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Notes From a Scandal

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Like many women, I've been riveted by the scandal involving General Petraeus. And like many women, I'm sure, I've catalogued and dissected the mistakes made by Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, the two females at the center of the brouhaha. Juicy scandals can provide plenty of titillation, but it's nice when they also offer some takeaway. Petraeus's misbehavior serves as a great cautionary tale, but since I just wrote a book on career strategies for women, I'm most interested in what I can learn from Paula and Jill.

The "don'ts" leap right off the page/screen. DON'T have an affair with a married man you work with; DON'T arrogantly flaunt a silly honorary title; DON'T send emails without imagining other people reading them; DON'Tsend threatening emails; and DON'T go into massive debt throwing networking parties.

But something else occurred to me while devouring the daily updates. Though Paula and Jill made a mess of things in the long run, they used a couple of smart, steal-worthy strategies at the front end. They just should have quit while they were ahead.

Let me start with Paula. It was gutsy and shrewd of her to contact Petraeus and ask if she could interview him for her Harvard dissertation. It would have been easy to think, "Oh, I'll never get a yes from a guy like that" and settle for someone less noteworthy. Granted, Broadwell had an impressive CV that helped her cause, but she also clearly recognized the sheer power of "the ask". She obviously also recognized that people, no matter how important they are, love to talk about themselves.

So keep that in mind. Ask. For introductions, for opportunities, for perks, for raises and great starting salaries. And when you meet key people at networking events, ask them lots of questions about themselves and their work.

Now Jill. She's been described as a bored socialite looking for attention, but since she supposedly worked for a couple of charities and had that amazing license-plated title of honorary counsel for South Korea, let's call her a career girl.

Here's what she did that's so worth imitating. She placed herself at the powerful nexus of Tampa's military-civilian circles by filling a void. As one insider told People magazine, army commanders get isolated and it's nice for them to have civilian friends who support them. The glitz Jill offered apparently proved enchanting. It turned out to be a great way for Jill to gain prestige and clout. Until she worked it too hard and it blew up in her face.

The lesson? No, you don't have to go broke giving parties. But consider what nexus you'd like to occupy and determine if there's a void you can fill to help you land there.

Kate White is a world-renowned bestselling author, career expert, motivational speaker, and consultant to Hearst magazines. Longtime Editor-in-Chief of Cosmo, her newest book, I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know, is on sale now.