23 Bad Career Advice Tips
Bad career advice isn’t something you have to look too far to find. Everyone’s experience in the workforce is different, but they all think their lessons are the right lessons.
It’s not that they’re being malicious. A lot of times they really feel as if they’re helping you out.
By “they,” I’m meaning parents, siblings, extended family members, friends, colleagues, and even past and current bosses.
But the fact they’re offering bad career advice with such good intentions is what makes what they’re saying so dangerous. That’s because you’re more likely to listen and follow thinking that what they have to say will lead you in the right direction. Not the case.
At risk of becoming one of “those” people, now is a good time to share the 23 pieces of bad career advice that we’ve received along the way. Keep in mind as you read through these that what may be bad career advice for us could produce an opposite effect when viewed through the lens of your own perspective.
Therefore, make sure that you weigh any piece of advice you receive against your knowledge and personal experiences. There is a really thin line to consider with this stuff. Let’s get started.
Bad Career Advice No. 1. Follow your dreams, and the rest will follow.
When you are young, you have a lot of dreams. You see yourself as an A-list Hollywood actor. You see yourself playing in the National Football League or Major League Baseball.
You are the first man (or woman) to walk on Mars. The first person to figure out all the tech involved in becoming a real-life Batman.
The list goes on.
These dreams are, of course, far-fetched at best and downright stupid at worst, especially when what inkling of reality they possess doesn’t align with your gifts and abilities.
Case-in-point, if you are a 90-pound weakling throughout high school and college, it is safe to say that you will never end up quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers to a record seventh Super Bowl victory.
While it is nice to consider following your dreams as a career possibility, you cannot lose sight of reality because things do not always work out the way they do at the movies. Never forget that. Failure is a possibility when you divorce yourself from reality.
2. Prioritize money over happiness.
By the same token, money is not everything. Grant it, it can make a whole lot of major problems go away — electricity shut-off notices, starving to death, etc. — but with it, you may find a new set of problems.
For example, you have to work so hard doing something you hate for such long hours that you never get to enjoy any of what you’ve earned, and you end up developing health issues and dying young as a result.
The soul-sucking nature of taking jobs just for the money will catch up to you eventually, and it will leave you wondering what happened to all the time you once had.
3. Avoid taking a raise.
On the surface, this bit of bad career advice sounds so ludicrous that you can’t imagine people would actually say it. But it does happen.
It may not be said verbatim like this, but it does get said in ways like, “I wouldn’t want that job, it’s too difficult.” This type of attitude places you on a fast track to a glass ceiling.
Often times, we think that we get to said ceiling through no fault of our own. But if we look back and see all the opportunities we passed up because of a lack of desire to challenge oneself with new possibilities, it can become disturbingly clear who is responsible for constructing the barrier.
4. Do it for the experience.
Experience is great, but like many of the items on this list, it can become a trap in and of itself. When you jump into something just for the experience, a couple of different negatives could end up happening.
Firstly, you might end up trapped in that particular job role forever and ever amen. Like an actor who plays his part so well, you become typecast and incapable of receiving new opportunities, at least where you are.
Secondly, you could end up derailing positive career momentum by taking the wrong turn. Let’s say you’re in a management training program, but you won’t see any real financial rewards until six months or a year from now.
You know this going in and you’re fine with it … until that unexpected job opportunity comes along that finds you doing something different for an immediate but modest bump in salary.
You allow the money and the experience to lure you away from a more certain future. Pretty soon you’re struggling to right your course, and even further behind the bigger paydays than if you had stayed the course.
5. Go to law school.
Law school is often used as a marketable alternative for people who get through college still unsure of what they wish to do with their lives.
While you can find rewarding work as a legal professional, just going into it because you have no sense of self is a good way to rack up more student debt and flunk out before achieving your juris doctorate.
Don’t make a big career move like that unless you see a path and it’s taking you in a direction you legitimately wish to go.
6. Don’t make waves.
While making waves at a company can rub the non-wavemakers the wrong way, deciding to play it safe is a surefire way to achieve mediocrity.
If Richard Branson or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates had played it safe, society wouldn’t be as far advanced technologically as it is today, and they would have stayed either modest or poor.
Because they agreed to take risks, they achieved great success in their lives, and that willingness to disrupt is perhaps the most significant quality they share. It’s what you will need as well.
7. If you’re a woman, don’t wear pants.
The modern workforce has been working hard to address the prejudicial nature of traditional gender roles, and while we’re not where we need to be yet, we’re much further along than we were 20 or even 10 years ago.
Yes, there was a time when men (and women, too, for that matter) could offer fellow females in the workforce wardrobe advice as a legitimate way to get ahead.
