The worst career advice I ever received was: “Keep your head down, do good work, ignore ‘office politics’ and produce results. Just be honest and hard working, and your career will be fine.”
It took me many years to learn the tough truth – that rapid career progress isn’t always correlated with talent, ambition, attitude or hard work. The good guys (and gals) don’t always win. And sometimes they are crushed under the boots of jerks, idiots and evildoers.
So in addition to doing good work I have found it is important to find positive ways to “play the game” of office politics. You have to self-promote and ensure that leaders see the value you bring to the business. It is also important to be aware of the human dynamics around you; who has your back (and who doesn’t), whose star is rising, and who can be trusted.
There are a number of other common career tips that I think can sometimes do more harm than good. Below is my personal list of less-than-helpful career advice I’ve received over the years.
- Do what you love and the money will follow. Of course your “passion” should be a factor in choosing a career, but that does not assure financial success. There are plenty of poor dream-followers, which is OK if they are truly happy being both passionate and impoverished.
- Your job is to make your boss look good. Of course if you do a good job, it should naturally make your boss look good. And you have to be careful not to “outshine” your boss, especially if he or she is insecure. But your JOB is to create value for the business – who ends up looking good because of it is a secondary issue.
- Be patient and your time will come. Looking back over the past 20 years, I see now that none of the managers who said this to me really meant it. This was just their way to placate me. Once I finally decided that ‘my time’ had already come, and it was up to ME to do something about it (not them), my career accelerated dramatically.
- Get in with a solid, stable company, then work your way up. Avoid companies and/or managers with obvious “issues.” My most significant career acceleration occurred with companies and managers who had major challenges. The key was to help solve those issues and develop a reputation as a “trouble shooter” who could be counted on to run toward a fire, not away from it.