Throughout our lives, we are given a lot of advice. Most of it is offered in good faith by people that are trying to help. But unfortunately, as we all know, not all advice is good advice. What was best for them might not be what’s best for you.
Following bad advice can set you back or make things more complicated then it needs to be. Following really bad advice can potentially ruin your life.
Especially when it comes to your career.
Right from childhood, we’re asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. As a student, you’re advised on what classes to take, what college to attend, and what to major in. When you graduate, you’re given advice on what jobs to apply for, how to write a resume, and how to navigate the hiring process. Then you start working, and you’re given even more advice about how to act professionally on the job, what to do with your income, and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The advice never really stops!
It’s important to stop and think things through before you follow the advice of others. You want to avoid following bad career advice and take advantage of the good tips.
Here are 14 real life examples of bad career advice that you should avoid following, and what you should do instead.
“You Must Go To College”
Amanda Kay – My Life, I Guess
Getting education and training is a great idea – but going to college isn’t the only option. Depending on what you are interested in and what you are good at, it might not even be necessary. You can have a successful and rewarding career without a degree.
Formal post-secondary education is expensive. Student loan debt has become a massive problem that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
My $50,000+ student loan debt led me to recently file for bankruptcy after 10 years of struggling to pay it back. But my husband didn’t go to college. He started his own small business after high school and was completely debt-free throughout his 20s. We both now have good careers that we like and that pays well – but mine came with a devastating price-tag that preventing me from accomplishing so much more.
Employers are looking for skilled workers who can do the job. In many industries, they don’t care where you learned these skills, whether it was online, on-the-job, in a classroom, or self-taught.
Yes, there are career paths that require a degree and specific education – but don’t go to college just because you were told you have to.
Look into your options first, and then decide if college is right for you or not.
“You’ll Lose Money By Getting a Raise”
Jesse Cramer – The Best Interest
There I was, age 16, cleaning bathrooms and picking up garbage at Fair Haven Beach State Park. During my lunch break, my co-worker Merle started complaining:
“And now they want to give me a raise. No way! It’s going to push me into a higher tax bracket. Less money for me, more money for Uncle Sam. Can you believe this?”
Well… no, I don’t really believe that.
I didn’t know much about money then. But I knew that sounded fishy. How can you lose money by getting a raise? There’s no way the system is set up that way. Right?
Right! Tax brackets don’t work that way.
Merle had been given bad advice, and there he was repeating it to others. It’s one of those personal finance rules of thumb that people often get wrong.
Take raises that are offered to you. Even if you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket, only your last dollars will get taxed at the higher rate.
“Find a Job You Love…”
Tawnya Redding – Money Saved is Money Earned
I’ve heard a lot of people say “if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.”
While I wouldn’t necessarily say that people shouldn’t try to find a job they love, I’d also say that doing what you love isn’t the full picture. Like it or not, you also have to make a decent living at the same time.
We see this issue coming up in the student loan crisis, where young people are going into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt for a career that won’t pay them the salary they need to pay it off. While there are a ton of ways to save money on student loans, you want to ensure that your chosen career path can support you and pay off whatever debt you accrued to get there.
My version of this advice is to look for a balance between what you love and what will pay the bills.
There will be good and bad days at any job, so can you find something that will give you more good than bad and support the lifestyle you want? Or, can you find a career that you can stand for 10-15 years while pursuing financial independence and then do something you love?
In sum, the best pair is the queen of diamonds and hearts, not just straight hearts.
“Your Job Will Be Outsourced”
Jonathan Sanchez – Parent Portfolio
When I was younger, I always wanted to have a career related to technology. After I graduated college in 2006, I became a Software Engineer. I often received criticism that that was a wrong decision and won’t find a job because companies outsource software development. I admit it made me second guess myself.
After 15 years as a software engineer, I can tell you that they were dead wrong. I’ve worked for various companies with government contracts, such as with the U.S. Air Force and the National Weather Service. And, although my current company outsources some work, there is still plenty of value software engineers provide being on-site.
If you look at the country today, software engineering is everywhere, with startup companies born out of Silicon Valley and elementary schools beginning to add programming to the curriculum.
I made an excellent investment in myself and my career! My career was never about making a lot of money. Instead, I wanted just enough to provide for my family and their future.
