Free Career Advice Doesn’t Always = Good Career Advice

I know there’s a bit of sweet irony in my questioning the value of free career advice when I’ve also been giving it away through my blog posts. But what concerns me actually isn’t the fact that it’s free, it’s the quality of the advice (or lack thereof) many self-reported career experts are dishing out and the fact that many job seekers have a hard time telling the good from the bad.

During your job search, you should always seek out multiple data points to corroborate or refute the advice you get from any single source. For example, I once followed a faculty member who was speaking to a group of about 150 college students and overheard this person suggesting that what you wear to an interview really doesn’t matter because you really want them to hire you for your mind, not because of the way you’re dressed. As a faculty member that might be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that advice will work for most of the soon-to-be college graduates who were in attendance. In the majority of cases, interviewers are going to care about whether or not you’re dressed professionally.

Be cautious of any and all "top 10" lists and free eNewsletters. A job seeker recently asked me if I thought the strategies for getting past the screening phase of the interview process that were included in a recent email blast actually worked. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I don’t think writing "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL" on the lower left corner of an envelope will increase your chances of getting past the hiring manager or human resources representative’s administrative assistant—especially since most companies point applicants to their website. The article also suggested hand writing versus typing the envelope—does that really matter? Really? The same advice my mom gave me 22 years ago? With all of the things recruiters have to pay attention to during the hiring process, I’d like to think they’re not going to burn too many calories on whether you cranked out an envelope on your printer or decided to showcase your cursive writing skills.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to sift through all of the career advice out there to tell what works and what doesn’t. Before jumping on the nine free tips for getting your resume noticed by potential recruiters, get feedback from a few other sources. When you do, you’ll have more information at hand and that will help you make a more informed decision.

And since we’re on the topic, what’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?  

 Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (



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  • Trish Johnson

    Shawn - I agree, it's embarrassing what some people that believe they are Advisors write. Good article!
    The Net is overloaded with career advice and every one is going to tell you something different. Saying it doesn't matter what you wear to an interview or putting the P&C on an envelope is pathetic nonsense! I've been operating my career & job search site for a few years and had a good following until some idiot scammed my sites, so I am rebuilding at corpreciprocity on Wordpress, if you care to check it out. I try to 'tell it like it is' and truly guide people in their job search & career growth. Cheers, Trish

  • Shawn Graham

    @Chris-I definitely see where you are coming from. I once sent a resume and cover letter to a skateboard manufacturing on an actual skateboard and also applied to Ben & Jerry's using a resume that was printed on tie died paper.

    To your point, you have to know your audience. If you're going to work for a start up, a suit might be a bit much. However, tons (and I mean tons) of people get rejected for being underdressed for every one person who gets rejected for being overdressed. Just think of the success all of those overdressed people have when interviewing with Sears alone.

  • Chris Reich

    I have to weigh in here because something important was missed in the story about the faculty member dismissing the traditional dress code.

    Too many grads focus on money and then apply where they can get it. Little thought is given to work they want to do and where they would like to do it.

    In my younger days before self-employment, I decided to leave a management position with a large company and apply at a solar water heating start-up. This was in the 70's. I wore a suit to the interview---looking 'professional'. They laughed when I arrived. "Hey, the Sears guy is here!" I did get the job, in spite of the suit, and have never worn a tie at work since. They later told me the suit was their ONLY hesitation. I might too rigid for their goals!

    I want to see creativity in applicants and am sickened by CVs laden with statements about passion.

    I once committed the sin of putting my CV on light green paper that had the texture of money. While distributing them at a career fair, one HR person actually told me they would never even look at a resume on non-white paper. Most HR people actually threw away the resume as I handed it to them because it wasn't on white paper.

    But one company, a very interesting and exciting company, called me the following Monday because mine was the only CV not on white paper and they liked what it said. They eventually offered me a dream job but I decided to start my own practice instead of joining their company. The experience with all those absurdly close-minded HR people set my course of independence.

    Your advice is sound and conservative. Of course, there is always a place for "different".

    Chris Reich

  • Dan Rockwell


    Thanks for the advice :-) and the tip on NOT freakin you out. Thats a good one.

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell

  • Shawn Graham

    @Dan-maybe you can throw some business Delia's way since a possible career change looks to be in the cards and because you could use a disclaimer writing specialist for future posts. Ha.

    I'll say though that another bad piece of advice is hand delivering your resume to a potential employer. A candidate did that for an opening I had in my office recently and I have to admit, it kind of freaked me out.

  • Shawn Graham

    @Delia-that reminds me of the movie Office Space--do just enought to get by. That's some great advice. Kidding of course.

  • Dan Rockwell


    Thanks for the advice on the disclaimer. I just put a disclaimer on the Leadership Freak blog "Create a Crisis" I'm going to do more of that.

    BTW..when I receive resume's, they are from individuals who are looking for a teaching position. I'm not a recruiter. I can imagine recruiters getting tired of calls.

    thanks for your contribution to the community.

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell

  • Delia Neal

    I'm a long-time gov't lawyer trying to both switch careers and get out of government work. The advice I'm consistently getting from colleagues? "Don't look for a job in the private sector, they'll work you to death."
    Then when I respond that I WANT to work hard and have a job that challenges me to do something other than count the days until I can retire with full benefits - they all shake their heads mournfully and say "be careful what you wish for. . ."
    Ack!! and they wonder why I'm trying so hard to get OUT!!

  • Shawn Graham

    @Thom-that is hilarious! Nothing will get you arrested faster than walking around a building and knocking on random doors. I heard almost the same advice from someone from an investment bank. He said he returned to his office to find someone sitting at his desk--I guess she had a friend who worked in the firm who let her on the floor. And this was post 9/11 with crazy security concerns. Horrible idea.

    My all time favorite bad advice was from a guest speaker who suggested sending a bag of candy to a potential employer around Halloween with a note that reads “It would be a treat to work for you.”

  • Thom Mitchell

    Shawn, thanks for the insightful post. I was recently given the advice to "ride the elevator". Literally to go into a downtown building and take the elevator to the top floor and just start knocking on doors on every floor. My response was "that's an interesting approach". While I applaud initiative - there are so many things wrong with that approach that I won't go into it here.

    I think you may have pointed out an issue. Much of the worst career searching advice I've received is from people who haven't looked for work or started a new career for at least 20 or 30 years and have no real understanding of the challenges and opportunities that a job seeker in today's business environment faces. They are smart successful people but don't really know how to look for work or start a new career. As with many things always consider the source of information and evaluate it accordingly.
    Thom Mitchell

  • Shawn Graham

    @Dan-maybe include a brief disclaimer before providing any free career advice to young people? "The views and opinions expressed are those of Dan Rockwell and don't necessarily represent those of staff or management."

    You're one of the few. All too often, I see overwhelmed recruiters that aren't crazy about being contacted by applicants. And, as a result, it takes forever for them to respond if they respond at all.

  • Dan Rockwell


    Thanks again for your thoughts and the warning to evaluate counsel. Frankly, I hate it when a young person asks me for advice about their career. I'm honored that they ask, but the responsibility is heavy?

    I'm looking forward to your future posts.

    BTW...when I receive resume's, I WANT the applicant to call me. Initiative says a lot to me.


    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell