Career Advice I’m Glad I Never Took
I love my job, even on the tough days. For that I stay immensely grateful, especially since my work as a coach involves bearing witness to the unhappiness so many people feel in their chosen careers. In fact, studies show that about half the world’s workers are unhappy in their positions, with workers in the United States the least satisfied of all around issues of work stress and pay.
It strikes me how much of our careers are happenstance — we take that first job, then one step leads to another, until we end up wondering how we even got to where we are in the first place. Part of our career progression is subtly governed by some very common career advice that we try, in good faith, to follow. I wrote last year about some of the best career advice I’ve heard. For this post, I thought I’d talk about the career advice I’m glad I ignored.
When I’ve chosen not to take this very conventional career wisdom, I’ve made some of my best career moves – and I’ve seen the same phenomenon play out in the careers of others. It’s important to take a critical eye to any “rules of the road” you hear when building your own career – what works for one person may hold another one back. If you’ve been following these rules, consider whether they’re helping you and be prepared to break them.
1. “Wait until you find the perfect job.”
This advice is given to those seeking their first job and even more so to those looking to move to a better one. No one wants to settle, or worse, make a bad move. But there are generally pros and cons to every job, and often you can make your own luck.
For one thing, as author and speaker Andy Teach points out, “the stars will never align perfectly in your job search and if you wait for them to do so, a great opportunity could be missed.” Make a list of plusses and minuses for any new opportunity – then rank them. One major plus may outweigh a few piddling minuses, or the reverse may be true. Meet with as many people at a prospective employer as possible, and then give yourself the space to think on it. Often our guts have the right answer way before we do.
And remember, even if you end up not liking the job you take, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. Learn what you can, and then be prepared to move on if that’s best. I’ve found that the most chaotic environments can yield the greatest opportunity if timed well.
2. “Always stay in a job for at least two years.”
While stability and company loyalty look good on a resume, the adage to stay in a job for two years shouldn’t be a case for indentured servitude. If you’re thinking of leaving a position before the two-year mark, consider the greater story your resume tells overall. If you’ve been fairly stable, one short tenure won’t be held against you.
When leaving a job very quickly, it’s usually for something seriously wrong. Be extra careful not to burn bridges (those friends and contacts you’ve made could turn out to be valuable down the road). It’s also important to have a positive message for why you left a job after such a short time. This article gives some great advice on how to do that.
3. “Make your boss love you.”
This advice gets ingrained in us early, then gets in our way as we move up the ladder. Yes, you want your boss to think you’re an asset to the organization. But if you’re too concerned about pleasing your boss you won’t be bringing your best thinking and unique perspective – which you’re getting paid to do.
I’ve seen very senior people stuck on this principle, and C-level leaders lamenting the lack of “original thinking” they’re getting in return. When you stop worrying about how to please, and start focusing on doing the right thing (diplomatically, of course), you’ll stand out and show your value.
4. “Pay your dues.”
You can’t go long in a workday without hearing this piece of advice uttered. We all know the work paradigm: you start at the bottom and work your way to the top. You earn rewards like recognition, success, and autonomy. You don’t complain or try to jump ahead, but stay a good corporate soldier. We all wish life were that predictable. But there are times when you can skip ahead of the line if you have the wherewithal to do it. I quit my job and started my first company at age 27. I’m always thankful I did it when I was young and naïve, because later I probably would have been too risk-averse to try. Many a career has been catapulted by tackling a risky, high-profile assignment, leaving for a start-up venture, or chasing a long-shot opportunity. (Just ask Mark Zuckerberg, or practically anyone else in Silicon Valley under the age of 30.)
Only you know your risk tolerance. As for me, I go by the idea that you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.
5. “Let your work speak for itself.”
This last adage is often uttered in the same breath as the one above. We all want to believe that good work pays off. I am here to tell you once and for all that it usually doesn’t. (At least not by itself.)
There’s no executive or corporate malevolence here. People are busy and have short attention spans. If you don’t vocally promote your good work, it’s easy to go unnoticed. While writing this, I took a call with a client’s boss who point-blank said about him: he’s a top performer, but if he doesn’t have strong advocates fighting for him he will not be promoted. (And I hear that statement more times than I can count.)
No one likes self-promotion. It feels icky. But as I wrote about here, there are ways to promote yourself authentically and gracefully. Learn to take credit for your accomplishments. If someone asks you what you’re up to, don’t be afraid to mention some activities you’re proud of. As Peggy Klaus writes in her book, Brag, learn to use “brag bites.” These are mini-stories about your accomplishments that you can weave into conversations or simply to answer, “What’s up?” Often small adjustments in how we explain what we’re already doing, can have big results.
What advice has helped you in your career? Is there any advice you regret listening to? Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This post also appears at Forbes.com.
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