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The worst career advice you ever received

Elizabeth Bromstein|

We’ve all received bad advice at some point in our lives, from friends, family, neighbours and, most often the internet.

Here are the stories of six terrible pieces of career advice as told by those who received the advice.

The first is mine.

Cold calling is dead. I keep reading this advice online and would strongly disagree. The idea seems to be that making social media connections eliminates the need for cold calling. Nearly every single job I have gotten over the past ten years has resulted from a cold call, or, really, a cold email. That’s what we’re actually talking about. “Cold calling” is just an expression. Not everyone checks LinkedIn obsessively, or even likes LinkedIn. But they do check their email. You might catch someone at exactly the right time.

Don’t stay late. Nobody will notice. A coworker told me this, but I stayed late and was later offered a promotion because my extra effort was recognized. If I had listened, I wouldn’t have moved up.”

This piece of advice basically translates into “don’t put in any extra effort. It’s not worth the trouble.” But most employers would probably agree that it is worth the trouble and that they will recognize and appreciate extra effort over doing the bare minimum.

You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. I would have made a pretty poor pro football player, no matter how much the desire were there.”

It’s not that you shouldn’t strive to live your dreams, but you can’t grow up to be a unicorn. And, if you’re five foot three, you probably won’t make the NBA.

Don’t work for free. I’m glad I have ignored this advice. Often, when I take on new freelance clients, I do a small project, or a part of a project, for them for free. This seems to build trust and rapport because they always then hire me at the rate I ask. I think refusing to make this gesture would make me look ungenerous.”

I have also worked a lot for free. It might not work for all types of employment but, as a freelance writer, it can be a good way to build relationships. There is a fine line, however, between being generous and being taken advantage of and you have to know where to draw it.

Work for free. I took an internship right out of university hoping to move up in the company and it never happened. I think I should have held out for a paid internship. Once you show yourself willing to work for free, why should they pay you? It was a waste of time.”

Again, it likely depends on the industry but this study found that taking an unpaid internship was about as useful as not doing an internship at all when it came to getting paid employment afterwards. Use your judgment.

Don’t stay in a job for less than two years. I left a position after 14 months and have never regretted it.”

The idea here is that you should build credibility and avoid getting a reputation as a job hopper, which is the result of having short job periods on your resume. But as we recently discussed, job hopping is becoming the new normal and the majority people are now staying in roles for less than two years. Some would argue that you have to stay on the move.

“Just quit. My boss was a total piece of work and I was completely miserable. So, I was happy to take this advice. I figured I would find something else quickly, but wound up being out of work for eight months. It was a nightmare. I will never again quit a job without lining up a new one first.”

It’s never a good idea to leap without a net. Always find other work first, if you can.

Have you ever received terrible career advice? Share it with us in the comments.


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  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    A couple of counterpoints to this article:

    “Cold calling is dead”: I agree cold-emailing works as I’ve gotten interviews this way. The cold-phone call variant however never worked for me. On three occasions in my 4 year job search I was actually either yelled at or insulted.

    “Quitting without finding a job first”: there are some rare examples where quitting outright is a good idea. If your job is making you sick or causing you psychological issues, there’s no way you can conduct a job search while in that poor state. Sexual harassment and other forms of abuse on the job is another one. I dare any career coach to tell a woman or visible minority subject to harassment to remain on the job while executing a job search off-radar. The issue of constructive dismissal is in fact a good reason to quit immediately: since the employer has changed your job description without permission, the contract of the job is null and void. If you choose to remain at work even when your job description has been changed without permission, you are either obligated to perform under the new job description (which you are probably going to hate) or be fired for refusing to follow the new description.

    Having said the above, make sure to balance your decision to quit versus your current financial status.

    Terrible career advice: being told employment assistance centres actually help you find a job. They do not. Most of the part-time work I was able to get was through my own unique efforts, such as my blog or Kijiji and Craigslist ads. Neither of these approach came from advice from employment assistance centres.

    Expanding on that point, I remember one time I went to a second employment assistance centre when my first one was not coming through for me. I was told by the contact at the second employment assistance centre my resume had to be redone since it was wrong, even though my contact at the first employment assistance centre redid my resume previously. This happened again at the third employment assistance centre where my contact there told me the resume done by the second employment centre was wrong, and no wonder I was not getting interviews.

    http://about.me/davidalangay

  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    My example of terrible career advice given to me? being told employment assistance centres actually help you find a job. They do not. I’m not even sure if they have the answers on how to find work.

    I remember one time I went to a second employment assistance centre when my first one was not coming through for me. I was told by the contact at the second employment assistance centre my resume had to be redone since it was wrong, even though my contact at the first employment assistance centre redid my resume previously. This happened again at the third employment assistance centre where my contact there told me the resume done by the second employment centre was wrong, and no wonder I was not getting interviews.

    • TB03

      When I was laid off after 25 years, my company set me up with an employment counsellor. Six months after following his advice, I learned 99% of what he told me, including the format & contents of my resumé, was WRONG. He was of absolutely NO help.

    • Richard Derek

      I agree. I went to an employment office after I finished college. The college had helped me with my Resume, but each time I went to the employment office a different employee wanted to change my Resume. They never bothered to help me find a job.

