6 pieces of dumb job search & career advice you should probably ignore

There’s a lot of great job search advice out there. There’s also a lot of bad job search advice. Some of it is so bad it won’t just not move your career forward, it might even set you back.

Here are six pieces of job search and career advice that, in many cases, you’re better off ignoring.

Bad advice: “Follow your passion.”

The trouble with this advice is that it assumes that everyone has a passion that translates into a viable career and that they’re good at whatever they’re passionate about. This works if you’re a talented and passionate gourmet cook and can be a chef. Or if your passion is helping people navigate criminal proceedings and you can be a lawyer. But if your passion is jewellery making or songwriting, be prepared for a tough, competitive market. You might make a great living if you’re both talented and lucky, but talent alone is no guarantee of career success. And loving something doesn’t automatically make you good at it. For every Bruno Mars out there-there are tens of thousands of hungry musicians. If monetary success is not important to you, by all means, pursue your passion. But if you want to make good money, own a house, save for retirement, etc. following your passion often isn’t the route to take.

Better advice: “Follow your passion if you’re good at it and it’s something that can make a living. Otherwise, turn your passion into a hobby and do something else for work.”

Bad advice: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Please stop with this one. Even if you’re “doing what you love” there will be aspects of the job you don’t love, like maybe paperwork or dealing with difficult contacts. Another real possibility is that you’ll wind up hating the thing you once loved. Yes, maybe you will be successful, but you will work, maybe even harder than you would at anything else because you care about it so much. Also, stop attributing this quote to Confucius. It doesn’t sound remotely like something Confucius would have said and he didn’t say it.

Better advice: “Do something that you enjoy and that you’re good at, hopefully in a market that isn’t too saturated. And you will enjoy your work more than you would if you chose something you hated.”

Bad advice: “Go to university. It’s the only way to succeed.”

The increasing availability of information and self-teaching tools makes it possible to learn pretty much anything without sinking into debt, while specialty schools and certificate programs also offer alternatives. Employers are going to get wise to this and stop demanding degrees. Meanwhile, trades can also provide good career options and don’t require a degree. Yes, you will still find studies purporting to show that one still needs university to succeed, but these all look at past data. Future data will likely show otherwise. This is in part because university degrees have become so much more common in the past few decades, and when everyone has something its value naturally diminishes.

Better advice: “Go to university if the field you want to enter absolutely requires a degree, such as medicine, law, or archaeology. Otherwise, you might consider alternative education paths, including trade schools, certificate programs, and on the job learning.”

Bad advice: “End your cover letter or job query message with ‘I will call you next week to set up a time to meet.’”

This advice, which has been kicking around since I was a kid, is crazy. Literally nobody is going to be impressed with this sort of pushy presumptuousness. It sounds like a threat: “Hi person I have never met. I want something from you and I’m basically going to harass you to get it. Because the internet told me to.” 

Better advice: “End your cover letter or query message by asking if the person would spare some time to talk with you. You can follow up once or twice with an email, and after that leave it alone.” 

Bad advice: “Just be yourself.”

This is great advice if you’re wonderful. But what if you’re naturally abrasive and lazy, or arrogant and egotistical, or incapable of listening and learning? What if you’re just generally unlikeable? Then being yourself is a terrible idea. It’s much better to learn to be the sort of person people want to hire and work with and be that instead.

Better advice: “Let the positive aspects of your personality shine through, and always put your best foot forward. We can all work towards being better people, listeners, and communicators.” 

Bad advice: “Always dress up for the interview.”

I usually say to err on the side of formality when you’re not sure about the workplace culture. But these days you can usually find out something about the culture by doing a little research on the company’s website and social media pages. And overdressing can cost you the job. A woman I know once wore a suit to an interview at an office where everyone was in jeans and sneakers and says she could immediately tell that her attire wasn’t going to help. Overdressing is still usually better than underdressing, as it suggests you care, whereas ripped jeans and flip-flops suggest you don’t. But a suit isn’t always the best option anymore.

Better advice: “Check out the company online to figure out what’s best to wear to the interview. If you know someone at the company, ask them. Research what people wear in that industry, and make an informed decision.”

What’s the worst piece of job search advice you’ve ever been given? And did you follow it?

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