Don’t give your un/under-employed friends advice. Find them work instead.

Don’t give your friends job hunting advice. Get them a job instead.

Image for a moment you’ve fallen down a deep dark well.

Friends wander by and hear your calls for help.

They lower a six pack of beer and tell you to cheer up. You drink more than you should. They do the same. You feel better. As they leave, they say you’ll have to do it again. They prove to be good for their word. You get drunk with them regularly and you notice you’re developing a beer belly.

Your mom wanders by and she says you’ve got to eat right. She sends you all the food you can eat, and now you’re getting heavy. A deep dark depression sinks in.

Your dad introduces you to his shrink. Because it’s been more than two weeks, the shrink says, “Your problem is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.” He gives you antidepressants. They don’t work. He says, “Give them time.” Now your weight gain goes into hyperdrive. 

You develop type 2 diabetes. A doctor drops insulin and the shrink says you’ve got to exercise more. But this hole is so tight exercise is not an option. You develop insomnia and anxiety. “You’re in luck,” the shrink says, “I’ve got pills for that too.”

Occasionally a friend drops a rope and offers to pull you out. However, after a few feeble tugs they drop the rope for fear you’ll pull them down the hole too. Although you say you’re sorry you’ve gotten so fat, the truth is you secretly wouldn’t mind the company. You build quite a collection of rope down there in the bottom of the deep dark hole.

Next people start dropping in books, which you find hard to read due to the darkness. Some are books written by mountain climbers with years of experience who have been rescued after falling in holes worse than yours. Never mind that they were saved by large search and rescue teams with helicopters.

Other books are of the self-help variety written by idiots with cockamamie theories about how all you need is some rope and you can pull yourself up out of deep dark holes.

Then one day, a friend appears at the top of the hole accompanied by a stranger.

They drop a rope and the two of them are strong enough to pull you out of the deep dark hole. Once you are in the light your depression lifts and the shrink says, “See… those pills cured you of your chronic depression after all. All it took was time.”

Continue readingDon’t give your un/under-employed friends advice. Find them work instead.

To get a job, write your story instead of a resume

woman-writing-in-diary-1055085by Brooke Allen 

I am 61 years old and I have been doing paid work since I was 16. I’ve been a grocery clerk, camp counselor, film projectionist, sound man, light man, cameraman, freight loader, computer programmer, teacher, operations research analyst, manager, salesman, writer, consultant, and for the last 30 years I’ve been a securities trader and hedge fund manager.

Yet I have only once gotten work by answering an ad. Even then I was turned down at first, but it led to a different job six months later after I established a relationship with the hiring manager who had first said no. And I’ve never been asked for a resume until after I received an offer, and then only because HR always needs something to put in their files. I haven’t needed a resume to get work because my resume doesn’t reveal my work. I am my work, and to know my work you need to know me.

Here are some things I’ve discovered about finding worthwhile work that have helped me, and that might help you.

Lead a thoughtful life

The secret of a well-written cover letter is to learn to write well. The secret of an interesting resume is to have done interesting things. So do interesting things and learn to write about them. Ben Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” You might do one or the other but it is better to do both; that’s what Franklin did.

Learn to think. Reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser is a good place to start. He says, “Writing is thinking on paper.” In order to think deep mathematical thoughts you must write formulas, and similarly you cannot think deeply about much else without writing words. Learn to think mathematically because otherwise you cannot say you know how to think any more than you can say you can drive a car but can’t turn left. Likewise, saying you can think without knowing how to write is like saying you can’t turn right. If you live long enough and you only go straight ahead, then eventually you’ll drive off a cliff.

Get your story straight

Resumes are your life in bullet-point form. The story of your life is more interesting than can possibly be expressed with a list of sentence fragments. Skip the resume and write the story.

