The Best Career Advice From A Mentor

Great advice is priceless. It can change your mindset and open up many new opportunities. Back in 2001, the economy was imploding much like it was in 2008-2009. I was worried about losing my job and asked my mentor for advice. He told me something so important. My mentor gave me the best career advice. It has guided my approach to doing everything ever since.

David took me to a conference room and sat me down and said,

If you become the best at what you do, you will NEVER have to worry about getting fired.

He went on to say,

“The bottom 10% of people always get fired even during good times. Look at Jack Welch from General Electric. Even in the brightest of good times, he canned the bottom 10%. 

There's no room for underperformers, underachievers, and people who blame the world for their own failures. You are in control of your career and your finances. Stop worrying and start being invaluable.”

Best Career Advice: A Change In Mindset

From that day forward I stopped worrying about security anymore.  Security, I decided, was for the timid who couldn't shift the gear to drive.  Worrying was a complete waste of energy!

David was right. Even if the bottom 10% get fired every year, there is still 90% left who don't. The trick is not only to stay in the 90% group, but to flourish and be in the top quartile, consistently.

If you are a manager of the firm, you certainly are never going to fire your best performers unless you are forced to shut down your entire department due to a business shift. To do so would be completely irrational.

As an employee, you need to understand this simple fact and go out there and be the best. Network with colleagues, ride rocket ships, and work later. These are the EASIEST things you can do to move yourself up the performance curve. Effort requires no skill!

Best Career Advice

Hope Is Not A Strategy For Success

There's one thing you can do, and one thing you can hope for. The one thing you can do is just try harder. The one thing you can hope for is that everybody slacks off. 

But hope is not a strategy for success. Hope is just a lazy man or woman's dream of getting rewarded as an “A” player, while being a “C” performer.

You have to be an action player. Grab the bull by the horns as they say. Take control of your destiny. Believe that you can achieve anything with enough time and effort.

Not everybody can get to the top.  But, certainly there are enough people who can reach the top 25%. I don't want to be the perennial bench warmer on my tennis team. Thus, I try and practice at least 3 times a week to get better. 

I don't let myself go soft because quickness is a deadly skill on the court. I try and stretch and work out to lessen the chance of injury. And in the end, I try and mind bend my opponents on the tennis court so they will mentally implode. I want to play!

More Career Advice: Consistency

In addition to taking action and putting in effort to be the best, you must have consistency. You won't get far if you bust your bum for three months and then slack off for the next three. Stay consistent.

I've taken this approach with my writing for more than a decade now. I used to get e-mails from people complaining they can't keep up and write 2-4 times a week on average. 

My response is simple. If you can speak words everyday, you can certainly write everyday, let alone only 2-4 times a week! Stop making excuses. I once wrote four, 800+ word posts on my iPhone on the way back from an international business trip. You too can surely write a couple posts a week on your computer.

Your Greatest Income Generator

Your career is the absolute most important income generator of your life.  Why would you EVER risk your most important income source by slacking off? 

If you were in a shaky industry, your rational mind would immediately create contingency plans to join another industry/company if your ship were to sink. 

You'd network like crazy and get some new credentials to boost your resume. In other words, you'd do everything possible to survive!

Related: How To Negotiate A Severance And Be Free

Maximize Your Job's Benefits

Another best career advice tips I can give you is to maximize your job's benefits. You may not fully appreciate them now due to your age or lack of awareness. But trust me, you will when they're gone.

What type of benefits am I referring to? Here are just a few:

Strive To Be The Best

You can blame your failures on the economy, your coworkers, your dog, or you can try harder to be the best. There is ALWAYS someone out there looking to hire the best. Just like there's always someone out there gunning for you. The choice is yours.

Remember my mentor's best career advice to be the best. If you are one of the best people in your niche, you will never really worry about unemployment or never having enough income to survive. Instead, you will start getting bombarded with offers to join other firms. 

Furthermore, you will probably have more money than you know what to do with!