Thankfully, this attitude is starting to die its long overdue death. Women should not be judged as “capable” or “incapable” based on how much skin they are showing south of the waistline. It’s a chauvinistic construct that has nothing to do with their abilities.
Society is working hard to snuff this out, and it will require continuous pressure to do so successfully. Trust your training and abilities first, and wear whatever the heck makes sense to you.
8. Find a company, stay there, and work your way up the ladder.
This used to be good advice when companies were in the business of hiring employees.
But President Obama made a lot of companies — both large corporations and small family-owned businesses — nervous about hiring employees.
As a result, the gig economy started to boom from early in his first term. It really hasn’t slowed down either. That’s why you can no longer trust that a company is going to come along, pension and benefits ready, eager to take care of you.
It might still happen, but businesses will get rid of you today at the first sign that it makes financial sense for them to do so.
This fact requires you to rethink the traditional job. As selfish as it may seem, you have to look out for yourself first and not assume that a company is going to do right by you.
If you find one that does, awesome. But be on guard.
9. Don’t try too hard.
Yes, some people have discouraged others from trying too hard, warning that by setting the standard too high early on, they will be locked in a cycle of unrealistically high expectations.
It doesn’t actually work this way, though, at least in our experience. If you put your best foot forward every day that you show up — if you strive to be useful and add value — then two things will happen.
Firstly, your employer will notice, and you will be at the forefront of their mind when it comes time for promotions within the company.
Secondly, you will set a standard that other co-workers and colleagues will have to live up to, and that will make the business run more like a well-oiled machine. In a perfect world, that will also guarantee everyone pay increases down the road.
10. Choose a big company over a startup.
This is a bit of an extension of No. 8.
While most startups do fail, large companies are finding ways to reduce their manpower all the time.
Translation: without proper continuing education, you are no safer at a large company than you are a startup. And with startups, you have a better chance to advance up the ladder more quickly than you would at an Exxon or Microsoft.
While you certainly don’t want to cross big companies off your list, don’t just assume they will be a better fit than a smaller company that values you more and places higher degrees of trust in you right off the bat.
11. Majors don’t matter.
This may be true in some lines of work, but when it comes to the types that pay a lot of money, you are typically going to need specialized training.
Just try to get an engineering job, for instance, with your degree in English and see how far that takes you.
Ideally, you won’t pursue a degree pathway until you have a better sense of what you can actually do with it. Too many students these days are getting shepherded into a college program by adults who have a dated view of how the real world works.
It could be that a skill is a better path for you than a degree. And that skill could give you a sense of clarity that puts you back into college at a later date with a greater sense of clarity.
So yes, majors do matter. Don’t be getting a degree just to get a degree.
12. Work overtime.
On the surface, this piece of bad career advice may seem the opposite. After all, if you are putting in longer hours, the boss man (or woman) will surely notice, right?
Well, yes, they might, and that may not be such a good thing.
For starters, when you work overtime, an employer has to pay you overtime, so that means time and a half usually. Also, studies have shown that the longer hours you work, the less productive you become.
Nothing ticks off an employer worse than paying more for less output. So don’t assume quantity over quality is the way to go, ever.
13. Don’t join the military.
This is a bit of personal bad career advice that was given to me by my well-meaning parents. Having grown up in the Vietnam era, all they thought about when a branch of the Armed Forces was mentioned, were all the ways their baby boy would end up dying the minute he enlisted.
Would he even make it through boot camp!?
While I’m not terribly upset with where life has taken me, I do look at the benefits and the doors that my best friend’s military career provided to him and think what might have been.
The US Marine Corps paid for his college, provided him an income while he was going to school, and eventually helped him land jobs at Disney World and the FBI.
We have the same level of education.
Furthermore, completing his tours made him eligible for lifelong benefits that he can couple onto other pension plans with new employers now that he’s in the workforce.
I make decent money to live on but have to fund retirement and health insurance on my own.
And to top it all off, the odds of you dying as a result of your military duty are incredibly low. Yes, it does happen. But looking at the number of people enlisted versus the number who die in the line of duty each year, there’s no argument against it.
Bottom line: the military is a great choice if you’re trying to figure out the direction you want to go in life and you don’t want to stall your momentum.
14. Choose your major based on what you enjoy.
Definitely not great advice when what you enjoy has a crummy job outlook.
Before you select a fine arts degree with low employment rates and poor pay, ask yourself one question: what is to stop me from pursuing this passion in my spare time?
If the answer is nothing, then find a way to use your talents in a lucrative manner and work the passion as a side hustle.
15. Go to journalism school.
I majored in journalism and currently work as one. It was entirely unnecessary. None of the connections I made in college are the ones that have mattered to my career, and the reason I got into it — a love for writing and research — is something I have done on my own every day since the eighth grade.
