Climbing The Ladder

16 Professionals On The One Piece Of Career Advice They’re Glad They Didn’t Take

By | Thursday, March 17, 2016


Between college career counselors, friends who were really just trying to help, and superiors who didn’t always have my best interest at heart, I have been given a lot of bad career advice in the last few years. Of course, most of it is unintentionally bad advice, and that’s not necessarily the other person’s fault. But what I’ve learned is it’s important to be discerning about career advice, and to be honest with each other about it. With that in mind, I asked 16 professionals what the worst career advice they’d ever gotten was, and here’s what they said:

1. “Throughout college and into my first years in the ‘real world,’ I constantly found myself stuck in between two well-intentioned but horribly misguided schools of thought when it came to choosing a career path. On the one hand, I was convinced I should ‘follow my passion,’ which was horrible advice, given I had I no idea what my ‘passion’ was. On the other hand, I was advised to ‘find what [you’re] good at, and then do what makes the most money.’ I know these words came from a good place, and were maybe laced with some self-reflective regret, but as a result, I was convinced for years that it had to be one or the other. Ultimately, I came to ignore both pieces of advice. What ended up working for me was a happy medium — first, honing in on the skills and type of work that I excelled in and enjoyed, and then deciding on a field that allowed me to do so in a financially feasible way.” — Raquel

2. “‘Stay at every job at least two years/until the money, bonus, vacation, retirement accounts all vest.’ I disagree. If an opportunity arises and you think it will make a difference, take it, don’t wait. You may not get another one!” — Lauren

3. “The worst career advice I ever got was that I needed to go to graduate school to get the job I wanted. In some fields, this is very true, but I don’t think it’s always the case. And it certainly wasn’t for my industry. (I’m a copywriter, so I would’ve gone to portfolio school, which is incredibly helpful, but definitely not mandatory.) Anyway, I have a job I love, and I definitely didn’t go to grad school.” — Sameer

4. “I haven’t necessarily gotten bad advice directly, but there have been A LOT of people either directly saying or implying that I shouldn’t take my career too seriously because ‘when you have kids…’ My husband and I have discussed it thoroughly and we do not want to have children of our own. A big reason for that is that I can’t even imagine giving up my career. I hate it when people seem to view my career as somehow doomed to be put on hold someday simply because I’m female. I have no plans to stay at home, kids or no kids.” — Melonie

5. “The worst career advice I ever got was to go back home and work for my parents right after completing my studies. It would be easy to go down that route — securing a job right away at management level, not having to worry about rent and food costs, and having my parents as a safety net. I have nothing against working in a family business, in fact, I am planning to go home in the future, but I didn’t want to do this right out of college. So I ignored this advice to gain hands-on experience in other countries and different markets, and to also grow as an individual. I think this makes me a better professional for when I do return to my family business.” — Claudia

6. “This is more a cumulative pile of advice, but at various points, people have told me to have realistic goals largely based on my GPA; e.g. a professor told me I wouldn’t win a particular fellowship, my school’s pre-law advisor told me I wasn’t a competitive candidate for the top-10 law programs, or I’d talk myself out of applying for a particular opportunity because I’d need to send in a transcript. I got off to a rocky start in college and had very, very mediocre grades for my first two years there, and I listened early on when people told me my GPA would hold me back. It was only really my senior year, once I’d written a thesis, had a few semesters of straight-As, and gotten interesting professional experience that I decided to start at least applying for opportunities I previously thought I wouldn’t be qualified for. And for what it’s worth, I got the fellowship, I got into top-10 law programs, and I’ve gotten jobs that have worked out very well for my professional goals. Ultimately the only opportunities I missed out on were ones I let people (or myself) talk me out of.” — Meghan

7. “When I was up for a promotion at my job, I was told by a fellow female not to negotiate my salary. She insisted that I would come across as a money-hungry millennial who was ungrateful for the opportunity. Even around the office, I heard rumblings that negotiating salary was ‘frowned upon’ and was not accepted in our company culture. Afraid to deviate from the norm, I followed the advice and did not negotiate my salary even though it was lower than I had anticipated. Never again will I let a corporation define my professional worth without my consent.” — Laura

