ignore this common — and awful — career advice

featured-on-usnNot all career advice is created equal. In fact, some can actually hurt a job search or your career. For instance:

  • “Going to grad school will make you more marketable.”
  • “If an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, answer with something positive.”
  • “Following up with an employer after you apply for a job shows persistence and enthusiasm.”

Sound familiar? Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about seven pieces of terrible career advice that you should ignore. You can read it here.

 

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Juni

    I’ve found that a lot of my weaknesses are things I don’t mind mentioning in an interview, because they help me cull employers that I wouldn’t want to work for or who wouldn’t be a good fit. For example, I am not great at reading other people’s motivations when they don’t say what they mean. I don’t mean liars, but more like peoples’ unspoken undercurrents. It’s a real blind spot for me, and I need a diplomatic supervisor who is skilled at subtle communication, who I can go talk to for a reality check or coaching when I run up against it.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      +1.

      I have a weakness (related to my job function) that many employers don’t even notice because we spend only 5% of our time doing that thing I’m weak at. Many more candidates are great at that 5%, but not as strong at the 95% that is our bread and butter. Nonetheless, a significant number of hiring managers don’t consider you good at your job unless you excel at that 5%. So I ALWAYS answer “I’m not good at teapot handle design. I’m amazing at chocolate finishes and overall teapot construction, but if you’re looking for the next award-winning teapot handle, it’s not going to come from me,” when asked what my weakness is. About half the time I get thanked for being honest, and although the interview continues I can tell that I’ve been written off, which is okay with me because I wouldn’t want to be hired by that person and then not be what she expected. And half the time I get, “Well, 95% of the time we don’t need handles anyway, and what we really need in this role is a chocolate finish expert,” and that’s when I think this could be a good match.

      1. Juni

        Exactly! I’ve also been upfront about being a rules-follower. Like, “I know every team needs people along a wide spectrum of risk acceptance and risk aversion. I’m very well versed in best practices in teapots and I have a lot of experience with federal hot water regulations. I’m always learning, but if you’re looking for someone on your team who falls heavily to the best practices and compliance side of chocolate teapot making, to balance out a lot of risk-takers, I’m a great match.”

      2. Elizabeth West

        I have to walk a fine line with this because my weakness is math. I’ve spoken about the LD before, but it really does affect what kind of work I can do. Since I’m mostly clerical, I learned to ask up front if the job required any kind of budgeting, bookkeeping, or accounting skills. With the recession, employers consolidated positions and I found when I was job searching that a lot of them do.

        So I basically have to say that I don’t do at all well on those kinds of tasks, but I’m aces at X, Y, and Z. I just don’t want to tell them how bad it really is if they don’t need to know that.

        1. Tau

          I hear you… I have a disability that entails difficulties with organisation, prioritising, task-switching, etc. Said difficulties undoubtedly constitute my greatest weakness, so I’m trying to figure out how to address my need for structure and people to check in with about what I’m currently doing without sending everyone running for the hills through being too honest.

    2. Annie

      Very true! My go-to response is that I really struggle with focusing on a single task for a long period of time. I really need to have a varied workday to be productive and happy, and I don`t want to pretend that I`ll be comfortable in a position doing identical, repetitive tasks.

    3. annonymouse

      I’ve been trained not to give the schmaltzy answers to weaknesses “I work to hard/I’m a perfectionist” but to instead list real but easily fixable problems or problems I have that aren’t a major deal for the position.

      I.e I’m good at teapot documents, teapot spreadsheeter and teapot mail, however I’ve never really used teapot presenter programs or teapot photo editor. (Easily fixable)

      I’m great at customer service, reception and data entry (key to position). However I’m not too experienced in roster management or travel arrangements (2% of job and easily trainable).

      Not a lie, just not a 100% fit for job description.

      I follow up after interviews if it’s been a week or more and hadn’t heard anything. A simple “Hello. My name is Annonymouse. I applied for teapot sport admin position and had an interview a week ago. I was just wondering about how my application was progressing?

      I’d also follow up with an employer only if:
      1) About a month had gone by since advertising.
      2) I know I’m an outstanding candidate (I work for a very specific sports field and have experience in both the sport and specific sport admin side) obviously I wouldn’t do this for regular admin work.
      3) I hadn’t heard anything back from them – no rejection email or call.
      4) the position was still advertised

      In this case is call and say “Hello. I was wondering if teapot sport admin position was still available?

      Polite, can be answered by anyone and respects everyone’s time.

      BUT THIS MIGHT NOT WORK FOR EVERY INDUSTRY OR POSITION!!

      I work in an industry where if I call I’ll likely get hold of the owner and they’ll often ask me questions about my experience and skills and give me their direct email to send my resume, putting me miles ahead of other candidates.

      Even if it’s for a normal admin job the most I do is ask if I the position is still available.

      They don’t owe me more than that (if that at all!)

  2. My 2 Cents

    I saw someone last week who coached people to ALWAYS hand deliver your resume and cover letter, it made me want to scream!

    1. Former Diet Coke Addict

      I also had someone last month doing the “I don’t know why I can’t find a job–I go door-to-door in offices handing out my resume, and I always get the look of shock and ‘Oh, we’re not hiring….ever’ and I know they’re just throwing them away!”

      It took a lot of willpower not to tell them “Duh, do YOU buy things from door-to-door salespeople? Why would an employer?”

    2. BadPlanning

      I think if you delivered a resume to the front desk at my Big Company, the receptionist would probably toss it in the trash. Not because they’re lazy, but because a paper resume is almost useless for us. And HR is mostly at other company sites so the front desk probably wouldn’t have someone else to actually hand it to.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      Aggggggh, that drives me so crazy. They’re not just wasting those job-seekers’ time; they’re encouraging them to do something that will actively harm them with most employers.

      1. LUCYVP

        Recently I had an applicant email her materials (as requested in the job listing) then follow up with 3 phone calls. She was not even remotely qualified so I never gave her much attention but didnt say NO over the phone – I just gave the general ‘we are still collecting applicants and will be in touch if you will move forward to the next stage’. After the third phone call I was all set to email her a form rejection when I get a call from security that she is on the property looking for me.

        We are a moderately secure location (not gov. level but enough that you cant just show up unannounced). All visitors need to be logged in advance and get directions as to the property entrance and how to arrive. She arrived at the wrong gate at opposite end of our large property from my building and was super forceful with the security guy at the gate that he let her see me and that she knew I was on the property because she had just spoken to me on the phone.

        Luckily one of our fab. admins jumped in and ‘collected’ her resume on my behalf (and had to swear that I would get the resume).

        I have to say I DO remember her name – which isnt true for any other applicant for that position who wasnt even considered for an interview – but not in a good way.

        Also – she had a very candid selfie-style headshot on her resume that just added to the tacky.

        1. annonymouse

          Why don’t these people get that this kind of behaviour is stalkery and frightening at worst or highly annoying and not making a good impression on your potential future boss at best?

          It might stem from the fact they’re thinking only about themselves and not others – a terrible trait in a team or customer service environment.

          Also ALWAYS be nice to the reception staff – before, during and after the interview process – because:

          1) They’re people too and deserve to be treated with basic decency and respect
          2) Often in smaller businesses/branches they have to filter / forward the applicants to the people that make decisions. They can easily say something to them (“This person was really rude and pushy. I don’t think they’ll fit in here.”) or simply delete your application.
          3) You never know who is actually sitting on the front desk. In smaller businesses it might be the owner themselves covering or a relative/close friend that holds the position.
          In a larger business maybe someone with a bit of clout will be covering for the receptionist (lunch, sickness). Way to ruin your chances!
          4) If they’re interviewing a few people, chances are the interviewer/HR is going to come out to the front a lot – Possibly in time to catch you being a massive ass-hat to a staff member.

          5) Also how about its just a terrible thing to do in general?

    4. grasshopper

      Showing up in person is too old-school and not likely to get the attention you want.

      As much as I hate having to apply via website where you type in all your information and submit via their online form, there are good reasons for it: no need for HR to do data entry, all applications gathered in one place and time stamped, and it weeds out those who can’t follow simple directions or who aren’t computer literate.

      1. De Minimis

        Our secretary is out today so I’ve been having to answer the door a lot [I’m closest.] I had a person ask about jobs…I referred them to USAJobs but did give them some information as far as meeting some of our hiring preference requirements. From her story it sounded like she’d been out of the workforce a while and I think was used to the older way of doing things.

    5. super anon

      95% of the time, when someone finds out I’m job searching their first advice is “you should be going into the companies so the employers can see your face! that’s the only way you’re going to be getting a job! and definitely call them to follow up the day after you drop off your resume that way they’ll know you’re tenacious and want the job!!”. Ugh. It’s so difficult to nod politely and pretend that you’re going to take their terrible advice when it happens all the time.