Related: Examples Of Great Resumes That Get Jobs


Start your own business: If you feel you're not getting paid what you're worth and want to boost your income, start your own business online on the side!

It used to cost a fortune and a lot of employees to start your business. Now you can start it for next to nothing with a hosting company like Bluehost for under $4/month and they'll give you a free domain for a year to boot.

Brand yourself online, connect with like-minded people, find new consulting gigs, and potentially make a good amount of income online one day by selling your product or recommending other great products. Not a day goes by where I'm not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009.

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Updated for 2020 and beyond.

43 thoughts on “The Best Career Advice From A Mentor”

  1. Being the best at your niche really is the best career advice. I managed to develop the strongest skills on my firm’s proprietary software in our local office. It really helped me work my way up and negotiate raises. I didn’t get everything I asked for all the time, but it gave me the confidence to speak up and negotiate regularly. Knowing I had valuable skills that other people couldn’t do really made my boss appreciate me more and fight for me.

  2. I work in a commission based world and it is amazing how true this post is. Our top producer could literally have our bosses removed any day he wants. THAT IS JOB SECURITY!

  3. I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago. So many people seem to just do the bare minimum to get by. Then, they complain about not having this or that.

    The only exception to the rule is what I have seen at a certain employer. They let a lot of the ‘experts’ go because they had 20+ year in. They could then either make everyone else pick up the slack, or, hire them back as contractors as needed.

    I have always told my kids that since they are so small, they would have to find a way to make themselves invaluable to whatever sports team they were on because they are already at a disadvantage. All of them are starters on all their teams because they have work ethic like none other, and never give up. In today’s competitive society, everyone needs to find that special something that makes them stand out in order to get ahead, or even keep their job.

    1. That’s the thing though… hopefully if you have 20 years of experience, you are pretty well off! Glad your kids are doing well! Where do you they want to go to college?

      1. In all honesty, I don’t know many people that are ‘pretty well off’ after twenty years of employment. They might be ok, but between saving for college, retirement, and then being unemployed for awhile, it can really take a toll on the savings account!

        Regarding college, my son will be applying to quite a few schools in just a couple months, but I think he has his heart set on University of Michigan. That will create a fun little rivalry since my husband and I are Spartans. :)

        1. You have a point. However, let’s say you contributed $12,000 a year on average + company match and performance in your 401K for 20 years, that’s surely over $500,000. Not bad!

          UM vs. MSU will be fun!

  4. Money Reasons

    I must be better than I thought I was since one year the layoffs were so intense that literally more than half of the company was let go. We are still well short of having as many employees as we had 10 years ago.

    I think that politics and the tedium of doing the same work over and over make for a good excuse to look for another job that one finds more agreeable.

    I think communication of work accomplished is important too. I did some “A” quality work in the early years that most people have no idea that I’m the one that created them. I actually had one person explain to me the application that I came up with the idea for and wrote (that was a blast).

    Actually, in addition to helping others via the way I’m striving to become financial independent, communication is one of the reasons that I started blogging…

    I can’t change work (at least not easily), but I can change me and where I work at…

    1. Don, sounds good man. Yes, you are pretty valuable if you survived multiple rounds!

      Politics is a necessary non-evil. You don’t fire your good friends. That’s just common sense, so you gotta build up those relationships!

  5. Obvious advice, perhaps most people are lazy?

    Inspiring post. Can’t worry about security or company downsizing, but we can be the best we can be. Everything else should take care of itself!

  6. Invest It Wisely

    So what happens to the bottom 10%? If you keep canning them, then they have to go somewhere. The world is not full of Mensa members, and for many of us no amount of trying will get you in.

    However, I get what you’re saying, Sam, and I’ve been putting this into practice more and more at my current position. I’ve also been seeing the results and things have been improving, so I am happy with that, but at the same time this industry IS volatile and companies open and close doors all the time. I guess the important thing is to remain flexible and focused on where we’re going!

