They may or may not be right — I’ve never started a company so I don’t have the authority to talk about that. What I will say is that I followed a traditional path out of university and went to work in a classic, corporate job (insurance company with 4000 employees and >£1bn revenue). I did it for a few years, learned some skills, and then made the jump to becoming employee #1 at a startup. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it, nor would I be nearly as valuable to my new company, if I hadn’t spent all that time working in a corporate job. Here’s what I learned:

A) Repeatable processes are what count. You might have a great value proposition that and a great marketing plan that means customers are beating your door down. That’s great. Now you need to scale it up. And that means building a clear, repeatable process with checklists and clear action items, so it’s clear who needs to do what and when. And you need to write all that down and properly codify it, otherwise you’ll spend your whole life so busy training new hires that you won’t be able to run the company. Or worse, you’ll be so busy DOING the process that you won’t have time to codify it and teach it to new people – so you will never scale. You need to be working on the business, not in the business.

B) Not everyone thinks like you. Don’t assume that everyone reads Tim Ferriss’s blog, knows what “lean startup methodology” means and is ultimately aiming to found a company, scale it, sell out and become an angel investor. You need to know how to deal with people that aren’t like you. I’ve worked with senior managers who have been doing their job longer than I’ve been alive, young people who just aren’t that bright or ambitious, middle-aged women who are already working towards retirement, and everything in between. To get shit done, you need to know how to work with all of these — because if you scale, at some point you’ll either hire them or sell something to them. Learning how to connect with people is one of the most valuable skills you can have.

C) Stuff gets done when it’s clear who has to do it and by when. Yes, meetings are usually a waste of time — but the good ones have a clear agenda, a lead, and when the meeting ends, there is a clear list of action items with owners and deadlines. I remember the first time I heard someone say in a meeting “let’s assign that action to Jamie, with a deadline of two weeks from now.” I thought, “Huh, that’s smart. I never would have thought of that.” Admittedly, I’m pretty slow.

D) Accounting. My company had a generous training budget. So they paid over £15k for me to learn accounting, which I never would have had the time or discipline to sit down and learn on my own. Turns out, having a great understanding of things like cash flow, margins, forecasting, income statements and balance sheets is useful in any company.

E) Continuous improvement and lean methodologies. We had a whole department, led by an expert who used to work at McKinsey, dedicated to rolling out continuous improvement across the company. The guy was a genius, and was happy to talk to a young buck like me about it all the time, lend me books, and all that. Then Eric Ries took lean methodology and applied it to startups. Instantly I have a great background in that, and I know how to build great processes from the ground up.

F) Public speaking. Like I said, we had a generous training budget, so my company paid £1k for me to have a day’s training from a professional actor and speaking trainer (he had trained multiple politicians and a Prime Minister). It was fantastic. Now I love speaking in public.

And finally, I learned:

G) You should leave and start your own thing. The highest paid people in our company were all guys who had learned what they needed to know in a corporate role and then struck out and become one-man band freelancers, or started their own companies. I saw guys doing exactly what I was doing and earning twice the money. They had more autonomy, more freedom, more money and enjoyed their work more.

So I left. I took all the skills and experience I’d gained at a shitty job, and found one that was much more exciting and fulfilling where I can actually have an impact on real projects. But I never could have done so if I hadn’t worked a shitty job first.

Why your New Years Resolution will fail – and what to do about it.

I completely failed. I set a goal and fell so far short of it that it’s embarrassing to talk about. And Nike decided to rub it in my face.

I did what you’re supposed to: I set an ambitious goal that was a SMART goal: it was specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. I wrote it on an index card that I kept close to me at all times. I read a lot about the topic and knew exactly the steps I had to take to reach my goal. I tried to stay “motivated”.

And still, it didn’t happen. Not even close.

I wanted to run more, so I decided to run 3x per week, with the ultimate goal of being able to run a 10k race in less than 50 minutes.

How did I do? Well, here’s how.

nike 2014
Thanks for the reminder of my failure, Nike. I really appreciate it.

I ran an average of 0.28 times per week, aka less than 1/10th of what I wanted to do, and the fastest 10k I did, I didn’t even break an hour, let alone 50 minutes.

So what did I do wrong, and how can I fix it?

Mistake #1: Made a huge, unsustainable change

I went right out of the blocks trying to run 3x per week from the beginning, which was a) a huge increase in the amount of exercise I was doing at the time, and b) a huge increase in the amount of sweaty laundry I created, both of which were an added hassle that I had to deal with. It was unsustainable, such that I’d run 3x per week for 1-2 weeks, then not run at all for a few weeks, feel shit about myself, get motivated again, then run 3x in one week, then take another month-long break, and so on. This cycle repeated itself a number of times until I just gave up.