      I thought it was exclusive to older people who hadn’t been job searching since the internet and online/email applications became standard, but I’ve had lots of younger people tell me the same thing too. It’s so frustrating!

      1. Felicia

        Even in pre internet times, my mom told me that she generally faxed/mailed resumes , and the only time she’d show up in person is if it was a job that was advertized in the newspaper…so at least in her mid 80s experience it wasn’t even a thing then.

      2. Kelly O

        I think some people read advice about “standing out” and think this is a great method. I’ve been spending a little time in Starbucks working on my job search – Mr. O works from home and it can be a little too much togetherness if you catch my drift. I cannot tell you how many times I get asked why I am not hand delivering resumes.

        Mind you this comes regularly from the same gentlemen who tell me to do what I love, and keep pestering me about what I’m passionate about. I can’t really say “taking an uninterrupted shower and Game of Thrones.”

    6. Liz

      We’ve had 2 or 3 people come to our office and politely but persistently demanded to see the owner of the company, right then, to drop off their resume. They refused to hand their resume to our receptionist and only wanted to give to the owner.

      Frankly the worst job-seeking strategy I’ve ever seen. All it did was piss off the owner. The absolute worst guy was the one who included a $100 bill with his resume with some note about “I bet you $100 you won’t find a better candidate than me.” We had to track down the guy to return the money, which of course only encouraged him that he had a chance. Uh, no.

      1. Snork Maiden

        I hope I never have to say “I am returning the cash enclosed with your resume” (and not because I’m keeping the cash, either).

        1. April

          LOL I know, right? I wonder what in the world the applicant person was thinking!
          If they had never seen that bill again would they have still done the same thing over and over again with the next applications? How could they afford that without a job?

      2. Lizzy May

        Refusing to do what the receptionist asks is such a killer. Any time I’ve worked the front desk and someone came in with a resume while my manager was busy I asked to take it. Gatekeeping was my job and if someone was pushy or rude, I made sure the manager knew. Why would I want to work with someone who isn’t polite, can’t follow direction and doesn’t put clients first?

        1. Kelly O

          When I worked at the university, my boss would ALWAYS ask me what I thought of candidates. I was the one who called them to set up meetings, I was the one who greeted them when they arrived, I was the one who interacted with them while they were waiting, and I was the one who saw them out of the office. I cannot tell you how many times a hiring decision was made one way or the other because of how a candidate interacted with me, other department members, or just people in and out doing their own jobs.

          And yes, I kept notes about who continued to “follow up” even when I’d explained the process to them for the first, fifth, or twentieth time. (No, I will never forget you. You know who you are.)

      3. NewishAnon

        I love how he immediately handed over the $100, admitting defeat right from the get go. He really didn’t think that one through.

        1. Liz

          Right? We were all puzzled as to how it was meant to work. I guess once you hired him you were supposed to give him back $200? I have no idea.

          You know, thinking back, I can’t even remember what position he was applying for. The cash was so distracting and weird. It sure did make him stand out, but not in the way he wanted!

    7. Lizzie

      My advisor in grad school AND her husband (who works in the same field and is frequently on hiring committees) both suggested hand delivering resumes and cover letters to prospective employers. Even before I started reading AAM, I was like, “But…but the job postings say apply online only. They say no phone calls! These people have said, *in writing* that they don’t want me to do what you’re telling me I should do! And it seems so awkward!”

      I did not do it. And I still got a job.

    8. Brenda

      Who ARE these people? Was this person 90 years old? I work in a university careers centre and we would never tell a student to do that. The number one thing is “follow the application instructions”! If they don’t do that, then right off the bat the employer knows you’re someone who doesn’t follow instructions.

      1. grasshopper

        I actually applied for a program where the screeners told me that part of the reason that the directions were super-thorough (ie attach a photo of a certain size and dimensions to the upper left hand corner of the first page of the application using a paper clip and not stapled) was to see if people would follow the directions. Those who didn’t follow the directions were immediately put in the rejection pile, regardless of their qualifications.

        1. LisaS

          There’s a story about a band – Van Halen, maybe? – writing it into their contracts that the bowls of M&Ms in their dressing rooms had to have all the green candies removed. They got thoroughly laughed at, but the lead singer, many years later, explained that they did it not because they cared about the M&Ms but because they cared about their sound and the rigging for the lights, and it was a good way to make sure promoters & venue managers actually read the contracts and got *those* specs right.

          1. Kelly O

            I very much enjoyed that story, and it goes to show that details matter, and paying attention to them can be the key to building trust.

        2. Biff

          I suggested this to my boss as a way of figuring out who wouldn’t fit in to our process-driven workplace. … there are definite times and places for application gimmies, IMO.

    9. Ruth (UK)

      However, in some of the retail jobs I’ve worked at, going in store and asking to speak to a manager about hiring could very well mean being offered an interview on the spot (IF we really were hiring at that time). Especially if you said you’d worked in that type of job before.

      If you knew someone who worked in the store (and they were considered a good employee) your chances of getting at least an interview went up to nearly 100% (again, IF we were actually hiring). So it does depend on the industry. Obv I get that it’s crazy in most office jobs but some of the jobs I’ve worked in (incl. door-to-door and various retail) this is absolutely the way to essentially jump the hiring queue. (and even most retail places will probs tell you ‘apply online’ these days if you try asking in store).

      (Side note: my experience isn’t out-dated by age. I’m 26. Also, I’m in the UK so we perhaps may be slightly more old fashioned on this particular thing?)

      1. Felicia

        This is a common and accept way to apply in retail and in restaurants, but those are the only industries where that is a thing. It’s the one exception

    10. Awkially Socward

      This is quite literally what I did when I first started job hunting after my previous job ended. This was at the recommendation of the DWP, which is basically the job side of Social Security.

      I wasted dozens of hours and a lot of petrol gadding about. I faced multitudes of confused and sometimes effectively absent receptionists, hiring managers that had no idea the job was still listed, managers that were visibily annoyed at having to come to the front desk, managers who had no idea there was even a job going, jobsworth security, and a lot of waiting around.

      1. misspiggy

        Yes, but what the DWP is trying to do is annoy you into giving up your benefit claim. They do not care if you get a job.

  3. Karowen

    Related question to the post: basically, you say that resumes for very recent grads should be one page, otherwise two pages is okay. At what point are you no longer a “very recent grad”? 2 years? One professional job? I find that I still think of myself as a recent grad when it comes to my resume, even though I’ve been out of college for 5 years.

    1. Allison

      A “very recent grad,” to me, is someone with no full-time post-grad experience; in other words, all their work experience has been short-term, part-time, internships, co-ops, retail stuff, etc. It’s entirely possible that someone who’s just graduated will also have been working somewhere full-time for years while going to school part-time, but they’re the exception to the rule.

      That said, if you still only have a couple post-grad jobs under your belt, you may still be able to keep your resume to one page, because at that point you can whittle down the details of your education, internships, and part-time retail jobs as they will be far less relevant than the full-time work you’ve done.

      1. Koko

        Yes – once you have a professional full-time job to describe on your resume, but you still want to leave some earlier part-time retail/hospitality jobs on there that lend something, instead of growing your resume to a second page that’s when you turn:

        My High School Job, Fast Food Joint, Hometown, USA
        -Ran cashier station
        -Counted out drawer at end of night to ensure accurate balance
        -Addressed customer complaints
        -Counted inventory
        -Took orders over phone
        -Took catering orders

        Into:
        My High School Job, Fast Food Joint, Hometown, USA
        -Customer service representative and cashier

        Or possibly:
        My High School Job, Fast Food Joint, Hometown, USA
        -Customer service representative and cashier
        -Trained new hires and acted as shift supervisor

        Your unrelated-but-it-shows-I-can-hold-down-a-job experience doesn’t need to be more than one or at most two bullets once you have more substantive bullets from related work. It honestly doesn’t take 15 bullets to describe front-line fast food work and I can’t believe how often I see candidates listing every little task they ever did.

    2. Dan

      I wouldn’t overthink this too much.

      Your job with a resume is to convince a potential employer that you can get the job done. At my last job, everything was project based, so my resume lists and describes all of my projects where I was making substantial contributions. I did some project management work, as well as a lot of substantial analyses pretty much on my own. So I talk about it all, because I want to paint the picture than I’m a competent professional who can tackle whatever problem comes my way. One “I ran X project” just isn’t going to cut it.

      I referred one of my former coworkers to a job at my new place, and she spent 4 years at OldJob with me. Her resume was 3 pages and pretty verbose. My senior director loved it, so go figure.

    3. Stephanie

      Yeah, same boat (kind of) in terms of experience. It’s like 1.5 pages or one page of 10-pt font with 0.3″ margins.