I could have easily followed a degree path with a better future and found a way to do what I do now. That’s because journalism is largely an elective-driven career path. Don’t get seduced by the call of Ivy League journalism schools. If you’re good enough, you can find work doing it without sacrificing your education and marketability.
16. No matter what, get your degree.
Bad career advice, of course, because we’re moving into a more skills-based economy. Employers today want to know you can actually do the work.
They put less stock in the degree that you have and the place you got it from. For highly-skilled professions like medicine and engineering, it still matters but for things like figuring out programming, building websites, using existing technologies, etc., your brain and perhaps courses at a technical college are plenty enough.
Don’t discount college as a possibility, but be darn sure of why you’re doing it and why it matters.
17. Work hard, demonstrate patience, and it will all work out in the end.
Sometimes you can work hard and get passed over for promotions. It doesn’t mean that you were stupid to work hard, but it does mean that expecting 100 percent success just because you try to do the right thing is a fool’s errand.
Sometimes you get stabbed in the back or hooked up with a bad employer. Sometimes you did your best but other people were just as if not more qualified. It’s the way life goes.
You are still better off putting in the 100 percent, but expecting flawless returns will only prove to be discouraging and quickly burn you out on doing the right thing.
Essentially, you’ll give up sooner due to unrealistic expectations.
18. Quit your job.
At some point in every person’s life, they dream of the day when they can storm into their boss’s office with middle finger cocked and ready to rock. As George Costanza once said in an episode of Seinfeld, the march-in is the greatest feeling in the world; the walk-out, not so much because that’s when you realize all the money you’ll be losing.
While there are necessary reasons to quit your job — you’ve found something better, your employer is going out of business, you’re getting unfairly targeted and harassed in all kinds of demeaning and unfair ways — quitting just because you don’t like it is bad career advice.
Sometimes you do have to endure something you don’t want to do in order to find something you do want to do. Sometimes you just have to pay the bills. Don’t give that up unless you have a plan to replace it.
19. Take the job, even if you don’t want it.
While being jobless isn’t the best idea in the world, jumping from one job to the next just because is a bad idea as well.
If you truly don’t want a job, then why are you considering it? That’s the question you need to ask yourself, and, truthfully, you may have legitimate reasons.
Money could be tight, and this could provide you with a temporary means to an end. Fine. Go for it. But be mindful of what you’re giving up and the risk you run of getting trapped in that job without a clear plan to move forward.
If you’re just jumping from one job you hate to another job you’ll hate, stay where you are until you can find something better — or at least something where you see the potential for it to be better.
20. Don’t overestimate your abilities.
You’ve probably heard it said to never underestimate yourself. That’s pretty good advice, though it may not always work out in your favor. At least it’s sending the right message though.
The opposite of this — don’t overestimate yourself — is and always will be bad career advice because it trains you into mediocrity. You end up believing that you will never be any more than what you are.
Once you start to believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only by “overestimating” yourself will you have the courage to take the chances and risks appropriate for true success.
21. Be realistic in salary negotiations.
The reason this piece of bad career advice is here isn’t because being realistic is a bad thing in and of itself. You do want a certain degree of realism when jockeying for a number, but the spirit in which this advice is given is usually about setting your expectations too low.
You don’t want to ask for $1 million for a $30,000 per year job. That’s just ignorant. But if the range on a job is $30,000-$38,000, don’t go into the salary negotiation asking for $30,001. Ask for the full amount. Make sure you can justify to the employer why you’re worth that much.
Heck, maybe even ask for $43,000 in that scenario. Be honest with yourself about what it would take to make you happy in that position while also tipping your hat to the salary range and what is commonly earned for a similar position in your area.
Boss people did not get to being boss people because they were idiots. Most know the poison that being surrounded by yes-people involves. When they’re intruded on by a brown-nosing type, they see it coming from a mile away.
They may use it to their advantage for a time, but those people will never end up in their inner circle for very long. They’re disposable. If you think kissing up to the boss is the way to go, then get ready for any success that you have to be fleeting because what the boss really wants is a trusted, competent individual who will make their job easier. Yes-people don’t do that.
And The Final Piece Of Bad Career Advice: Cover for people.
Nobody likes a rat, but then doing your job, being accountable, and expecting the same of others does not make you rodent-like in the least.
When you start covering for other people’s screw-ups, it can go wrong in a lot of ways. For example, you could end up getting blamed for what happened, or the truth could come out and the boss could see that you put a flawed employee ahead of the good of the company.
Not sure which of those scenarios is worse, really.
So don’t be a cleanup person. Do your job. Expect others to do theirs.
Now that we have made it through the 23 worst pieces of bad career advice we’ve ever received, it’s your turn. What are some really horrible tips others have given to you that belong here? Sound off in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Seek]