What’s your best career advice, using EXACTLY 6 words?

It’s been a little while since I tured to LinkedIn Answers to get thoughts from others on career related topics, but when I did go back to it I got lucky and the subject I picked got pretty popular.   Here’s how I framed the question:

In January around the time of the inauguration, the Bush daughters wrote the Obama daughters a letter giving them advice on living in the public eye inside the White House. The most widely quoted part of that letter was pretty touching, “Remember who your dad really is.”

At about the same time, Newsweek ran a short story about a collection of 6 word memoirs put out by Smith Magazine on the topic of love.

Given that Jenna and Barbara’s advice happened to be exactly 6 words long, and that I have an interest in mentoring, I thought it would make for an interesting experiment to see what people might come up with on the topic of career advice.

So, what’s the best career advice you have, using EXACTLY 6 words?

I got well over 100 responses, a plug over at About.com and a lot of really interesting ideas to consider.  As you might expect, they covered lots of subtopics an as I read through them they clustered themselves into groups, although some definitely stood out.

The Succinctness Award

In a world where we often communicate our thoughts in less than 140 characters, I went looking for the shortest answer submitted, which was:

  • All You Gotta Do Is Ask – Chuck Yorke

I took this as a 23 character variation of the often repeated “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” which points out that you need to take initiative to get ahead in your career. Chuck’s creative contraction in order to make 6 words (“gotta”) made me smile too.

The Creative Verbosity Award

If I make a big deal out of the shortest answer, it seems only fair to do the same with the longest one.

There were many entries that simply listed independent, meaningful words that lent themselves to longer answers. This one took the prize, coming in at 60 characters:

  • Clarity, passion, commitment, encouragement, belief, delight – Julianne May

The Rebel Award

While I tried to be precise in the instructions and wanted exactly 6 words for answers, not all submissions followed that format. Still, there was lots of great advice buried in those disqualified entries. The one I liked the best came from a former HP colleague that is now the SEO expert at Café Press:

  • Under-promise and over-deliver. – Laura Dansbury

Simple but profound and with creative use of hyphens that causes it to be three words long.

Quoting others

Submitting quotes from others was a popular choice:

  • To thine own self be true! – Polonius (from Hamlet) via Michelle Neujahr, Jordan Jacobson, Ira Flatow
  • It’s time that I move on – Harry Chapin – A Better Place to Be via Marc Wolfsfeld
  • 80% of success is showing up – Woody Allen via Karen Winters

It didn’t surprise me to see Shakespeare show up, but thought it was interesting that three different people submitted the same phrase. I definitely agree with the Woody Allen and have been unknowingly quoting a version of it for years. I’m pretty sure I was the only person under the age of 30 at the Harry Chapin concert my parents dragged me to at the Hollywood Bowl in 1979. When pressed, I can still recite lyrics I was forced to listen to on 8-track back in the day. “A Better Place to Be” happens to be one of my Dad’s favorite songs so there’s some weird karma in that one getting quoted.

Funniest answers

Quite a few entries gave me the giggles:

  • You Have A Degree. So What.  – Rich DiGirolamo
  • Yes. They will check your resume! – Jeannette Altenburg
  • Learn Mandarin. Ace Finance. Math rocks. – Paul Barsch
  • Life is better when you dance. Julie Gallaher
  • Hire a maid and a cook. – Jennifer Arnett
  • It is not about you, stupid. – Ken Kabria
  • Don’t rock it unless you profit – James Bender

Ken Kabria’s is my favorite among these as I’ve definitely seen that a little selflessness goes a long way.

Parental Division

It’s part of the job description, but my parents are particularly fond of dishing out advice (much to my benefit, I must say). Three entries in particular reminded me of things they’ve told me over the last 39 years:

  • Do what you enjoy, money follows. – Cindy via a blog comment
  • Always make your boss look good. – William S. Norris
  • Give your best, forget the rest – Ravi Shrestha

William S. Norris happen to have quoted my Dad exactly and Pop’s much longer variation of Cindy’s comment is “If you’re going to do something for 8 hours a day, every day, for the rest of your life, you damned well better enjoy it.” The war cry of my kiddie basketball teams coached by my Dad was “Try your best”.