“Repeat the Past”
George Jreije – The Not So Starving Writer
Talk to senior leaders at your company or pioneers in your chosen industry. Learn how they climbed the ladder. That’s the advice given to someone launching their career nowadays. It’s what they teach you in business school. Study the past so you can repeat it, replicate it.
Only, why would you believe repeating the past is the right thing to do?
Study your leaders. Learn from their strategies and tactics. But don’t seek to copy their approach. The world changes and what success means will always shift. To adapt to that changing bar, you must be willing to take those lessons and go further. Do what they haven’t done before.
They created a website? Don’t just update it, go for the app as well. Always go further.
That’s how you succeed in any job, industry, or hobby. It’s also how you monetize your passion.
“Pick a Fun Major”
Bella Wanana – bellawanana.com
Choosing a major based on what you enjoy, even though the job outlook of that major is grim.
Of course, there are many success stories out there. Markiplier, for example, is a YouTube star that found huge success pursuing his passion. However, at the same time, there are many more that fail to succeed and can’t even make ends meet.
Before you select to pursue a degree that traditionally has a low employment rate and less-than-stellar pay, ask yourself: can I pursue my passion in my spare time? If the answer is yes, then try your best to major in something that can actually provide a decent standard of living, and work on your passion on the side. Who knows, maybe you can turn your passion into a steady stream of income.
“Stay With a Company for Life”
Rick Orford – The Financially Independent Millennial
My parents told me I needed to go to university and get a job that offered a pension plan and stay there for life. Doing so would ensure a comfortable retirement at age 67. Little did they understand that retiring at age 67 wasn’t for me.
Growing up, I didn’t go to school, and I was terrible with money. For example, no one explained that carrying a balance on a credit card would cost me thousands. Luckily, I always had a knack for business. When I figured out the subscription model meant a steady, monthly income, I ran with it!
Eventually, I started obsessing about retiring early, mainly saving, generating income surplus, and socking it away in investments. Indeed, my journey wasn’t without failures. But, with trial and error, I eventually retired at age 35. These days, I write about how to become financially independent because it’s a passion. And, if I could make a difference in one person’s life, it will have been a success.
“Work for the Experience”
Bernz JP – Moneylogue.com
“Do it for the experience. Any experience is better than no experience”
Okay, we all know that this piece of advice is intended to be positive. It’s basically saying, settle for this experience that isn’t your ideal for now. Why? Because it will help you get where you want to be.
Yes, a blank resume looks very bad. However, sometimes agreeing to try out a temporary job winds up not being so temporary. It is easy to fall into the trap of comfort and familiarity. A few months go by, then a year, and before you know it, a decade. You have become stuck in the same position and are stagnant.
This, in turn, will lead to a lack of positive career growth. It may also lead to a lack of earlier ambition. So before you take up that immediate job offer, give it some serious thought. How will it truly benefit you in the future?
“Wait To Start Saving for Retirement”
Rebecca Hunter – theloadedpig.com
When you’re starting out your career, you may listen to colleagues’ advice and find some very helpful. Unfortunately, just because someone more experienced wants to dish out advice doesn’t always mean it will benefit you.
At my first full-time job after college, the best advice I received was to contribute to my 401(K) to ensure I get the full company match. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
If anyone tells you that you’re too young or too early in your career to be thinking about retirement, don’t listen and be wary of their future advice as well. You may be focused on saving for a house or paying off debt, but 4-6% of your pre-tax income is not going to make a significant difference now, but it will when you retire.
Many young professionals think that because they don’t plan to stay at the company for a long time they shouldn’t contribute to a retirement account; however, it’s very easy to do a rollover when you leave the company. If your employer offers a match on your retirement account and you don’t take advantage of it, you’re actually getting paid less than you could be. You should start saving for retirement as early as possible to take advantage of compound interest, no matter what advice you hear on the contrary.
“Investing in your 401(k) is Enough”
John – Financial Freedom Countdown
When I came to this country by myself, I knew nothing about finances or investments. One of the most common pieces of advice I received was to invest in your 401(k), and that should be enough.
Maxing out your 401(k) is excellent advice. However, when you run the numbers, you will realize that depending only on your 401(k) to fulfill your retirement might not be the best strategy. Stocks are highly volatile, and markets frequently experience booms and busts. Often the stock markets crash when the economy is contracting, and your job is at risk, and you need the money.
