5 Pieces of Bad Career Advice

You've probably heard (and possibly followed) all five of these tips. Here's why they're hurting you.

By + More

Alison Green
I'm sometimes unnerved by some of the career advice that gets repeated over and over in job-hunting guides and career columns. Here are five particularly bad pieces of advice that I cringe every time I see:

Bad piece of advice #1: When interviewing, figure out what the interviewer is looking for and shape your answers accordingly. This is a recipe for landing in a job that you either hate or aren't good at. Or both. You might be able to suppress your real self for a couple of hours in an interview, but you won't be able to do it for 40 hours a week. If you want to land in a job that you'll love and thrive in, show the real you. You'll turn off the employers who aren't right for you and you'll attract the ones who are.

Bad piece of advice #2: When an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, offer up a positive framed as a weakness. This is the fastest way to exasperate me. Claiming that your biggest weakness is perfectionism and you work too hard is disingenuous and looks like you're avoiding the question. Candidates who can't or won't come up with a realistic assessment of areas where they could improve make me think they're lacking in insight and self-awareness—or, at a minimum, just making it impossible to have a real discussion of their potential fitness for the job. I want to know about your weaknesses not because I'm trying to trip you up but because I genuinely care about making sure you're a good fit for the job. I don't want to put you in a job you'll struggle in, and I definitely don't want to have to fire you a few months from now. Isn't it better to lose the job offer now than the job itself later?

Bad piece of advice #3: Leave the months off your résumé and only list years.This drives me crazy, because if you just list "2006," I can't tell if you were there for one month or 12 months—and it makes a difference. It also makes me wonder if you're intentionally trying to disguise a series of short stints. Deliberate deception isn't good in a candidate.

Bad piece of advice #4: Use a nonchronological, "functional" résumé format. This format is used most often by people who have gaps in their employment history, and it's very employer-unfriendly, because it makes it hard for me to get a handle on exactly what your career progression has been. If you have gaps in your work history, I'm going to find them, but if you make me do detective work to uncover them, I'm going to be annoyed. Keep the chronological organization.

Bad piece of advice #5: Don't complain to your boss about your incompetent or lazy coworker unless it's directly affecting your work. I appreciate the "don't tattle" spirit of this advice, but I want to know if employees are getting demoralized by a coworker's shoddy performance, even if it's not impacting their work directly. And I also want to know what they might be observing that I haven't picked up on, so I can pay closer attention. To be clear, I don't want to hear about it repeatedly, but I do appreciate a one-time heads-up, delivered in a discreet, professional way, if it comes from a solid employee. Not every manager shares this stance, but I believe plenty of the good ones do.

What bad career advice have you seen?

Alison Green is chief of staff for a medium-size nonprofit where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff, as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. She is working with the Management Center to coauthor a book on nonprofit management. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.