    1. Hopefully they end up at competing organizations and blow them up!

      I find it very hard for people to actually BE in the bottom 10%. After all, 90% is nine times greater than 10%, which means it’s way easier being fine.

    1. At more and more companies, and at least with the top companies, they always fire the bottom performers every year. It’s just the way it is b/c things are so hyper competitive now.

  7. I think we all have lots of “jobs” and for me the best approach a) put out fires and when the fires are put out b) plan ahead.

    Have you ever worried about losing your job? Yes, on multiple occasions at multiple companies.

    What did you do to fix that worry? Assess the situation. If the company is losing clients, jobs will be cut. (If you are the last person hired at the company…plan on being let go. Chalk it up to an unfortunate situation.) You have a new boss who did not hire you. (Your new boss may or may not like you for a whole host of reasons from a personality clash to being too “competent”. Chalk it up to being at the wrong place at the wrong time.) You get a promotion from a married man who “adores” your work, yet within six months your work is suddenly “sub par”. (Chalk it up to not willing to engage in prostitution.) You fail to have the ethnicity of the new owners of your company. Over the upcoming months you see people let go who do not have this ethnicity and are replaced with people who do have the ethnicity. (Chalk it up to being at the wrong place at the wrong time.)

    Many times our performance at work has little to do with why we are let go at a company. The best approach is to build a strong network so that you can seek employment elsewhere and do not take these no-win situations personally.

    1. Sounds like a good plan, building as big a network as possible so you don’t fall through the cracks. Those are definitely some interesting scenarios you paint though, about why someone would be unlucky.

      I’m sure it latently happens all the time. Guess one has to always look out for #1!

  8. Absolutely true. You can’t control how smart you are or how you look, but you can 100% control how early you get to work, and how late you stay. Early is for go, and late is for show.

  9. Sam, you’re spot on about job security. Figure out how to do something that no one else can do yet at your company and learn it inside and out….no one will be able to let you go!

    Back when I used to work for the man, I became the only person in the company that knew how to use a certain simple application and I carved out a tiny niche for myself. 20,000 people in the company and i was the only one that knew how to use this basic program which was basically an Excel macro. I got urgent requests to join new projects all over the country and my clients didn’t want to let me go….because I could click the “Start” button. Of course one client wouldn’t let me go because I won a lot of money from him in his weekly poker game, but that’s another story…

      1. The only reason I would ever consider going back is a consistent paycheck, but I’ve been pretty steady the past 2 years or so and trying to build up a decent emergency fund. If the sh$t hits the fan though, i’m sure i could scrounge up real job pretty quick.

        I don’t miss any of the politics and i really enjoy the fact that everything I do makes an impact. If i have to create a presentation, i’m not just going through the motions…I’m doing it because i need to convince a client to buy our services so that I can get paid (and pay other people) next month. I like being able to see the direct impact of my actions.

        1. Is there an income level though that you’d consider going back? i.e. what if the day job pays 3X your current, or what if the day job pays $500,000 a year…. is that worth going back for?

        2. If I made 3x I would strongly consider going back for a few years, suffering and saving for 5-10 years and then semi-retiring enjoying life and working on entreprenuerial ventures (without as much pressure as I do now and the ability to take some time off without worrying about my company falling apart).

          However, I wouldn’t consider it under any circumstances for at least a year having a toddler at home that goes to bed at 6pm. Working from home is the only way I get to spend time with her….otherwise I’d miss out on the first couple years and i’m not willing to sacrifice that.

          1. That’s definitely one of the beauties of working from home, spending time with the kids. Priceless actually!

            Is there an actual income figure that would tempt you to go back to work though? Not all jobs are “suffering”, so is blessed the ones who can make a high income and enjoy work?

