Updated on 07.16.09

The Best Career Advice, in Ten Words or Less

Trent Hamm

After the huge success of asking for the best money advice in ten words or less, I decided to repeat the experiment. About a week ago, I challenged my followers on Twitter to give me their best single piece of career advice in ten words or less.

Again, I was flooded with responses.

After spending some time digging through the pile of good suggestions, I picked out fifty of the best ones to share with you. To pick them out, I actually loaded them all into a spreadsheet, tried to filter out some obvious duplicates, and chose the ones that I thought were either really useful, worthwhile, or entertaining. A few of them break the ten word limit a bit, but all are very short, snappy, and valuable.


moneyhighway: Attending extra training opportunities and taking part in pilot projects.
editorialiste: Work to live, don’t live to work
moneyreign: Work for yourself.
awesome_john: Make eye contact with everyone, and smile.
PracticalNerd: No matter what you do, be prepared to work. Hard.
ObliviousInvest: Whether you realize it or not, you’re self-employed.
phdbre: I only need 2. Work hard.
FiscalFizzle: Jobs are targeted expressions of our current passion or responsibility.
CColeman802: Pursue only what you really love — you’ll be more fulfilled.
acousticdryad: Diversifty income, never rely on one source that could disappear.
randifity: Show enthusiasm for learning because no career is stagnant.
mmcgreger: Don’t just chase the money. Find something you love.
notquitebetty: Trust your gut, and find a mentor.
robbfulks: Stay out of collections, and your boss’ wife.
vasthatlunch: Never be afraid to take a risk occasionally!
tonyblacknyc: Reputation is everything.
princewally: Stop whining and do your freaking job.
MattJabs: Take time to live life before deciding upon a career.
esehe5: Pick your battles carefully.
sugarbandit: Get to know people in your desired industry.
John_Parris: find another concept to be the recipient of your allegiance.
pksmith: let love lead you and never fear the unknown or perceived threat(s)
centsiblelife: Your work is not just about what you know, it’s about who you know.
pksmith: Stick with your own experience.
Matt_SF: Find your niche, become an expert, then diversify your strengths.
MichaelBRubin: You may be underpaid now, but someday you’ll be overpaid.
jillianlou: If it feels wrong it probably is – move on.
lisefrac: Develop yourself as your own best career asset.
MoneyMateKate: Take an acting class, HUGE for public speaking/presentation skills.
stevesuhr: Get to know everyone and tell them what you want.
msimonkey: Don’t do anything you’d be ashamed to tell mom about.
stephonee: Keep a work diary: what you did/what you liked
thisisbeth: Don’t be afraid of change.
soundzdj: Dress to impress or for success.
roryboy: Follow your heart. work hard. success will come.
fcn: Presence does not equal productivity. Stay on task, work efficiently.
ryrobes: Don’t follow the common script, define ‘career’ and ‘success’ yourself.
ColletteCowan: Treat every day like it’s your first day at work.
YourWorkDone: Say what you will do, do what you said, then prove it.
RBotti: What would you do for free? Find a career there.
BudgetsAreSexy: Be nice to everyone, even if you have to fake it.
MaddenBible: Not Tomorrow or the next day, BUT Right NOW!
jane_meyer: If you work in an office: DO NOT wear t-shirts, faded, ripped jeans or flipflops.
lahondaknitter: Do what you love and you’ll never hate your job.
Coathalia: Watch what you say, compose yourself and be overwhelming honest.
myazngreenworld: Career and spending habits should be in sync.
The_Weakonomist: It’s not how many resumes you send out, it’s how many hands you shake.
jimseybert: Know what your strengths are and focus on them.
LouiseHornor: Your signature is your integrity. Never sign any false statements.
scottcolecfp: Be careful what you read.

Now, how about you? What’s the best career advice you can give in ten words or less? Leave yours in the comments!

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  1. Ollie Hicks says:

    Lead with your strengths – find a job where you can.

  2. Jamie says:

    Dress for the position you want.

  3. Sergio says:

    Learn something new everyday, be sure that everyone is aware about that.
    (All right, 12 words…)

    Maybe you are the best in everything you do and you know it. But does your boss know about your habilities? (And most important, the boss of your boss knows?).

    Celebrate every single victory (and enjoy it) like if you were working for it all your life (others will notice and know you). Then work to make your victories worth the celebration effort.

