Ambitious career starters share the same dream: to blow the socks off their new bosses and colleagues with their dedication, professionalism, and sheer talent. Consequently, they turn to friends, family, and Google to gather advice on how to shine in their new role.
Luckily for them, there is plenty of good advice out there. Unluckily for them, it’s mixed up with a lot of really, really awful career advice. The sort of advice that, if you follow it, will leave you both miserable and bad at your job.
Some of the worst offenders have been rounded up below. You have been warned …
1.“Work Overtime All the Time”
In your job contract, your employer will have stipulated your working hours. If you break them by not getting up out of bed in order to show up on time, or by swanning out the office at 3pm to do some personal shopping, you would almost certainly be severely reprimanded for your unprofessionalism.
Yet the idea that the employer should break their side of the bargain by allowing you to work more hours for no extra pay, has been so normalised that many career advisors actively encourage it as a way to show your dedication.
While it is true that being enthusiastic and hard-working will get you praised and promoted, neither qualities are best displayed by chaining yourself to your desk. If it’s genuinely impossible to complete all your work on time, you are either not qualified for the role or you are being overburdened. In either situation, businesses that value their employees will work with you to resolve the problem.
That is because they know how toxic being overworked can be, and how much burnout will damage your morale and productivity. You will be a happier person and a better worker by setting boundaries and developing a good work-life balance. Trust us.
2.“Negotiating Salary as a Career Starter is Unprofessional”
What would you do with an extra million dollars?
This isn’t a hypothetical question, because that is the sum that will be yours if you negotiate salary throughout your working life. Yet young people are notoriously bad at doing so, worried about coming across as pushy or having their job offer rescinded. In reality, most companies will pay out to get a candidate they really like, and almost none will take a job offer away just because the candidate asked for a higher salary.
Moreover, not negotiating has severe repercussions down the line. Most companies promote in salary ‘bands’, meaning your future raises are determined by your initial salary. And imagine how demoralised you’d feel if you found out a colleague was being paid more than you for the same role.
And if you think that taking a lower salary will win you goodwill from your employer, think again. Many will question your judgement for lowballing yourself. As Sony Chairperson Amy Pascal says:
“I run a business. People want to work for less money, I’ll pay them less money. I don’t call them up and go, can I give you some more? They have to walk away. People shouldn’t be so grateful for jobs.”
3.“High Heels and Makeup Make Women Look More Professional”
Unless you work for RuPaul, chances are you’ll only be offered this advice if you’re a woman. And that’s exactly the problem. Treating men and women differently in the workplace is pretty much never okay, and when the difference in treatment involves equating how attractive women look with how professional they are deemed to be, it’s full-out sexism.
To be clear, if you want to wear high-heels and/or makeup, then of course you should go ahead. But if you feel pressured into either because of references to studies such as the one that deems women with “glamorous” (i.e. heavy) make-up appear “more competent”, then ignore, ignore, ignore. The type of boss who will promote you on your ability to contour instead of your ability to do your job well are not the type of boss anybody -male or female- should want to work for.
When you’re drowsy from getting up early to fix your face or distracted by the pain in your high-heeled-feet, you’re not the most productive worker you could be. Dress smart by all means, but do so in a way you’re comfortable with.
4.“Stay at Least Two Years in Each Job”
In certain career-advice circles, the word job-hopper has taken on a resonance of the kind once associated with leprosy. The result is that people, especially young professionals, feel trapped into horrible jobs that are making them miserable.
It is true that employers want to invest time and training in employees who will stick around long enough for them to reap the rewards. But as long as you have both a reasonable explanation for why you were dissatisfied with your last job and can convince them that you are truly invested in their opportunity, it is highly unlikely that they wouldn’t hire an otherwise strong candidate.
Besides, staying at a company that doesn’t challenge you or makes you miserable is also bad for your career. You’re not developing the new skills that will help you get a job at a higher level elsewhere, and your morale and enthusiasm are likely to be so low that your quality of work, references and network will all be poor. In short, if you know your job isn’t right for you, the right time to start searching for a new opportunity is now.
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer, and editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice. Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream job or internship. Click here to browse their London-based graduate jobs, and here for their graduate jobs Manchester page.