The Golden Rule for Business: Never Burn Bridges

January 25, 2010 at 6:56 am 32 comments

Once upon a time, in a former life of mine, I made my living as a full-time musician. I played guitar, wrote and sang songs, did comedy, recorded a couple of albums, and performed at hundreds of coffeehouses, nightclubs, colleges and concert halls. I toured extensively, opened up for several national acts, and did a lot of radio and TV shows. I met many famous people, and even more unknown but incredibly talented folks along the way. I often tell people that I lived the life of a traveling bohemian artist-musician during that rare window of time between when The Pill came out, and AIDS came in! All in all, I followed my dreams, sewed a lot of wild oats and had a great time! [If you’re curious, check out my Music Website … or if you really want a good laugh, watch this ancient video of me performing the song “Music, Sex & Cookies.”]

There was one piece of advice I got during that time period that I still remember, and have carried with me throughout my successive jobs in the business world. There’s a well-known cliché in the music business that careers are often very short-lived, and that meteoric rises to fame are usually followed by swift drops back into obscurity. One evening I was sharing the bill with another performer who had just such a career arc – he had risen to national fame and huge sellout concerts on the strength of a couple of Top 40 hits from his debut album, and then lacking a strong followup quickly found himself back to playing small clubs and dive bars within a few short years. This guy was actually a really nice, warm, friendly and grounded person, unlike many of the egotistical self-absorbed wannabes I had met over the years. He said something to me that night that I’ll never forget: “Make sure you treat everyone you meet on your way up the ladder with respect and kindness, and don’t forget them … because you’ll meet those same exact people on your way back down on the other side. Never burn bridges!”

What great advice that is for job-seekers, or for that matter anyone in the business world! Most careers follow a natural arc. While not usually as dramatic as the quick rises and falls of a career in the entertainment industry, people in every business have successes and failures, and climbs up (and sometimes back down) corporate ladders. The best way to guarantee long-term success is to lay the groundwork for a strong network of relationships all along the way. Remaining conscious of that Golden Rule of always treating people with respect – the way you’d want them to treat you – and realizing that you might cross paths with the same people you do business with today in some other seemingly unrelated situation in the future is key. Obviously, the process of networking as a job-seeking activity can only be made easier by having a stockpile of relationships built up over time spent following this Golden Rule pathway.

I can recall many times as a recruiter when I worked with candidates who later became decision-makers and hiring authorities, and then turned around and used me as a recruiter to help fill jobs at their new companies because they like the way I worked with them. There were also thousands of other candidates that I interviewed and worked with, who for various reasons I couldn’t really help and who didn’t get jobs through me. Even though they didn’t represent immediate payoffs to me as a recruiter (i.e. commissions) I always tried to treat those other candidates with the same attention and respect as the ones I placed. I often re-encountered those candidates later in other situations, and they almost always remembered the way I treated them. Those people often became my future networking contacts, references, customers or business associates in totally unexpected places. You never know when or where you’re going to re-encounter the people you meet and do business with on a day-to-day basis. Throughout life – and especially in business, treating people right is critical. It’s really true that “what goes around, comes around.”

Now I realize that this advice is not always easy to follow. Job-seekers encounter situations almost every day where others seem to be doing the exact opposite. Examples of this are people not returning phone calls or emails, company representatives being unresponsive or ignoring applicants, gatekeepers or HR people or recruiters or interviewers acting unprofessionally, people failing to follow-up with you, etc. – the list seems endless! Exiting a job (especially when it was not your idea) is another example of a situation where following this advice may be particularly difficult. In each of these cases, there is a natural tendency to get angry, blame others and lash out. However, leaving a company on good terms, and in a totally professional manner – no matter what the circumstances – is always the best approach. [See “The Proper Way to Quit a Job.”] Again, you never know where or when you’re going to re-encounter those same people. We’ve all heard the generic interview advice to “never speak ill of your former employers.” As your mother probably told you, if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all! Staying away from any negative talk is always the best tactic. It’s not always easy to do, but remembering the Golden Rule and trying to Never Burn Bridges is a long-term strategy that is guaranteed to put you on the best path for future success.

Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: , , .

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32 Comments Add your own

  • 1. M-A L-F  |  January 25, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I totally agree. Although I’ve burnt some bridges, and am currently suffering from it. I have many other bridges though.