  10. youngandthrifty

    I agree with Darwin’s Money- sometimes it’s not about how hard you work, but sometimes its just the company downsizing that department. My BF lost his job a few times due to that reason, and not because he’s a slacker or anything :)

    Very motivational post- I am very impressed at you writing 800+ word posts on your iphone!! Typing on the iphone drives me nuts…

    1. Yeah, departmental downsizing sucks, and I’m sorry he lost his job. Did he find a new one though?

      I flipped my iphone horizontally, and started typing a way. One was 1,200 words long, and the other 3 were about 800-900 words long. I don’t worry about punctuation or spelling. I just copy and past the meat into WP and then fix it up then. For some reason, it’s pretty straightforward for me. 14 hours on a flight if you can’t sleep suuuucks.

  11. Darwin's Money

    What kinda sucks is that what’s going on a lot now is instead of “cyclical” shifts whereby a company may lay off their lowest performing workers, there are massive “structural” shifts where entire companies are imploding, they’re shutting down business units, plant sites and more. So, in many cases, even the top 10% ARE being laid off. And once you’re laid off? It’s tough to find a job that had the same pay rate and responsibilities. Prospective employers think you’re damaged goods (if they’re hiring at all). I do think this time is different. Today’s jobs #s confirmed – our economy is going nowhere.

  12. Very good post. Your career is makes such a tremendous impact on your financial situation that it’s imperative to do your best on the job. Additionally, one must not have blinders on and should keep both eyes open for what’s going on in the bigger picture.

    If you make yourself invaluable and acutally a true value add, you can not only protect earning power but grow it as well. If you don’t, there might be a number of other hungry people just waiting for their own opportunity.

    Overall, it’s great to do what you love and can be good at, and give it your best when doing it.

  13. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    i am in agreement, and i think Krant further nails this point down by elaborating on the broader message. one challenge is that despite one’s brilliance, some things are beyond our control (i.e. companies shutting down, relocating). sometimes there are not enough positions / employers in the city/town one is in, therefore even if that person will never hurt for a job, they may have to involuntarily relocate to a place they may not be so keen about

  14. The larger message is to focus on the things you control versus the things you can not. Improve your skill set by investing in your career by adding skills. This makes you more valuable to your employer and yourself.

  15. This is similar to my experience at my company. The top performers are always kept around even when times are tough. They can always find new position within companies even if the whole group got shut down. It’s not always easy to put a lot of efforts into the job, but it’s much more reliable than hoping the other guys are not doing well.

  16. Untemplater

    It definitely is all too easy to make excuses. Working hard is a big part of getting noticed at work and so is being open to constuctive criticism, which I’ve been writing a lot about lately. Take the time to talk to your boss and find out where you can improve. There is always room for growth and development and sometimes we’re unable to identify our weaknesses ourselves. -Sydney

  17. Money Beagle

    It’s hard to argue with that logic. It’s a good reminder. There have been times at my current job where I’ve been focused on impressing my manager and ended up with average reviews, but when I’ve focused on just doing the job to my best capability, I end up with above average reviews. Not that I don’t try to impress my boss, but I do it with my work, not necessarily by kissing butt or something similar, which, let’s face it, bosses see right through.

    1. It’s impossible go argue with the logic because it is such a no brainer! Once you’re one of the best, there is no way they’d ever let you go!

      Kissing butt is necessary, but a good ass kisser is one who doesn’t let the other feel the pecks on the bum.

  18. This is absolutely essential advice but one that many people seem to forget or ignore. The world is full of those who are average or underachievers. In certain circumstances, it doesn’t even take all that much effort to outshine co-workers. Just like getting chased by a bear, you only have to outrun the guy next to you.

  19. A very motivational post!

    The trick is to be effective and a team player. Part of it is results, part of it is perceptions and chemistry. But never stop trying.

    Sometimes top performers find themselves on the bench but not for too long- they are usually back in the game somehow.


    1. The donkey is the one who is insecure and worried about making themselves look better. The star is the one who makes others around him or her better. They are appreciative and do their best to help you rise.

      The concept is so OBVIOUS, I’m perplexed people can’t follow or understand.

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