Bad Career Advice: Six Tips You’ll Often Hear But Should Usually IgnoreMarch 14, 2013 by William Frierson
College students who are about to cross the threshold between academia and working life are typically besieged with well-meaning advice. Some of this advice is wise and useful, some of it is suspect and some of it is just plain silly. But when you’ve never actually taken a single step into the professional world, it can be hard to sort the good advice from the clichés, the popular myths and the questionable nonsense. Here are six common words of wisdom for young graduates that may warrant a closer look.
- Don’t “waste time”.
Alternative versions of this include “You can do your traveling later in life, after you’re retired,” and “Employers won’t hire you if they see a six month gap on your resume between college and your first job”. This is simply not correct. Smart, responsible employers hire smart, interesting employees. They don’t hire robots. An experience outside the country, a six month gap taken to tend to an aging parent, or a chapter spent studying an art form, learning a language or working as a volunteer firefighter will not jeopardize your long term career. In fact, these things may help you screen out red-flag employers. And ironically, the time you spend working for weak and rigid employers can represent much greater pitfalls for your long-term career than your summer building homes in El Salvador or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
- Pursue an unpaid internship with a big company.
If you’re going to work for free, make sure you do so for a non-profit organization that literally can’t afford to pay you. This does NOT include any investment bank, law firm, or Fortune 500 company. If you do decide to work without pay for a private business, make sure you maintain control over your own experience. During your internship, you should be learning about the industry and making connections with people who can help you in the future. You shouldn’t be sitting in a corner sorting files all day, and you certainly shouldn’t be putting up with disrespectful treatment.
- Life is a game with winners and losers.
Don’t compare yourself to others as if you’re running a race. Handwringing, nail biting, competing with the wrong people for the wrong reasons and apologizing for who you are will only push you into a spiral of increasingly bad decisions. Pursue your own goals, and don’t strive to please or impress anyone but yourself.
- You can do it all.
You can’t do it all. This is simply not possible. You cannot be a ballerina, an astronaut, a cowboy and a Supreme Court justice at the same time. But if you focus on one thing at a time and give that thing your full attention, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing and eventually you’ll become very competent at it.
- You’re smart, so you can just sit back and let success come to you.
There are few lies more sinister and dangerous than this one. Your intelligence is measured only in the actual things you say and do. Remember: There are no smart people; there are only people who do smart things. (The same rule applies to kind people, important people, likeable people, and interesting people).
- Quitting is bad. Never give up!
Quitting IS bad, but only when it means abandoning the pursuit of something you want because you couldn’t catch that thing immediately. To get the things we want, we often have to work very hard for a very long time. But sometimes, in the midst of that long period of hard work, we realize that our circumstances have changed, we no longer want the thing or the sacrifices we’re making are simply not worth the reward. When this happens, change course. In real life, there are no grades, and clinging to the relentless pursuit of something you don’t want will not earn you an A. When you finally come to your senses, you’ll only wonder why you waited so long.
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