    4. Jennifer

      Probably within 1 year is “recent grad.” Maaaaaaybe 2 years at a stretch. But it really boils down to “recent grad” meaning you don’t have professional work experience, and after you’ve got a professional post-college job on the resume, you probably don’t count as having that excuse any more.

    5. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think this is less about when you’re still a recent grad and when you can go to a second page on your resume (my fault for not being clearer in the original article). It’s hard to justify a second page when you’re 5 or fewer years out of school.

  4. Dan

    #1

    “What’s worse is that grad school can even make it harder for you to get hired in many cases, since if you’re applying to jobs that don’t require the degree, employers may think that their work isn’t what you really want to do.”

    And I’d argue that employers who think that are actually right. Going to grad school, (and in particular, the PhD) pretty much requires that you have some passion for the subject. If what I’m hiring for is wildly different than what you went to school for (and not a natural transferable skill) then I’m going to want to know what’s up. If I’ve got a stack of resumes that don’t raise eyebrows, I may never get around to calling those I have questions about.

    That said, I work in a field where something like 2/3 of the technical staff have an MS or PhD. You pretty much only get in at the BS level and no experience if you interned here.

    1. AnotherAlison

      Hmmm, I think I am going to have to disagree. The employers may be right, to some extent. . . Obviously one likely didn’t want to be a safety manager when one set out on the path to get a PhD in biochemistry but now, why not? (Or a copywriter with a degree in medieval literature, or whatever). The research dream, the world of academia. . .the more I hear about it, the more unappealing it becomes, but the 20 year old me would have thought that was an awesome job.

      I have old high school friends who are over 35 doing post-docs. I made more than what a typical post-doc funding pays when I graduated with a BS 100 years ago. At some point, you might get tired of scratching out a career in academia. You just want a salary that you don’t have to fund yourself, and a “9-5” job (in theory).

    2. Noelle

      At my last two interviews, I have been told that “ideally, we want someone with a law degree.” I don’t have one. Both times I’ve gotten an offer anyway, because it just isn’t a requirement of the job. Plus, I will be a cheaper hire since I don’t have upwards of $100k in student loans I need to make payments on.

      1. bridget

        And, you very likely beat out a lot of people who did have law degrees. I graduated law school in the middle of the recession, and I still have *tons* of classmates who are applying to those “JD preferred” jobs and aren’t getting them. Having the “would be nice” qualification won’t get you very far when somebody else has demonstrated experience in the actual day-to-day requirements of the job.

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I am totally skeptical of people who recently completed grad school and are applying for something that (a) doesn’t required a graduate degree and (b) isn’t very closely related to their studies. I’m skeptical because my experience tells me that once I hire them they are likely to keep looking for a job in their field, and then leave 3 weeks or 3 months later, after we’ve invested a lot of resources in them and haven’t gotten much benefit. It’s harder because so many are prepared to give really good answers about why they truly don’t want to go into their field of study – but then they are out the door in a few months or less! We don’t otherwise have turnover of short-term employees.

      What I’d like to know is how to tell the difference. I know there are genuinely some people who finish grad school after they realize it’s not really what they want to do. Any suggestions for good questions to ask?

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        I think the key is “recent.” If someone just finished a grad degree and is applying to an unrelated job, I’d be cautious. On the other hand, if someone has a grad degree from 20 years ago but has gradually moved away from the subject of their studies over the course of their career, it’s a very different situation.

        In the first case, I’d definitely ask some probing questions and weigh the answers very carefully. In most cases, it would take a special circumstance for me to hire someone who recently earned a totally unrelated grad degree.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Totally agree – i really don’t care what someone studied 20 years ago – their work experience since then is so much for useful (unless it’s for a positions hat requires licensing).

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Totally agree – i really don’t care what someone studied 20 years ago – their work experience since then is so much for useful (unless it’s for a positions that requires licensing).

      2. Melissa

        I have never done hiring for this kind of position, but as a recent PhD graduate myself – you might ask them why they want to leave academia, but lots of people will have a pat prepared answer to that.

        So instead you might ask them why they wanted to go to graduate school in the first place. Some of them might be honest and say that they wanted an academic job, but hopefully they then have a good explanation for why they don’t anymore. For me, I try to make my reasoning quite general and more widely applicable to a variety of fields (most of the non-academic jobs in which I am interested or have applied for require statistical, research, or analytical skills, so I emphasize that I loved research and analysis and I wanted to immerse myself in a high-level study of that, which is true – I actually never wanted an academic job). You also might ask why or how their skills are transferable; the academic types won’t really have given much thought to this question. We are actually more or less taught not to. To desire corporate jobs with steady work schedules is a cardinal sin, lol.

        Also, the “where do you see yourself in 2-3 years” question might work here, too. If they are just applying to this job as a holding pattern job, chances are that they haven’t done research on where they can advance from the job that they are interviewing for, and may not have a good answer for that.

        On the flip side, I will say that in my experience academics/PhD holders who are *seriously* trying to seek non-academic jobs are told to think deeply about and prepare answers to these kinds of questions. So in theory, if you happen upon a PhD holder who truly does want to jump ship and stay out of the field, they should have some kind of decent answer to these. In theory.

        1. Ann O'Nemity

          I agree with much of this.

          I like the idea of looking at transferable skills. It doesn’t seem weird for someone with a PhD in public health or even public policy to apply for a NIH job because there’s a lot of transferable skills there. It may not be an academic job, but it’s in the same area. It’s worse when the degree has very little to do with the job (humanities degree and sales job, for example).

        2. Tau

          Thank you for this comment! I’m just finishing a PhD and want to leave academia and it’s good to know what kind of answers will let people know I’m not secretly looking for a postdoc on the side. Luckily, the field I’m going for is somewhat related to my degree subject and my understanding is that it’s not at all unusual for people to switch into it post-PhD but I still want to be prepared.

  5. List Your Bad Advice Here!

    Starting a list of bad advice and why, in your opinion, it was bad.

    Mine:

    – Dealing with bully-ish co-workers. “Just smile and be nice.” Yes, but you also have to assert your boundaries.

    – “You should stay at a job you have ethical objections to because it’s better than having something short-lived on your resume.” Not if it will damage your reputation and if people will understand why you moved on.

    – “Don’t aim too high. Aim for what you’re sure you can achieve.” No, aiming high and chasing your dreams is always a good thing.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I like a lot of yours, but I do want to quibble with the third one. I do think people (especially women) should aim for “stretch” jobs, because there’s no harm in it.

      But when I see an application for a department head position from someone fresh out of school with no real experience, I think that the applicant has very little awareness of either how the world works, of their own skill level, or both. It damages their credibility.

      1. Bad Advice List

        Not aiming high was the bad advice. I’ve gotten it from friends, family and even career counselors. It seems to be common, but it usually comes from people who are unhappy that they haven’t achieved their dreams and are projecting that onto others. People who truly want you to succeed, such as mentors and university professors, will always tell you to aim high. Not to do things that are professionally inappropriate, but to go ahead and express your opinions, take calculated risks, etc.

        1. sunny-dee

          There is a huge difference between putting yourself on the right path and being unrealistic. Taking a junior professorship at a small-ish college or starting at an alt weekly newspaper — these can be stepping stones to bigger positions. They’re small, but it gives you a foundation to build on to where you want to be. But consistently trying to apply for jobs outside your experience and background isn’t aiming high, even if that’s where you want to go — it’s, ahem, misguided.

          1. fposte

            Taking a junior professorship at a smallish college isn’t a stepping stone, it’s a lottery win. An actual tenure-stream faculty position is really tough to get, which is why so many people end up cobbling income together from adjunct positions.

            1. Stephanie

              Yeah, I joked with my art history doctorate student friend about how she could go teach at the University of Southern Utah (which I didn’t think existed) or something and she’s earnestly like “Wait…do you have a connection there?”

              1. Bad Advice List

                Yeah, I meant aiming high within reason. Obviously if you keep applying for positions you’re not qualified for, you’ll damage your reputation. I was referring more to career decisions that involve risk and reward in equal measure like following your dream of starting a business, going back to school, learning a new skill that could turn into a job later on, writing articles and submitting them for publication, volunteering to teach or take on speaking engagements, etc. Leadership type decisions. People all too often get talked out of taking those kinds of risks, which is silly.

    2. GOG11

      The third point reminds me of the comments section of the recent Imposter Syndrome post by Alison. I think Kimberlee’s point is very valid – “aiming high” could be damaging if someone aims so high that it creates a ridiculous disparity between the requirements of the job and the skill of the candidates.

      However, if you’re the sort of person who consistently undervalues your abilities, “aiming high” might land you pretty close to where you need to be.

