That man was Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, and I think he’s right:
Advice quickly decays, and 16-year-old advice is bound to be radioactive. Sharing a life experience is one thing (grandparents are great at this — listen to them!), but advice is another thing. Don’t give advice about things you used to know. Just because you did something a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it today.
I’m looking at parents here. How many of you have received career advice from your parents?
I bet all of you.
Hell, my mom still dishes it out daily, and I make more than her.
Some of you, like myself, have already realized it’s best to tune out this caring but often misinformed advice. Others will have to learn the hard way.
Our parents grew up in a completely different time than us, and most have held the same job for decades. That’s just not the way the world works today.
If you want to know how to land a good marketing job, it’s best to speak with someone who recently landed a good marketing job.
If you want to know how to prepare for an interview, it’s best to speak with someone who recently killed an interview and landed a job because of it.
It’s scientifically proven that the longer it’s been since we’ve experienced something, the fuzzier our memories become, leading to “false memories.”
So if you think you’ll get good job hunting advice from your mom, who hasn’t searched for a job in 20+ years, think again.
Fortunately, I’m a twenty-something freelancer who is always on the hunt for gigs, which means I’m still in the game, which means I can give you the best career advice and tell you which advice to just ignore.
So, here’s my two cents. Take it or leave it.
Badvice 1: Hit the pavement
My parents still push me hardcore to job search by walking around to buildings with an armload of cookie-cutter résumés that list every job I’ve ever had (even my high school laundromat job from over ten years ago; I’m a VFX artist now), shove it at the receptionist, ask to speak to the hiring manager right then and there and if they tell me s/he’s busy, say ‘no problem, I’ll wait’ and then just awkwardly loiter in their lobby until I am presented with the hiring manager—or much more likely if I ever tried this, forcibly removed. (source)
This is a parent classic that’s ridiculously outdated, unless you’re hunting for a part-time hospitality or retail gig.
If you’re searching for a grown-up job, then it’s best to email, especially because busy professionals hate meetings, which means they definitely won’t take one with a random person off the street.
Don’t believe me? Mark Cuban is a prime example of a busy professional who doesn’t take meetings… ever.
“No meetings or phone calls unless I’m picking up a check. Everything is email.” (source)
Everything is digital today.
If you hand a paper résumé to a secretary, don’t hold your breath that s/he’ll type it into the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS).
To make matters worse, you’ll never be able to know whether your résumé got to the hiring manager because you can’t track it.
Today, it’s much easier to make contact with people digitally, either through social media, or by looking up their email on a company website or using a tool like this Chrome plugin.
So if you’re resourceful, you have direct access to executives of major companies, which means one passionate, well-thought-out email can change your life.
Digital contact is not only more convenient, but it allows you to personalize your message for each recipient, including different résumé attachments or links for different people.
Last and certainly not least, you can use tools like MailTracker to see when your emails have been opened and read by the recipient. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your email/résumé didn’t disappear into a black hole, and you’ll know exactly when it’s the right time to follow up.
Badvice 2: Put your SAT scores on your résumé
When I had just graduated college (mid-recession btw), my parents insisted that I should apply to jobs that required 5+ years experience in a specific field and just put my SAT scores on my résumé. That way they would see that I was smart, and decide to hire me and train me instead of hiring an experienced professional with the skills they needed. (source)
Take it from a college dropout who has had all of two people in her seven-year career ask her why she doesn’t have education listed on her résumé… Do NOT center your résumé around your education.
I always recommend placing your education at the very bottom of your résumé, and if you’re running out of space on your resume, the education section can be one of the first things you cull completely.
“If you’ve been waiting to turn your tassel to the other side of your cap before you start the process of defining what you really want, it’s time to throw a match in your gas tank. You and I are living in a world where people can compete from anywhere on earth and there’s no age requirement to add value to the marketplace. I’ll guarantee you there’s a hungry 17-year-old on 99 Designs or Freelancer.com or Fiverr who is already doing a job that many 22-year-olds are hoping their entry-level résumé just might qualify them for… an interview. I’m not diminishing the merits of higher education whatsoever; I just want to make something crystal clear. We hear people say all the time that ‘knowledge is power.’ That’s not true. Knowledge is NOT power. Knowledge of concepts is only of POTENTIAL value to you. The execution of the knowledge you’ve gleaned is where your power lies…”
No one cares about your GPA or SAT scores. They care about the results you can produce for them on the job. Again, Robbins agrees with me:
“We live in a world where there are no limits for those who can create results. The faster you can use what you’ve learned to execute results, the sooner your GPA—no matter how impressive or abysmal—won’t matter. There is no replacement for results.”