  4. Thomas says:

    I’d love to hear any advice you and other readers of the blog have on how to effectively find a good mentor/coach?

    I’m a couple of months from obtaining a graduate degree and will be working until then at an investment management firm who may or may not hire me when I graduate.

    I have plenty of possible “mentor candidates” at the firm but I find it hard to just walk up to someone and ask if they want to “mentor me”. I’m naturally shy but working on it. I also worry that a proposal is going to come out too formal and official – my colleagues are very down to earth but friendly. Second, these guys are busy (!) – what do I offer in return and how do I present it?

    Thanks, any advice will be highly appreciated as I deal with my near-graduation anxieties :)

  5. ZFarls says:

    Great advice, glad to see I made the cut. Trent and Dave Ramsey have been two of my biggest points of knowledge since I joined the real world one year ago. I have paid of 17k of student loans since January 1st. Goal was 1 year and I am 3 months ahead of schedule.

    The quote was “not tomorrow, or the next day but right now” its from this video that I watch for motivation before I run. check it out.

    Its better for me personally to take a shot at something and screw it up then wait until its perfect and never actually do it.

    Anyway soon I will be following my own advice and getting out of the rat race for something I want to do. Working hard now though to ensure it can happen is okay because its on my plan!

  6. WilliamB says:

    Be careful of a sense of entitlement.

    I’ve seen more promising careers ruined by a sense of entitlement than I have by any other single problem. I’ve also seen persons established in their careers go down the tubes because of a sense of entitlement. This one is harder because these persons _have_ earned their positions, so where’s the right place to draw the line?

  7. J says:

    Credibility takes a long time to gain, a moment to lose.

    I know it’s a eleven, but I realized that the other advice I like a lot:

    Praise in public, criticize in private.

    is just a subset of it.

  8. C in NYC says:

    Take advantage of tuition reimbursement!

  9. Kevin Press says:

    Do what you love, whether or not it pays.

  10. Candi says:

    Stop reading other people’s advice and go work your dream.

  11. Matt Jabs says:

    I will add to my submission that was included above – “MattJabs: Take time to live life before deciding upon a career.” – by saying… NEVER burn bridges.

  12. greg w says:

    Pursue one goal at a time, tirelessly.

  13. Robin Crickman says:

    Welder, plumber, auto or truck mechanic. Especially if you are female. Always needed,
    can’t be outsourced.

  14. teri says:

    Position yourself for the long term!

  15. David C says:

    Plastics! (Some of you younger folk may not get this one.)

  16. Lisa says:

    A couple I’ve liked over the years:

    Keep your boss’s boss off your boss’s back.

    Do I have what I need to do my job?

    Complaining is not a strategy.

  17. Kin says:

    Be sincere with what you do.

  18. Lahondaknitter says:

    Thanks for including me in your list Trent. There’s lots of good advise.

  19. Amy Strecker says:

    Attitude is a choice.

  20. steve weaver says:

    @#4 Thomas: I would suggest just getting one of the guys you like most at work alone, and just say to him, “What can I do for you, that would make you WANT to mentor me?” A symbiotic relationship beats a parasitic one every time! (THAT is also my career advice)

  21. NYC reader says:

    Take home more than a paycheck; take home a skill.

    A person should always look fot a opportunity to learn a skill or acquire training on the job. No matter how seemingly menial the job (e.g. flipping burgers, building janitorial services), there are always ways to improve one’s skill set. The more versatile your skill set, the more valuable you are as an employee, and the less likely you are to be laid off (and more likely to land another job if you are laid off).

  22. CdnStealthGirl says:

    Word hard and take pride in your work.

  23. Carmen says:

    Complimenting others’ honest achievements rather than putting down your peers will make you “look better” in the long run.

  24. kk says:

    I agree with #6 WilliamB, be careful of a sense of entitlement. Good points.

    Also, I agree with Stephonee’s twitter: Keep a work diary. For those starting out in a career, you will be surprised at how easy it is to forget many of the things that you worked on during a typical year. Keep that diary, or if you send weekly reports to a boss, keep a copy of those reports. If you have to draft a resume or a cover letter, this material can be mined easily for concrete triumphs that you have made.

    I would add: Keep a list of contacts of people that you meet over the years, along with a few words about each person; how you met them; what you worked on together. Again, this is invaluable information to mine down the road, if you are laid off and need to access your contacts. And do it for not just your bosses, do it for your colleagues, some of whom might later be in a hiring position.

    Similarly, if you attend conferences and meet a new person, after chatting with them, flip over the person’s business card and make some notes about what you talked about. This can be invaluable for sending a thank you card, or follow up letter later, or if you need the person’s services down the road.

  25. kk says:

    #4 Thomas:

    As for the mentor, some of the best advice that I received is, when you approach someone, decide beforehand if your focus will be on getting a job from this person, or merely asking for career advice. The approach is different depending on the end goal. But you have to be sincere with yourself.

    If the people you are approaching are at your investment management firm, then perhaps they fall in the former category or might think that you are in the former category.

    It might be easier for you and more helpful in the long run to pursue someone outside of your organization, but in the same field, and approach the person with the second goal in mind. “Look, I am not looking for a job, but I’d just really like to hear your thoughts about working in this field, and positive steps I should be taking. Would you be interested in having lunch? Etc.”

    Another good option is to talk to your school’s alumni office, if it has one, and ask them for a list of alums that are in your chosen field. Then, call one of these people up and set up a time to call them back to chat about careers in the field, again making sure to explain that you are not looking for a job — you already have one lined up — but are just looking for advice. Alums, particularly, if they are in a different state or region, would have no stake in your specific career aspirations and might be more inclined to discuss the career frankly with you.

    Good luck!

  26. Miodrag says:

    Whatever you do, do it better than others.

  27. T. Callahan says:

    Perception is reality!!!

  28. John Peden says:

    @kk good advice for Thomas

    @Thomas (Comment #4)

    Pamela Slim did a great podcast interview on finding your own board of directors. The interviewee had contacted some very busy very high profile candidates and asked them to mentor her.

    No one refused.

    She said they discuss her goals every few months, in terms of setting new goals and measuring success of previous goals. It really keeps her on track and propels her forward.

    While I felt that there were one or two cliche’s in the twitter crowd’s response, its easy to see that people think you have to work hard. The whole ethos of ‘do what you love and the money will follow’ is based on the idea that doing something you love will allow you to work your balls off more easily than doing something you hate.

    However you look at it, you are going to have to put in a lot of hours.

  29. Chris Cruz says:

    The best and most cliche is: “work hard” NOTHING is going to be accomplished without hard work no matter if you work your dream job or stuck in a cubicle.

  30. Jessica says:

    Since “work hard” has been taken, my next best piece of advice is “life is too short to be unhappy – take risks.”

  31. littlepitcher says:

    Document praise for your raise and trouble for your CYA’s.

  32. Tony says:


  33. “Work hard.” is a really good one. It seems like there is a real paucity of people in the workforce who are willing to put in a faithful, consistent amount of effort, and if you can manage to do that, you’ll stand out from the crowd.

    Of course, you don’t want to become a workaholic either. Like so many things in life, it’s a matter of balance.

  34. Terry says:

    Work everyday like you’re going on vacation tomorrow!

  35. DivaJean says:

    This one is what I learned from my father:

    “Come early, stay late- always sing the company song.”

  36. Valerie M says:

    “Be open-minded about the possibilities.”

    I say this because as a recent college graduate, I am not working in the field I majored in. From where I’m sitting now I can still see my career evolve in so many ways. Ways that I never dreamed possible when I left high school and undergraduate. A lot of times it doesn’t pay to lock yourself into one straight line. Life isn’t that neat anyway.

    Great list of advice, by the way!

  37. Amy Sinclair says:

    We are not defined by our careers.

  38. Take your chances early in life! Pursue skills and experiences that will build your career for life and leave salary, benefits and security for later, if they should become necessary.

    Alot of young people put this off until later, “when things are better”. But by the time that happens (if it ever does), you’re established and entrenched, and then have too much to lose by taking a chance.

  39. Renae says:

    I have had a few great mentors who passed this on to me.

    Take 24 hr to celebrate your successes or mourn you failures. It is counterproductive if you spend a moment longer. Get over it and move on.

    If you don’t go with your gut instinct, then only 1/2 of your brain is working.

  40. @handbelllady says:

    Office rumors are probably true; listen to your gut.

  41. et says:

    When you’re at work, BE at work – physically, mentally, emotionally.

  42. The harder assignments are the most interesting and rewarding.

  43. Damester says:

    This is advice I wish I had been given:

    >>Don’t just focus on the work. Like it or not, politics and personality are a big part of the workplace.

