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The Most Common Career Advice That Graduates Should Ignore (And What To Do Instead)

Chances are you are hearing a lot of platitudes. Here are five that are total BS.

The Most Common Career Advice That Graduates Should Ignore (And What To Do Instead)
[Photo: Flickr user Aaron Hawkins ]

The world is full of well-meaning people, and unfortunately, terrible advice. If you are a recent graduate, chances are you’ll be hearing a lot of unsolicited advice. Of course not all of it is terrible; once in awhile there are some useful gems. But in most instances, people give advice based on what they’ve experienced (which might be outdated), or what they think is best for you (which might not actually be).

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Here are some examples of common advice that you might want to stay away from.

Classic Advice: Always Pay Your Dues

When you graduate from college, you’re essentially entering the workforce as an inexperienced individual–so it’s likely your first job is going to involve a lot of grunt work, like fetching coffee, taking notes in meetings, and photocopying pages and pages of documents. There’s also this idea that as a new grad, the only way you’ll move up is if you put your head down and slog through these tasks for the next year or two.

Better Advice: Find A Way To Make “Grunt Work” Meaningful

There are situations where this is the case, but this doesn’t always apply to everyone. Nike apparel designer Kevin Lancelin told Fast Company that from the start of his degree, his ultimate goal was always to work as a designer at Nike. So he designed his coursework and curriculum to best position himself to work for the sports apparel giant. “I really studied to impress Nike.”


Related: How To Advance Your Career In A Crappy Entry-Level Job


And even if you do end up with a job that involves a lot of grunt work, silently grumbling isn’t the only option. Writer and marketing strategist Ryan Holiday suggests some ways where you can be strategic about utilizing grunt work to your advantage, like finding a niche that you can own, particularly if it’s something that no one else wants to do.

Classic Advice: Follow Your Passion And You’ll Never Have To Work A Day In Your Life

On the other side of the coin is the inspirational advice that your “dream” job is waiting just around the corner if only you stay true to your one true passion. But being too narrow-minded about pursuing a job that matches your “passion” is an equally dangerous strategy. First of all, your passion isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table–you might love belting out Broadway songs, but if you can’t sing in tune, you probably won’t be able to make a living as a performer. Second of all, following your passion doesn’t change the fact that there will always be parts of your job that don’t make you excited to get out of bed.

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Better Advice: Look For A Job That You Can Find Some Purpose In But Don’t Expect Work To Always Make You Happy

Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic recently wrote for Fast Company: “It’s one thing to try and find a sense of purpose within an otherwise mundane job, but it’s another to expect your job to make you happy, as though it’s a universal right. Work has always been a poor vehicle for self-actualization, which is why very few people would do it for free. And pretending otherwise adds heaps of unfair pressure on the average employee to find their “dream job.” It’s raised career aspirations beyond what it is feasibly achievable for most, and a lot of the time it backfires.”

Classic Advice: Never Give Up

At a time where hustle, persistence, and grit are glorified, giving up on something can feel like the wrong thing to do. After all, if you just keep chugging away at it, you’ll eventually get there, right?

Well, not if you’re working on the wrong thing. Caroline Cotto, a culture content creator at HubSpot, told Fast Company in an email that she was extremely self-conscious about quitting her first job as a researcher at a nutrition lab when she realized it was the wrong place for her. “I’m not a quitter, even when things are challenging. But, when I started my job at HubSpot, I quickly realized that quitting and refusing to settle for a job I did not enjoy was probably the best decision of my life.”

Better Advice: Know When To Quit Something That’s Not Right

Writer Eric Barker also highlights this point in his book Barking Up The Wrong Tree, saying that “quitting” is often seen as the opposite of “grit.” But in reality, Barker says, they’re complementary. When we don’t quit a career that we know doesn’t suit our strengths, skills, or priorities, we’re less likely to excel and be a top performer.

Classic Advice: Keep Your Options Open

It’s a little unfair that we’re expected to figure out what we want to do for the rest of our lives by the time we’ve graduated from college. And because many of us don’t, a lot of college graduates choose to do things that “keep their options” open, like going back to graduate school without any clear direction. Adam Braun, founder of college alternative startup MissionU, tells Fast Company that one of the worst bits of career advice he often hears is that “getting additional degrees is a guarantee” in career success. After all, additional degrees cost money–in most cases, a lot of money. And if we graduate still confused about what we want to do, we still have to find a way to pay back those student debts.


Related: What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My First Job 

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, we might know exactly what we want to do, but we’re too scared to pursue it in case it doesn’t work out, and so we default to jobs that we don’t really like to be on the safe side. I see a lot of my friends who know what they’d really like to do (say, work in nonprofits or start their own business) and end up taking jobs like management consulting with the rationale that it’ll “keep their options open.” The problem? They still can’t bring themselves to quit five years later.

Better Advice: Commit To Something

There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in a few different fields, and post-graduation is the perfect time to do that. But without a clear sense of direction and action, we’ll just end up confused and probably unhappy. How do we assess our careers when we don’t really know what we want that to look like, or if we are too afraid to take the first step?

Even when you’re still deciding what to do, decide to commit to something (and only go to grad school if you have a clear and compelling “why.”) At the very least you’ll acquire valuable skills, and ironically, that might open up more opportunities that are more aligned with what you want. Blinkist cofounder Sebastian Klein previously wrote for Fast Company, “People with rare skills are more likely to get great jobs in which they’re allowed creativity and control.”

If you fall into the camp of being afraid to commit, there’s a simple question to ask yourself–will you regret not taking action right now? Author Jon Acuff says that this way of thinking helps him push through when fear creeps into his career decisions. “Retreat has a much longer shelf life than fear.”

Classic Advice: Never Say “No” To Opportunities

Yes, opportunities come when we least expect it, and sometimes these opportunities do lead to bigger and better things. But sometimes it can be smarter to say no, especially when those extra opportunities actually hamper our ability to do our jobs effectively.

In a previous article for Fast Company, Lauren Berger, CEO and founder of InternQueen.com said that a graduate’s desire to go above and beyond can leave them overstretched and prone to neglecting their primary responsibilities. She recalled a conversation where a talented employee was told he was on the verge of being let go because he wasn’t adequately performing his core duties.

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Better Advice: Know When To Say “No,” You Can’t Do It All

Berger asserts, “You might be good at everything, but when you’re hired for the job, you have to focus on the task at hand.” As a new employee, it can be smarter to hold back if you feel that the extra project is going to compromise your quality of work.

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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