The Washington Post

A small book of professional common sense


A television reporter who was fired for some things she posted on her personal blog could have used advice from Robert L. Deitz.

So could a law school graduate who sent an e-mail to prospective employers to which he attached a picture of himself wearing a T-shirt showing off his beefy biceps. He thought the photo would help him get a job. It hasn’t yet. It did, however, generate a lot of Internet conversation on whether his strategy was crazy or clever.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

“Beware of everything you do on the Internet,” Deitz writes in a self-published book, “Congratulations — You Just Got Hired: Don’t Screw It Up,” which is this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection. You can get it on

Why listen to Deitz?

He’s held some pretty impressive jobs and worked alongside some very powerful people. He’s a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for three Supreme Court justices, was a partner in two large law firms and served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and as a senior aide to the director of the CIA. He retired from the CIA in 2012 and is now a professor of public policy at George Mason University.

“In these various private- and public-sectors job, I have seen lots of office behavior,” he writes. “I know what conduct will advance careers, what conduct will undermine them.”

If you don’t know how to handle yourself on the job, you can short-circuit your career, Deitz says. Think this is common sense? Clearly not for a lot of new professionals (or seasoned ones).

As I read Deitz’s tips, I thought about the recent news stories of Shea Allen, who lost her television job for posting personal confessions such as this: “I’m frightened of old people and I refuse to do stories involving them or the places they reside.” Or, “If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I’ll stop recording but let you think otherwise.” And: “I’ve stolen mail and then put it back. (maybe)”

Really, given her job, she should have known better and should have heeded this advice from Deitz: “Bits and bytes are forever. Beware of everything you do on the Internet, even at home on your own time.”

To be honest, I wondered why the book is so slim — just 44 pages.

Publishers wanted Deitz to produce a “big book,” he said. But all he wanted to do was provide nuggets of advice for new professionals.

“Self-help books tend, in my view, to be bloated for no very good reason,” he told me. “I am not delusional. I do not believe that I have made some earth-shattering discovery. My purpose is to help young people avoid stupid mistakes as they begin their careers. This is not rocket science, but simply common-sense advice from someone who has been around the block a few times. How long does this type of advice need to be? When our mothers told us to look both ways before we crossed the street, that instruction did not require a whole lot of words.”

There are five short chapters covering work habits, dress, etiquette, e-stuff and résumés. Here’s a sample of his advice:

● Study your boss. “If your boss is a micromanager, become used to getting down in the weeds over word choices.”

● Don’t be the office whiner.

● Learn to accept criticism.

● Don’t take “casual day” dress too far. Be sure to read the work environment so your casual dress doesn’t offend.

● Avoid arrogance. I can speak for that. My grandmother, Big Mama, gave me similar advice. She told me not to get full of myself. “The people you pass going up the ladder will be the same people you might need going down.”

● Do not use your boss’s name as a license. Deitz says he once sent a memo asking, in the name of his boss, for some information he wanted. “When the answer arrived — addressed to my boss, of course — he circled his name on my request followed by a huge question mark.”

Succeeding at work can often be determined by so much more than just doing your job. “There are many other qualities, few of which are taught in school, that lead to success in the workplace.” Or put another way, common sense isn’t as common as you might think.

I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about “Congratulations — You Just Got Hired: Don’t Screw It Up” at noon Eastern time on Sept. 5 at Deitz will join me to answer your questions. Every month, I randomly select readers to receive copies of the featured book, which in this case were donated by the author. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s selection, send an e-mail to with your name and address.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to

Show Comments
Most Read
DJIA -0.62%
NASDAQ 0.35%
Last Update: 4:32 PM 02/11/2016(DJIA&NASDAQ)


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.