    3. SH

      Point two – I think there are times when it’s best to stay put. For instance, as I was gaining work experience in a competitive city, I had to work for a company I had ethical objections to. In the end, I learned how to really perform my role and eventually landed a full time job in a different industry.

    4. S

      #1 Agreed. Especially when people keep telling you don’t mind your coworkers, keep your professional/personal lives separate, you don’t need to get along with your coworkers, just work with them, etc. Grin and bear it isn’t going to make the problems disappear.

  6. Adam

    Maybe it’s just me but whenever I heard #4 in the past it always felt like it was more in reference to manual-labor focused jobs, and it was usually an extension of the “You need to pay bills? Well they’re hiring ditch diggers” conversation. I imagine this happened a lot more back in the day when jobs weren’t as technology focused as they are now or in general less regulated, because in my experience everyone who used this one was generally of an older and/or more traditional set.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I loved when people told me to nab a food service job. They didn’t understand the amount of people pushing and shoving to get into those places and it was so much easier for them to hire a kid or a college student or even someone who had worked in food service in the last few years than to even talk to someone with fifteen years of office on their resume. No, I didn’t expect you to pay me more than minimum wage, and I’m probably not going to stay for six years, but do any of your other employees? Nope, but once you pass a certain educational/occupational threshold these days, I really believe you kind of escalate out of those kinds of jobs.

      1. De Minimis

        That’s how it was where I used to live….there were a large number of people working service industry jobs more or less as a career or at least long term. Employers weren’t going to mess around with someone who had never worked in food service before.

      2. AB

        I HATED that “advice” with a passion when I was out of work. I was accused by certain family members of being “too proud” to do service-sector or retail jobs and that I should take entry-level jobs to “get my foot in the door” and “work my way up the ladder”. You hear that same thing bandied around about millennials who think they’re too good to do menial labor.
        Not only do service/ retail jobs not want you (because, right or wrong, they’ll assume you’re not used to the work and conditions and either will be a poor worker or a very short term one). If you do somehow manage to get one, it can damage your future prospects to get better paying work in your field. I’ve had potential employers cite my “unstable” job history because I worked in the service sector to make ends meet for a year after the company I was working for went belly up. That service job was the only job in the past 10 years that was less than 2 years, and I”m only 6 years out of school (I worked full time at an office job in my field while in school)

        1. Windchime

          My son is working for the state government and making less than 30k a year — not nearly enough to do much more than survive in this area. He was tempted to apply for a trade apprenticeship (plumbing) because he has a friend who works hard as a plumber and makes six figures. My son doesn’t really want to be a plumber; he just wants a decent paycheck. I’m afraid to advise him to investigate the apprenticeship because people can get “typecast” into a role and then have trouble breaking out. My son is really, really smart and would probably make an awesome plumber, but he would probably also never be able to break out of plumbing and back into a white-collar job because of type-casting.

          I’m so grateful that degrees weren’t really required when I entered the workforce. Things are a lot tougher these days for job-seekers.

          1. Fabulously Anonymous

            Is there any reason why a plumber couldn’t open his own business? AAM has talked about how running a business isn’t for everyone, but you say your son may want to go back to white collar. Would he be interested in that and is it possible? (I honestly don’t know).

      3. Stephanie

        YES! This is a huge job search pet peeve of mine. People give this advice like those jobs are easy to get (and yet ignore news reports about a new Walmart getting 2000 applications in its first week). I did need something just to pay bills, but the only way I got any traction was to omit anything (like a degree or past white-collar experience) that hinted that I would leave at the first opportunity. I also had to look for things that had something “undesirable” about them that would cull the number of applicants (such as jobs that involved physical labor, odd hours, etc). Plus, I’m sure there are exceptions, but it definitely can damage your prospects of getting a job in your field (rightly or wrongly, employers might wonder what’s wrong with you that you have to go work as a Target cashier).

        There are companies that where it is possible to move up from entry-level grunt, but it’s usually not some giant secret.

    2. Audiophile

      My mother was recently encouraging me to apply to jobs at McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts. Mind you, I’m six years out of college and most of the staff at those establishments would be about 10 years younger than me. And they’d never interview me, let alone hire me.

    3. BananaPants

      My husband lost his job 8 months ago. So many people have told him to go to Walmart or Target and work in retail and “work your way up”. It’s often suggested that he offers to work for free (illegal) or “Just walk in and ask for a job!”
      1) We have two small children. Minimum wage (or barely above it) for 20-30 hours a week at a retailer or in food service (which is the kind of jobs those employers are offering these days) is not going to cover the cost of daycare for the kids.
      2) He has a bachelor’s degree and a total of around 10 years of retail and customer service experience while he was working his way through college. When many employers see an overqualified, unemployed candidate applying for a job like that, they believe that the employee will bail for greener pastures as soon as is humanly possible, or feel that there’s something “wrong” with the employee that no one else wants to hire them for a position more in keeping with education and experience.
      3) After the recession and with an anemic job market recovery, those low-level/menial positions are HARD to get. Walmart opened a supermarket near our house and had 30+ applicants for each open position. Most retailers now expect you to apply online (don’t call them, they’ll call you) and may not even accept walk-in applicants.

  7. soitgoes

    I’ve only ever seen people benefit from earning graduate degrees, though not always financially. Higher education is best seen as an entryway into a better lifestyle, not necessarily higher paychecks. I have my MA and I’m not making more money than my friends (and I’m actually keeping less of my paychecks, as I’m paying off my loans), but I have better hours in a non-retail position. To me, that’s worth the debt. You have to decide if a more comfortable lifestyle is worth the expense.

    1. Stephanie

      Depends. I used to work with a lot of JDs at a job right when the economy tanked. Our job didn’t require a JD and the JDs made the exact same thing as the non-JDs, but had all the law school debt. I think they were happy to have a job, but I couldn’t imagine they went to law school to do a job they could have done prior to law school.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        Oh, gosh, same here. In fact, JD’s are so common right now that they were actually starting to depress wages at one org I worked at (JD’s make absolutely nothing extra for having their degrees, because there are so many well-qualified applicants for their positions, but you can’t pay admins or other low level staff more than you’re paying the JD’s, because then the JD’s would be upset or something, no matter how much harder those admin jobs are to fill well…)

        1. Melissa

          I’m not a JD but I enjoy reading this website, mostly because I used to advise college students and would always get a handful intent on going to law school to make a Ton of Money. Thankfully, the newest crop of undergrads seem to have gotten the message, and wanting to go to law school isn’t as in vogue now as it was when I first started college > 10 years ago.

          1. Stephanie

            My friend has one of those Ton of Money firm jobs and usually calls me about once a week to talk about how horrible the job is. We were at a wedding and he was replying to work emails en route to the ceremony. At this point, it just sounds like he’s hoarding as much cash as he can, so he can go quit. But he knows he’s one of the lucky ones as he found a job that will actually allow him pay off the loans.

            I actually didn’t have a JD (I was the exception), but seriously considered it at one point. For a non-JD required job, the job did pay fairly well. But again, I imagine most people went to law school with the intention of becoming a patent attorney, not a patent searcher or examiner. I ended up not going and am glad it didn’t work out in hindsight as the job market (even in my semi-specialized area of law) isn’t great and resultant job from winning the legal job lottery sounded horrible.

    2. hello humans

      You were lucky. Many people get master’s degrees and get stuck in retail or worse. I used to work the night shift at a call centre and most of my coworkers had master’s degrees.

      1. Kelly O

        I worked in the produce department of a grocery store in college. My department manager had a Masters in Art History.

    3. A Cita

      I would say that going to grad school to increase career opportunities or money in general isn’t a good idea. I however would say that doing so for your own personal, intellectual growth or life experience can be really meaningful. But it’s a calculated risk professionally: you’re losing that time building your career, making money, losing social security earnings, and possibly (but not always) getting into debt. So you have to be realistic about what the cons are. However, this is not an Ask An Adventurer blog, it’s a career one. Therefore, I get the advice to not pursue it for career gains. I personally do have a grad degree that I use in a limited way, but don’t regret it AT ALL. Totally worth it, personally, for me. Would do it again, in a heartbeat, even though it took a solid 8 years of my life. But I’m also very very ok with taking risks, and I fully understood what I was trading.

      1. Melissa

        mmm…depends on the degree. In some fields, you do need a grad degree to increase career opportunities – like an MSW, an MD, a master’s in medical physics or statistics or genetic counseling, etc. You need the degree in order to get the jobs in those fields; without it, you’re not eligible for the jobs. Even in fields where the market is tight – like library science or academia – the degree is the price of admission. Chances are slim, and most people won’t get a job in that field – not one of the full-time, well-compensated ones anyway. But if you want to play the game at all, you have to get the degree.

