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Career Hacker: The worst career advice

December 09, 2014

Microsoft chief Satya Nadella caused a stir recently when he gave some career advice at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference. Nadella told the women, “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise.” The response was overwhelming: Audience members, the online community and many media outlets dubbed this “the worst career advice.” In fact, Nadella had to backtrack on his statements in an internal email to Microsoft employees to control the damage.

But doling out terrible advice is the time-honored habit of relatives, misguided coworkers and (er) the occasional blogger. Here is some of the most commonly given bad advice we run across and why it's wrong:

1. Your resume can only be one page

Most recruiters agree this outdated bit of career advice no longer applies, but advice-givers stubbornly cling to the idea job seekers must cram a 15-year career into one page. Instead, recruiters and hiring managers would like to see actual details about your accomplishments and how you made them happen. In addition, they want a decently laid-out document with appropriate white space and legible font sizes.

See this post for some hints on how to keep your resume changing with the times.

2. Wait your turn

This career advice probably applied to your parents’ workplace, where company loyalty and defined career paths were the norm. But today’s working situations require nimble workers who keep up their skills and forge their own paths. And today's employers are more likely to tolerate—and encourage—ambition in their workers.

Now raising your hand often, trying new ideas and asking for more responsibility are more likely to get you promoted than working hard and keeping your head down.

3. Follow your passion

Not all bad career advice is old! Your grandparents were never told to “find their passion” and let success, gratification and monetary rewards follow. These days, following a passion is very common career advice that hasn't served many recent college grads very well.

Why is this poor advice?

Many millenials find this oft-given career advice confusing and frustrating. For one thing, it doesn't acknowledge the reality that dream careers often involve heavy trade-offs such as working long hours for peanuts. 

For another, not everyone is passionate or skilled in something that translates into a career. Many, many people cite a love for video games, but there are only a few people making money at designing and developing them. (Your average game lover can make a few bucks as a tester but the pay is lousy and working conditions surprisingly tedious). Similarly, my love for seeing the world sadly doesn't mean I’m going to score one of the 30 or so travel writer jobs available.

Finding work that gratifies and challenges you will definitely improve your life. But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to work on your favorite cause or skill. Better advice would be to find something you excel at and enjoy, and that has a reasonable chance of paying you enough to buy a high-end video game system or plan a trip to Spain.

4. Work hard and success will follow

If you are responsible, punctual and hardworking, you’ll probably achieve modest success. But in an evolving economy—one in which conscientious workers will increasingly be replaced by technology—businesses will reward their creative superstars. Considering larger outcomes, challenging old ways of doing business, and working more strategically will help mark you as someone with potential.

So here’s my advice, and you can take it for what it’s worth: Know your stuff, always work hard and be bold in your ambitions.   

You might also enjoy: Holiday tech gifts for the IT pro: A guide to the gadgets your IT staff really want

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. She frequently blogs about IT career advice and the lighter side of tech, and on her off days loves to kayak and play with her toddler son.

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