Good stories also have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In your case, you are in the middle. Continue reading “To get a job, write your story instead of a resume”

How to find a calling instead of a career

Young nun in religious conceptby Brooke Allen 

In my Quartz piece, To get a job, write your story instead of a resume, I talked about the value of finding a purpose in your work, and suggested that in order to do that you reflect on your life and write your own narrative. I talked about how economics is about the scarce resource, and in this age of abundant goods, services, and knowledge the scarce thing is a reason to do what we do, a purpose.

You don’t want a job, or a career; you want a calling

That story was about how to get a job, but you don’t want a job. You don’t even want a career. What you want is a calling. This point is made eloquently in Aaron Hurst’s book The Purpose Economy that is coming out April 2.

The people who say they only do their jobs to pay the bills are the people who are working without a purpose—and they are the ones you want to hire last and fire first. People who say they want a career are often worse. They don’t care about doing the job; they care about how the job will advance their career. I don’t like to hire people who want careers; I want people who want to do the job.

But the people who say, “I cannot believe they are paying me to do this” are the ones who I want to hire first, pay the most to, and hold on to for dear life. These are the people with a calling who would do what they do anyway regardless of who is paying them and how much.

Previously, I talked about how to get a job. Now let’s talk about how to get rich bringing work and workers together with a purpose.

First of all, what role are you going to play in the market? An employer might do a better job of hiring, but the market for their innovation is limited to just them. A job seeker might do a better job finding work, but once they land a job they will do that job and not try to monetize their approach.

Innovation comes from the intermediaries

If sellers or buyers in the stock market find a better way of investing then it is in their best interests to keep it secret. But if brokers find a better way it is in their best interests to sell it to everyone. That is why, for better or worse, the brokers do all the financial innovation in the securities markets. Continue reading “How to find a calling instead of a career”

How to give me a negative reference on LinkedIn


By: Brooke Allen (you will find my LinkedIn profile here.)

Be aware that on LinkedIn you cannot give me a negative reference unless I approve it.

This is bad news because if it is impossible for you to say something negative, then the positive things I might allow you to say must be taken with a grain of salt.

I want you to give me a fair and balanced reference so others can have an accurate picture of who I am, and I want you to let me know what I’m doing wrong and how I can improve.

But before you give me a negative reference let us establish a few ground rules. Let’s begin with:

Motivation – Why do you want to say what you do? Why do I want to hear it?

Familiarity – How well do you know me and my work?

Rationality – Are you basing your statements on facts and valid reasoning?

Let’s analyze each in more detail…

Continue reading “How to give me a negative reference on LinkedIn”

Give us your tired, your poor, your overly-automated.


Deborah Branscum just wrote an article in Medium Backchannel: Our Hiring Process is Broken. Can a Hackathon Fix It? It talks about her experience of a new approach to hiring that my partner, Noah Goldman, and I are pioneering that we’re calling Staffup Weekend. You can see a photo of the attendees, a report on the event, and a video of Deborah here.

This story appears to be a hit because my inbox is flooded.

People writing appear to fall into a few categories that we list below (along with the response you should expect as soon as we can get to it):

  • I have an opinion. (Noted.)
  • I have a complaint. (Noted.)
  • I want you to help me get a job. (Give us time to work on a story offering advice for the masses and then if that doesn’t do the trick then please write again. In the meantime, please: Read my advice for job seekers on my website, follow me on twitter, check out our company (, and go to Staffup Weekend where you can sign up for our newsletter and learn about future events.)
  • I want you to help us hire better. (Let’s schedule a call ASAP.)
  • I want to make money doing what you do. Can you help me be a competitor? (Absolutely. If enough people do what we do then we don’t have to do it. Tell us more about yourself.)
  • I want you to look at our software that makes everything easier so people don’t have to get involved. (Maybe later. Please read our response to one such a software developer below.)

Hope this helps. More later.


Here is my response to a reader who wrote: “I invite you to visit our website and get a general feel for what we are about.  Essentially, we offer a software solution backed by solid Industrial Organizational Psychology and vast experiences working with high performance clients.”