  • 2. Jonathan Brickman  |  January 25, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Couldn’t agree more, Michael. Learned from an early age to handle business without emotions. It’s a marathon and a very connected world so handling every relationship with respect is more important than ever. Good post.

  • 3. Agosv  |  January 25, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Excellent article Michael. I do agree that good relationships lead to good businesses! There’s no doubt that today’s world is ruled by networking. Once and again: It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know..

    • 4. John  |  August 11, 2014 at 11:26 am

      The question remains is when you do good onto others and when some do bad or cold onto you? It is wondered of situations of when you are being your best to others in the most sincere, thoughtful way, but unfortunately they leave you hanging, don’t give you the same generous or good treatment they give others or act cold for no clear or legit reason? Sometimes, it is questioned why is there such unfortunate one-sidedness no matter how golden one party at least acts.

  • 5. Mike Sheehan  |  January 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    If you always follow the Golden Rule, good things will happen to you.

  • 6. Allen Reinecke  |  January 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    How true – it’s amazing how small a world it is out there !

  • 7. Anna Burrelli  |  January 25, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    This is so true. In my position I talk to high school seniors about the importance of growing up and respecting someone whether you like them or NOT because one day they may be working with you at your job and you may be assigned to work on an important project with them. Whether you like them or not the project has to be completed. On the other end of the spectrum they may be doing the hiring. I tell kids if you bully someone then don’t be surprised if 10 years from now that person is in a position of power to hire you. Guess what? You probably won’t get the job because the scars of high school take years to heal and they aren’t going to hire the kid who stuck their head in the toilet bowl.

  • 8. Luke Frazier  |  January 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    Ya know, I always read stuff like this and most of the time I just nod my head in agreement. In the above I especially agree with always treating others with respect. But it really is not as simple as “never burn bridges.” Such a statement seems to imply that however much you were disrespected, manipulated or just plain wronged you ought not do anything to jeopardize getting something from that other person in the future. What kind of internal compromise is that?! Isn’t that just being selfish and calculating? I always have and always will treat others with respect. But that’s different than taking a smack and pretending it didn’t happen. There are just some people that for my own self-respect I want nothing to do with anymore–even if I may run into them again in the future.

    There’s plenty of networks in the sea.

    • 9. Tom  |  June 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Word!!! I am with you 100%. I don’t like being bitten by a snake…once is enough!!!

    • 10. John  |  August 11, 2014 at 11:31 am

      Great point Luke!! You said it great. I always feel we shall always be our best initially to others when meeting them 1st or in maintaining the bonds professional or personal, but on the other hand never tolerate any clear negative in terms of hostility, abuse, disrespect, 2-faced/deceitful behavior or at worst illegal/unethical behavior from one party no matter how ‘senior’ the person is in the professional or even personal world. Wonder of a great way we can hold others accountable karmically when they behave unreasonably cold or unfriendly with us or do other terrible like above in a one-sided way even after we have been the best we can? We should always act well yet never be doormats that enable or reinforce others acting badly at any part of the hierarchy.

  • 11. Gloria Wyatt  |  January 25, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Remember this works both ways. How an employer treats an employees being laid off or reassigned to another project can be very important. If the person is not treated with respect and honesty, should the company (or boss) ever need that person and his/her skill set again, the person will probably not be willing to come back.

  • 12. Kara Cleaver  |  January 25, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. Worst advice I ever got as a new business owner, “she can’t help you, too low on the totem pole.” So glad I DIDN’T listen. She was in competitve marketing and gave me all I needed to win a huge bid! Everyone can always help, it’s a matter of timing.

  • 13. John McGoldrick  |  January 26, 2010 at 4:15 am

    Having had responsibility for M&A in an International business, sadly this almost always resulted in rationalization of staff in the acquired entity. My responsibility in this area resulted in hundreds of staff losing their positions, in addition I have had to fire staff who were not performing.

    None of these scenarios were pleasant either for the individuals involved nor myself, however by dealing with these situations in a professional manner, without exception I believe I have retained the understanding and respect of the individuals, indeed a number of these individuals have engaged my consultancy services over the years.

    One thing to remember the phrase “its not personal” is a nonsense, as it does affect the individuals security, status and finances SO IT’S PERSONAL TO THEM.

  • 14. Debi W.  |  January 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Always great suggestions and advice from you, Michael. People may not remember the circumstances and/or the details of an interaction with you, but they usually remember how you made them feel. You can be kind even if you don’t like someone. The world is a very small place, especially in job transition!