        I always say that it’s fine to pursue the degree for career opportunities and advancement – but in certain fields, go in with the full knowledge that you might never get the job that you desire. Can you be happy with the idea that you spent 2-10+ years pursuing a degree that you might never use, or use only tangentially? If the answer is yes, only then chase it. (I mostly give this advice for PhD programs.)

    4. Adam

      In my mind there are two types of degree paths beyond your basic bachelors: those that are necessary to enter a specific field like medicine and law, and those that are really more designed to produce professional academics. There may be some overlap, and a required degree for a career field may not necessarily come with a lot more cash either, but in general this appears to be what I see.

      Best example I can think of: I have a friend who majored in computer programming. After his bachelors he could have gotten a job anywhere and made bank. Instead he’s continued on to earn a PhD in computer science because I think he really wants to teach college level computing. He’ll still make bank with his higher degree, but if all he wanted was a satisfying job with good pay the PhD definitely wasn’t necessary.

    5. Melissa

      It depends on whether you can manage the debt with the salary you’re making, and which friends you’re comparing yourself to. Most of the examples I know of friends and colleagues with graduate degrees have been positive (financially or career-wise), but I do know some who feel that they made a terrible mistake by getting a graduate degree (and again, not always financially).

      It also really depends on what the MA is and how you do.

  8. Dan

    #5 (Weaknesses)

    Interviewers should just chuck this one altogether. I don’t seem to have to answer this one anymore, but when I do, I always figured it was best to find a legit weakness that probably wouldn’t impact the job much. Two of my weaknesses are: 1) I’m a terrible note taker and 2) I have better retention with written communication than oral communication. I.e., if you’re going to give me a laundry list of things to do, email it. And for godsakes, please don’t call and leave it on my voicemail.

    What concerns me most are weaknesses that affect the team or the company. I need to find out what they are. So instead of asking you, it’s more effective to actually suss out the key pieces, figure out the deal breakers, and screen for them. In software development, do you do well under pressure? How do you handle loose or ambiguous requirements? You’re not going to get them here, so if you like requirements spelled out for you, you’re going to hate it. I need to know that up front. How do you handle scope creep, aka changing requirements? If “can you please add one more thing” drives you bonkers, I need to know.

    1. Jennifer

      “I have better retention with written communication than oral communication. I.e., if you’re going to give me a laundry list of things to do, email it. And for godsakes, please don’t call and leave it on my voicemail.”

      Hah, me too. However, I think I’d get in big trouble if I actually mentioned this in an interview since most people still loooooove phones.

    2. Allison

      “I always figured it was best to find a legit weakness that probably wouldn’t impact the job much”

      Yup, I’ve figured this out too. Admitting you can never be on time for stuff or you’re really disorganized might be a turnoff, but talking about your preferences re: communication is much less risky. I’d tell the interviewer that I stink at decoding vague or indirect communication, and I’m good at anticipating need but absolute garbage at reading minds; I require clear and direct communication about what people expect of me, or what I need to change.

      Also, I’m with you on written communication, I greatly prefer it to chatting on the phone.

    3. Mimmy

      You wouldn’t want me working for you then ;) (Actually….that probably puts me out of the running for 95% of the other jobs out there too :( )

    4. A Cita

      “I’m a terrible note taker”

      “I have better retention with written communication”

      but

      “I’m a terrible note taker”

      :)

      1. Adonday Veeah

        I get this one. It makes perfect sense to me. It’s a wiring thing. The wiring goes in both directions, and sometimes one lane gets clogged.

      2. Brenda

        I thought that for a second but now it totally makes sense. It’s about inputs – note-taking is translating audio inputs, which is what he’s not good at. Whereas an email is a visual input. I’m also much better with things that are written down, and not great at taking notes.

        1. Dan

          It’s interesting that you guys consider that to be contradictory, at least at first glance. The thing is, I’ve never had a job where my role or responsibility at the moment was to just passively take notes, or more specifically write down what the speaker is saying verbatim. I can focus on the words that the speaker is saying, or I can focus on what the speaker is trying to communicate to me. But I can’t do both. Once I’ve synthesized a thought and figured out what to write down, he’s moved on to something else, and I’m totally not paying attention to that.

          With email, I can fast forward, rewind, and do whatever I need to do and stuff is right there when I need to get back to it.

          1. Adonday Veeah

            “I can focus on the words that the speaker is saying, or I can focus on what the speaker is trying to communicate to me.”

            I’m with ya, Dan. Early in my career, I studied to be a Court Reporter. I discovered that I could key accurately for a long time without ever understanding a damned thing I’d keyed.

            1. fposte

              I’ve heard that Annie Sullivan, who passed on all of Helen Keller’s Radcliffe education to her via the manual alphabet, apparently never learned the languages she was passing to Helen.

              1. Felicia

                One of my college jobs was taking notes for students with disabilities in classes I never took in subjects I often had 0 background in. Sometimes I learned things just by being there, like in a philosophy class, but in like an accounting class for fourth year students where i had never taken an accounting class in my life and always struggled with math, I understood absolutely none of the notes I was taking. I was a very good note taker though, taking good notes is imo a skill itself.

    5. Nobody

      Yeah, I don’t know what interviewers expect to get out of this question. Is anybody really going to admit to a terrible weakness or flaw during the interview? “My greatest weakness is that I’m super-lazy and spend most of the day surfing the internet.” “I’m a complete A-hole and can’t go 5 minutes without saying something offensive.” “I make tons of mistakes because I have no clue what I’m doing.”

    6. Graciosa

      I tend to ask about what a candidate finds very positive / helpful in a work environment, and also what a candidate finds very frustrating. I don’t know that this line of questioning is perfect yet, but it has given me some very good insight into personality and culture fit.

      There are things that are always frustrating to any professional in my line of work, so mentioning one of those confirms that yes, you have been doing this job for a while (as long as it’s mentioned as a frustration and not something the candidates believes they can escape).

      Candidates who enjoy learning or figuring things out, exercising independent judgment, etc. will probably do well. Candidates who find it frustrating when they are expected to make decisions without clear instructions – not so much.

      I’ve also gotten a lot of good insight into work styles with these questions which has really helped me as a manager once the candidate has become an employee. I think framing it as questions about the most helpful or unhelpful work environment rather than the candidate’s skill set produces more honest answers.

  9. Zillah

    I have a general question re: talking about weaknesses.

    It hasn’t come up recently, but I’m starting a job search, and in thinking about it, I think that being a perfectionist is my biggest weakness (along with being on time). But in the sense that I mean it, it truly is a weakness – I can get so bogged down in minutiae that I don’t always prioritize well, and people in my personal life frequently express frustration at my tendency to sometimes hyperfocus on one thing and miss the big picture. I can usually control it at work, but sometimes it does rear its head, and I would ideally like a job in which that won’t absolutely destroy me. How on earth would I go about communicating that?

    1. Stephanie

      Hmm, but I don’t think that’s perfectionism. I don’t know what to call that–prioritization issues? I’m guessing the issue too is that saying you’re a perfectionist is such a giant cliche at this point that it would sound disingenuous.

    2. CaliCali

      The way I put this was that I sometimes get overly fixated on a topic or on one discrete element of a project, and sometimes have to remind myself of the larger priorities and move on. It’s a negative that’s honest, but not phrased in a way that causes severe alarm (I used this in my last job interview and I got the job), because I didn’t say I drop the ball on everything else, just that (basically) my priorities can get slightly out of whack.

    3. Shell

      I’d frame it more as to do with your organization and prioritization than your “perfectionism”. I think “perfect” and related words tend to have more of a positive connotation, so interviewers are probably more likely to have the internal eyeroll when they hear “Oh, I try to do everything perfectly” as a weakness. But if you can frame it as something like, “I can be a little bit tunnel-visioned and bogged down in minutiae. Therefore, I often have to set myself a series of reminders and organize my workload so that I don’t lose sight of the big picture, because often meeting the deadline on time is more important than churning out a perfect product three weeks late. [Insert positive result from your organization, such as praise from a superior/client, comments that the “substandard” product was great just the way it is, emphasize that it’s a continuing process for you, etc.]”

      Worded way better, of course. But that’s the angle I’d go for.

    4. brightstar

      I wouldn’t phrase it as being a perfectionist, but something along the lines of what you stated in your comment. That you have a tendency to hyperfocus on one task and allow other things to slip, as well as stating that it’s mostly under control and what you’ve learned works for you to prevent this from happening the majority of the time.

    5. Allison

      You can talk about that without saying you’re a perfectionist. You can say that, in general, you obsess over little details and sometimes that gets in the way of prioritizing well, and sometimes it really stresses you out. Also, mention that it is something you’re working on and can generally control it at work.

