The worst career advice in the world
January 04th, 2012 - 251 Comments
Today, some gut-wrenching stories about the worst career advice you’ve been hearing for the last 25 years.
It is truly amazing how bad most career advice is. The only comparable industry is “financial literacy,” which mindlessly repeats the same 5 tips over and over, is completely out of touch with how real people use their money, and genuinely believes that the world needs yet another compound-interest chart. Even the name “financial literacy” makes me want to urinate all over my computer.
So it was with great trepidation and reluctance that I began doing career research.
In true IWT style, we have an extraordinarily rigorous process for studying advice: We buy every course, product, and book. We study them intensely, keeping blind notes and comparing them. We build iterative models and frameworks, relentlessly test them, and in some cases rip them up and start again (in early 2011, we spent 4 months and tens of thousands of dollars on one approach because we’d missed something subtle — only to have to throw it all away). By the time you ever see a course from me, it has been quietly vetted by tens of thousands of people.
After all this research, what I found was seriously disheartening.
I found advice written by people who haven’t looked for a job in 30 years. (In fact, most career experts have never found a top-tier job.) If they haven’t interviewed with the world’s top companies, how do they know how the game is really played?
I found advice that tried to be “modern” — by slapping on words like “social media” onto the same old tired advice that’s been passed around for 50 years.
I found that career advice for women is almost unreadable. With phrases like “You go, girl” and approximately 68,000 references to shoes and “climbing the ladder,” I found myself wondering: Are women really this dumb? The answer is no. But the advice is.
So here are 5 of the most egregiously bad pieces of advice — THIS IS REAL CAREER ADVICE — that we found. Seriously, these are actual things that people wrote and were paid for.
Some of the worst career advice on the internet
I pulled these 5 pieces of hilariously bad career advice from our internal research vault.
Let’s start with…
1. The #1 thing you need for a job search is…
Yes! If you’ve been looking for your Dream Job, the first thing you need is NOT a strong network, or a process to identify your targets, or a way to narrow down the infinite universe of job options available to you. No, you don’t need to understand your psychological barriers, or the interviewing game, or how to master negotiation.
Nope! You need business cards.
2. This is what passes for “scripts” from other sites
Notice my favorite part: the last line.
Simple! Just expand! Hey…start a business. That’s right, just start it. Now, get some customers and you’ll be a millionaire!
3. Follow your passion!
It sounds logical to find your passion using self-examination. But has that worked for you? Just like “keep a budget” sounds logical for money — but doesn’t work — looking inward is only a small part of the puzzle. On its own, it doesn’t work. Of course, you would need to test it to realize this. Bonus: Notice the very American idea of looking inward, as if you can “think your way to clarity.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Here’s my view on passion:
4. Don’t close any doors!
Notice that this idea of “keeping all of your options open” is so deeply entrenched that many people cannot fathom another way. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know that having too many options is crippling.
5. If you tweet it, they will come.
ARE YOU SERIOUSLY SHITTING ME?
Why is this career advice so bad?
That seriously passes for career advice — in SOME OF THE LARGEST MEDIA SOURCES IN THE WORLD.
Are you kidding me?
Is anyone else outraged?
I’ll tell you why I’m mad.
I’m mad because this terrible advice is written NOT to help people, but to drive pageviews. If one of these writers helps literally zero people, it doesn’t matter — they still get paid. In fact, I am changing “Doesn’t matter, had sex” to “Doesn’t matter, got paid.”
God I love that song. Anyway, since these career “experts” are never held accountable, you get low-quality writers who come up with obvious ideas, then write the same article 1,500 times. GTFO, horrible advice-givers.
I’m mad because we’re fed platitudes for our entire adolescence (“Go to college! Get a good job! Buy a house!”) and provided no guidance on how the game is actually played. For example, who ever told you that buying a house is very often a horrible investment? Who told you that submitting your resume through the front door of a company (via its website) is a quick route to being considered a total commodity — like the hundreds of other applicants?
I’m mad because the career advice we get is unspecific at best, and blatantly wrong at worst. Telling people to get business cards? Please leave this industry and never come back. I have literally never, ever gotten any job because of my business card. In fact, I will bet anyone with a $1,000 set of business cards that I could out-perform you in any job interview.
(I’m going to teach you how to do EXACTLY that — including the words to use in an interview — on the Dream Job launch list.)
After we spent 4 months going down the wrong path of constructing our Dream Job material, we realized we had taken a wrong turn and we had to go back and do it all again. But that’s not what makes me mad. I’m mad because I realized 90%+ of the books we read had never tested their theories with real people.
When you read other personal-finance books and they start with, “Let’s figure out how much you’re spending,” do you know what the vast majority of readers do? They put the book away. Nobody wants to write down what they spend because it makes them feel guilty. Of course, you would only know this if you tested your material. The same is true here: Most career “experts” sat in their room, concocted some ideas that SOUNDED reasonable, and wrote a book. They never tested it. They never systematically identified the flaws in their plan. They just “put it out there.” And the results have been terrible.
