May 11 2012

The One Thing That Matters More Than Grades or SAT Scores

Carlos Portocarrero

Report card

When I was young I though my future depends on three things:

  • SAT scores
  • GPA

Once I graduated, I realized none of that really matters. 

It’s kind of sad that I spent as much time as I did worrying about SAT scores and GPA scores. I wish I would’ve spent my time learning how to program or building my first website. Or even learning to play the guitar.

Grades were crucial to get into a “good” school, but once you’re in there all this stuff is pretty irrelevant.

So What Does Matter?

Experience, plain and simple.


What do you bring to the table as an intern or as an employee? What can you do for the company? What value to you bring?

What’s your potential?

As someone who has hired interns and scanned resumes, I’ll tell you this much: GPA didn’t matter one bit. What mattered was the personality and the skills we would get if we picked one person over another.

It’s the reason you see kids getting drafted my Major League Baseball teams even when their numbers aren’t very good: the teams see the skill and the potential and they pay up for it, regardless of what the numbers say.

What Now?

If you’re young and in college (or about to go to college), what do you do with this advice? Should you stop studying and get Cs from now on because grades don’t matter?

I would advice against that. Grades matter in the sense that they show how well you can play within a system.

If you can navigate the collegiate education system successfully, then that means something. It says you’re aware of what’s going on around you and you’re capable of figuring out the rules and succeeding.

This counts for something.

But my advice is to start making things you’re proud of.

Whether it’s a blog or art or a novel or a new way to use Excel—just start making things you think are cool. Things you would be proud to share with your friends.

You’ll develop some skills. You’ll have things to put in your portfolio. You’ll become more valuable.

You’ll be 10 times more interesting and twice as valuable then the other guy who comes in with his chin high because he has a perfect GPA and knows how to take a test.

Image by Mark Gstohl

Oct 19 2009

The Importance of Having a Plan and Sticking with It

Carlos Portocarrero

the wallThis past Saturday, I ran the Chicago Urbanathlon for the second year in a row. It’s basically an 11-mile race with an obstacle course mixed in. You see that pretty wall in the picture? That’s the finish line.

I ran the race last year for the first time and it was quite the experience. My final time was 1:39 and I was GASSED at the end. I almost puked right before I crossed the finish line.

I thought I did pretty well for someone that had never run a race before.

This year I knew what to expect and I knew what I needed to do differently to improve my time. I didn’t train as hard as last year because I knew what was coming. What I did have was a plan.

Thanks to the experience I gained from running it last year, I would be doing two things differently:

  1. Calm down: when you get to each one of the obstacles, there are people cheering and you get all pumped up. You want to speed through the obstacle as fast as you can. After all, it is a race. But I learned my lesson from last year—doing that takes a LOT of energy. And running 11 miles after speeding through these obstacles means you’ll be in pain at the end.
  2. Go faster at the end: I dragged during the last leg of the race last year. A LOT of people passed me and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m losing ground pretty fast here.” I was hurting, but I knew I could’ve gone a little bit faster here if I knew how I’d feel before hitting the stairs.

So that was the plan: don’t use up your energy by blazing through the obstacles and use some of that saved energy on the last leg to really step it up. Sounds simple, right?

Well, coming up with the plan is easy, it’s following you own instructions that’s hard. Because once you’re out there and you see that first obstacle, it’s very tough to control yourself. I managed to execute.

I took it easy and had some gas left at the end, which I used to pass a whole bunch of people during that last leg (running with my iPod helped too).

The result? I ran the race in 1:35—an improvement of four minutes from last year’s time. And I probably trained half as hard as last year.

What Does This Have to do with Anything?

I used my experience to formulate a plan and I stuck to the plan when I was out there. It sounds simple, but this formula will take you far in anything you do. Whether it’s trading stocks or setting up your budget, using what you’ve learned from a previous experience and executing a plan based off of it will usually pay off.

As long as you get incrementally better at what you’re doing, you’re moving in the right direction.

And don’t forget to save a little something for the wall.

Jul 13 2009

Not Enough Experience? Get Some.

Carlos Portocarrero


Regardless of the type of career you’re in or would like to be in, one of the biggest obstacles standing between you and “the next level” is a lack of experience. How many times have we all heard that after a job interview we thought went really well?

Employers won’t give you a shot unless you have experience and you can’t get any experience unless someone gives you a shot.

Which makes it pretty clear what you have to do: get some.

Sound hard/impossible? Here are some things that anyone can do to get that coveted “experience” regardless of the field you’re in:

  • Start a blog: This is one of my personal favorites. I was having a conversation with some of Ramit’s people about changing careers without quitting your job and I wound up pounding this point home. Blogging about anything will automatically give you experience and something to show potential employers. Think your career doesn’t lend itself to blogging? Email me and I’ll prove you wrong. Blogging will not just give you the experience you can then show a potential employer, but it’ll also help you grow and learn more about yourself and your profession. Which, ultimately, isn’t that the whole point of experience?
  • Freelance: I don’t care what you do, there is someone on Craigslist that could use your help. Maybe they don’t want to pay for it, but they need help. I remember doing this when I was putting together my advertising portfolio—I created ads that I commissioned myself to create. No one made me do it and I certainly didn’t get paid to do it. But at the end of it, I had some experience and some ads to show. The more you do it, the sooner you can graduate to paying gigs. Trust me, they’re out there.
  • Events: Whether you’re a copywriter, an interior designer, or a lawyer, there are always events to attend to. They may be boring and you may hate them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Especially if you aren’t “in the biz” yet. Go to all the events a person that has the job/position you’re after would go to. The trick is to basically live how they live and do what they do—even if you’re only simulating it. That also counts for experience. Oh and don’t just stand there with a drink in your hand—talk to people.

If you want to gain valuable experience, it’s all about practice. Blogging, freelancing, and going to events all comes down to practicing—you have to pretend to be the person with the position or job you want. Why? Because if you do all the things that they would do, you’re getting that experience that you’re missing.

Why do you think I started this blog? I know it works—I got my current job thanks to the writing I’d done on The Writer’s Coin.

Now you go out there and do the same and stop complaining that your boss never “gives you a shot.” Make your own shots as you go.

Image by jasontheaker

This post has been included in the Carnival of Pecuniary Delights over on Wisebread. Make sure to check it out!