Career Advice That Is Outdated Or Just Plain Wrong
Today, everyone proclaims expertise in this or that area, dishing out advice like it's a universal truth. Much of the advice out there is either poorly researched, self-indulgent, outdated or just plain bad. Career advisors are just one guilty party. Even a quick search of AOL Jobs, where we welcome opposing viewpoints, turns up contradictory wisdom, like "how to move into a career you love" and "why doing what you love isn't a career plan."
Both articles contain sensible points, but as anyone who's taken a persuasive writing course knows, any opinion can be made to look like the truth. Lawyers, the ultimate experts in persuasion, do this especially well, but it's common knowledge in today's litigious society that the best argued case wins and the outcome isn't always justice.
A single piece of advice can never work for everyone. Just as scientists have learned that no single dieting model can apply to the entire population because everyone's body is more or less a unique ecosystem, it holds similarly true that everyone's professional makeup – their experience, interests, assorted skills, natural born talents – is different. With that in mind, AOL Jobs turned to Quora for a critical look at some popular career advice that many tout as sacred scripture, and points out the flaws.
"Follow your passion"
This is a favorite of modern Western society. While it has brought great joy to many who've become artists, writers, entrepreneurs, social workers or a number of other financially risky professions that have caused parents equal parts pride and distress, scores of others have been beaten down by this mantra. Cal Newport, a computer science assistant professor at Georgetown University, maintains, "We have no pre-existing passion. Instead, passion is found by first building a rare and valuable talent and using it to take control of your career path." The creator of the comic Dilbert holds the same belief.
People who miss this valuable insight, who didn't find evidence of a passion during their school years that they could pursue into their adult lives, feel lost upon graduating college. "I can't figure out what I love to do; is there something wrong with me?" they wonder despairingly.
Remember, the kid who found music in high school and is now playing DJ sets at exclusive clubs in New York City honed skills to follow his dream. He now brings endless grief to his "less successful" friends who are subject to his enviable social media updates. He had the leg up finding an interest early on, and likely a predisposition toward that sort of thing, but talent doesn't go far without hard work.
"Work hard, even if you hate what you are doing, because it will pay off at some point"
This is the opposite extreme. Work ethic is every bit as valuable, some say more so, than talent and intelligence. People who adopt the above school of thought would agree, and they'd probably scoff at the notion of "doing what you love." After all, the B-52 bombers that helped the Allies win World War II were not built on lofty dreams (although someone did dream them up, am I right?).
Some hardship is necessary to reap rewards later in life or to help family. But to do something you don't like – hate, even – for an indefinite amount of time with no hope for an exit is a futile exercise. It will not help you better yourself, and it is unhealthy for your company because you are likely not doing your best work. It could even harm you psychologically, and if you have a family, consider the implications of that.
"A great education equates to a great career"
Advocates behind the growing movement against the traditional four-year college education point out that this path is expensive, exclusionary and no longer guarantees a well-paying job. Young people are graduating from schools in droves. There's a shortage of good jobs. Company profits have fallen. All these factors have pushed employers to be more risk averse and hire (or wait to hire) the very best workers they can. There's less room for unskilled people to learn on the job, as was once common.
Additionally, hiring managers must now consider many more of a potential candidate's traits than ever before. "[A] degree, institution plus personal character and luck in combination all play roles," Canadian career coach Tara Orchard wrote on Quora. And experience, be it in the form of an internship, unpaid work or a previous job, is a major factor.
"Follow the rules and keep your mouth shut"
Health professionals and law enforcement officials get a pass on this one (maybe), but everyone else needs to get off autopilot. Today, the average worker stays on the job for 4.4 years, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ingenuity is increasingly favored in our hypercompetitive economy where companies are dissolving or being swallowed left and right. People who can think critically and solve problems are the prize workers in this Darwinian environment.
This doesn't give you the right to be insolent – soft skills are evermore important – but it does mean that you should speak up when you think something can be done more efficiently or creatively.
"Have a career plan"
Unless your career plan is to be flexible and open to learning as much as possible, you risk disappointment and missing opportunities. You want to have a direction so you're not adrift at sea, but you can't draw out a defined geographical map when you've just begun exploring.
Jane Chin, another Quora user, wrote, "I have hit more arteries of satisfying career paths by accident than by design, because I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with my life."
It's presumptuous and, frankly, disrespectful to the nature of life to believe you know exactly what you're suited to and how to get there at the outset of your career.