Badvice 3: Immediately accept a job offer
Recently I had a second interview with a company where I met with the other owner and learned a lot of new information, including salary and schedule. At the end of the interview, I was offered the position and I said I would like a day to think it over and talk about it with my family. They said of course and that they would always expect that. Later, when I was talking with my parents, my dad got mad that I would even think about asking them for a day. He said that nobody should be at an interview if they didn’t already know they want to take the job, and furthermore if anybody he interviewed ever said that to him, he would rescind the offer immediately and show them to the door! (source)
So you received a job offer! Congratulations, but don’t lose your head.
Would you marry the first Joe Schmoe who asked you on a date? I hope not. You don’t know that much about him—if anything yet.
The job seeker in the above example was only on her second interview. How in the heck could she possibly know beforehand whether or not she wanted the job? That’s what the job interview is for.
Remember: The job interview is just as much a chance for you to learn about a company as it is for them to learn about you. Taking a few days to do additional research, reflect on the interview, and weigh your options isn’t just normal—it’s expected.
First and foremost, you want to be excited about the job you’re about to embark on if you want to do good work, so you should ask yourself some key questions, like:
Do you want to negotiate? If so, what?
Is there anything about the job [offer] that you don’t understand?
Do the benefits fit your needs?
Does this job meet my basic requirements for happiness?
Do I have a solid understanding of my boss’s expectations of me?
Am I excited about this job?
Can I see myself working with my prospective co-workers and manager?
Does the culture feel right? (This one is important!)
Is this job going to help me progress faster in my career?
There’s no shame in asking for more information if you aren’t able to answer any of these questions. Actually, if you ask follow-up questions, you’re showing your interest and your decision-making skills, and that’s something any hiring manager should be able to appreciate.
If a company gets upset with you for taking time to decide, that’s a major red flag—don’t be intimidated to choose too quickly, and if they’re pressuringyou to make the choice immediately, then it may be time to walk away completely.
Badvice 4: Don’t job hop
I don’t have a funny example for this one, but I’m quite certain that parents give this awful advice to their kids all too often.
Back in the day, you got a job, and you stayed at the job forever, patiently awaiting and accepting measly .01 percent raises during the annual review process.
This is NOT the way things work today.
As I mentioned earlier, two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of your career, and the fastest way to increase your income is to switch jobs.
A study by CareerBuilder found that members of the Millennial and GenZ populations stay at a role for under 3 years, whereas the average for Baby Boomers was over 8 years. Times have changed!
The main reason younger workers change roles so often is because they are seeking better opportunities—an increase in pay, more flexibility, or a role that’s simply a better fit for their life and values.
Of course, your employer would likely prefer that you stay put for as long as possible. But it’s up to them to offer incentives that will keep you on board—more than just free coffee and the occasional lunch on the company dime.
If you’re able to find a role at a different company that is a better fit and/or pays a better salary, there’s no harm in at least looking into it. Short employment lengths on your resume and LinkedIn aren’t seen as a negative thing like they were when our parents were younger.
Badvice 5: Stay in a “safe” job you hate
The example for this one is me.
My parents have always valued financial safety above everything.
On one hand, I understand why. It’s extremely important to be financially independent. But on the other hand, you need to take calculated risks if you want a fulfilling career.
Around 2013, I proudly told my father I was quitting my well-paying waitress job to relocate for a full-time, big girl (and also well-paid) job in Boston.
As soon as the words flowed out of my mouth, my dad’s smile disappeared, and he immediately huffed (literally, while rolling his eyes): “You’re going to quit Houston’s?!”
He honestly could not fathom why I would leave such a “safe,” well-paying job, as if I couldn’t make it in a real job—it was just too risky.
Three months later, I was fired with only one month’s severance. I was devastated, but the company culture was a horrible fit for me.