While I make it a rule that nobody who changed my diapers is allowed to write comments on my blog, I get email commentary on my writings every once in awhile from my parents. To give you an idea of the kind of competitive (Dad) and analytical (Mom) household I grew up in, they sent me 12 entries to this open ended question. Most people sent one, a few people sent two but Mom and Dad sent me a dozen. This explains a lot about me, actually. Among those, here were my two favorites:

  • Overcome your enemies with your humor. – My Dad
  • The grass is not always greener. – My Mom

Dad is among the funniest people I know and can get along with almost anyone as a result. Mom’s answer sparked a random memory of her reading Erma Bombeck’s “The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Septic Tank” when I was a kid. Why I remember this, I have no idea.


I received a number of submissions from friends and thought it would be more fair to call them out separately from ones submitted by the general public. In the name of transparency, people I’ve met online since starting this blog had these great ideas:

  • Are you following your own advice? – Scott Allen
  • First understand, then simplify and execute. – Jim Cahill
  • Never underestimate the value of relationships. – Sarah Lewis
  • Let HR manage Your Career. NOT! – Jason Alba
  • Have courage. Stay true. Love wisely. – Christine Burke
  • You’re the hero of your (own) story. – Wendee Lee

Others that I have longer (and more in person) relationships with had advice as well:

  • Listen generously. Praise teammates. Act wisely. – Rachel Mizuno
  • Understand opportunity costs of your decisions. – Bing Kongmebohl
  • Live life like there is no tomorrow. – Jennifer Brannon-Hawkins
  • Always Exude Confidence and Share Success! – Ross Jimenez

Of this two sets of friend submissions, I like Bing’s the best. He and I endured four years of high school honors classes together (gulp) 20 years ago and he’s probably the most educated person I know (BSEE from Stanford, MSEE from UC Irvine, and MBA from UCLA). As he points out, we often have to make difficult choices and understanding what we are giving up is just as important as what we are getting.

Best of the rest

These are the best responses I got from complete strangers that didn’t otherwise get presented earlier.  Some are specific to particular tasks, like job hunting or networking, while others are more general to career or even life advice.

  • Intuition, a bold answer against uncertainty!  – Octavio Ballesta
  • Never stop learning and continuously improve. – David Donlin
  • Always stay positive and sell yourself. – Vince Pizzoni
  • Remain consistent and maintain your integrity  – Bjorn Nilsen
  • Make no excuses, accept no excuses…. – Michael Tester
  • NEVER apply without an employee referral. – Gerry Crispin
  • Get out there, and meet people. – Pamela Moore
  • Love your work, money isn’t everything! – Angie Blackwell
  • Listen twice as much as speaking. – Jeffrey Sassenscheid
  • Remember you always have a choice – Jim Lefever
  • Be Humble. Work Hard. Enjoy Life. – Eric Wachs
  • There are second chances — seize them. – Sophie Lagace
  • Communicate wisely, understand before being understood. – William S. Norris
  • Let your attitude determine your altitude! – Charles Goudman
  • Pre-determine the consequences of your choices. – David Raikow
  • Life is not a straight line. – Karl via blog comment

It was difficult to choose one among these, but Jeffrey Sassenscheid’s words about listening above speaking ring especially true to me.

What about me?

Ending this with my own thoughts in no way puts the quality of my answer above any of the others. In fact, I think the reason I got so many responses is that everybody has an opinion on this topic and the challenge of using exactly 6 words made a game out of the question. After reading through all 100+ responses and thinking about it for almost 2 weeks, here’s what I came up with:

  • Share knowledge liberally, explore alternative perspectives – Me

Knowledge is definitely power and I’ve found that the more you pass around, the more you get back in return. When everyone is working from the same set of facts and arguments still ensue, it is usually because someone’s perspective based on their work and/or life experience differs from yours. People almost never say stupid things intentionally, so instead of dismissing someone else’s seemingly nonsensical opinion, challenge yourself to understand their point of view to expose why they feel the way they do. More often than not, you learn something and come up with an even better solution.

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