Thank you for writing. 

I have copied Noah, my partner in Staffup Weekend. He might have time to evaluate your software. Right now, because I am the only one of us mentioned in the article, I’m busy fielding requests from people who want us to help them hire rather than help them develop product in competition with us. Continue reading “Give us your tired, your poor, your overly-automated.”

How my life was changed when I began caring about the people I did not hire.

Ask yourself this question, “What do employers owe the people they do not hire?” I asked myself that question more than a decade ago and it changed my life forever.

On Sunday, January 18, 2004, I ran a help-wanted ad in the New York Times that read in its entirety, “Programmer – Will train, enjoyment of mathematics a plus” followed by an email address. I was heading a statistical arbitrage trading desk and I needed help maintaining all the code I’d written.


I was surprised to get more than 300 resumes and because nobody had experience in the language we use (APL), and I could not gauge learning potential from a resume, I sent everyone a link to a 500-page manual (latest version available here), and I suggested applicants try their hand at a half-dozen puzzle questions they could easily answer in this language.

openhouse07Thirty-eight people answered the questions so I invited them in for an open house. I had them sit on our trading floor for a bit where they played a game I’d written called BF Game that simulated an information market. We talked about the technology and the nature of our work and then I asked them what they thought I should do next.

Twenty-seven of the applicants suggested I teach them all first and then make a hiring decision, so I ordered tables and chairs that arrived the next day. And the day after that we built a classroom. Continue reading “How my life was changed when I began caring about the people I did not hire.”

URGENT: Help Make Work More Fun

In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.

Over Super Bowl Weekend (Feb 1-2) some friends and I will be attending an Education Start-UP Weekend to develop tools that will help people bring more fun to work.


Here is how you can help us:

1) Tell us your stories: How did you or someone you know make an onerous task more fun? How do you teach others to do the same thing?

2) Tell us your needs: How could your work be more fun?

3) Tell us your ideas:  How could employers make work more fun? How can employees do the same? How can job hunting be more fun?

4) Tell us how to help you: Our goal is to create something you can use whether you are doing work, looking for it, or managing others. Tell us how we can contact you when we have something to give you.

Noel Coward thought work is more fun than fun.WHY THE URGENCY?

At Start-UP Weekend events you are only given from Friday night at 6:30 until early morning on Sunday to come up with an idea, implement it, and launch it into the world. Early afternoon on Sunday we will need to present our project to a panel of judges.

Although we appreciate your ideas no matter when you submit them, if you can get them to us by 6PM on Saturday, Feb 1, 2014 then we can include them in our project.


Please write to me with your ideas right away:




© 2009 Brooke Allen

Originally published in International FamilyMagazine

Republished in Folks Magazine on 11/7/09.

I was working as a computer programmer at Rutgers University when I saw the perfect job advertised by American Airlines. It had everything that I wanted: interesting work, decent pay, and free travel everywhere American flew.

I sent a letter outlining my skills, and offered to write a resume if they found me interesting. They did not request a resume, but they did call me in for an interview. I thought that it went very well.

A month later, a “thanks but no thanks” letter arrived.

This was disappointing. I called Walter, the hiring manager and asked what was wrong, and why I didn’t get the offer. He said it was just a matter of competition; there was someone better.

I asked what I could have done to be better than the competition. He said it wasn’t likely there was anything I could have done. The person they hired came from the software vendor who had been servicing their account for years. He already knew their needs better than anyone else could have.

“So, why did you interview me?”

“Because the Human Resources department requires that we run an ad and interview three people before we make an offer.”

That made sense.

At the university, I wrote a computer column for a monthly newsletter. Every few weeks I would put out a document about some programming technique or software package.

I put Walter on the distribution list for all my publications. Then I forgot all about him.

Six months later he called me.

“I have a job for you.”


“There is only one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Get me off that damn mailing list.”

“No problem. I can start in two weeks.”

“We can’t move that fast. It will take six weeks minimum.”