I gave myself one hour to cry in bed. Once the hour was up, I opened my laptop and began emailing everyone I knew and applying to every job I could find.
I found work almost immediately, thanks to my network of weak ties, and when I eventually relocated back to Florida (two years later), I did so because I chose to, not because I was forced to.
I’ve been financially independent ever since, and I’ve never had to work another crappy waitress job again.
Just remember: when someone tells you, “You can’t,” the only logical thing to do is show them you can.
Badvice 6: Work for free
I’m being ‘advised’ by my parents that ‘five times as many candidates as job openings be damned!’ and ‘Just go up to an employer (who may or may not even have a job opening advertised), tell them you’ll work for them for free for one week and if they’re happy with the job you’re doing, then they should hire you.’ (source)
Point-blank: It’s really not okay to work for free.
Before my father cut me off, I worked for free as an unpaid intern.
My internship experience was enjoyable. I liked everyone I worked with. I liked the professional environment. And I loved doing real work. So why do I regret working for free then?
Because working for free isn’t fair to all the people who can’t afford the luxury of working for free.
But let’s pretend for a second that I didn’t care about anyone but myself. Now, is it okay to work for free?
Point two: You’re only worth as much as your last job.
After I quit my unpaid internship, I began applying to full-time marketing jobs.
I had all this great experience now; why shouldn’t someone want to hire me? I naively thought to myself. Boy, was I wrong.
Employers didn’t care that I had loads of valuable experience to offer them. All they saw written all over my résumé was “unpaid intern.”
It was so wildly depleting to hear “we don’t think you’re right for this position, but we do have an unpaid internship that we think you would be perfect for,” over and over and over again.
I could not afford an unpaid internship anymore, but they didn’t care.
I quickly learned that I was only worth as much as whatever my last job was willing to pay me.
Point three: People who expect you to work for free will always expect you to work for free.
I didn’t want to quit my unpaid internship, because, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed what I did and who I worked with. So, I decided to pitch my boss on paying me and bringing me on full-time.
To my naive dismay, they said no. They had just brought on a younger unpaid intern, who I had recently trained, so they didn’t need me.
That’s when I learned that just because you work for free doesn’t mean you’ll get anything out of it — ever.
Badvice 7: Avoid this like the plague
A 2019 study from The New York Times has some rather alarming statistics about parents butting into their children’s job application processes. A full 22% of parents admitted to writing some or all of their child’s job application, and another 11% said they’d gotten in touch with their kid’s employer to discuss issues at the workplace.
The study doesn’t discuss how well those jobs went for the kids, but if I had to wager a guess, I would estimate two things happened in most cases:
1. The employer wasn’t happy to discover that the worker they hired was not who was presented on paper.
2. The employer lost some respect for their worker after getting in an argument with mom or dad on the phone.
Please—I beg you—do NOT be one of these children (or parents, if you’re a parent reading this post).
If your mom or dad is one of these helicopter parents, try to limit the amount of information you give them about work.
And in the mortifying instance that your mom or dad crosses the line and takes your career fate into their own hands, have a script ready to send to your boss or potential employer.
I’m mortified that my mom emailed you! She means well, but of course she shouldn’t be involved in this conversation. Please don’t feel you need to respond to her, and I’ll ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Badvice 8: Your resume is the most important thing
Ah, the dreaded resume.
If your parents are anything like mine, they made you think your resume is the end-all and be-all of the job application process.
Does this mean you need to go through your Instagram and delete all those photos of you in your less professional moments? Well, consider this about what you post online—there’s a chance your future boss will see it. If you think a certain photo or Tweet will deter your chances of getting a job, it’s probably best to delete it or make your social media profiles private.
But you can also use social media, and the connections you make there, to find the right career for you. Building a personal brand for yourself means you’ll attract the right kinds of jobs, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to send a link to your LinkedIn profile or personal website than it is to constantly update your resume PDF.
If you’re looking to get started on building a brand for yourself and turning your LinkedIn into your resume, check out these resources:
When parents give us career advice, it’s usually because they’re worried about our future and want us to do well. But it can be hard for them to understand today’s job market, and a big part of growing up is about forging your own path—even if it goes against your parents’ advice!