Monday, April 16, 2007

On the reading list: Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist

Brazen Careerist blogger Penelope Trunk has a book coming out in a few weeks. 

After my recent discovery of Penelope's blog, and a few comments I'd made there, Penelope and I ended up in a couple of e-mail exchanges that resulted in - wonder of wonders in the blogosphere - an actual phone conversation. In any event, Penelope sent me a pre-publication copy of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success., which I just finished reading.

I am pleased to announce that Brazen Careerist is an advice book that is actually well-written, sharp, and funny. There is plenty of excellent on- and off-the-job business wisdom contained within, yet the book is absolutely devoid of pietistic lard or corn-pone cutes. Nobody moved this girl's cheese. And nobody taught her everything she needed to know in kindergarten, either.

It helps, of course, that Penelope can both write and think. It also helps that she has had a wildly interesting career, starting with early-on jobs plucking chickens on a French farm and signing Esther William's autograph on 8x10 glossies. (Esther Williams! For those drawing a blank, she was a swimmer who starred in aqua-maid musicals in the forties and fifties. Hard to imagine that anyone was looking for an autographed glossy of Esther anytime post-1956, but apparently they were. If you were the recipient of one, say, twenty-odd years ago, it may have been "autographed" by Penelope Trunk. This may actually increase its resale value someday.)

Penelope was also a professional beach volley ball player, software firm executive, and a bunch of other things.

Along the way, she learned a lot, and in Brazen Careerist she's willing to share. The  book is nominally aimed at Generation X and Generation Y-ers (i.e., those under 40), but there are a number of practical points and viewpoints in the book that will prove useful to their Baby Boomer 'rents, as well.

Her advice on résumés, interviewing, negotiating, cold-calling, and e-mailing are apt and generation-less. (I'm not looking for a job, but I do have a résumé floating around somewhere, and I will soon away to purge it of all paragraphs and get it down to one page. Why advertise that I'm old enough to have a two-page résumé?)

Penelope's main thesis is that people in their twenties and thirties will have a different relationship to work, and will define and shape their careers in a far different way than did their parents.

They will, she argues, demand more work-life balance. They want flexibility. They want to learn. They have no intention of staying in one job forever. They're not about money. They will not work at "grind" jobs. They want meaning in the workplace.

Certainly, she is right that things will be different for the GenX and Gen Y cohorts. And, indeed, every generation has its own day. But I think she makes too strong a point about the Gen X-Yers redefining everything. For one thing, many Baby Boomers still have some work life left in them, and they, too, are doing things differently - and pretty much along the same lines as "the kids" - in the later stages of their careers in terms of flex-time and meaning.  (Boomers are not, however, going to be taking Penelope's advice about going back home and living with their parents to save money.)

Penelope's right that the new kids on the work block won't have any corporate loyalty, but globalization and general business-Darwinism have made the concept of sticking with one job and being loyal to an organization passé a long time passing. (Having worked in several technology companies that no longer stalk this earth, I can assure Penelope that there are plenty of us boomers who have already found this to be true.)

It also goes unstated that technology is making the kinds of flexibility that the Gen X and Yers will demand a possibility. They didn't invent it, but they will surely profit from it in terms of having greater flexibility and fluidity between the work and non-work staging in their lives. (This may not prove to be an unalloyed joy.)

So, while the Gen X and Gen Y folks will "remake" work, it is also being remade for them, whether they like it or not. Their choices about remaking work will be the rational response to what is going on. Free choice, yes, but somewhat inevitable.

But if Penelope leaves the big macro trends unacknowledged, well, it's her book. And her point is that the savvy folks among those coming of professional age will get and stay on top of the overall trends that are reshaping the workplace, and further shape these trends so that they are their very own. They will and should not just let things happen by default. (And without any pining for the not-so-good-old days of "stability": seize the time, the day, and the workplace.)

Brazen Careerist is quite a good little book. Graduation time is soon upon us, and Penelope's publication date in May means that it should be on the list for college graduates. And recent grads who have boomeranged home. And thirty-ish "kids" who haven't quite figured out what they want to do just quite yet.

And, although it might spoil the positioning, it's not a bad little book for the Baby Boomers, either.

1 comment:

JibberJobber Guy said...

Great summary - I think this is a great book for boomers that either have to compete against Gen Y folks, or those that have to (get to) manage Gen Y folks and try and understand what drives them.

Jason Alba