Career advice you hear all the time that’s actually bunk

by Anna Bahney   @annabahneyAugust 2, 2017: 10:33 AM ET

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People love to give advice. And you’re especially likely to get an earful when you’re just starting out in your working life. But getting pro tips from everyone from your roommates or parents to your coworkers or bartender can be overwhelming.It turns out that a lot of what you hear, you should just ignore. Research, evidence and the current job market suggests there’s better advice to take.

“Follow your passion”

This go-to advice for inspirational posters and graduation speeches often leaves people spinning their wheels.

The suggestion to “follow your passion” depends on two assumptions, says Cal Newport, author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” a book that challenges the belief that “follow your passion” is good advice.

This trope assumes, he says, that you have a pre-existing passion to follow, and that matching your work to a topic you really like will lead you to really like your work.

“Neither are good assumptions.”

“Passion is not something you follow. It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world,” Newport wrote in the New York Times. What makes great jobs, Newport says, are rare and valuable things. “If you want them in your life, you need to first develop rare and valuable skills.” His suggestion? Pick a career that seems interesting enough and leave passion out of it. It should also be something that rewards increased skill with increased options.

“Then put your head down and focus on becoming so good you can’t be ignored. It’s typically at this point that you’ve gained the leverage needed to shape your working life into a true source of passion.”

Take this advice instead: “Be valuable.” “Stand out from the crowd”

If you applied to a listing on a job board, chances are thousands of other people have as well. That’s stiff competition even if you are perfectly qualified. Better odds, and better advice, says Sharmeen Akbani Gangat, founder of, is to bypass the crowd altogether and look for unadvertised jobs.

“You should get the job competition down until it is just you,” says Akbani Gangat.

You’re never hired for your skills or experience alone, she says. Managers hire you to make their lives easier and to make them look good in front of their bosses and clients. “You discover hidden jobs by digging around and understanding the needs and challenges of organizations,” then present yourself as the answer to their problems. No competitors in sight.

Take this advice instead: “Eliminate the competition”

“Under-promise and over-deliver”

This work-flow advice suggests that your superiors or clients will be blown-away by how you’ve provided more widgets or work than expected. And, naturally, a parade to celebrate you will follow. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it turns out the people you’re trying to impress don’t care much. Studies show going above and beyond isn’t valued that much. You get no significant bonus points when you deliver more than you promised. But you will get dinged for not delivering on time.

“Breaking one’s promise is costly, but exceeding it does not appear worth the effort,” concluded the authors of a 2014 paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science on promises kept, broken and exceeded.

Take this advice instead: “Meet your deadlines.”

“Stay at a new job for a year”

Job-hopping has gotten a bad rap. Float an idea that another job has caught your eye and many people will tell you to stay put, for at least a year, lest you seem flighty or irresponsible. But not anymore. Now the advice is: “Loyalty in the job market is for losers,” says Akbani Gangat. With pensions fading and restructuring a regular occurrence in many workplaces, few new hires expect the company to be the stalwart in their lives that it has been for previous generations.

It is always a good idea to know what’s happening around you, says Akbani Gangat. “You need to know what your company’s competitors are doing, then you know that you will always have a job in hand, right out of school or if you’re a senior executive.”

Take this advice instead: “Leap when opportunity knocks.”

“Build your brand”

The World Wide Web is older than the youngest people in the job market. These workers have been told since they got an email address that it is vital to “Build your brand.” And today nearly everyone is expected to have a LinkedIn presence and make regular witty and on-point remarks on Twitter as part of their package. Bonus points for loads of followers.

But Newport says, branding yourself is overrated. “I think we overvalue the importance to your career of being highly visible on social media,” says Newport. “Millennials, in particular, often believe that their online brand plays a key role in their professional success.” The reality, he says, is less interesting: “if you’re good at something valuable, you will have good options; if you’re not, you won’t — regardless of the clever timeliness of your tweets.”

Take this advice instead: “Build your value”

CNNMoney (New York)First published August 1, 2017: 10:54 AM ET