    >>Incompetent bosses are the most prevalent and the most dangerous. Watch your back.

    >>Incompetent people are threatened by competent people. Watch your back.

    Advice I’ve given:
    >>Do your job well, regardless of how you are paid or treated.

    >>No job is unimportant, so give your all, whether you’re the janitor or the CEO.

    >>Avoid working for people who show no respect for their employees.

    >Never work for people/companies who lie or misrepresent their products/services to customers.

  44. Jordynne says:

    This is what Winston Churchill advised his children: “Do what you like; like what you do.”

  45. Someone will betray you–rise above it.

    I learned this the hard way at my last job and have become a more confident person as a result.

    It also led me to think about my goals and not be defined by what I do at my job. If it’s just “what I do to earn money” then getting thrown under the bus by my manager doesn’t ruin my life–or even my day.

  46. 77ambersun says:

    I love the comments! My 2 cents….If you can’t be with the job you love, love the job you’re with. Someone will notice you for that.

    Always act professional.

    Someone told me….dress for the job you want, not the job you have! This stuck with me.

  47. Damester (32)–
    “>>Incompetent bosses are the most prevalent and the most dangerous. Watch your back.

    >>Incompetent people are threatened by competent people. Watch your back.”

    In our always happy, glass-half-full world, we aren’t supposed to entertain such thoughts, lest we be accused of having bad attitudes.

    I think most of us find this out after a few short years in the business world. Usually the hard way.

    Some years ago I worked for a financial concern that was undergoing significant negative changes. Within two years, me and everyone in my department left the company. Some were fired, some quit, others were forced to quit. Everyone that is, except for the lowest producer! As far as I know, she’s still there many years later.

    The cream didn’t rise to the top.

  48. Christine says:

    “Take everything, and dump it when something better comes along.”

    A boss told me this as she was leaving for a better gig. As a Midwesterner, I was all about company loyalty and sticking it out… but my industry didn’t work that way. To get ahead, you were expected to job-hop, or even break your contract. It was only when I implemented this advice, that my career started to go somewhere.

    I’m in the arts, but this also worked for my sister in advertising. She didn’t believe people would do this until, after 2 years as a scrub at Company X, she was training her own boss, and was the only original person left in her division. She left for a $20,000/yr raise. Two years later, Company X offered her a high-powered position and $47,500/yr more than she’d made with them just 2 years prior. She’s went back, and is into her 3rd year in that position.

    I also received an email from an ex a few weeks ago. He just landed a job at the best company in his field, and gives credit to this mode of operation.

  49. Say, “I’ll take care of it.” Then do it.

  50. Dustin says:

    Work smart, not necessarily hard. Under promise, but over deliver.

    Working harder is not always the answer. Just like a starting pitcher that uses his best stuff in the first three innings of a baseball game you’ll be in trouble in a career if you don’t hold something back for the later innings IMO.

    Expectations is a big part of any evaluation process. Often the person doing the evaluation uses your own promises to evaluate what you have delivered.

  51. Alrighty guys, this is the absolute best advice I can give as a manager: “Get in first, leave last.”

    I swear, if more younger folks did this at my firm, they’d be much farther ahead in their careers and win more sympathy from folks.



    Rich By 30 Retire By 40

  52. DB Cooper says:

    Ride to work, work to live, live to ride (BIKES!).

  53. Seriously, you can be the dullest tool in the shed, but if you are the most committed, team oriented individual who always comes in first and leaves last, you will be the most richly loved and rewarded. This is the EASIEST thing anybody can do to get ahead.



    Rich By 30 Retire By 40

  54. groundpig says:

    “Think one step ahead of the next step.”

    If I may, here’s the url to the example I’m thinking of.


  55. Babu says:

    Write down good ideas, they get lost like anything.

  56. Don’t tell them you’re a Rockstar. Show them. Be Humble.

  57. Ralu456 says:

    You don’t get what you desirve, you get what you negotiate

  58. charley__L says:

    Never let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash.

    Always listen to what you’re not hearing.

  59. Anissa Stein says:

    Do what you like, like what you do.

    It’s a Life is Good-ism but is the best advice!

  60. jinx says:

    Do what you love most and you’ll surely shine!!!

  61. Megan says:

    Advancement opportunity is available to those who grab it.

  62. Chris says:

    Let the Wookiee win.

  63. todd says:

    Go out of your way to take on the projects you enjoy.

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