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”

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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”

Don’t come to Wall Street for the money, even if you plan on giving it away.

Wall street

by Brooke Allen 

I am a 60-year-old child of the 60’s who never gave up on the idea that I can save the world—even after three decades on Wall Street.

That is why I enjoyed the piece in QZ.com by William MacAskill, To save the world, don’t get a job at a charity; go work on Wall Street.

The problem is that this is more easily said than done. Most people working on Wall Street can make ends meet while a small few can make vastly more money than they need. The trick is to make sure that the process of making money does no harm.

Question: How much money would all the participants in the mortgage securitization industry have to give to charity to undo the harm they have caused?

Answer: More than they have ever made.

The real opportunity to do good on Wall Street is to reform it from within. But to do the right thing you have to be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and then you must be able to say “no” when ordered to do the wrong thing.

Here is my advice if you want to come to Wall Street and do good:

  • Have a strong moral compass and a thick skin. Practiced righteousness about what other people should do isn’t the same as being in the right. You’ll need to recognize when you’re ordered to do the wrong thing, and you’ll need to not do it. Time spent not facing these issues does not prepare you for the time when you will have to.
  • Be independently wealthy when you arrive. Doing the right thing might require you quit your job (or lose it) and perhaps never work in the industry again. You might be different from everyone else, but I doubt it. If you are still paying off a student loan (or a mortgage, or your kid’s college bills, or saving for retirement) then you will find a way to rationalize bad behavior rather than refuse to do it.
  • If you have the moral compass but lack the funds, then whatever you do, live very modestly and save the difference rather than give it to charity. That money might come in handy some day when doing the right thing requires you to quit and go the regulators and the press. If you make it into old age with a pile of dough and a clear conscience then you can give it to charity—or better yet, get creative and be charitable with your time and money doing things other charity mongers haven’t thought of yet.
  • Make sure you have an awesome in-demand skill and be the kind of “resource” people jockeying for resources will fight over. People will put up with you being good if you are good at something they need desperately.

I wrote a piece for my Physics major son and his cohorts that was published by Science magazine called, What Not to Do With Your Physics Education. My advice is that they not join me on Wall Street because, as I conclude the article, “It’s not that I feel they would not succeed; many will make lots of money. It’s more like how I would feel about sending a poorly equipped son to a dubious war where many generals are in it not for the cause but for the spoils.”

I notice a certain naïveté among some academics, non-profiteers, and people who lack hard skills. They believe that all they have to do is lower their standards just a tiny bit in order to be in high demand on Wall Street and make tons of money. Then they imagine they can make up for it by supporting good causes.

Good luck with that.

First publishedin QZ.com on February 28, 2013.

Why business schools charge so much and pay their teachers so little

College diploma with rip-off seal

by Brooke Allen

You and I know why business schools charge so much for an MBA.

Because they can.

But why do they pay so little to everyone except their superstars?

It’s not just because they can. I think the real reason is much more sinister than that.

Once upon a time—before starting my MBA at NYU in the early 1980s—I thought that there was something wrong with extracting the most from someone while giving the least in return. That was back before my first finance professor said, “The sole objective of the professional manager is to maximize the net present value of the wealth of the owners.”

I had an ethics class where the explicit message was, “Crime doesn’t pay.” But the implicit message was, “It isn’t a crime if it is merely immoral and not strictly against the law.”

At no time during my MBA did I learn how to make a product—any product. But that was OK. I was already a pretty good programmer and I didn’t need NYU to teach me how to make things. However, I was only a part-time student and freelanced full time to pay for school. I needed to learn how to get clients. Continue reading “Why business schools charge so much and pay their teachers so little”

The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues

Thinker at Columbia University

By: Brooke Allen

This piece is a response to Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe.

The problem with talking about Intellectual Virtues is that it can give intellectuals the feeling they are virtuous when they are just talking.

Colleges might not think of themselves as being in the business of teaching virtues (like honesty, integrity, courage, fairness, wisdom, and love of the truth) but the fact is they can reinforce or squash good instincts. For example, a student I know wrote a college admissions essay that began with a graphic description of the earth under attack by aliens when he, as super-hero, arrived to save the day. His essay concluded by saying he wanted to go to college to save the world.

Three years into college I introduced the student to the Heroic Imagination Project (www.HeroicImagination.org). Its founder, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, wrote to the student asking how they might work together to change the world. The student wrote to me, “I’d rather not change the course of history than risk changing it for the worse.” I cannot tell you how imagined courage become timidity but I can tell you when and where it happened.

Question: How can the people at colleges do a better job teaching courage? Continue reading “The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues”

To save Wall Street, start with better parenting.

Boy in amazement holding money on white background
by Brooke Allen 

This past February, I retired from finance. Although I intend to continue to study the markets and write about them, I have no intention of ever working in the securities industry again. This makes it easy for me to talk to you about what I think is going on and what needs to be done.

I worked at Merrill Lynch as a computer consultant in the mid-1980s, and from 1986 through 1992 I was an employee—first doing research and later creating and running trading desks in New York and Japan. After a brief stint at Credit Suisse First Boston in Tokyo, I returned to the US in 1993 to work as a consultant to a couple of large Wall Street firms. In 1995, I built and ran a statistical arbitragetrading desk for the US branch of a medium-sized Canadian securities firm.

This February, at the age of 61, I retired from that job of 18 years. I can honestly say my time at that Canadian firm was the best of my entire working career and unlike anything I experienced at any other Wall Street firm. At first I could not put my finger on the difference, but at a Christmas party an elderly co-worker from South America I’ll call Eduardo told me he’d been wondering about the same thing. “I have figured it out,” he said, “The word is ‘decent’ and my theory is that in Canada they raise their children to believe that it is more important to be decent than to be rich.”

Although I’m US born-and-bred, both of our sons went to college at McGill in Montreal. That gave me an opportunity to meet plenty of Canadian young people, and if I suggest Eduardo’s theory to their parents, a typical response would be, “Of course I want my children to be decent; who wouldn’t?”

Real engineers understand ethics in a way financial engineers do not

Andrew Lo was the keynote speaker at the 2010 annual meeting of the International Association of Financial Engineers. Lo heads theLaboratory for Financial Engineering at MIT and his talk was titled: “WARNING: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous to Your Wealth!” He explained that a mistaken belief that financial markets can be treated the way physicists treat the natural world leads economists and financial engineers to a false sense of precision that can have disastrous consequences. You will find a very watchable version of his talk here, and if you love equations then you will find plenty in his 71-page paper here.

I came ready to ambush Lo, and after his talk I held up a slide rule and said, “Despite the fact that I brought my slide rule and my pocket full of pens, and that I’ve been using math in this industry for three decades, I know I’m not an engineer. And I know people who are engineers–some of my best friends are engineers–and I don’t think there are any engineers in the world of financial engineering.” I said the distinction between us and real engineers is that we don’t take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves to the same ethical standards. I asked, “How come the other engineers don’t say, ‘What are you doing to our name?’?”

Continue reading “To save Wall Street, start with better parenting.”

How to give me a negative reference on LinkedIn

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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”