Myth or Fact: Perennial Workplace Advice

workplace adviceWhat's True and What's False

At some point in my youth, someone told me that the Great Wall of China was the only structure built by humans that is visible from outer space. I don't remember who told me, but it was someone I trusted, as I committed the fact to memory. Chances are this person thought it was true and wanted to share the knowledge.

Many years later I learned that this bit of trivia is false. I was initially disappointed that something that sounded so cool wasn't true. I then wondered how many people I had innocently lied to over the years.

Evidently, workplace advice is not that different. Plenty of the wisdom passed on from one worker to another isn't necessarily true. The advice givers are often trying to help out the newcomers, but sometimes they only perpetuate myths that don't help anyone.

To debunk the myths and highlight the facts, we went to Dr. Dawn Chandler, a life coach and professor at Cal Poly's Ofalea College of Business. With her experience coaching job seekers on interviewing and negotiations, she knows what workplace advice to discard.

Advice: "Your résumé should only be one page."

Verdict: Myth (mostly)

According to Chandler, most students don't have work histories that warrant more than one page. But more experienced workers often have difficulty adhering to one page, and they are usually justified.

"The myth is particularly outdated for people who are 10-plus years into their careers. At this point, it would be difficult for many people -- given their work experiences, education and extracurricular activities (e.g., industry associations, community service) -- to have a one-page résumé that speaks to why they fit a particular job. Once you've been in your career for a while, definitely try to keep your résumé to two pages, but what is more important is to highlight your experiences and achievements in such a way that you speak to that particular job. So you may have five different résumé formats -- some chronological and others functional -- that address different types of positions."

Advice: "Don't be emotional at work."

Verdict: Myth

Emotions aren't the problem. Humans are emotional people. If a colleague passes away or retires, you and your colleagues might be moved to tears, Chandler explains. That's a natural reaction. The problem occurs when your emotional reaction is disproportionate to the situation.

"This myth maintains its status because too often, people erupt in the workplace over events that do not warrant extreme emotion, leaving others to wonder why they cannot better manage stress. Thus, when you're experiencing challenges at work, it's best to go for a brisk walk, take a deep breath, realize that the problem is likely not intractable or [to] be a prolonged one, and re-engage," she says. "Tears are a career killer when someone 'loses it' over daily responsibilities that can be managed effectively or personal problems, like a relationship gone sour, that arguably are best left out of the workplace."

Advice: Never bring up salary in an interview first.

Verdict: Fact

"Bringing up salary before a potential employer signals that you are more interested in compensation than other key considerations like the job's challenge, working relationships with other employees, and whether you're a fit with the organization's culture," Chandler says. "When a company representative asks you what salary you want, ask whether he or she is collecting information or is making you an offer. If he or she is still collecting information, it's best to offer a range, state that you're still trying to ascertain where you fit in the organization prior to discussing salary, or ask for the range for the position as well as what skills are relevant to being in the high end of the range."

She reminds job seekers that compensation includes more than just a simple dollar amount. Vacation time, sick leave and benefits are just a few of the factors you should consider when deciding what you're worth. If you focus on the salary at the start, you not only give the wrong impression but you probably won't find out what total compensation you could have eventually received.

Advice: Don't become friends with your boss or co-workers.

Verdict: Myth

"It is unrealistic to think that you need to keep people you work at arm's length," says Chandler. "Many people meet their significant others and closest friends at work. Why not, given you spend 40 to 60-plus hours a week with them? At the same time, you should take things slowly in terms of building relationships, so that you see people in numerous situations that unveil what kind of person they are."

That said, Chandler encourages some topics to stay between you and only your closest workplace confidantes.

"[It's] best to have some personal boundaries in terms of being aware of topics that generally shouldn't be discussed -- e.g., marital problems -- at work. Rather, if you have a personal topic to discuss, limit yourself to sharing the topic with someone close to you at work whom you trust will not share it with others or use it against you at any point later."

Advice: "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."

Verdict: Fact

"As a general rule, an industry's and an organization's culture dictate the norms around employee attire. Creative and technology-driven industries are more likely than the finance and accounting industries to have a business casual dress code," Chandler explains.

"You're better off dressing in more professional attire (e.g., a suit and tie, skirt and blouse) than you are risking dressing down. It's unlikely you'll harm your career with the former. You may seem eager to be promoted, but what's the real harm in that? But the latter may suggest you don't understand professional expectations and/or are not disciplined or conscientious. Don't forget that it's important to dress according to organizational norms. Wearing khakis in a suit and tie environment is not the way to go."

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