What I should have done instead: eased into it by starting off exercising 1x per week, to make it easily winnable to begin with, so I’d feel good about myself, and begin to create a habit of running. Then slowly increase the frequency until eventually I was hitting the goals that I wanted to hit.

 

Mistake #2: No accountability

I wrote down my goal on an index card, and put it in my wallet. That’s what people recommend, right? That should be a daily reminder of my goal, right? No, not when you put it in a hidden part of your wallet that you never look in. And I didn’t tell anyone about this goal, so I didn’t have any skin in the game. There was no pain or forfeit if I didn’t make it. So it wasn’t a big deal.

What I should have done instead: told multiple people about my goal and had them check in with me on a regular basis to ensure that I was following through. Or even better, put some money on it and have friends and family bet against me achieving the goal, which provides a carrot (I win money and get to show off to people that I hit my goal) and a stick (I have to pay out and everyone knows I lost).

Mistake #3: I tried to do it alone

Not only did I not tell anyone about this, but I was always running alone. And I was the only one chasing this goal. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I didn’t have a running partner to motivate me to go out, and I didn’t join any sort of running club. No-one would miss me if I didn’t lace up my shoes and head out the door.

What I should have done instead: joined a running club or found a running partner, or at least someone another runner I knew that I could talk to about running that would keep asking “Been running recently?” which would make me embarrassed to keep responding, “No, I’m a lazy shit”, so I’d actually go running.

 

Mistake #4: I picked something I hate doing

I don’t like running. It’s boring, it’s always cold and raining here in England, and you step in dog shit all the time. You have to avoid cyclists and old people and you’re always out of breath and you get injured all the time. Running sucks. I chose it as a goal because running is what you’re “supposed to do” if you want to get into shape and lose few lbs, right?

What I should have done instead: pick an exercise activity that I actually enjoy, like lifting weights, or cycling, or football, or boxing. Any of these would have been good as I would actually look forward to doing the activity, rather than dreading it.

This is how I felt on every single run I ever did.

 

So, I picked a goal and an activity where I:

  • tried to do too much too fast
  • on my own
  • with no accountability or stakes
  • at an activity that I don’t like doing

I don’t think I was ever really going to succeed.

So this year, with the same aim of exercising more and getting healthier, I am going to:

  • start off slow and build the right habits
  • in a group or community setting
  • with some stakes or public accountability
  • at something that I like doing

Basically, I’m going to start doing Crossfit.

For more on building the right habits and making positive changes, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Willpower by Roy Baumeister and Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. All fantastic books.

Notes and quotes from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things in about a day and a half – it’s incredibly well-written and I read it just as I am transitioning from my nice, comfortable, corporate gig to a much more exciting (and risky) role at a startup, so this book had a lot of relevance to me.

In the book, Ben Horowitz, formerly of Loudcloud and Opsware, and now a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist, talks about the lessons he learned as a successful tech startup CEO. It’s all here: finding a product, pivoting, building out a sales team, dealing with company politics, coping with your own psychology when the whole company is counting on you, and selling your company. It’s one of those well-written, first-person accounts from someone who has been there and done that, in an area that I’m really interested in (which, incidentally, is why I also love I Am The Secret Footballer).

Below are my notes and quotes from the book.

There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.
Looking at the world through such different prisms helped me separate facts from perception. This ability would serve me incredibly well later when I became an entrepreneur and CEO. In particularly dire circumstances when the “facts” seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook. The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.
…until that point, I had not really made any serious choices. I felt like I had unlimited bandwidth and could do everything in life that I wanted to do simultaneously. But his joke made it suddenly clear that by continuing on the course I was on, I might lose my family. By doing everything, I would fail at the most important thing.
In my mind, I was confident that I was a good person and not selfish, but my actions said otherwise. I had to stop being a boy and become a man.

Note: often we ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions, when in fact your actions are what really counts.

During this time I learned the most important rule of raising money privately: Look for a market of one. You only need one investor to say yes, so it’s best to ignore the other thirty who say “no.”
No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.
“Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.”
An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.
It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage.
Note to self: It’s a good idea to ask, “What am I not doing?”
Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
I thought that it was my job and my job only to worry about the company’s problems. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have realized that it didn’t make sense for me to be the only one to worry about, for example, the product not being quite right—because I wasn’t writing the code that would fix it.
In business, intelligence is always a critical element in any employee, because what we do is difficult and complex and the competitors are filled with extremely smart people. However, intelligence is not the only important quality. Being effective in a company also means working hard, being reliable, and being an excellent member of the team.
Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’s three-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended form—not as a mission statement, not as a tagline—Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page as to what Amazon was about.
Note: The Everything Store is a great book to learn more about Amazon and, in particular, Jeff Bezos, who is one of the best CEOs around.
Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions. Therefore, a CEO can most accurately be measured by the speed and quality of those decisions. Great decisions come from CEOs who display an elite mixture of intelligence, logic, and courage.
If you are a sports fan, you know that world-class athletes don’t stay world-class for long. One day you are Terrell Owens and the next day you are Terrell Owens.
If I was so inclined I could literally have typed out whole sections of this book – how to respond when one of your top execs questions the performance of another, what to say to your company if someone complains about bad language, how to give great feedback to employees – but I’d probably be violating some sort of copyright law. These are just the quotes that I really liked.

