The Worst Career Advice

Blank speech bubble with vintage businessmanFamily, friends and mentors usually mean well when they offer career advice.

However, the best career advice isn’t really advice. It comes in the form of thoughtful questions.

If you’re on the receiving end of career advice, especially if it’s unsolicited, listen with a skeptical ear.

Some advice deserves to be ignored.

(A hearty thank you to my network of friends and colleagues who reopened old wounds and contributed to the list below.)

Terrible (and Offensive) Career Advice

“They’re not paying you to think.”

“Staff should be seen, not heard.”

“Don’t tell the interviewing company you were fired from your last job. They’ll never know.”

“Give your boss honest feedback.” (This conversation rarely has the outcome you were hoping for.)

“Nobody hires during the holidays.” (The holidays are a great time to network, says career expert Heather Swift, VP at RiseSmart and producer of The Career Corner. Many people are less busy and available to talk and meet the week between Christmas and New Years. Reach out, be clear on what you want and how your connection(s) can help.)

“The commute should not be an important factor when considering this job offer.” (The wear and tear of a long commute can chip away at your quality of life.)

“You should always come to the table with the answer.” (Not always. Detailed solutions with little input from others are often shut down. Successful influencers propose options, pose thoughtful questions, build relationships and expertly facilitate discussions so others feel part of the solution.)

“Wear skirts. You’ll be taken more seriously.”

“Learn how to ‘business flirt’ with leaders senior to you if you want to get ahead.”

“Be mindful of your ambition as you’ll want work-life balance when raising your kids.” (Said to a 25 year old woman.)

“Don’t go into computers.”

“Don’t go into advertising. It’s too cut-throat in the ‘big city’.”

“Don’t tell HR.”

Tips for advice givers:

  • Speak from your own experience and first-hand observations. (e.g., “Here’s what I’ve seen, these are the mistakes I’ve made.”)
  • Offer advice that encourages exploration rather than words that discourage and limit possibilities.
  • Your advice matters and is remembered years after the conversation.

Tips for advice receivers:

  • Listen for biases, stereotypes and isms (sexism, racism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, able-bodyism, etc.).
  • Listen with an open mind. Ask probing questions.
  • The advice giver means well and is trying to help.

Remember, not all advice is worth taking. Trust your gut.

Marta Steele is a partner @People_Results, and is grateful for the advice givers who generously share their stories with the goal of helping others. Connect with Marta on Twitter @MartaSteele.