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Letter to 21-Year-Old Kenneth

Dear 21-year-old Kenneth,

So, you’ve made it out of Charlottesville (The University of Virginia) alive and ready to roar. At this point in your life, you’re hungry for an opportunity to prove who you are and what you’re capable of. You’re determined to do whatever it takes to integrate fully into your new life and your new country.

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes on your job hunt, but let me assure you that you’ll figure it out in a hurry. The trick is to learn to fail and to do it quickly. You still linger too much over a failure, and you still think that rejection is about you. You can’t take rejection personally, because it really isn’t. Look for the doors that you can open, nevermind about those that you can’t. Keep going.

With that mindset and these action items below, you’ll be successful no matter what.

First, I want you to get a copy of the 1997 edition of Knock Em Dead. I want you to read the chapter, Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat, on how to revive a dead search. Read it very carefully. In a few months you’re going to use it to land your first job at a Big 4 consulting firm! It’s going to be an entry-level analyst position, and they’re going to ignore you after the first interview. When that happens, I want you to write them a new letter every week to tell them what you’ve learned since you last contacted them. By the third letter, they’ll grant you a second interview.

Now here’s what you need to do at that second interview.

First: The Polish

I want you to get in the mindset of the person who has already achieved the success you crave. Get in his shoes, buy his suits. You understand what I’m telling you? I’m telling you to buy a suit and a pair of shoes to die for. They’ll change the way you see yourself and how others see you. Do it, even if you think you can’t afford it. Invest. 93% of our communications are non-verbal. It takes people a nano-second to form their first impression of you.

Next, re-design your resume. Hire a professional resume writer if you have to, but I need you to have a killer one-page resume that is very carefully and strategically worded. Skip the dry narrative of your job experience; highlight and quantify the impact you brought to each position. Pay attention to the design and the layout. I want to see beautiful architecture made out of those paragraphs, no jagged edges, please. Make it easy on the eyes and make sure you use the same keywords in your resume that appear in the job description.

Second: Mastery

No point in looking the part if you’re not actually the part. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to fully understand all elements of your vocation and gain a bird’s eye view of your industry. I want to see you building prototypes, I want to see you taking courses to gain new skills — Always Be Learning! Move at the pace of the changes in your industry, if you sit still for too long, you’ll become obsolete. Build e-commerce websites, experiment with email subscription forms, create a sales channel. Whatever is necessary to keep you agile, whatever’s necessary to stay hungry.

Third: Hustle

You’ll soon outgrow your entry-level analyst position, even if it’s at such a prestigious firm. You’ll have the hunger for more, and the world will change too and how you hustle will need a new playbook, as Knock Em Dead’s 1997 edition moves to the dustbin of history. In a few years, be prepared to take the hustle to the digital world — you’ll need to buy into that virtual real estate as soon as possible. Establish your executive presence, build your brand voice and keep it consistent.

Choose your social and networking channels prudently, start with LinkedIn (they’re going to hit over 500 million users, trust me, you want an active presence on LinkedIn). Use MySpace and Twitter to give people a more rounded idea about you, because business is not about money, it’s about relationships. It’s about people having common ground with you, about them being able to relate to you and you to them. For this reason, don’t be a nerd!

It’s tempting to be a technical wizard, but it’s the personality that people remember. It’s the energy you bring to a situation or a workplace environment that lingers, that grows, that opens doors, that people remember long after you’ve moved on. Bring good energy. Always be ready for those behavioral questions that interviewers are always going to ask you. Be prepared to talk about how you dealt with conflict, why you’re interested in their company, where you see yourself in 5 years.

Finally, be true to who you are without becoming rigid and you will never fail.

Lots of love,