      I would expect an employment office to say: look with your education and experience, apple for these jobs and not these other ones. But they care more about their egos.

      Oh, and agencies do not always help either. One of them insisted that I do some tests, which I thought was acceptable. But they insisted I do Excel jobs their way, not mine, despite the same outcome. They would not let me do the tests my way, and so never were able to get me a job as employers only saw the bad tests.

    • rjd2

      Really? Because I work at an EO office and we have an over 80% success rate…our counselors only edit resumes of clients if clients want to change their resume, (all our counselors tell clients that if they are happy with their resume to keep it that way). Unless, of course, a client’s resume is clearly formatted horribly or full of errors.

      • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

        I would like the name and location of your employment assistance centre, and a copy of the report containing the statistics that show an 80% success rate for my review. In the spirit of open disclosure on both sides of the exchange, I’d like you to read my blog and watch my video series. Both of the links are on my job search page.

        http://about.me/davidalangay

        • rjd2

          I don’t feel comfortable sharing that information as I post often under this Disqus name on various websites and remaining anonymous is important to me.

          However, I can tell you that the ministry (who is responsible for our funding) tracks our numbers closely. We HAVE to maintain a certain success rate in order to stay open. I also oversee all the files (both files being opened and closed).

          • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

            You apparently were comfortable with telling me in a public forum, even under a Discus alias, that your agency has an 80% success rate of placement, so why are you now reluctant to share the source of that percentage for me to evaluate?

            I highly doubt any ministry of the Canadian government is going to simply give me numbers for a specific employment agency, let alone a report. In addition to that, most government reports are going to have a fuzzy aggregate average per region and will not contain specific branch office data.

            I’m not claiming you are lying — I have no proof so I cannot make that claim. I am however going to state that the fact you released this percentage, and are now back-peddling on my request to validate the figure, under an anonymous alias lends an air of suspicion to your claim. I, on the other hand, have made my job search very public and post with an accountable alias, complete with my round anime-like face in a portrait picture.

            You should have realized, particularly with the type of responses Workopolis gets from job-seekers like myself, that someone was going to call you out on that percentage.

          • rjd2

            Backpeddling? Hardly. You’re asking for specific reports as well as the name and location of my place of work! You, and anyone on here, could see that and show up here, for all I know. We are a small office and I’m not about to start revealing my exact place of work.

            Further, our reports contain sensitive information and are not for public consumption. I don’t care if you believe me or not–our clients are very happy with our work and the assistance they receive for finding a job.

            You can talk to the ministry about the requirements for EO funding. I’m sure that information is for public consumption, as tax dollars are what support our services and the services of other EO offices.

            Our services are 100% free so clients have zero to lose by coming in here.

          • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

            Again, you should have realized someone was going to ask for a source for the percentage. Why would you do something like this, especially now since you are citing a security concern? Isn’t that a bit irresponsible to provide data, no matter how small, that would have set off a chain of events that could lead to the concerns you stated? You could have just said “I work in an employment assistance office and our clients receive excellent service, so this runs counter to your above statement”.

            It is human nature to question a statistic, particularly where there are many disenfranchised job-seekers who disagree with the effectiveness of employment centres in this difficult employment climate. If you want proof, just do a google search.

            You are correct that tax dollars are used to pay your salary and keep your small office running. I don’t think it would be that hard to find agreement from others in my next statement that job seekers generally find employment assistance centres do not return the investment of tax dollars used.

      • Evelyn Shantler

        This could have been a wonderful opportunity to showcase examples (success stories) of your EO getting people back to work. Mark Twain once said “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”, but Michael LeBoeuf believes that “a satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”

  • TB03

    1. Apply for a position because the title appeals to you even though you don’t have experience as a Director/Manager, a degree or knowledge of the industry. Don’t worry about the requirements; you’ll learn everything on the job.
    2. Apply for a position and don’t worry about “fit” or requirements.Your resumé is so good that they’ll hire you on the spot.
    3. Contact the management company of an office tower to put your name on a list for openings at companies moving into the building.
    4. Mary Smith found a job in XXX field. You should also do that because Mary Smith enjoys it.
    5. Even though you’ve got years (decades) of experience as XXX you should apply
    for entry level jobs or work at Target / Walmart.
    6. You’ve got a great resumé and many years as a CS Rep / Admin Assistant but the
    only jobs you should even consider are in reception.

    And so on and so on and so on.

  • http://rambleonalot.wordpress.com Emily Brewes

    I suppose it’s not true for certain kinds of work, but for many, many jobs at big retail, cold calling (or emailing) is worse than dead. These places will outright refuse to take a resume, nor will they divulge the name of the person(s) in charge of hiring, let alone their email address. On occasion, I have come across a smaller place of business who will accept hand-ins, but their presence has been in steady decline, especially in the last 5 years.
    I agree with the rest of what you say, especially the bit about being anything you want. Even if one’s expectations fall within the realm of reality, there may be few resources to offer practical direction, not to mention the sheer number of careers that are terribly interesting but that are rarely mentioned in the presence of youngsters. It’s also unreasonable to assume that everyone is going to possess such a singular drive with regard to their careers, as well as a lot of pressure to put on someone who lacks such passion.