Career and job search advice is plentiful today, and much of it is now research-backed. So, it’s easy to forget that on occasion, best practices won’t apply to your situation and may, in fact, backfire.
For example, wearing a tailored suit and tie to an interview is usually a winning strategy, but if you’re interviewing at an early stage start-up where the culture calls for flip flops and t-shirts, overdressing may cost you the job offer.
Also, the ideal length for a resume is one to two pages, but in certain industries or functions a lengthy 20-page CV (curriculum vitae) or a one-page biography might serve you better.
Conversely, in some situations you may be tempted to try something risky after hearing about someone’s usual success story. For example, boldly delivering your qualifications to the hiring manager via a singing telegram could earn you the offer (like it did for your cousin’s roommate’s boyfriend’s sister). However, more often than not, it will get you escorted off the premises by security.
Remember this: Don’t allow popular advice to override common sense.
A job search is complex, often filled with frustrating and confusing processes and lacking clear steps or guaranteed results. So, it makes sense that job seekers and career changers are looking for concrete answers to make the process less ambiguous.
The good news is that most of the well-researched strategies that have been proven to be effective will be beneficial to your job search, especially when applied in the right context and at the right time. But as the saying goes, knowledge is having the information and wisdom is applying it correctly.
To avoid blindly engaging career advice that could potentially derail your efforts, here’s how to discern if it makes sense for your situation:
- Evaluate the context. While some advice (like building your network!) applies across disciplines, other tips may be more nuanced to specific industries, functions, audiences or markets. Also, how you apply the advice could differ. To avoid a pitfall, know why you’re taking action, what outcome you anticipate, and how it fits into your overall goal.
- Have a strategy. In the same way many skip the instructions and jump right into building that new IKEA desk, many job seekers spend little time creating a detailed strategy for their job search. If you build a well-thought out plan, you’re less likely to accept whimsical advice and more likely to stay on target.
- Follow your fear. The tendency when experiencing fear is to freeze or flee, however, often it’s a signpost for where to go and what actions to take. Pay attention to it, and dissect the messages that are going through your mind driving the fear response. Are you fearing failure? The unknown? Potential embarrassment? Making a mistake? Often taking a step toward the fear will be more valuable in uncovering the truth than remaining stuck in analysis paralysis.
- Consider the source. Sometimes the most well-intentioned individuals give the least helpful advice because they are unable to be objective. This isn’t an automatic red flag, and sometimes those who are objective toward your situation may be completely biased in other ways due to their own experiences. Be graciously curious and dig deeply to uncover what the advice is based on and specifically how your contact sees it adding value to your situation.
- Look for themes. Is one person insisting that you try a strategy or just about everyone you speak with independently? Who is offering the advice – industry professionals or your poker buddies? Have you heard or read this advice before from a credible source? Do you know people who it’s been effective for in similar circumstances? Shallow insights, platitudes and novel tips may appear to be sound advice, but can easily lead you astray if you skip digging beneath the surface.
- Trust your instincts. Humans are master rationalizers and can justify just about anything given the opportunity. The human brain can also get lazy and trick us into focusing on the information we want to hear in the moment (aka, bias, assumptions and stereotypes). You may find it helpful to abandon logic and feel your way through a dilemma. Some are better at this than others, but if it works for you, make the space for it.
Managing your career is part science and part art. No strategy works 100% of the time and there will always be an outlier (e.g., my friend posted on a billboard and nabbed the job!) someone can refer to that can confuse your decision. When all else fails you, trial and error is usually a better option than doing nothing at all since you’re gathering data that can inform your next decision.
What’s important is taking the time to reflect on your situation and not giving your power away. As comforting as it might feel in the moment to let someone else choose your path, it won’t offer solace when the choice doesn’t pan out. You can blame others for bad advice, but you’re the one left without the job offer.
Make the time to invest in yourself – you’ll be glad that you did.
Article written by Dawn Graham for Forbes.com
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