David Letterman's Career



Last week, after 33 years of success, one of the greats of late night television retired from behind his CBS desk - David Letterman. Known for his self-deprecating humor, “Top Ten” list, “Will It Float?”, and numerous other gags, Dave’s irreverent approach to late night television magnetized most and repelled the rest. Your sides either hurt because you were reeling with laughter or you muttered something under your breath about that “Letterman” loser. Regardless of what you thought about Letterman’s style, content, or perspective, his television success was incomparable. Though you probably wouldn’t do any of Letterman’s “Stupid Human Tricks”, here are 5 career tips from Letterman to put your career in high gear:


Early on in Dave’s career he worked as a radio announcer for WBST - a local radio station based in his home state of Indiana. In 1966, he was hired on as part of a 9-man news team that announced the results of the election. What a glamorous start to his career, right? To muddy the waters further, Dave was later fired for his irreverent treatment of classical music!

By now you might be wondering, so “what can I learn from this?” Focus on fit. Building a successful career is all about focusing on your fit - how do your skills, work-style, and personality fit with your employer’s culture, market, and organizational structure? For example, Dave’s uniquely irreverent sense of humor got him fired from one job, but eventually became what catapulted him to success at NBC and CBS. Why? Because he found a place where his irreverent sense of humor fit. The same goes for you. Commit to your fit and do it:

2. GET A GUIDE (or 2)

In 1978, David Letterman’s sarcastic sense of humor got the attention of talent scouts for The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Carson enjoyed Letterman’s dry, snarky approach immensely and Letterman quickly became a regular on the show. Their friendship turned into a mentorship with Letterman eventually crediting Carson with much of his career success. The insight is clear, Letterman’s career was bolstered by Carson’s guidance and mentoring. The same is true for you.

If you’re ready to rocket your career into the success stratosphere, you need at least one mentor and perhaps even a handful of them. Mentors guide you as you navigate uncharted territory. They give you insights into career moves that come from their decades of experience. As entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” These people include your mentors! Choose mentors you want to become like, listen to their advice, and do it. It worked for Letterman.

What about you? What type of work environment or culture fits you best? Who are some heroes who can launch your career into the stratosphere?

For more career tips you can glean from David Letterman, click here.