  • 15. Paul Platner  |  January 27, 2010 at 1:05 am

    This has been said for over 2000 years. Keep saying it…We’ll get right.
    I am trying to take it to another level, treat people better than I want to be treated. (of course this comes from the same Source)
    This is easier to do with “Social Media” because you have time to think before you respond.
    Thank you Michael.

  • 16. Kirk  |  January 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

    I agree. I have been in business situations over the years where, because I always try to maintain the high road and never say bad about previous business relationships or issues as they arise, I have saved my own reputation and stayed out of potentially hazardous waters. Case and point: While with a business colleague years ago at lunch, we spoke of a situation that had occurred in a different geographic area. I figured that it may be safe to talk about but I left out details and names that would have put the pieces together for my client. But because I said nothing inflamatory or derogatory, I was saved. Turns out the person and situation we were discussing was actually a relative of my client with whom I was having lunch.
    Moral of the story: Never say anything you will have to take back or that you wouldn’t say in front of the person directly. You will sleep better.

  • 17. FOREVER GREEN  |  January 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Never a truer statement ever spoken.

  • 18. Linda Mitchell  |  January 27, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for the article. I recently ran across this quote: “Unless you work in demolition, don’t burn bridges”. I’ve always always believed in the golden rule, this seems like another way of saying it.

  • 19. Julie Anderson  |  January 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Leaving any place of business on good terms is a must, it’s a small world with both good and bad news travelling fast.

    • 20. John  |  August 11, 2014 at 11:35 am

      True. Wonder how to do so when no matter how good you behave and try to leave on best terms, the place of business acts out inappropriately/unethically as totally unprofessional in a legit way and doesn’t care how they act and continues to do sadly? Wonder how they get their karmic reward. At times it is the worst injustice to never be tolerated if an individual or business acts out unethically or badly as unprofessional when the individual leaving is a golden person and does his best 1st. There is the law of karma and fair is fair.

  • 21. Jerry Miller  |  January 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Treat others the way you want to be treated.

    Good thing I did this in one of my jobs as a boss because several years later I ended up working for a guy who formerly had worked for me. I told him just treat me like I treated you and we will be fine.

  • 22. Kathy  |  January 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    This is SO true. My current position includes three engineers from a previous company (more than 10 years ago). Had I burnt bridges back then, I wouldn’t have gotten past the interview stage!

  • 23. Dave DiRocco  |  February 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Do not burn bridges is good advice. However, there is another side to this coin. If you find yourself linked to someone who turns out to be conducting business in an unethical or illegal manner, you have a responsibility to remove yourself from that situation. You do not need to actively burn a bridge, but you must distance yourself from that person or organization, else you be considered one in the same. Protect your reputation!

  • 24. layna l.  |  January 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    I feel that I’ve joined into a bonfire of the bridge between my boss and me – a fire, I feel, that she started. She did not care about our bridge and strategically worked for months to force me out of the company. At the time of my departure, I (tactfully) announced the circumstances in a written memo to others at my job. My burnt bridge is also the company’s burnt bridge. I feel that they should be sorry, too.

    • 25. Michael Spiro  |  January 4, 2011 at 7:13 am

      That certainly sounds like a bad situation. However, putting things in writing in the form of a memo to others at the company was probably not a wise move. Better to just talk with the people you care about in person, and try keeping your negative feelings private. Emails and memos have a way of re-surfacing when you least expect them. Just ask Bill Gates!

