Posted: October 30, 2015
By: Clay Cerny

Persistence is a big part of success.  Whether you're looking for a new job or trying to change careers, it's easy to find negative advice.  The Internet is filled with experts who can give countless (bad) reasons why you will fail.  However, if you're doing the right thing and you believe in yourself, success is almost always possible (See The Dip by Seth Godin).

Thomas Jefferson captured this idea in these words:  "When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on."

Posted: March 5, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

The only way to find a new job is networking.

The only way a student can find a job is through internships.

No one gets jobs by applying to online posts.

None of these statements is true.  People find jobs in all sorts of ways, and no two job searches are the same.  I've had clients land great jobs applying to online posts, and others get nowhere even though they did everything right in networking.  The key to a good job search is to have a balanced approach.  Just as a manufacturer tries to use different marketing channels, a job seeker should try to use different methods to get in front of employers.  Yes, networking is still #1 way to find a job, but it's not the only way.

Beware of one way solutions.  They're usually the wrong way to go.

Posted: August 31, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Stacy Johnson critiques our culture’s need to create experts.  What I like most about Johnson’s argument is that he cuts to the chase:  the alleged experts often don’t know what they are talking about.  He gives some great examples of how this game works.

In posts over the past few months, I’ve taken on experts who claim

  1. The only way to get a job is to be employed.
  2. You should never have an objective on your resume.
  3. All bullet resumes are easier to read.

These are just three example of silly declarations made by would-be career experts.

I urge readers to test every kind of advice or “truth,” and I don’t exclude my own claims.  We only learn when others correct us.  The problem with experts (Paul Krugman calls them “Very Serious People”) is that they are never wrong.

Posted: January 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores places where work and life meet.]

Following the Experts

The past week has been very bad for experts, especially those who make predictions.  Last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers lost the New York Giants.  The experts have spent most of the season calling the Packers the favorite to win the Super Bowl.  The New Orleans Saints, the team that many experts said had the best chance to beat Green Bay, also lost.

Yesterday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich defied the experts by winning the Republican Presidential Primary in South Carolina.  A week ago, polls had him losing to Mitt Romney by margins of 5% to 20%.  Gingrich won the election by 13%, and now the experts will begin to tell us what will happen in Florida in 10 days.

Who will win the Oscars?  Really, who cares?  We are a society obsessed with predictions, ignoring how often “experts” are wrong (Who picked the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series?).  The same principle holds true in business and investing.  Look back at the “hot” stocks that end up losing money for the investors who followed conventional wisdom.  Similarly, many strong businesses have failed when they guessed wrong about market trends.  The best example of such a decision might be “new” Coke, which consumers rejected, forcing the company to return to its “classic” formula.

Why are experts wrong?  In his great book Black Swan, Nassim Taleb argues that it is impossible to predict the future.  Too often an unexpected event will happen – a Black Swan – that will change the path of history.  A Black Swan event can be good or bad – 9/11 or Steve Jobs’ Apple computer.  Rather than try to do the impossible and predict such events, Taleb recommends that we prepare for them by being “robust,” being prepared to meet the change and use it to our advantage.

Experts do contribute to our understanding of the world, but we need to take their advice with a grain of salt.  Ever since the financial collapse of 2008, economists, politicians, and pundits have all predicted that a new disaster is coming.  They preface their forecasts with words like if and could.  For example, “If another European country undergoes financial stress, the Euro could collapse as a currency, which could impact the American economy and lead it to a possible recessions.”  The secret to being an expert?  Hedge and qualify your predictions whenever possible.

I like Taleb’s solution.  Let the future happen and deal with the unpredictable when it happens.  Stay flexible and humble.  Don’t mindlessly follow the crowd.  The stories experts tell are attractive because they make us think we understand and can control the future.  It’s a nice myth, but reality and experience show again and again that the “best laid plans of mice and men”. . .  Enjoy the rest of the playoffs, the Super Bowl, as well as the political games.  However, if you are going to bet, think twice before following the experts.