College graduates

A slightly grouchy guide for new grads and other Millennials

April 23, 2014: 12:29 PM ET

Finally, here's a career advice book that tells you what job interviewers and bosses are probably thinking but would never say out loud.

Rumanian brothers sitting in a bar smoking cigars.

FORTUNE -- If you're about to finish college and venture into the corporate world, you've no doubt heard plenty of perfectly good tips on job-hunting: Double-check the spelling in your resume, show up on time, look hiring managers in the eye when you talk to them, turn your cell phone off in interviews.

That's all fine, of course, but what if you happen to be rocking a conspicuous piercing, a tattoo, or "hair of a color not found in nature," as Charles Murray puts it? "Curmudgeons will not hire you except for positions where they don't have to see you, and perhaps not even those," he writes in The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead. And that's not all: Even if someone else in the organization does hire you, "curmudgeons will not give you a fair chance to prove yourself."

He adds that "I know it's terribly unfair. But you won't get anywhere by trying to reason with us ... There is no way (in our view) to argue that a pin through an eyebrow is anything but disfigurement." Whew.

Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the unabashedly conservative Washington think tank American Enterprise Institute. Still, he insists his views are shared -- though perhaps silently -- by people at or near the top of most companies in every industry except maybe high-tech and show business.

The corporate world is, in Murray's view, ruled by curmudgeons, whom he defines as "highly successful people of both genders who are inwardly grumpy about many aspects of contemporary culture, make quick and pitiless judgments about your behavior in the workplace, and [who] don't hesitate to act on those judgments in deciding who gets promoted and who gets fired."

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So what does it take to impress these folks, who may well be "executives in their forties who have every appearance of being open-minded and cool," but are in truth closeted curmudgeons?

First, watch your language. Among Murray's pet peeves is what he perceives as many Millennials' frequent, casual use of "the f-word." He's seen young job hunters instantly disqualified for dropping the f-bomb during interviews (twice, in one clueless candidate's case), but the real advantage in "abstaining from casual obscenity," he writes, is that it will make you a more effective communicator and, eventually, manager: "It's a lot of fun, once you have established a restrained persona, to watch the startled look on others' faces when you do let loose. You will instantly have their complete and perhaps terrified attention."

Other missteps to avoid, Murray contends, are writing office emails as if they were texts to friends; using the word "impact" as a verb (he recommends the less trendy "affect" instead); saying "issue" when what you mean is "problem"; and clogging every sentence with the verbal tic "like" which, even in moderation, "lowers our estimate of the offender's IQ."

If these tips seem nitpicky, they're not. "I am struck by the high percentage of people who have risen to senior positions who also care deeply about the proper use of the English language," Murray writes. "An even higher proportion of them are obsessively precise about everything."

Murray has some sharp words for Millennials whose "sense of entitlement," he claims, has made them reluctant to pay their dues doing menial tasks. He notes that many curmudgeons (read: bosses) are managers in their fifties and older who "were getting up at five in the morning to deliver newspapers when they were nine or ten" and may have worked their way through college doing hard physical work. Moreover, "when the curmudgeons in your life were twenty-two, most of them found that getting started in the job market was characterized by low pay, boring entry-level work, [and] little job security," he writes.

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As a result, they're "hypersensitive to any vibe you give off when you're told to go pick up something in the mailroom. You don't have to say anything or even roll your eyes," he writes. "The slightest of sighs will lodge in their memory like their first kiss, only in a bad way."

If all this makes curmudgeons sound tough to please, that's because they usually are. But, Murray points out, there's an important upside: They often make great mentors. To get ahead fast, he writes, "you want to be assigned to a successful curmudgeon, the more demanding the better."

Why? Because, Murray writes, he or she is "more likely to have a gimlet eye for mistakes -- and by the same token is more likely to notice when they don't occur … [and] to be in love with excellent performance." Deliver it, and your curmudgeonly boss is "your best bet to become your self-appointed advocate" to other higher-ups. And whose career, entry-level or not, couldn't use one of those?

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