You need to diversify and invest in a variety of income-producing assets outside of your 401(k) as well. Spreading your investments across various assets will provide a diversified income source and help you stay calm when the stock market crashes. As it often does.
“Freelancing is Riskier Than Traditional Employment”
Laura Gariepy – beforeyougofreelance.com
Lots of folks work a traditional job for their entire professional life, even though they hate it. That’s because they’ve been taught that going freelance is too risky. There’s too much uncertainty and not enough security, so they cling to what they know.
Here’s the deal: When you go freelance, you become a small business owner. And, unfortunately, most small businesses fail. But that doesn’t mean staying in your job is a safe bet.
In fact, relying on a single income source (aka your sole employer) to cover your expenses and fund your future is a big gamble. You could lose that job at any point, which cuts off the cash flow you need. Self-employment actually mitigates this risk.
When you freelance, you have built-in income diversification because you have multiple clients. One (or more) avenue could dry up, and you’d still have money coming in. You can also prepare for lean times by having a cash cushion and knowing which expenses to cut.
Of course, self-employment isn’t for everyone. And there’s nothing wrong with working for someone else. But, if financial fear is holding you back, remember that freelancing isn’t necessarily riskier than having a traditional J-O-B.
Valentina Wilson – bestdebtconsolidation.org
Lots of people quit their jobs when they have a terrible working relationship with their boss. I did at my first job. My boss was partial, insecure, and egoistic, whereas I was a straightforward and short-tempered girl. I lost my temper at him several times without even thinking about the consequences. After a few months, the situation became so bad that I decided to quit the job following my friend’s advice.
While it is true that my boss was unreasonable at times, my behavior was not right either. My colleagues coaxed me to voice my opinion on petty matters. I used to do just that. After a heated argument with my boss, I was so annoyed that I quit my job instantly. And I was feeling great! I was ready to rock the world! But that euphoric feeling lasted only for a few months.
I had to switch several jobs due to similar issues. Something or the other was not right. And since I used to speak my heart out, I could never mix with my colleagues or boss. Hence, I kept on switching jobs.
In 2020, I lost my job and lost a lot of money. I was unemployed for several months. I couldn’t pay off debts, rent, or cover other expenses. No one was ready to give me a job due to my past behavioral issues. No one gave me a good referral. And the same people who coaxed me for a fight still have their jobs.
Quitting a job is not always the best solution. Sometimes, you have to endure just for the sake of paying off credit card debt. Don’t quit unless you have a better job and the willingness to work on your flaws too.
“Hard Work is All You Need”
Andrew Kraemer – Wallet Squirrel
I always hated the work expression, “put your nose to the grindstone.” It implied if you work hard, your work will magically be recognized by some manager up the food chain offering you more money.
That was plain wrong, and never happened to me.
The greatest piece of advice I’ve learned through past mistakes and some amazing mentors is this. If you want to advance in your career, you must be someone who people enjoy working with.
Most projects, regardless of the results, team members only remember how well you worked together. If you are positive, nice and courteous, it’ll leave your team wanting to work with you again and open you up to more opportunities.
I’ve worked with smart jerks before and regardless how effective they are, project managers will skip over them because they don’t want to spend the next 6 months working with their attitude. So being a good person can be one of your most admired skills in any career!
“Always Take the Promotion”
Josh Hastings – Moneylifewax.com
Ok, bear with me as this might seem counterintuitive, but some of the worst career advice might be the notion that any promotion is a good promotion – which simply isn’t true. Here is why:
At 27 I followed the notion to take a career advancement in the education field going from teacher to administrator. It was something I thought I was ready for, but more so, I wanted to simply have the interview experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get hired for the position, but then I got hired.
I found myself in a “Catch 22” as I didn’t want to turn the position down, but I also wasn’t entirely sure if I was ready to sacrifice my life for the position. But the advice I kept hearing was standard, “Take the promotion,” and that I did, only to step down two years later.
On the surface level, a promotion sounds great. Better title, more money. What I didn’t factor into the equation was all the time I would be at work, the responsibilities that added more stress, and the fact that my raise wasn’t so good after all. I was no longer able to make money doing things I loved outside of work and my work/life balance was 80% work, 20% life.
No matter what part of your career you’re getting advice on – from what education to get, how to job search, what to do at work, and how to use your money – make sure you avoid following the bad career advice that’s out there, and do what’s best for you!
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.