    6. Golden Yeti

      I am similar to you–I can notice details but miss the obvious. I was talking with someone about resume tips recently (he’s a HR grad), and he said do the whole “positive spin” thing. I don’t know if that’s exactly the same as making negatives positive…is there really a difference?

      For what it’s worth, his example was, “I tend to focus on details more than the big picture.”

    7. soitgoes

      I would say something along the lines of “I get bogged down with details, but I snap out of it when reminded of the bigger picture.”

    8. Ann O'Nemity

      “Chasing perfection can slow my overall productivity.”
      “Focusing on (perfecting) the details can cause me to lose sight of the bigger picture.”

      Either statement should be followed up with, “In order to remedy this weakness, I do X, Y, Z.”

    9. Brenda

      I agree with everything above, but I totally understand what you’re saying. Perfectionism is sometimes seen as a good thing, but a lot of times it’s really negative, and it’s often an expression of fear and anxiety, that can lead to people either not finishing anything because they’re afraid it’s not perfect, or not starting anything because they assume it won’t be perfect so why bother? I wouldn’t think anyone who genuinely answered that perfectionism was their biggest weakness was spouting cliches, but I would still be wary of hiring them because of my actual experience with perfectionism. In a manager, it can also lead to micromanaging and inability to delegate, which is no good.

      Not saying any of this is what you’re like, but definitely frame it as suggested above rather than saying you’re a perfectionist.

      1. Windchime

        Yeah, the whole perfectionist thing is a cliche. As Brenda states, it’s often tied to anxiety (I know this because I tend to obsess over details that ultimately don’t really matter).

        I haven’t interviewed for a long time, but when I do hear this question asked of a candidate, this is the type of thing I want to hear: a real, concrete weakness. Not necessarily something that will knock you out of the running, but an honest assessment:

        “I am not as skilled as I would like in optimizing my queries” , or, “I don’t know much about R so I am studying that, but still in the beginner stages”. When people say, “I am a perfectionist”, it sounds a whole lot like, “I just care too much” or “I just give and give and give……”. Yeah. Don’t do that.

        1. Judy

          It’s also somewhat a cliche in some jobs. There’s a reason behind the saying “Sometimes you just have to shoot the engineer and put the part into production.”

  10. Grad School

    I have a slightly different take on the grad school question. I was a humanities major at the undergrad level and struggled to find employment afterwards. I ended up moving to a small town with cheap rent and working in restaurants. It was work that I wasn’t very good at because I’m physically uncoordinated and horrible at multitasking. So I went from being an outstanding student to a marginally employed restaurant worker.

    After about four years of trying to break out of that cycle, grad school seemed like the best option. So I applied, took out student loans, and got a professional degree. I was able to list internships and volunteer work on my resume to show what I was capable of. Ten years later, I’m at the top of my field with a degree from a prestigious school, a leadership position in a professional organization, and a great job at a well-known company.

    Having the degree has limited my career options to some extent, but I don’t know how else I would have gotten from where I was to where I am now. I’m sure there were other, more affordable options that I wasn’t aware of at the time. But, given my circumstances, it’s been worth what I’m paying for it.

    Another thing. I strongly considered going to an affordable local state school but got talked into going to a private university that has one of the top programs in the field. It’s a decision I’ve mostly regretted for financial reasons, but it has given me an advantage in the job market. I don’t think I’d have the options I currently have if I had gone to a state school. That said, having less debt gives you more options too, haha.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Just to be clear, it’s not that grad school never makes sense. Many times it does! The problem is people advising it as some sort of catch-all advice that always makes sense for everyone. It only makes sense in very specific situations.

      1. Grad School

        I agree. I just wanted to put this out there in case it resonated with anyone else’s experiences, which it looks like it did!

    2. Accountant

      I was a humanities major too and found going back to school helpful as well– but that’s because I went back to school to become a CPA. In my first year as an accountant I made double what I made before, and had all my student loans paid off. So yes, it can make sense, as AAM says.

      BUT what just kills me is when I talk to younger people graduating from the same fancy pants liberal arts school I went to and they think that getting an MA in English is a good idea. Or they just go to law school, which, as it turns out, is about as useful these days as getting an MA in English when it comes to employment opportunities. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those paths if you know what you’re getting into and are realistic about the benefit (and the level of debt), but when it’s used as a thing to do because you don’t know what else to do… that’s when I’m concerned. What upsets me so much is that frequently when people go to grad school at 22 or 23 years old they have no concept of what the work world is like, what employers are looking for, or what taking on $50k+ in debt REALLY means from a practical standpoint.

      1. Cassie H.

        It’s really important to be realistic about your plans after grad school, but I do want to mention that attending grad school especially for the humanities doesn’t mean a student has to go in debt at all. I’m an English major as well, and most MA or PhD English programs in my state will actually pay a stipend and wave tuition to people accepted into their programs. That being said, young people should always think about the time they spend in grad school; they may rather start a job in their field and gain experience rather than gaining a degree they might not need.

        1. fposte

          I think that’s commoner for the PhD than the MA. The MA (and I think this is true of a lot of master’s programs) is a cash cow for many institutions, even quite august ones.

      2. Allison

        Basically this. Grad school makes sense for some people in some fields, but for the most part I see people go because they can’t find work, and they see it as a solution – for now it’s something to do, and gets people off their back about being unemployed, and in the long term it’ll lead to a job. In theory. But unless you’re trying to become an engineer, a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher, you’ll likely end up with a mountain of debt without an increase in job prospects. Heck, even if you are trying to become a lawyer or go into academia you might very well find yourself in that situation.

        1. RO

          I am currently mentoring two students and they are both worried about the job market. Almost had a heart attack, when they both said they got into the field right out of undergrad with not experience, because it is the “in thing” (healthcare administration).

          Most of the salaries out of the program are pretty low for those without experience. I just wish people could complete some due diligence before going to grad sch.

      3. Melissa

        That’s the piece of advice I always give. I went to graduate school at 22, directly after college, and while I don’t exactly regret my PhD I DO wish I had taken several years (at least 3) after the undergrad degree to work and find out what employers really want – and whether there were other careers that I liked as much as research that wouldn’t require 6 years of graduate school to achieve. I found out that there were, but much later.

      4. Brenda

        I attempted grad school at 22 because I had no idea what I wanted to do, and it was a disaster (though fortunately didn’t leave me in debt). After working for 6 years, I went back at 29 for a professional MSc in a field that tends to reward them. Working gave me experience that helped build my CV, and that also helped me figure out what I was good at (as opposed to what I liked reading about) and gave me a much more realistic sense of what it would take to study again. Now, I have debt, but I have a good job that I love and a reasonable career path. The MSc was helpful for me, but I always advise working for a few years before doing a professional degree. It was definitely not the right thing for me at 22. Most of my classmates were around 30 as well.

    3. Amanda

      Hmmmm. So grad school was kind of like a “reset” for you. I’ve been thinking about this. I haven’t pursued grad school yet because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I have a history degree, a string of jobs that are marginally related to each other and I’m feeling like I’ve hit a dead end. I have several long employment gaps due to health issues and just not being able to find a job. I’m about to jump in the job search again, but I’m thinking that if nothing pans out in six months, to apply for an MA program that is a field I’m interested in and that I would have lots of different options with afterwards. I’m a bit worried that my goals are still not specific enough and that this program isn’t specific enough. But the ability to have a bit of a “reset” after a few really tough years is appealing. Am I approaching this the right way or am I completely missing the point?

      1. Mimmy

        I’ve been struggling with this myself. I already have a graduate (professional) degree, but have had my own issues leading to a long employment gap. I wrestled with pursuing another degree or certificate as a way to “reset” myself because I knew I didn’t want to spend time and money on something not knowing whether or not it’d be useful to me in any way. I ended up going for a graduate certificate (just started this past fall) to gain some additional knowledge and insights in my area of interest. I figured that’d be somewhat less painful than a full degree, though a full masters is available for this program.

        1. De Minimis

          I have a graduate degree in accounting, a CPA, AND a long employment gap! You can do everything right as far as grad school planning and still end up in trouble. I’m working now but for less than I would have been had things gone as planned, and I’m starting to think I will probably never actually use my CPA for anything [current job does not utilize it even though it’s technically accounting.]
          My advice is similar to others, if you go, do some research, have a solid plan for using the degree, and minimize cost as much as possible. I wish I’d researched more! I don’t regret going, but wish I’d had a better idea of the job market in accounting. A lot of those highly touted jobs aren’t realistic for many people, especially older career changers, and even if they do manage to land one the odds are stacked against them as far as it being deemed a “fit.” [Yes, still a tad bitter….can’t help it!]