  • 26. SP  |  April 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm


    Thanks for the great information. Hope you are checking this thread. I work in NYC area market. I was FT for 15 years but about 1.5 years again I was laid off. I was lucky to land consulting role at investment bank here in CT two days later. I knew it was coming and had been planning my exit. Here is my “burning bridge” dilemma. My daily rate is very good. I like my work. I am respected by my group. Quite honestly, I want to stay but the bank is in tough shape and they are in no position to hire consultants. I keep my resume active on all sites because I don’t know how long this gig will last. They have renewed my 6 month contract twice already. My frustration is that I take many calls from recruiters.There are thousands of them in New York area ranging from one man shops to large corporations. Rarely do I get a call from the same agency. It seems like recruiting world has exploded and everyone wants a part. I take approximately 3 calls a day minimum (many more emails) lately and my talk time is very limited. They all have my resume in front of them since they know my current title and experience. I have numerous recruiters that go through a spiel about my solid work history and skill set, just to tell me they are looking for 2 – 3 years experience and jr. level pay. I tell them that my rate is senior and and my daily current rate is $XXX. They usually ask for jr. level referrals. I find this quite frustrating. Why are they calling me about this job and wasting my time? The ones I am courteous usually claim that they will call me if they find a sr. level job with similar pay. Quite honestly, I have never received a call back from any of these recruiters in over a year. The one or two that have called me back are fishing to see if I am out of work yet and will accept lower rate. My resume/title states my senior experience. Lately, I have been less patient with these recruiters. I am curt and to the point about my expectations. A few have sent me email about that they would not consider me again. Hmm, does it look good if a company calls me about a job for recent college grads and offer pay that would barely rent in NYC area?? It is a waste of discussion and inconsiderate of my time too. Being in consulting, I know the large players out there and I am careful around them…but Joe Schmoe’s consulting in Hackensack? I feel it is ‘Johnny on the spot’, Wild West out there. Either take this job or we move on. This is not relationship building. I think many of these people popped up overnight and display little professionalism. How can I deal with this situation every day? I don’t ant a 10 minute discussion on job that pays nothing. Does being curt and asking them to contact when they have some at my level constitute burning a bridge?? Apparently it does in some cases. Several have stated that my rate does not exist in this market. Obviously, it does as I am making it. There are some arrogant personalities out there.

    • 27. Michael Spiro  |  April 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm


      Thanks for sharing your story. It is quite illuminating. I hope you realize that you are very lucky to be working, and to be getting paid a “good rate” commensurate with your senior experience level. I speak with senior level people every day who are not so lucky, can’t find work, and who end up compromising their salary needs in order pay their bills. As you can imagine, you probably look very attractive as a potential candidate to all the recruiters out there who troll the internet looking for their next placements. As with any profession, there are good recruiters and bad recruiters. Yes, there are recruiters out there who lie, cheat, deceive, bait & switch, promise things they cannot deliver, and will pretty much do or say anything to get a placement and get paid. I’ve met some of those people, and their sleaze factor can be quite astounding! Unfortunately, those bad recruiters tend to give the entire profession a negative reputation. And, you are right — there are a ton of very young, inexperienced and unprofessional recruiters who will waste your time if you let them, and try to convince you to work cheap so they can make more for themselves. Unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the business.

      I do have a couple of obvious suggestions for you: First of all, don’t take recruiter calls at work! The minute you realize a call is from a recruiter, you should stop and immediately say that you cannot talk at work and ask them to email you with details — including rate information! Say that you will respond if they have something of interest to share with you. Then cut them off! It’s inappropriate for you to waste your work time on such calls. Secondly, you should prepare a canned email that you can send to recruiters who approach you explaining your current work situation, what you might be interested in to make a move (if anything), and exactly what your rate or salary expectations and requirements are. Such an email should clearly state that your rate is based on your senior experience level, and that you are receiving that rate in your current position. It can even say something like “please do not re-contact me if your work opportunities are at a lower pay level than I am already currently receiving.” You can also say that you only provide referrals to people you already know and trust. That should take care of the majority of your pestering newbie recruiters. I would just caution you to compose this email very carefully, and make sure it sounds both professional and courteous. You certainly don’t want to give anyone the impression that you are inconsiderate, ungrateful, curt or full of yourself, etc. Just be truthful, and hope that people understand and respond in kind. Hope that helps.


      • 28. SP  |  April 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm


        Yes, thank you. Your suggestions address the etiquette questions that I had in my mind. I often tell recruiters that I don’t have time to talk and will call back..but 75% of the time they never call me back when I leave a return message. It seems like many quickly dismiss you if you don’t talk at that moment. This is why I try to answer. I will have to end this practice as you suggested. Luckily, we are all consultants in my area so I am not sticking out when taking these calls. Your suggested email is usually something I send out as well but I get very few re-contacts. Just the boiler plate “I’ll contact you if I have something that pays XXX”. They never do and some don’t get the point as contact me with low rates. I am thankful for my pay and consulting job. It is hard living still for many, many people. The media would have believe that job market is significantly improving but I don’t see it. NYC is highly expensive area and the daily pay rates keep drifting lower and lower. Don’t know how people can afford 800k houses and 20k tax bills so easily around here.