That’s one of the reasons we get people like Beth:
“I am angry that I am working in a silly job after spending a lot of money on a master’s degree to get out of silly admin jobs. It makes me feel foolish, BROKE (student loans), and like I’m a waste of space. I’m not contributing the world in a way I consider positive.” — Beth H.
And I’m mad because most of YOU have never taken the time to learn this material. Yes, the media gives us bad advice, and so do our parents, but when was the last time YOU took a successful friend out to coffee to learn how s/he did it? When did you ask one of your top friends how they got their job, and asked them do a practice interview? When was the last time you systematically tried to figure out the job game?
It’s fun to blame everyone else, but you ultimately need to take responsibility for yourself. I want to kill you right now.
The result of this? We end up feeling betrayed by a system that promised us success, but never gave us the tools to find it. In a fascinating comment on Reddit, someone wrote about why men often seem bitter about not finding women (substitute jobs for women, yeah I said it):
“I think a lot of Reddit is young dudes that focused on school and homework and such and figured that if they just checked off the boxes their parents and teachers told them were important, everything would fall in their laps. Especially if you’re a smart kid, opportunities seem to come to you pretty much constantly and everyone tells you you’re great. So they do well in school, do all their homework, focus on studies, and eschew social occasions for being dumb/beneath them.
Then when the hot girl doesn’t fall all over them for having good grades or being an engineer or whatever, they get bitter because hey, man, I’m smart and I majored in a real major not that liberal arts crap and so on. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do! They feel entitled to have the girl of their dreams just because they’ve checked boxes and do the “But I’m a NICE GUY” thing and when that doesn’t happen, they get more and more angry and settle into the “Women are just crazy bitches!”
One of the code words of our generation is BETRAYED. We were promised so much, but the chasm between expectations and reality is vast.
(By the way, this isn’t just for people with low or middle incomes. I know people with 6-figure jobs who feel the same way.)
We graduated into a terrible economy, a world with more choices than ever before, and an entirely new life situation to navigate. Our parents’ advice (“Pick a good job and stick with it!”) worked for them, but today is simply irrelevant. Worst, there is nobody who’s been through it — someone we trust who understands how the system REALLY works — who can take us through it.
You’re not finding Mildred, the 62-year-old lady at your career services office, throwing her fist down on the table and saying, “LISTEN UP, ASS. HERE’S HOW YOU GET A BIDDING WAR STARTED BETWEEN FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE.”
It’s no surprise that we end up feeling betrayed. Take a look:
And so an entire generation — our generation — has been raised with this low-level anxiety in our heads that we NEED to find our passion, but we don’t know how. Start a twitter page? Clean up our resume? Buy a new suit? WHAT? WHAT DO WE DO?
We’re repeatedly told to find what we’re passionate about…but how? We see our friends posting stuff on FB they’re doing — traveling, getting prestigious appointments, buying a new car — and we just don’t know how to craft our lifestyles to be about that. Some of us even have these things — a nice apartment, a new car — but we’re still not happy.
Over time, we naturally become more risk-averse.
#1: I am afraid to fail. Not so much out of fear of failure itself, but moreso the fear of wasting time and energy in doing so. While typing this, I realize this is more like a FEAR OF RISK: I feel like I should not put my efforts into something when I am not certain that the payout will be worth the time I put in.
How many of us would do ANYTHING to find our Dream Job…but we’re not sure what to do? Notice how over time, we become more and more concerned with wasting our time. The phrase goes like this: “Yeah, I would try anything…but how do I know it will work? I don’t want to waste my time on something that won’t work.”
The ultimate irony
The ultimate irony is that there are top performers getting the BEST jobs in this terrible economy. And most of us don’t even know that it’s happening.
Most of us simply accept what we read in the mass media, which is produced for the LCD — lowest common denominator. I don’t give a damn about the LCD. I’m not writing this for people who are unemployed or have $10-an-hour jobs. They need an entirely different skillset. I created this material to impress my Stanford friends, because I know that you’d rather have material that brings you HIGHER rather than panders to the most basic needs (“Wear a clean shirt!”) ever. There’s enough of that worthless advice out there.
I’m focused on results. Like how one of my students got a dream job offer within weeks of starting my Dream Job program…even before he finished the 8-week program.
So, ignore the terrible advice that is designed for pageviews, not results. There is hope. There is a SYSTEMATIC way of finding your passion, turning that into clear steps to find your dream job, and interviewing against people with years more experience — and winning. I’ve done it, I’ve helped MANY people do it, and I want to show you how.
TO DO TODAY
Leave a comment with the following:
- What is the most ridiculous piece of career advice you’ve ever heard? Be specific please.
- How has bad career advice kept you from achieving your goals? A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE PLEASE.
- When you graduated college, where did you think you’d be in 5 or 10 years? Where are you now? Please share a specific story about the difference between expectations and reality.
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