I’ve written a lot about bad career advice in the past. It’s funny how, once you start thinking it about it, you notice it everywhere. It’s like when you’re looking to buy a new car and then suddenly it seems like everyone in the world drives the exact make and model you want. Bad career advice jumps out at me like a bright yellow Porsche in a sea of black Hondas.
With all the bad career advice floating around out there, I’ve identified a few common themes—signs that the guidance you’re getting may be less than helpful. Next time you get some advice and wonder if you should follow it or forget it, give it some serious thought using the tips below.
1. Consider the Source
Most of us assume that people giving us advice have the best intentions at heart. But, of course, that’s not always true. Some people are NOT interested in helping you or seeing you get ahead. In fact, they’d actually prefer to see you struggle. It’s an odd thing but I’ve seen it happen over and over again. It’s even happened to me personally.
Sometimes it’s caused by jealousy. Sometimes it’s fear that, if you succeed or find happiness or achieve something different, they’ll lose you. Whether it’s caused by malice, insecurity or anything else, the result is the same: They’re giving you advice that doesn’t serve you because they have a different agenda.
On the other hand, some people truly want the best for you but they’re just completely unqualified to give you appropriate insight. They’re speaking from personal experience or gut instinct. They’re pacifying and sympathizing and offering opinions based on their limited perspective. And let’s face it: They’re not exactly neutral. They love you and likely have a beautifully biased opinion of you. These people aren’t always able to see the picture clearly because you’re in it—and thus, their advice isn’t always sound.
When it comes to career advice, the best source is a (relatively) neutral third party who has real-world expertise and is actively engaged in the process with you—a mentor, a coach or similar.
I say “relatively” neutral because coaches and mentors are definitely on your side. They want you to achieve your goals, whatever they may be. They believe in you and see what you’re capable of. But they aren’t swayed by it. They also see the reality of the situation. They’re willing to honestly address your weaknesses with you and help you find opportunity in them. They don’t bring an agenda of their own; it’s all about what YOU want. They may share their opinions and insights, but ultimately, their goal is to support your goals.
And most importantly, the best advisors have the skills and expertise to guide you in the right direction. They aren’t relying on intuition. They aren’t just agreeing with you or listening to you vent or telling you what you want to hear. They know what’s required to be successful and they have the ability to create real-world solutions. They are strategic problem solvers.
2. If It Sounds Too Easy…
If something sounds too easy, it probably won’t achieve the results you’re looking for. Let’s face it: Easy answers are meant to appease. They tame the situation and make you feel like you’re in control. But don’t be fooled. In order to achieve real, lasting professional success and fulfillment, you have to make tough calls and take risks. You have to forge new paths and choose the more treacherous route from time to time. The easy solution isn’t always the right one. After all, if success were easy, it wouldn’t be special.
There’s a reason why “get rich quick schemes” are called “schemes”. Ask any “overnight success” out there and they’ll tell you it took years to get where they are. Don’t trust any advice that suggests success takes anything less than discipline, hard work and persistence. Sure, sometimes you’ll luck out and success will come easy. But don’t ever bet on it.
3. Generic, Cliché, or One-Size-Fits-All Answers
You are unlike anyone else in this world. Your goals, your motivation, your soul are 100 percent unique—as is your situation. Yes, there have been similar situations in the past from which there is surely much to learn. But there is no single book of answers that works for everyone all the time. The same advice that led your best friend to success may lead you to disaster. Yesterday’s good advice might be today’s kiss of death. Don’t rely on one set of rules to guide you through every situation. Approach each new career question with fresh eyes. Look for the nuance and shades of grey. Recognize that the well-worn path may not lead to the best destination for you.
The next time someone gives you a piece of career advice, don’t simply accept it as gospel. Follow these tips and critically evaluate what you’re hearing. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to follow your own path.