  • 29. John  |  August 11, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Good article. Even though it is never good burning bridges, it is never right for anybody else no matter how ‘senior’ they are to act badly, unprofessionally or ‘unethically’ at worst. There are sadly many ‘toxic/bullyish’, ‘discriminator’ ‘unfriendly’, ‘unpleasant’ or ‘deceitful’ or at worst ‘unethical/illegal’ people and their behavior is totally unacceptable. Wonder how they can be held karmically accountable right away and deal with them when they are totally one-sided and don’t wish to change? Worst are anywhere from receptionists to subordinates co-workers to bosses or even clients who ‘unacceptably’ act rude or talk negatively about you even when you act best to them.

    I seriously wish the ‘human’ beings who act out negative or cold or at worst malicious for no reason are always dealt with and where how can the concept of not burning bridges while removing or exposing ‘toxic’, ‘unethical’ or ‘hostile’ beings comes into play? One lady I did an informational interview who is renowned in Huntsville, AL said to never burn a bridge with anybody unless they have done something illegal or unethical (which I have seen happen endlessly sadly with execs and others in world and observed in my personal experience). Wonder what you think of what she said?

    Wish we were in a world where it can clearly be of everyone at any level acting good, honest, ethical and humble with another?

  • 30. John  |  August 11, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Lastly, in the last paragraph the information really struck out and had me wonder when it mentions others who are not responsive or act unprofessionally or even at worst rude, cold, arrogant or unpleasant at worst and unacceptable period. What I wonder is what to do when we always act the best, professional way we can with these very people who we may run into again and they keep acting as such and are unfairly one-sided to us for no reason and continue their illogical bad behavior with not thinking how they are behaving while we continue to be good? This is one of the biggest ongoing dilemmas questioning of “fairness/justice or “golden ruke” or “What comes around, goes around.”

    The biggest concern of such lies while truly are sincere, pleasant and professional golden people who I blessed to have met, but sadly the legitimately unreasonable negative people in this world described above.

  • 31. Sam  |  October 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    How do you deal with the most unfortunate, unfair and complex dilemma of holding others accountable such as ones who illogically and unclearly unfriend you on FB with no reason after you reached out to them and when there has usually been good, seemingly sincere exchanges before with being FB friends?

    Another dilemma is when for instance you usually had a good relationship with a supervisor at your AmeriCorps Vista site or workplace, but hurtfully and unfortunately even after you two have been FB friends and she would reply back after you both leaving, suddenly out of nowhere she stops responding back despite your various attempts of reaching out and goodwill? ALso, after sometime she unfriends. This is the worst, unclear and most unfair dilemma which questions the value and credibility of staying in touch and networking.

    How dare shall there ever be such bad or cold done when someone clearly does good sincerely and reaches out? Where is the commonsense of goodwill and maturity as expected in the professional world and how shall ever such happen after all good?

    • 32. Michael Spiro  |  October 26, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      First of all, Facebook (FB) is NOT a place I would expect a professional networking relationship to take place. I personally think that Facebook is a place for non-work related relationship exchanges. Most professional networking takes place on LinkedIn — not Facebook. Secondly, you can’t MAKE someone like you or be your “friend” on Facebook, or LinkedIn — or for that matter, in the real world! Maybe you posted something they don’t like, or offended them in some other way. If someone doesn’t want to keep seeing your posts or receiving messages from you, they “un-friend” you … and there is NOTHING you can do about it. It’s not “unprofessional” — and it’s certainly better than them saying something negative about you! If you feel offended by being “unfriended” by someone … then pick up the phone and call them like actual real friends do. Enough of this “virtual friend” business! Otherwise, just forget it and simply move on. Life is too short to dwell on silly things like who “friends” or “un-friends” you on Facebook.


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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for over 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Jefferson Wells, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

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Age Discrimination:
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 Age Discrimination:
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 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
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 Overcoming Job-Search
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         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
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Switching Jobs:
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 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
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 Contract/Consulting Jobs
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►  What Recruiters Say
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►  The Dirty Truth About
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►  Let the Jobs Find You:
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 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
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 Avoiding the "Black Hole
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 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
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 "Unemployed Need Not
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 Using Social Media to
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 Warning: That Rant You
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 The Golden Rule for
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 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
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 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
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 Top 10 Most Annoying
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 New Year's Resolutions for
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Job-Seeking Humor:
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 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
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 Candidates Gone Wild:
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