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This Is the Worst Career Advice Ever, According to a Career Development Specialist

Topics: Career Advice

Contemplating a career change? Don’t pick your next career off a “hot jobs” list. While occupational outlook data can be helpful to people picking a track, it’s not the end-all, be-all of career development.

“I absolutely hate when I see stories that advise people to go into certain careers because they are ‘hot,” says Dawn Rosenberg McKay, a career development specialist with 20 years’ experience helping people find careers that are a good fit for them.

Dawn Rosenberg McKay
Dawn Rosenberg McKay

“A few years ago, it was healthcare and more recently, there has been the push toward STEM careers,” McKay says. “I see news stories advising everyone to learn coding. While this advice makes sense on the surface, it is useless to someone who would not be successful in those career fields.”

The problem is that not everyone has the aptitude, personality, values and interests to be successful in STEM (or healthcare or whatever industry/job type is “hot” at any given moment).

Beyond that, the job market can — and does — change.

“You have to remember that what is hot today may not be hot tomorrow,” says McKay. “Occupational outlooks change all the time. The economy changes; the job market changes. All the hype about a particular field may cause more people to get into it, causing intense competition for jobs, for example.”

Why ‘Do What You Love’ Is Bad Career Advice

Asked for her opinion on the most commonly given bad career advice, McKay says that her take is somewhat controversial: in short, you don’t necessarily have to “do what you love.”

“Many experts tell us that to be happy with our careers we must find our passion,” she says. “While it’s wonderful if an individual can make a living doing something about which he or she is passionate, it’s not always practical.”

For example, McKay says, you might be passionate about being an actor, but if you can’t stand rejection, it won’t be a good choice for you.

love job
Suvan Chowdhury/Unsplash

The best job is one that’s a good fit in terms of values, interests, personality and skills — plus, you need to be able to make money at it, which is where occupational outlook fits in.

There’s another issue, she adds:

“What if you aren’t passionate about anything? Are you doomed to be unsatisfied with your work life? I don’t believe so. You can find work you enjoy, without actually being passionate about it. Or, maybe you will come to love it that intensely one day.”

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Advice for People Who Are Just Starting Out … or Starting Over

People who are just starting their careers are particularly vulnerable to bad advice, McKay says.

“They get it from all sides: parents, teachers, friends and society. ‘Go into a hot field, do something prestigious, make a ton of money.’ We bombard young adults with career advice without actually telling them how to go about making a sound decision.”

To find a career that’s a good fit, professionals should look for work that suits them and allows them to make a living. McKay advises getting all the facts about a prospective career, including the job duties, earnings, educational and skills requirements, and occupational outlook.

Informational interviews can be a big help in figuring out if a field is right for you.

“Talk to people who work in the field and tell them not to sugarcoat what they tell you about it,” McKay says. “You want to know the good parts and the bad ones about the occupation. You must be willing to do the more undesirable tasks (you don’t have to love them) as well as the ones you find more enjoyable, or at least, more tolerable.”

In addition, she says that it’s important to consider the source of any career advice you might receive:

“Just as you shouldn’t let anyone push you into a particular career, don’t let anyone discourage you from one that you find really appealing. If the person giving the advice doesn’t have a connection to the career, realize they may be misinformed. If they do have personal knowledge about it, take the advice seriously, but make a decision based on real facts.”

Finally, don’t forget that you can always change careers: “You aren’t stuck forever if you don’t make a good choice, change your mind, or find that the job market has worsened.”

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Jen Absolutely – gotta have the values, interests, personality and (especially) skills. Geez, I’d love to be a professional baseball player, but I couldn’t hit a curve ball to save my soul. So there’s no way I could even get a sniff of the MLB. Generally good article and advice until I read “… you can always change careers.” Reality check here – maybe if you’re in your mid to late 20s, but once you’re past that you can pretty… Read more »


Great article Jen, great to find someone with the same point of view. I did work experience at a dentist one day a week for over a year and I thought it would really suit me and I enjoyed it. As I was training for five years there were huge (and in my opinion, detrimental) changes in the profession, as well as too many young dentists looking for work. Since it feels like I have been on a sinking ship… Read more »

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