We asked the InHerSight team and community to share the worst career advice they’re ever gotten, and the answers did not disappoint. What’s most alarming is that some of these are so common, so platitudinal, but...still being passed around.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know—we’ll update this article on the regular.
‘Just wait for the perfect job—it’ll come along!’
Very few people have the luxury of just “waiting around” for the perfect job. Most of us have to work. Plus, everyone will have a different experience finding that perfect job. For some, it will come after years of tough work. For others, it might come after a career change or two. For others still, the perfect job will look very different at different times in life.
Be patient and kind with yourself about what it looks like to have the “perfect job.”
‘Like what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life’
I like my job, a lot, and there are plenty of days I don’t want to do it. Our team at InHerSight believes it’s possible to find a job you like, even love. But we’re also realists—no job or workplace is perfect. If you expect to always enjoy work, you can set yourself up for a great deal of disappointment. Also, read our disclaimer about dream jobs.
‘Never talk to HR—never’
InHerSight’s chief creative officer and cofounder Daniel Stapleton says: “This was something I heard someone say from a stage to a room full of professional women. I understood the sentiment somewhat in context, but it was presented as a universal rule, and I think it’s really unhelpful.”
We understand that reporting abuse or harassment is easier said than done, but it’s important that women feel safe talking about their experience, and discouraging women from talking to human resources puts up one more barrier. Reporting gives the company a chance to reprimand the abuser, change the policy, improve the culture, make the workplace safer for everyone. It also gives you recourse later on if the problem persists.
HR is also there to support less daunting matters, like benefits and morale. We believe in talking to your HR department when you need to.
‘I see lots of advice about how to tell interviewers what they want to hear’
Let’s just set the record straight: Don’t lie in an interview. We often see advice about brown-nosing interviewers or company leaders and using interviews as time to flatter the company rather than advocate for yourself as a candidate and find out about a job and company. It’s bad for you, and it’s bad for them.
Not only should you accurately represent yourself in an interview, you should also use that time to interview the company. That time should be just as valuable for you as it is for them.
‘I've been told that if I want to succeed in my career, I'll just have to get used to fudging numbers and lying to clients’
We saw a lot of answers like this. Yep, there are plenty of companies out there that don’t like to concern themselves with a pesky little thing called ethics, but there are companies out there that will support your integrity.
Remember that you’re responsible for your own behavior and conduct. If you find yourself in a position where you’re asked to violate your ethics, or even the law, document the request, report it to a superior and/or human resources, get support from your inner circle, and if you need to, leave.
Read more:How to Keep Your Ethics in the Workplace
‘When I was starting out, someone told me not to put anything about women's studies on my resume’
InHerSight’s managing editor Beth Castle says: “When I was starting out, someone told me not to put anything about women's studies on my resume even though it was a major part of my undergraduate degree and my graduate research. She told me I'd never get hired (ha ha ha). The reality is, no one I've wanted to work for has ever flagged it as an issue, and if they did, well, I knew I didn't want to work for them.”
Great point. If a company has a problem with something that’s central to your education, interests, or identity, it's sign that it's not the workplace for you.
‘Fake it ’til you make it’
“Fake it ’til you make it” and “never admit you don’t know something” are bits of bad career advice a lot of women are hearing, and it’s understandable. Women are more harshly judged than men are in the workplace (and, um, the world), so admitting you don’t know something can be dangerous for many women’s careers.
But consider this: By openly talking about what you don’t know and how you’d like to improve, you set an example for women and men around you. Vulnerability is a powerful tool.
If you’re not in a position to talk openly about your vulnerability, find a mentor you trust or build a strong circle of women around you so you have someone you trust to confide in about or get help with all those things you just don’t know.
‘This is just how it is’
One of the reasons InHerSight exists is because we know this just isn’t true. Companies, leadership, managers, employees—we’re all obligated to make the workplace better.
This is how Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman elected to the United States congress put it: “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
‘Keep your head down and do your job’
Not unlike this is just how it is, this bad career advice is given by someone who fears change. This stifles allyship and it leaves vulnerable people vulnerable.
If you see something, say something and do something, especially if you're in a position of power or privilege.
‘Someone who looks like you do shouldn't be in the job you have’
Comments like these are a form of sexual harassment. No one has the right to comment on your appearance, especially in the workplace.
If someone says something like this to you, you can say something like:
Don’t comment on my appearance.
You’re making me uncomfortable. Please stop.
If the problem persists, write it down and report the behavior. For more help on handling sexual harassment in the workplace, check out our guide.
‘That I couldn't be a commercial crab fisherman, that I wasn't strong enough and I couldn't do it (I did do it, and I am strong enough!)’
We love this story in a sentence from an InHerSight user. So maybe we’re not all commercial crab fishermen (that’s a hella cool job), but most of us have been told at some point that we couldn’t do something because we were smart/strong/qualified/experienced enough.
We love this quote from fashion designer Diane Von Furstenburg: “[My mother] told me that fear was not an option. I was always told that women are stronger, so I believed it.”
‘The worst wasn't so much a piece of advice, but never being told I could do things like weld, drive truck, construction, etc.’
While some of us are told we aren’t strong enough to be commercial fishermen, likely just as many aren’t told we can. This is a form of occupational sorting, and it’s one of the reasons women are underrepresented in fields like tech, finance, and even in blue collar jobs.
We believe cultural change is one of the strongest ways to fight this passive form of discrimination. We have to stop discouraging young girls from being interested in traditionally “male” careers, make women in these industries visible, and make all workplaces safe and supportive of women.
‘If someone isn’t mad at you, you aren’t doing your job as a manager.’
No, you can’t please everyone all the time, nor should you try, but if you’re using this as a barometer for management success, we strongly encourage you to reconsider.
Better gauges of success include: team productivity and efficiency, morale, employee satisfaction, and career growth of your direct reports.
‘Don't go to college. It's all about who you know.’
We saw a lot of responses like this from InHerSight users. Likewise, a lot of women told us that being told to go to college was terrible advice.
Whether college is the right path depends on the person. Many women have lucrative careers without a college degree, some will go to school later in life, some will choose a trade, some will pursue the paraprofessional route, some will pursue professional degrees on top of a bachelor’s. There’s no single way to do it—what works for you won’t necessarily work for the next woman. So rather than prescribing college or discouraging it, let’s support all women in realizing the careers they want.