The Worst Work Advice You Ever Received - Reader Top 10 List

May 7, 2013
10 Min Read

I recently asked readers to share the best career advice they ever received – and I figured it was time to ask for the worst next. And you certainly delivered! A lot of bad career advice apparently comes from parents – but managers aren’t too far behind them.

Here are the 10 worst pieces of work advice that readers reported hearing.

1. Say whatever it takes to close the sale

“'Say whatever you need to say to close the sale. Then we can worry about resetting expectations.' This from a seasoned sales manager. I wasn’t in sales, so he wasn’t saying it directly to me, but this is what he was telling his sales reps to do re: the professional services I was responsible for managing.”

2. Major in anything and figure it out later

“’Major in whatever you want and then figure it out later.’ 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!’)

If I were to do it all over again, I might still pick my undergrad major, but I’d get my act together more about what I’d do post-college before the spring semester of my senior year and seriously consider what kind of life I wanted post-college rather than my at-the-time “dream job,” which has a lifestyle that, turns out, I really don’t like or ever want.”

3. Baked goods and snacks

“’Always bring cookies or other snacks to any meeting you hold, otherwise your coworkers will not be able to focus for an hour-long meeting.’ This advice from my female boss to myself and other female coworkers only.

4. Nuclear submarine captain

“The funniest bit of bad advice I got was when I was seeking advice from my graduate institution’s career center about alternative careers that could make use of the skills associated with my history doctorate so I didn’t have to begin again from scratch. Their suggested alternative? Captain of a nuclear submarine. Truly.”

5. Write your resume in crayon

“The summer after I graduated from college in 1984, I said something to my father about needing to borrow a typewriter to prepare cover letters. He decided I was just stalling the job application process and said that I could use a crayon and a paper bag because it would show an employer I would do anything to get a job.

It would certainly show a prospective employer something, but probably not anything I would want anybody to know! My brother and I found it particularly strange since our father was the president of a small company and would never have considered a cover letter written in crayon on a paper bag.”

6. Management by happy hour

“When I was in my first management job, I had inherited a staff with a  lot of problems. People weren’t doing good work and there were definite work ethic problems on the team. A coworker told me that I needed to focus on getting them to like me and improve their morale before I’d be able to do anything about the problems, and that I should take them out for team dinners and try to cultivate a fun atmosphere in the department. I had no idea what I was doing, so I listened to her – and no surprise, the problems got worse. They assumed I was more of a friend than a manager and that there was no accountability for their performance, and it was nearly impossible for me to establish any authority or consequences after that. In management jobs since then, I’ve been careful to make it clear from the beginning that while I want them to enjoy their jobs, we’re there first and foremost to work, and I don’t have any problem calling people out on bad work – whether it makes them ‘not like me’ or not! As a result, I’ve ended up overseeing teams that are highly productive (and where most people are pretty happy, to boot).”

7. Too ugly to be a secretary

“My best friend’s mother’s advice to her: ‘You better make sure to learn how to do hair because you are too ugly to be a secretary.’ The friend is now a consultant at a top firm and makes great money.”

8. You can deliver pizza and fix their network connection

“I was a Senior Software Engineer, and my whole division was laid off. The first words out of my parents’ mouths when I told them the bad news? ‘You should deliver pizzas!’ I tried to explain that pizza delivery didn’t fit with my career goals (stay in software development) or financial responsibilities (primary breadwinner for a family of five), so I was going to focus on software jobs for the time being. They accused me of thinking I was too good for honest work.”

9. Exactly what interviewers don’t want to read

“’Print and bind a copy of your Master’s thesis and bring it to job interviews so that they can see your research.’ From my MA thesis advisor, on my search for (non-academic, non-research-focused) NGO jobs. Best advice I ever ignored.”

10. Magical powers of the Sunday newspaper

“The worst advice I recall was when I was job searching to move to my present city. My mother got on a kick about the Sunday paper and its central importance in looking for jobs, and how I absolutely had to have it. Much talking about this, and over the course of a couple weeks much inquiring about whether I had the Sunday paper and worrying over the fact that I did not have it, etc.

It finally culminated in her calling on a Sunday afternoon while I was spending time with some friends, and absolutely insisting that it was Sunday, that I needed the Sunday paper NOW NOW NOW, and otherwise any progress in my job search would be delayed for an entire week. She was upset over this. I had not yet learned boundaries and was not so good with the strategic untruth, so I actually physically went to the convenience store and actually acquired the totem item. Left it on the basement floor and went on with what I was doing. I had the Sunday paper, so she was satisfied.

The thing stayed on the floor until it turned yellow and I threw it out. I ultimately got a job from an ad on Craigslist, naturally.”

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