Cutting your own path

A friend of mine at work was talking about starting his own company. Understand, I work at an old, conservative, very corporate company. He mentioned this idea, this risky play, which could end up making him a ton of money.

This other girl heard him talking about it and said “Why would you want to do that? You’ve got a good, safe job here where you could be really successful.”

His reply was fantastic.

He said, “You can’t expect to follow the same route as loads of other mediocre people and expect to be wildly successful. It’s just not going to happen. You have to cut your own path.

Cutting your own path is always going be harder than following one that already exists. People will question you, wonder why you’re bothering, and convince you to do otherwise. You have to ignore those people. That path is a path to mediocrity – a plain of sheep where it is impossible to stand out from the flock. It’s easier, more comfortable, and much less rewarding than cutting your own path through the forest and seeing where you end up.

How to get rich

I was reading some of the Warren Buffett’s older letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. I love the clarity in thinking that they display. The true mark of an expert is someone who has the ability to take a complicated topic and distill it into simple language, and these letters display that virtue in abundance.

I was reading the 2008 letter because I wanted to see what Warren wrote about the turmoil in the financial markets in that year. This letter contains the following passage, which I immediately saved to Evernote:

In good years and bad, Charlie and I simply focus on our goals:

1) maintaining Berkshire’s Gibraltar-like financial position, which features huge amounts of excess liquidity, near-term obligations that are modest, and dozens of sources of earnings and cash;

2) widening the “moats” around our operating businesses that give them durable competitive advantages;

3) acquiring and developing new and varied streams of earnings;

It’s wonderful in its simplicity. But the best part: you can apply this exact model to your own life.

1) Get your financial house in order. Know where your money is going (I use You Need A Budget, which is fantastic). Make sure you’ve always got enough cash on hand to cover any short-term liquidity problems – and I mean cash on hand, not home equity or available credit cards or money invested in index funds. Don’t get into credit card debt, and limit your other obligations as much as possible. Then, start investing the spare cash to produce additional income.

2) When applied to an individual, this basically means: find ways to increase your earning power day-to-day. For most people, myself included, your main economic engine is your day job. So this means getting great at your job, and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise because of this – promotions, pay rises, and so on. Being great at your job not only means you’ll get paid more, but also means you’re a lot less likely to ever be laid off – a great, protective moat around your earning power.

3) Now that you’re in a healthy financial position and earning good income, you need to redeploy this capital in ways that generate yet more income. That could be shares, bonds, peer-to-peer lending, starting a side business – whatever suits your particular talents and expertise. It’s your job to collect assets that generate excess cash for you, as the owner, to do with whatever you please.

A simple, three step model to becoming fabulously wealthy over time. Get your ship in order to avoid wipeout risk, increase earnings, and invest excess cash into assets that produce even more excess cash. Not easy, but simple.

Principles

These are a few issues I’ve thought about enough to have a strong opinion on. I believe these principles provide a useful framework for making decisions, and that using this framework will ultimately make me happier. As with anything created at the grand old age of 25, I’m sure this isn’t the last thing I’ll write about it, and I fully expect to edit, remove or add to these principles over time.

1. Simplicity is good. It saves mental power for other things (this is why Obama only wears two colours of suit, to save decision-making effort for more important issues than merely deciding what to wear).

2. Minimalism – a lack of commitments (financial or otherwise) and a lack of possessions – also reduces stress. Books are the exception to this rule.

3. As a corollary to rules 1 and 2, I am prepared to pay for quality – if I’m only going to have a couple of pairs of shoes, or 4 suits, I want them to be good quality.

4. Likewise, I’m willing to pay other people to do things I could do myself if it reduces stress and frees up time for other things – money is renewable, time is not.

5. Keeping your monthly outgoings as low as possible and maintaining cash on hand goes a HUGE way to reducing anxiety and increasing happiness. Corollary: eliminate and do not use consumer debt. It’s like running with a parachute strapped to your back.

6. What people have actually ACCOMPLISHED is much more important than their qualifications. This is true for me as much as it is for anyone else.

