Best Career Advice

Best Career Advice

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten? I’ve shared 10 things I’ve learned in my career (be gracious! ask for raises!), but I’m always curious about the words other people live and work by. Here, nine smart people share the advice that has stuck with them…

Keep Things Compelling
“Ed Kosner was the editor of New York Magazine, and you lived in fear that he would write ‘MEGO’ in giant block letters on a draft of your story. It meant ‘My Eyes Glaze Over.’ But it taught me that you have to think of things from the readers’ point of view. Just because you put words on the page doesn’t mean people have to read them. It’s your responsibility to draw people in. Everything you write should be tight and compelling.” — Alex Williams, newspaper reporter

Take a Moment
“‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ My ob-gyn training director gave me that advice about reacting during an emergency. In obstetrics, things go from copacetic to disastrous in a blink of an eye. When a baby or mom is in trouble, each second passes as though it’s an eternity. It can be hard to give yourself permission to take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and make a considered decision. But if you do, it’s much easier to avoid a wrong reaction that could be difficult to recover from. Now I use this advice in all aspects of life.” — Abigail Ford Winkel, ob-gyn

Figure Out Solutions
“When I was getting started, my boss would tell me to come forward with solutions, not problems. She didn’t want us complaining about what wasn’t happening or who wasn’t working well together, but wanted us to put forth ideas on how to address issues. This is a small but profound perspective shift for anyone at work. It paved the path for me to become a solution-oriented boss (and parent!) myself years later.” — MZ Goodman, digital product executive

Be Concise
“My mentor and editor — the late John Tierney, winner of thirteen Emmys — would turn around in his chair and give me the death stare. ‘Lisa, you can’t fit ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag.’ Which meant I needed to simplify and make bold choices, not try to squeeze every idea into one project, in this case, a 30-second promo.” — Lisa Rubisch, TV commercial director

Find Your Speciality
“On my last day of Criminal Law class, the professor gave us this advice: be an expert. He said our generation is often too focused on keeping career options open, and too scared close any doors, so we remain generalists. I’ve seen how my peers who became experts in specific areas have risen to the top of their fields. Others who are broadly accomplished generalists have been hard pressed to stand out in job interviews. I give this advice to younger people all the time — even if you have many interests, it’s advantageous to pick one to pursue professionally (keep the rest as hobbies!) so you don’t become a mile wide but an inch deep.” — Lucy, entertainment lawyer

Communicate Face-to-Face
“My boss Wendell Jamieson at The New York Times always told me if I really need to communicate with someone about an idea or problem, I should make the effort to go talk to them in person. Don’t just send an email or voicemail, because things can get lost in translation or misunderstood. A real conversation is 1,000 times more effective. ‘Always overcommunicate,’ he would say.” — Lexi Mainland, editor

Embrace Your Point of View
“You can’t be all things to all people. When I first started Linda & Harriett, I would get a lot of unsolicited feedback. ‘You know what you should do?!‘ ‘Oh, you have to do x, y and z!‘ It’s hard not to take those things to heart (and sometimes, regretfully, I did). But it’s important to develop a very strong, clear opinion. Some people just plain won’t like it, and that’s fine because others will be head over heels in love with it.” — Liz Libre, designer

Sit Down and Do It
“At a photography talk, Sally Mann said: ‘Stay home and work.’ In the past, whenever I was feeling unsure about a project, I would put off starting it, waiting for inspiration to strike. Finally I realized that inspiration comes from sitting down, focusing and putting in the effort.” — Stella Blackmon, editor

Know Your Path
“‘Skate your lane.’ It’s a motto my old boss used about comparing yourself to others. Whenever I feel overwhelming anxiety about my writing, my ‘path,’ my whatever, it reminds me that those thoughts are distractions and I’ll refocus my attention to the task at hand.” — Alexis Cheung, writer

By Gemma Correll

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten (or given)?

P.S. 10 pressing questions for an ob-gyn, and 15 career tips from smart women.

(Photo of Barbara Walters in 1965 via NBC NewsWire. Illustration by Gemma Correll.)