Ignore This Common - and Awful - Career Advice

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By Alison Green

Not all career advice is created equal. In fact, some can actually hurt a job search or career. Here are seven pieces of terrible career advice that you should ignore:

1. "Going to grad school will make you more marketable." Grad school will make you more marketable if you're in a field that requires or rewards graduate degrees, but if you're in one of the many fields that doesn't, employers may find the degree irrelevant.

What's worse is that grad school can even make it harder for you to get hired in many cases, since if you're applying to jobs that don't require the degree, employers may think that their work isn't what you really want to do.

2. "Treat your job search like a full-time job if you want to be successful." The amount of time a job search takes varies dramatically from field to field and from person to person. If you're junior in your career and applying to a wide range of positions, it's possible that writing cover letters, tailoring your résumé and networking could take up a significant portion of your time (although it still might not reach 40 hours a week, and that's fine).

However, if you're more senior or simply in a field without a lot of openings, you're probably not going to need to spend (or be able to spend) 40 hours a week on your search. And besides, for most people, when it comes to applying to jobs, quality matters far more than quantity.

3. "It no longer matters how long your résumé is." It's true that the old one-page résumé rule has relaxed for everyone but very recent graduates, but résumé length still matters. Résumés that are three pages or longer end up diluting the impact of their contents and will make you come across as someone who can't edit and doesn't understand what information matters most.

Plus, the strongest candidates limit their résumés to two pages, so when an experienced hiring manager sees a long résumé, they're instantly primed to expect a weaker candidate.

4. "Offer to work for a week for free to prove yourself to an employer." In most cases, this is illegal, because it violates minimum wage laws. With a few limited exceptions (like some nonprofits and government agencies), employers are required to pay people who work for them. But even if it weren't illegal, most employers wouldn't sign on for this anyway, because it takes an enormous amount of time to train new hires. The first week is nearly always a loss for the employer.

5. "If an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, answer with something positive." If you've picked up any guide to job searching in the past decade, you've probably seen the advice to claim that your biggest weakness is that you work too hard or you're a perfectionist. But so have most interviewers, and at this point, those answers sound cliché and disingenuous. What's more, they make you sound like you either don't have much self-awareness or you're unwilling to have an honest discussion about your fit for the role you're applying for.

Good interviewers don't want to talk about weaknesses so they can play "gotcha," but because they want to make sure they won't put in a job where you'll struggle.

6. "Following up with an employer after you apply for a job shows persistence and enthusiasm." This advice is still a staple of many career centers, but these days, persistent follow-up mostly shows you don't respect hiring managers' time and that you're not clear on how the hiring process works. After all, the employer knows that you're interested; your application demonstrated that. Now the ball is in their court to decide whether they're interested in speaking further with you or not. Most employers aren't interested in fielding follow-up calls at this stage.

7. "Track down the hiring manager's name so that you can address your cover letter to the right person." This is unnecessary, and most hiring managers don't even notice whether you did or not – and far fewer care. If the hiring manager's name is easily available, of course it's fine to go ahead and use it. But you don't need to call to track it down or do other detective work to find it. Hiring managers care about the content of your application, not whether you spent 20 minutes trying to find out their names.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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