7. Experimenting and tracking results is crucial to improving anything.

8. If we define “rich” as being able to buy anything you want, then there are two ways to do this: get more money, or want for fewer things.

9. Having said that, money is only one of three currencies: the other two, time and flexibility, are often much more valuable (see rule 4).

10. You can be good at more than one thing, and often it helps.

Avoiding the harmful

Happiness: we don’t know what it means, how to measure it, or how to reach it, but we know extremely well how to avoid unhappiness.

– Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes

I’ve so unhappy at certain times in my life that I’ve had to cry myself to sleep. I got out of it by cutting the harmful out of my life.

This is such a powerful principle that you can apply to a lot of different areas: avoiding consumer debt, avoiding ignorance, avoiding things like cigarettes and drugs.

Three recent news stories brought my mind back to this principle.

Firstly, Andy Coulson of the News of the World was found guilty of phone hacking.

Secondly, Luis Suarez bit an opposition player during Uruguay’s latest World Cup match.

Finally, Wonga.com were found to have sent threatening letters from a fake law firm to encourage their debtors to pay up.

Here’s the thing. Say what you want about the News of the World, but Andy Coulson was a powerful, well-respected guy who had previously worked for the Prime Minister. Without this scandal, he would have been fine. Luis Suarez is undoubtedly one of the finest football players in the world, but this is the third time he’s bitten a player, and it looks like he could be facing a lengthy ban from the sport. And regardless of how you feel about payday loan companies, there’s no denying Wonga.com is the market leader, a growing and profitable company.

But the latest news for these people may ultimately be damning. I’m sure they’ll all survive — for now — but at what cost?

And every single one of these incidents could have been avoided with a moment’s thought. It reminds me of a quote I first heard from Ryan Holiday:

[Here’s] a Spartan anecdote from Plutarch about King Hippocratidas when a youth and his lover met him accidentally in a crowd. The two had turned their faces away and he said “You ought to keep the company of the sort of people who won’t cause you to change color when observed”.

Is there no-one at News of the World or Wonga.com who was sat in a meeting thinking “You know, what we’re about to do is really stupid. I should stop it.” Do they not have a Chief Dissent Officer? Or even a fucking conscience? The Suarez incident is slightly different, as it was a heat of the moment thing, but still, this is the THIRD time it’s happened. After the first two incidents, why not take a minute and think about why you’re acting the way you’re acting?

There’s a reason Google’s motto isn’t “Be good” — rather, it’s “Don’t be evil.” As with seeking happiness, we may not always know the right thing to do — but avoiding the wrong things is a good place to start.

A lesson on the power of incentives

As an Econ grad I love stories like this.

The story of the Honduran railroad epitomises life on the isthmus. In 1870, the government hired an engineer named John C. Trautwine to lay track from Puerto Cortes on the Atlantic to the Bay of Fonseca on the Pacific, but made the mistake of paying him by the mile. When the project went bust in 1880, Honduras was left with sixty miles of track that wandered aimlessly here and there through the lowlands.

That’s from The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen. Fantastic book.

Never forget the power of incentives. There’s a reason that Warren Buffett himself puts together the incentive schemes for Berkshire Hathaway managers – it’s hugely important and he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

The Obstacle Is The Way

I’ve been reading Ryan Holiday’s blog for about 7 years now. He’s the Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and has worked with authors like Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene and Tucker Max. He’s also a staunch advocate of stoicism as a personal operating system.

His new book is called The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage. It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s a book I will undoubtedly turn to again and again over the next 50 years. Ryan teaches you how to deal with anything in your life, and turn it to your advantage.

There are three aspects to this.

1. Perception

Controlling your perception is key – you have to flip the obstacle around to see how it can work for you. Think: tight deadlines give you the opportunity to practice working under pressure and focus on what really matters. Failing at a business venture gives you more intel about what does and doesn’t work in a particular marketplace. If your computer crashes and you lose all your work: now you have a chance to do it over, even better than before.

What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure…this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming – or possibly thriving because of – them.

2. Action

Every single thing we do is a reflection of who we are as a person. We owe it to ourselves to do our best work, to keep going, to strive and to what it is we were meant to do. And we always have a choice to keep working and to put in the effort and the work required of us.

The great psychologist Victor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.

3. Will

Finally, there is the idea of will, which is what you hold deep inside of you.

True will is quiet humility, resilience, and flexibility…[not] weakness disguised by bluster and ambition. See which lasts longer under the hardest obstacles.

This is what we should all strive to be:

Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens – at that exposing moment – the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?

Ryan is also clearly influenced by both Robert Greene and Marcus Aurelius in terms of his writing style for this book – it is simple, clear, direct and practical. I found myself highlighting and marking numerous passages which I will turn to again and again in the future.