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            De Minimis, I’d love to hear more about this. I’m 48 and just started back in school to finally get my bachelor’s, with an additional year thrown in for a combo bach/master’s in accounting. I’m not planning on becoming a CPA, just a CPA candidate (based on what a few people in the industry have advised). I’m hoping to end up as a freelancing bookkeeper, basically. I don’t want a 40+ hour/week job, don’t want to work for one of the big firms, I just want to get paid somewhat decently for doing the books for a handful of small- to medium-sized companies.

            1. De Minimis

              I think that’s reasonable, I’d look at what was going on in your local market, but I would be concerned that with a bachelors and especially a graduate degree you might be considered overqualified for a lot of bookkeeping work. I think one good plan might be to try to work while in school, maybe some kind of accounting clerk or AP clerk. That could allow you to get some experience which you could build on later. I know there are companies that handle outsourced bookkeeping/payroll functions, maybe you could try to find a position with one while you are completing your studies.

              CPA candidate is just someone who is working toward the CPA, it’s assumed with accounting firms that new hires are CPA candidates. Some states vary in their requirements, but generally you have to be out there working for a CPA before you can get a CPA license. I wouldn’t necessarily discount the idea of public accounting–there are “mom and pop” type firms out there that can be a good fit. But the workload can be high during peak periods.

              Tax prep places aren’t a bad place to look either…many will accommodate flexible schedules and I used to know one senior at a firm who had a lot of experience working at one before making a move into public accounting.

              A lot of it just depends on your local market and what is out there.

              1. Accountant

                I know I’m all over this thread, but I agree with De Minimis that a masters degree is possibly/probably overkill for a bookkeeper. Most community colleges have a 2 year degree that is designed for folks who want to be bookkeepers or accounting clerks. That may be something to look into as well.

                1. Pennalynn Lott

                  The reasoning behind making it to at least “CPA Candidate” status is that I could charge more for keeping someone’s books because they’d save money in the long run in accountant’s fees because the books would be so “clean” that the CPA would just have to run them through tax preparation software with minimal effort or involvement on the [more expensive] CPA’s part. The community college degree would leave me in a place where the most I could charge, in my area, would be about $25/hour.

            2. Accountant

              Pennalynn, something that I found helpful was temping part time when I was in school. Once I had taken a couple of intro to accounting classes, I got temporary work as a bookkeeper at a not for profit and as a staff accountant at another small company. I work in public accounting now at a large regional firm in the kind of job you would definitely not want. I don’t know if I’ll leave public accounting or not (most people do), but it was really helpful to get the training and experience I had in the private sector, and it would probably be even more valuable for you if you’d like to be a career bookkeeper. The temp agency I worked with focused on placing people in accounting jobs (its the one you’ll come up with when you google). I didn’t make as much money as I could have if I found the jobs on my own, but I doubt a random company would have hired me without experience. It was just a good way to get my foot in the door.

              1. Pennalynn Lott

                Accountant – My boyfriend and I own a small business and I do the books for it. I also have some physical limitations on the amount of energy and stamina I have in a general day, so I don’t think I’d be able to handle a full load at school, plus the small business, plus temp jobs. But our accountant has said to let her know when I get my basic courses out of the way and get a few of the core accounting classes under my belt, because she’ll find a way to work me into their company so I can get some experience with other people’s books, not just my own.

                1. lurkerII

                  First, your comments are really on point regarding the decision to attend/not attend a program. Weighing the situation can be pretty tough. It sounds like you are in a great position, though! Second, I can’t help but think of Richard Gilmore from GG at the mention of your boyfriend, and then my whole world comes crashing down as if some alternate TV universe just subsumed what I know to be the true TV universe…and I end up thinking, I can’t like Lott’s comment; she snuffed out Emily and stole Richard (again)!

      2. Hillary

        Grad School and Accountant might also have benefited from (I’m guessing based on what they wrote) being about the same age as their peers in full time programs. There’s a window in the late 20s where some kinds of employers expect high performers to take two years off, get a business degree, and then go through on-campus recruiting into leadership roles. None of the stereotypes in the preceding sentence are necessarily true, but the expectation seems to persist.

        The right program and understanding how it will further your career are crucial. I’m happy I did my MBA, but I knew going in that I was using it to skip ahead five years and get away from small business and customer service. It opened doors that my political science undergrad couldn’t, even though I already had most of the skills. Recent real-life example: a well-qualified applicant applied to our development program. Great experience, very smart, interviewed well. We couldn’t get past the question of why someone with a masters degree and very prestigious internship in teapot engineering was applying to our completely unrelated program.

      3. Melissa

        I don’t think graduate school is actually a ‘reset button’, though. It really depends on the degree and the field you hope to move into. Grad School said she got a master’s in a professional field; I don’t know what it is, but a ‘professional field’ master’s is usually the type that parlays more easily into a specific job field, and where the school itself spends resources helping students find employment afterwards. Academic MA programs don’t necessarily do that. Getting a master’s in public administration or something is different from doing an academic MA in art history, you know what I mean?

        I guess the question is – do you really have a lot of options afterwards? What are the employment outcomes of people who finish that program at schools you are interested in? What do people who have an MA in X tend to *do* after they finish the MA? Successful programs tend to keep a lot of data on the answer to this kind of question.

        1. Grad School

          Yes, my degree is the kind that’s required for a very specific career path. You can’t go into the field without it.

          After I graduated, I learned that it’s actually a very competitive field, but at least I had a clear path to follow and a supportive, well-established network.

      4. Snargulfuss

        I’d advise you to do a lot of research on grad programs and career options before deciding to go back to school. I spent a couple of years after undergrad working in jobs that didn’t excite or challenge me, so I went back to grad school. I loved school, but at the end of my two-year Master’s program, I still didn’t have any idea what to do for a career. Luckily my grad degree was paid for, so I don’t regret it, but when I talk to friends who are considering going back to school I encourage them to 1) pursue a degree that teaches marketable skills and 2) have a pretty specific plan for what you’re going to do after grad school. I like where I am now, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably get an MPA or more professionally-oriented degree than my humanities degree.

      5. Tinker

        I wouldn’t say a “reset” exactly, but I went to grad school with the intention of changing the direction of my career and of getting out of an immediately problematic situation, and it did more or less what it said on the can. I did avoid the likely result of staying in the job that I had and searching for another one that I could have marketed myself for at the time (if there was such a beast; there might not have been), and I did make almost exactly the career shift I was hoping to make, although possibly through one of the most expensive routes possible to do such a thing.

        That said, the reasons it worked were down to the details of the matter — it was in tech, the connection between my program and the desired result was fairly clear (brewing container engineer with a chocolate-teapot-centric resume, taking a MS in brewing container engineering engineering with the ice sculpture coffee machine track in order to get away from chocolate into a more ice-centric role, ultimate result ice hammer quality assurance engineer), in that general market a MS can be seen as an enhancement for industry work (as contrasted with implying academic aspirations), I was in a position to get through the degree without debt, and the job that I left was untenable in a way that made directly seeking another job a shaky prospect. I think, all things considered, that if any of those elements had been absent then it wouldn’t have been a good idea — in that case at least.

        If the degree you’re looking at really is a logical step to opening up the opportunity to get into a thing that you want to do, and if you’re currently in a position of not being terribly marketable with your current degree, that’s at least a start to indicating that the degree is a way to go. But I wouldn’t call it so much a “reset” as much as something more like coming off the brake in a skidding car so that you can use the traction for steering instead. There’s a risk of making a bigger mess, it only really works if you’ve already got something definite in mind to do with it, and it’s definitely not a break from keeping fairly tight control on what’s going on.

        Anyway, I’d basically conclude that it’s not so wrong an idea that if a detailed analysis indicates it might be a good idea then the analysis must be wrong, but without that analysis I’d fall to a general default of “nope”.

      6. misspiggy

        Your approach sounds good to me, but don’t choose an MA which is too broad in scope. You’ll want to come out showing a clear set of skills and knowledge which would fit three or four types of jobs, no more, IMO. The same MAs offered by different institutions can vary greatly in their focus, at least here in the UK.

    4. Lizzie

      This is pretty much my life story also, except that after 16 months in the menial small-town job I joined the Peace Corps. I made the mistake* of selecting an undergraduate major that interested me but didn’t do much in terms of career guidance or clear-cut skills, and I struggled to connect my activities and internships to a career path. Peace Corps helped me find my personal strengths and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and so for me grad school was the logical option. I’m only a little over a year into this experiment, but so far it’s working out.

      *For me it was, but others who see themselves in this story may feel free to disagree with my word choice.

    5. soitgoes

      I’m in the same exact boat. That’s why my comment is very, “Eh, it’s not financially worth it, but I like my life a whole lot more after grad school.”

