Bad career advice is worse than no advice at all

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With all of the discussion of the economy, you’d think some good advice would be coming out on how to manage through tough times.

Not the case.

In Newsweek’s A Recession Handbook, people working in cubes are offered this advice:

Stay visibly busy, says New York headhunter Stephen Viscusi. The first employees to go during a recession are the high-maintenance slackers. Come in early, leave late, eat lunch at your desk and try to figure out how you can make your boss’s life easier and more profitable. Update your résumé with all your current skills and accomplishments, even if you’re not planning on job hunting. You can post that résumé, absent your current employer’s name, at online job sites like, just to see what else is out there. If you’re ready for a change, reports that health-care and sales careers are the most promising and protected during downturns.

Call me crazy, but this has to be some of the worst advice I’ve ever seen on career management.

Coming in early and leaving late simply increases your stress. Besides, if your company really has the work to do, decide on doing the work, not making appearances thinking it will help your cause. It won’t.

Eating lunch at your desk is the worst thing you can do when times are tough. Use your lunch time to interact with other people and stay connected with your network. Build your network during your lunch hour. All eating at your desk does is isolate you from the rest of the world — a disastrous career move.

If you were slacking off before and have that as your personal brand, do you honestly think coming in early and staying late will change that image any time soon? Like before a layoff? Not really. Deliver your work; the rest will follow.

If your manager can’t figure out how you can help him or her achieve their goals, it is useful to make sure you show your talents to your manager to get the right work and help. But, go out and figure out how to make the boss’s life easier? They pay managers the big bucks to figure those things out with their team.

Posting your resume “just to see what’s out there” is pointless. Unless you are consistently updating your resume on the boards, they will drift off into electronic purgatory never to see the light of day. Either go look for a job and do the work associated with it or don’t. You’d be far better off communicating with your network about jobs than posting on boards in any case.

Applying for jobs in growing areas like healthcare and sales may make some sense — if you have the right skills and performance to do the work. But if your entire career is in engineering, don’t think you have the right stuff to be a doctor. Go with your strengths or, if you are changing careers, have a plan to do so and not just apply to where the pundits see the greatest growth.

When times are tough, it is important to keep your head on straight and have perspective. Evaluate those people giving career advice (including me!) based upon good principles, not on the latest dish from a pundit.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve every received?

  • Scot Herrick says:

    It’s tough when you have a manager that you know isn’t going to cut it. If you think that there is “75% corporate churn” and you will only report to him or her for a year — is that enough to hang on for instead of leaving? Or, is it so bad that just being associated with that manager is the kiss of death within the company?

    Those are tough questions. Empirically, we know we should get out of the bad situation, but the variables are sometimes tough to figure out.

    Steve…thanks for sharing. It always amazes me the diverse situations out there.

  • The “bad advice” smacks of someone just “making up copy” rather than sage advice.

    The worse career advice I’ve personally ever received was being talked out of “firing” a boss who was hell. Once I woke up that the guy not only wasn’t on the same team as his subordinates, but that he was really more of an “enemy” than ANY of our competition, it wasn’t hard to help him get ivited to pick a new career.

    The “play nice” advice I was first given was pure idealistic crap. In fariness the offerer of the advice was in “career twilight” and didn’t want to rock the boat as they closed in on retirement.

    In hindsight I should have dedicated myself to my firm and my own personal joint needs – and those were to quickly purge our organization of this fool.

    Took a bit to wake up and smell the coffee, but it paid dividends when it happened.



  • Scot Herrick says:

    I read this in Newsweek and just couldn’t believe how off the advice was in the article. I’ve laid people off and have been laid off and “looking busy” just doesn’t cut it. Delivery of your work counts more than anything else — and sometimes that isn’t enough either.

    Thanks for the comment, Andrea — I really appreciate it.

  • Scot,
    You make some really good points here. “Pretending” to be busy is not going to fool anyone, and will in fact probably just make you feel demoralized. Finding a way to be productive with your time at work–whether or not you have a ton of assignments–is a much better idea. Thanks for your insight.

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