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Here’s What To Do When Common Career Advice Doesn’t Work For You

Sometimes, what works well for others just doesn’t cut it for you.

Here’s What To Do When Common Career Advice Doesn’t Work For You
[Photo: Niklas Hamann/Unsplash]

You’re  smart enough to spot bad career advice, but what about when you get good advice that you know works for a lot of people, but doesn’t work for you?

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It can be tempting to throw your hands in the air and say “I give up.” But this isn’t your only option. Here are some ideas on what you can do when following common career advice isn’t bringing you much success.


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


Instead Of: Be Specific About What You Want

Try: Broadening Your Horizons And Looking For Where The Demands Are

We’re often advised to be specific and strategic about what we’re after. While this might be great advice for some, others might find that this approach yields little results for them–particularly when they’re trying to land their first entry-level job.

These days, it’s no longer enough to have a college degree, candidates need to have work experience, whether it be through internships or part-time gigs. But sometimes, even that isn’t enough. Marketing professional and freelance writer Brittney Oliver witnessed this when she embarked on her post-college job search. Despite five internships under her belt, it took her eight months and over 100 interviews before she landed her first job.


Related: These Are The Mistakes That Even Experienced Job Seekers Keep Making


As Oliver previously wrote in Fast Company, being a woman of color presented her with additional challenges that her white peers might not have had to face. But considering that the interviewers’ unconscious bias wasn’t something she had much control over, she focused on what she could control. When she started her job search, Oliver had her sights only on PR jobs in New York City. But after struggling to secure a position, she saw her peers turn their degrees into “transferable skills that helped them land jobs outside of their fields.” She began to do the same.

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This was also a strategy that Sydney Brunson, a diversity programs specialist at Pinterest, employed. Brunson told Oliver, “had I solely focused on jobs and careers in public relations or communications, my story might be different. I would encourage students to broaden their horizons and scope when searching for jobs.”

Another practical tip could be to look for roles that companies have difficulty filling. Ify Walker, founder of talent matchmaking firm Offor Walker Group, suggested that candidates who are having trouble landing jobs should try to put themselves “in places where others might say, ‘I don’t want to do that, or that’s too hard.'”

Instead Of: Expand Your Network

Try: Figure Out How You Can Help Others In Your Existing Network

It’s true that having a large professional network never hurts, and you never know what opportunities could come out of new interactions. But if, like most people, your time is limited, making yourself attend three to four networking events a week in attempts to “widen your network” might not be the best use of your time.

Chances are, you probably have a few people in your current network that can help you get ahead. Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, cofounders of career site The Muselisted these types of people in their book, The New Rules Of Work: The Modern Playbook For Navigating Your Career. From those who hold similar positions to you, people related to your industry or role but with different responsibilities, the person one or two levels ahead of you and even the newbie who just started their careers–these are all valuable relationships to cultivate.

Of course, it goes without saying that in order to reap the benefits, you have to be willing to give. For example, you might recommend a candidate to your senior coworker when you hear that they’re hiring. When it comes to those who have a similar job to you, you might share your learnings and lessons and act as each other’s “buddies” when you do attend a big event.

Instead Of: Find A Mentor

Try: Focus On Making Yourself More Valuable

No one really “makes it” on their own, so it’s no surprise that many successful people attribute their success to the help of others. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the idea that for our careers to have any chance of flourishing, we need to have a go-to mentor–a leader in our field  who we can turn to for advice in times of trouble. Oh and they need to be as equally invested in our careers as we are.

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Of course, finding a person like this is definitely great for your career, but busy and important people don’t always have time to be unpaid career coaches. And plenty of successful people have had thriving careers without one consistent mentor (WeWork’s CEO and cofounder Adam Neumann is a great example). Having a mentor is not the be all and end all to your career.

Instead of focusing on what you can get, focus on what you can give. You can start with doing this at work, by making sure that you’re fulfilling every aspect of your job description, and going above and beyond when possible. Then you can also position yourself to “get in on what the higher ups” are saying, as Fast Company‘s Rich Bellis wrote in a previous article.

There are several ways to do this if you’re a junior employee–you can ask your boss directly to see if they can fill you in on what they discussed at the leadership meeting, or you can muster the courage to introduce yourself to the company’s leaders when you see them around the office. You’ll not only gain valuable insights about how your company works, but you might develop a relationship with someone who literally has control over your career.

Instead Of: Build And Cultivate A Personal Brand

Try: Focus On Deepening Your Expertise In Your Field

In the age of social media influencers, it’s easy to get fixated on making our online presence as polished (and popular) as possible. But unless your job title is social media marketer, at some point, you’ll probably see diminishing returns to all this self-promotion–particularly when the time you spend trying to gain followers on Instagram is cutting into the time you’re spending on your actual work.

In his book Perennial Seller: The Art Of Making And Marketing Work That Lasts, marketer and writer Ryan Holiday stressed that if you want to create a product that will stand the test of time, you have to create a great product. He wrote, “even the best admen will admit that, over the long term, all the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right.”

The same logic can apply to our careers. If we’re not good at what we do, no amount of retweets and likes will hide that fact. As entrepreneur John Rampton wrote in a previous Fast Company article, “It’s one thing to tout your best qualities and another to push them so hard that you fall into false marketing.”

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Instead Of: Put Yourself Out There

Try: Put Yourself In Situations That Let You Be Your Best

Many of us have a conventional idea of what success looks like. Go for the biggest job and opportunity, have lots of powerful friends, make a lot of money.

For some people, this “overachieving” mind-set is a surefire recipe for disaster and exhaustion, as Morra Aarons-Mele wrote in her book, Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home)She wrote, “If you need more control over your space, pace, and place of work than others, the traditional career-ladder approach to success is all the more daunting–and possibly futile.”

Aarons-Mele went on to write, “But let me be clear: When introverts like me realize that the success they’re chasing isn’t making them happy, it’s not because they’re lazy or unambitious.” Rather, it’s about understanding what environments make you perform at your best, and what environments make you struggle–and embracing it. After all, life doesn’t require you to conform to society’s perceived idea of career success. What that looks like to you is wholly up to you to decide.

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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