“We have to run and ad and interview three people. But the job is yours.”

If you don’t get what you want, don’t forget to ask why.

Trade or Profession

© 2008 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I have just returned from the annual meeting of the Chicago Quantitative Alliance ( where one speaker made a convincing case that the brokerage and banking systems are bankrupt and another made the case that so is the Federal Government.

The world is going to hell, and we don’t even have a hand basket.[1]

At the lunch break I asked the fellow sitting next to me what advice he had for my children in college.

He said, “Drop out of college and learn a trade; they can always go to college later.”

That reminded me of a joke. A lawyer has a leaky faucet. He calls the plumber who fixes the faucet and presents a bill for $100.25.

The lawyer is livid, “How do you justify such an expense?”

“Twenty-five cents for the washer and $100 an hour for my time – one hour minimum.”

The lawyer says, “I’m a lawyer and even I don’t get $100 an hour.”

The plumber says, “That’s funny – when I was a lawyer, I didn’t get $100 an hour either.”

The joke reminded me of the advice my father passed on from his dad, “Develop both a trade and a profession.” Even as he rose through the ranks of management at United Press International, granddad maintained his skill as one of the world’s top telegraphers.

In 1990 we moved to Japan to advance my career as a securities trader, but in 1993 I was laid off and returned to the United States to find the nation in a recession. There was a dearth jobs that offered career prospects. Luckily, throughout my rise in management, I’d kept up my skills as a Pretty Good Programmer and quickly found that there was plenty of work for those who were willing to trade an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.


Don’t trade a chance at a trade for a profession – get both.

[1] For those of you who have not heard the expression, “Going to hell in a hand basket,” now you have.


© 2008 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine

My parents and the silver Jaguar they were about to sell because my mother was pregnant with me and they needed the money
My parents and the silver Jaguar they were about to sell because my mother was pregnant with me and they needed the money

My father told me two things about money that had a profound effect on my life. They were:

“Money should buy freedom, not chains.”


“It is easier to make money doing what makes you happy than to buy happiness with the money you are paid for doing what makes you miserable.”

Even though I can remember my father’s explanations, at the time (age 17) I thought he was off his rocker.

He explained that if you had a certain amount of money, and then someone gave you more money, you should have more options open to you.

This seemed self-evident, but I didn’t buy the part about chains.

Imagine someone who always wanted to be a school teacher who, in order to make more money, became a principal, then moved to the private sector as a salesman, manager, and finally a senior vice-president earning ten times his potential salary as a school teacher.

Since our hypothetical teacher had given up teaching for more money, you would expect that finally, as a highly paid executive, she (or he) should have plenty of money to finally fulfill an ambition of being a teacher without the money worries that plague most teachers.

But for nearly all, such a person sees their options dwindle rather than expand. They measure their success in how much money they make and the prestige that comes with position. From Senior Vice President, they only want to become President.

Worse yet, this person often borrows against an expectation of a rosier future and finds themselves a slave to home payments, credit card debt, private school bills, college tuition, and the economic cycle.

I recently had lunch with a friend who has started a financial consulting firm. His distinguishing feature is that he will tell his clients the truth rather than what they want to hear.

He said, “Ninety-percent of Americans live beyond their means — no matter what their means.” He gave an example of a client in mid-life who was worth $15 million from which he earns $650,000 a year. However, he spends $1.2 million a year and he wants my friend to find him a safe investment to support his lifestyle. This is a mathematical impossibility. My friend could calculate how quickly the client will find himself on welfare.

I wonder how much misery must this client need to overcome when $650,000 a year doesn’t do the trick.

I like to end these pieces with succinct words of wisdom. I can do no better than to repeat what my dad said to me during my Senior year in High School, just before he gave up a career in the business world to return to sculpture full-time.


Money should buy freedom, not chains.


It is easier to make money doing what makes you happy than to buy happiness with the money you are paid for doing what makes you miserable.