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What’s the Worst Piece of Career Advice You’ve Ever Received?


Remember that scene in The Graduate, when a friend of Benjamin’s parents advises him to go into plastics? Probably good advice, in 1967 — but completely the wrong tip to give that particular person at that point in his life. Likewise, we’ve found that a lot of the worst career advice stems from this disconnect between the giver and the receiver.

bad ideas 

(Photo Credit: Stuart Miles/

1. You can be anyone you want to be.

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Wrong: you can only ever be yourself. Benjamin can’t make himself into a person who wants to work in plastics. You can’t make yourself into an NFL linebacker if you’re never played a sport, are 40 years old, and weigh 110 pounds.

“Here’s what we really should be saying: You can’t be anyone you want to be, but you can be more of who you already are,” writes Hiranya Fernando at Business Insider. “All of us are born with specific talents and gifts. We have certain natural inclinations and capacities. Over time, we add to these with learned skills and experiences. The sum total of this package is what makes you unique and what will allow you to make unique contributions to this world. This is what you have going for you — not being anyone you want to be, but developing who you already are.”

2. You’re good at X, so you should be Y.

If that were true, more people would still be doing the first career they embarked on after school. Just because you’re good at one thing, doesn’t mean you should choose the career people generally associate with that skill. You need to love your job, in order to really succeed at it. Just having a knack isn’t good enough.

3. Major in whatever you want, and figure it out later.

One of Alison Green’s readers at Ask a Manager says:

“What was helpful when I was having panic attacks at 18, wasn’t so helpful when I was having panic attacks about what I;d do post-graduation at age 21. So then I went to grad school because it seemed like the safe, familiar choice, for a major that (turns out) needs a doctorate to do anything with it. And I don’t want a doctorate. Plus, I took out student loans that I’ll be paying back till my yet-to-be-born kids go to college. (I fully recognize these are my own choices; just wish someone had slapped me upside the head and said, ‘No!’).”

Bottom line: don’t choose a major because it’s safe, but don’t just pursue your hobbies at the university level — unless you can figure out a way to use them to chart a career path that won’t require you to get additional degrees you don’t want.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the worst piece of career advice you’ve ever received? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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