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The worst career advice you ever received

Written by Elizabeth Bromstein
Posted on May 8, 2014

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.