8. “Worst career advice I ever got: ‘pay your dues.’ The idea behind paying your dues is that if you stay loyal to one company and chug away at the bottom, making very little money but working as hard as you can, you’ll eventually rise to the top within the same company. It’s the idea that if you work hard, and one day you’ll go from secretary to CEO. Unfortunately, I found out that paying your dues at one company in the hopes of rising to the top is essentially like putting your career on auto-pilot then waiting for someone to notice and reward you. Don’t blindly pay your dues and then forget to ask for those dues (in the form of a raise or a promotion) regularly. One of my favorite money-gurus made it a point to ask for a promotion or raise once a year and if she didn’t get it two years in a row, she moved on to a higher level at a different company. She went from marketing assistant to marketing director in a little less than ten years and now has phased out of the 9-5 grind to run her own agency. Pay your dues to yourself and to your career, not to your employees.” — Grace

9. “I was laid off this year from my employer because the company restructured and eliminated my position because it wasn’t financially feasible to maintain me in the new structure. They insisted I tell people I had resigned and that it would be for my professional benefit to do so.  Being asked to lie made me uncomfortable so, over the weekend, I talked to my mentor and some friends about it, as well as my law school career services department. They all were adamant that my firm was putting me in a precarious position by asking me to lie without some sort of severance package. My mentor told me that it could jeopardize my ability to get unemployment if I publicly said one thing but filed for unemployment because of being laid off (you can’t get unemployment if you resign). 

Friends told me that my firm was trying to save face about financial problems stemming from the restructuring and expecting me take the hit for it without any compensation.  A former recruiter told me that it would make me look like a quitter to future employers. So I went back to my employer and told them I understood their predicament but, under the circumstances, it seemed like we needed a special severance agreement.  They got angry, called me ‘insubordinate,’ and told me they would not give me recommendations in the future.  It stings and has really damaged my career because I’ve been out of work for three months and am concerned they are badmouthing me in my small legal market.  The lesson is that you should trust your gut but confirm it with research; my gut was telling me that I was being asked to do something sketchy, but my network confirmed just how sketchy it was. Maybe I would be better off today if I had lied, but I also would hate myself for being a lawyer who lies and for being a woman who does what old white men tell her is best for her so that they can save face.” — Emma

10. “It’s a mantra I’ve heard over and over since joining the workforce: stay at a job for at least a year. I guess it’s sort of the generally accepted bare minimum. Well, I’ve broken that rule a lot since graduating college three years ago. I’m actually in my third full-time position in my industry, mainly because I’ve moved three times. I’ve been able to pick up and check out Los Angeles and New York, without worrying too much about disrupting my life. And it (so far) hasn’t affected my job prospects.” — Matt

11. “The worst advice I ever got was to take an unpaid internship because it would mean getting a job with the company after three months. I didn’t get the job.” — Tom

12. “The worst career advice I ever got wasn’t from one specific person, but was rather an assumption thrust on me by a whole culture of people: that as a PhD student the only career I would be fit for was one in academia. There’s this idea that pervades PhD departments that you must become a professor and, at some places, it goes even further by insisting that you must become a professor at what’s known as a ‘R1’ university (meaning schools that have their own doctoral programs and the highest research activity). Anything less than that and you’re a worthless failure. I realized over the course of school that being a professor wasn’t my dream anymore, and while starting over after graduating was tough, I know I made the right choice to ignore that ridiculous noise.” — Brenna

13. “‘You can’t teach talent.’ I actually HATE that quote/phrase because a) it’s a pretty bratty statement if you really think about it, and b) it puts people in a mindset that if they’re talented, everything will just happen for them. Which is BULLSHIT. Yes, talent is fantastic, but if you don’t have the work ethic behind the talent to motivate you, you’ll get absolutely nowhere.” — Kendra

14. “One thing I always heard was to raise your hand and volunteer for as much as possible.  I disagree wholeheartedly. Quality over quantity is key.  Wanting a challenge and expanding your scope is critical, but taking on things for which you don’t have time, or are ill-prepared for is not worth it. Give the company your best while challenging yourself appropriately, and you’ll definitely get noticed.  Take on too much and you may end up getting noticed for the wrong reasons.” — Tania

15. “The worst career advice I have gotten is that you need to stay in a position for three to five years. It’s an old school way of thinking, and I get that it may work for some, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. While I don’t think anyone should be job floaters or move around to new positions every year, I also feel that if you know a position is not for you or a particular industry is not for you, you’re doing yourself a disservice by staying too long.” — Abby

16. “‘You need an objective on your resumé’ was something that was said to me in my college’s career center. I’d heard from enough people that objectives were outdated, but our career center was run by people who were more ‘old school’ in the sense of resumé building. They also discouraged us from creating resumés that were more modern or trendy, and while it’s true that there might be employers who don’t care for any bells and whistles, I always subscribe to the idea that it’s good to stand out. I wouldn’t go full on Elle Woods and spray your resumé with perfume, but something that makes your resume pop is always a good thing.” — De

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