      I’ve noticed that this blog’s readership is somewhat disproportionately skewed away from people in the humanities, so I use that filter when reading.

    6. Noelle

      Yeah, I got my undergrad degree in classical piano performance. Not useful, but fun (until the wrist injuries developed). After a couple years working at a terrible entry level job, I went to grad school for public policy and make over double what I made before. Grad school was the right choice for me because I wanted to advance in a career I was already working in but didn’t have any formal schooling in, and because I could do it at night while continuing to work full time.

    7. Nerdling

      Humanities degree, working for the government now. Had I gone to school for an additional two years, I would have been eligible to start out my job a GS grade level higher than I did when I came on board with just my bachelor’s degree — the equivalent of one year of on-the-job experience. When I first started, I was a little envious of those who came in with that higher pay, because I was making about >< over subsidized housing levels that first year. And I'll have to work two more years to get to retirement age. But I didn't lose those two years of wages or experience, and I didn't potentially go into debt (which I personally likely would have had to do).

      Grad school really can be such a toss up in terms of being beneficial or even necessary. I think I would have burned myself out with two more years of school; I was just *done*, and that wasn't something I was used to experiencing. But some of my friends adored the extra time they spent in grad/law/medical school and have thrived since then. I'll likely never equal their ultimate earning power down the line, but I mostly love what I do, and it's hard to argue with that.

      1. De Minimis

        The main value of my graduate degree was just that, getting to start out at a higher grade and with no real relevant experience. Even then, I think the main reason I got the job was because the position was somewhat hard to fill.

  11. Cherry Scary

    My dad’s already bugging me about grad school… I’ve been in a FT job for 6 months, and a Masters wouldn’t benefit my career at all. I’d like to maybe do it someday, but I would either need to be super passionate about it or really see a clear benefit to my career.

    My dad wants me to get a MBA. I’d rather do something communications/technology focused. Ha.

    1. E.R

      My parents have finally given up on pushing my to do my MBA (I’m 30 now). I foolishly mentioned that it was something I was interested in back in my early 20s, after working for only 2 or so years, but then I went to the open houses and saw the price tags (the most affordable program in my city is about $20,000 a year, and i would have to do two years), and just thought …. not worth it. My field (media/communications/publishing) would not offer the appropriate ROI for that. Not to mention all those people attending open houses in three-piece suits…yuck. I’m doing well in my career without it, making good money, pursuing education in the evening to keep my brain working and skijls up to date, and putting my money towards a home and travel and savings. No regrets so far.

      1. Sascha

        Same here. My parents pushed the grad degree on me so far that when I was 20, I had this brilliant plan to get TWO master’s degrees so I could be a super awesome specialty librarian!! That plan did not last long and I’m now in IT and doing way better, and I’m much happier. Will I get an MA some day? Maybe, probably not. But they’re still hoping and sending me news clippings about how great grad degrees are, for every other field that is not IT, because most of the time in IT, an MA is not helpful. They also seem to think I’m totally down for a complete career change.

    2. Melissa

      My dad wanted me to randomly get an MBA as well. He, like many other people, thinks an MBA alone is a magical passport to a six-figure salary.

    3. AW

      Point out to your dad that MBA programs require a certain amount of work experience to be able to apply for them; 1 – 2 years at least and most students have 3 – 5 years.

  12. HR Recruiter

    #7
    Yes! I hear this all the time along with it is so easy to find out the name of the hiring manager. I always wondered, in the world of online applications and no contact with people how is this easy? Most places I have worked for do not include who the position reports to, there is no online employee directly, and HR and manager’s phone number aren’t listed, so how do you do this?

    “Most hiring managers don’t even notice whether you did or not” I have to say the only time I notice when an applicant does this is when they get it wrong and address it to the completely wrong person or assume I am a sir based on my title which I am not.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Or they spell the name wrong. When people attempt to use my real last name, the misspell it probably 50% of the time. Which I understand, but jeez, it’s right in my signature. If it’s a job that will involve ever emailing people outside the organization, I definitely take points off for misspelling my name, because I assume they won’t take the time to ensure client, stakeholder, donor, or board names are spelled correctly either.

      1. HR Recruiter

        Oh yes, the misspelling of the name when its in the email signature is also a fave of mine. My work email used to be my first initial plus my last name such as Jane Smith was jsmith@teapots.com and I would get emails back from applicants to to Ms. Jsmith. 1.this is obviously not a name and 2. all you have to do is look at the email signature to get my correct name.

    2. hayling

      A lot of companies do put management information on the website. Especially tech/media companies that are trying to seem “friendly.”

      That said, the first person looking at your application might not even be the hiring manager. It might be someone in HR or an assistant or whatever.

    3. Lizzie

      I just discovered that I made such a blunder on one of my cover letters during my last job search. Addressed it to Mr. FirstName LastName, but it’s definitely listed on the website that she is Mrs. FirstName LastName. (At least it is now, I’m hoping that maybe that’s a recent update and I’m not quite such an idiot.)

    4. cuppa

      Actually, if they know my name and I have no idea who they are or where they got it from, I feel a little creeped out.

  13. Snarkus Aurelius

    The weakness question needs to go. A better question (and what I think is really intended here) is this one: tell me about a time where you screwed something up and how you fixed it.

    Answers will also help rule out people with serious anger issues.

    1. Allison

      A lot of common interview questions need to go, really. In my opinion, the best interviews are ones that feel like real conversations between the interviewer and candidate. The candidate feels more at ease and the interviewer gets a better sense of the candidate is, both as an employee and a person.

      If the interview is just one person going down a list of questions, and going “ooohh-kaaaay . . .” while jotting down notes after each question before going straight to the next question don’t seem to go well; I can’t speak for everyone, but I always get nervous, then I don’t do well, and I come away not only feeling like I bombed it, but not really wanting to work for them anyway.

      1. Greg

        +1. Unless making instant connections and dealing with high-pressure situations is a key component of the job (ie, sales roles), hiring managers should focus on ratcheting down the stress of the interview and getting the candidate to relax and open up. Reciting canned answers and taking furious notes like you’re some sort of one-person tribunal is the exact wrong way to go about it.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius

        I don’t know. You’d be surprised how many people don’t/can’t/won’t answer basic questions.

        The last time we hired, I had a guy name drop in every answer. He only answered one question. The rest of it was all about how he’d be great at the job and all the people he knew.

        The irony is that the interview panel also knew those people. It wasn’t an accomplishment. Those were people known by everyone else in the field.

    2. Anon Accountant

      Yes! My old manager used to ask this and it was so useful as to insight into how candidates approached prior problems.

  14. Ineloquent

    What if your employer would like you to get an MBA (as it would enable them to promote you more quickly) and is willing to pay for it, but you’re not sure you want to invest the time right now? Is it ok to wait, or should I jump right on it?

    1. RandomNameHere

      I think the question is why you don’t want to do it, and why your employer wants you to. You need to be cognizant that not getting it is signaling to your employer that you do not see them as a long-term prospect (as people usually want to be promoted). It is also possible that they only want to keep people who will be promoted (what we do at my company – no promotion without MBA, but you can’t stay too long without it either once you get to that point).

  15. #7

    I have a funny story about this one. I believed it to be true when I was applying for my current job. So I contacted an acquaintance who works there and asked him who the position reports to so that I could accurately address the cover letter. (Another bad idea). His response was, “I am 70% certain that position reports to John Smith.”

    So I looked up John Smith’s LinkedIn profile and stared at it, wondering what to do. He was a third degree connection. Should I contact him? Use his name and take a chance? Or proceed as if I had no inside knowledge?

    In the end, I just addressed my cover letter, “To Whom It May Concern”, which was good because the position actually reported to a different person in a different department.

    However, I ended up sitting near John Smith. I’m pretty sure he knows I repeatedly looked at his LinkedIn profile – my settings were accidentally not set to anonymous – but he’s a nice, easy-going guy and he hasn’t said anything about it.

  16. Greg

    I’ve said this before in other comment threads, but I hate the fact that job seekers are advised not to rely on trite, overused answers for the weakness question, but seldom does anyone acknowledge that the question itself is itself trite and overused. If you’re too lazy to ask an original question, what right do you have to judge others for not coming up with an original answer? Also, even if it ever did have value, that time is long gone. At this point all you’re really asking them is, “Can you please recite a rehearsed answer that’s been thoroughly massaged by input from your friends/parents/career counselors?”

    My advice to job seekers: Come up with a palatable answer to that question, memorize it, and then silently judge any employer who’s dumb enough to ask it.

    My advice to hiring managers: Come up with a better question.

  17. Mimmy

    Just a general question: Where are these career counselors drawing from with these outdated suggestions? It obviously isn’t coming from current hiring managers, lol. I imagine there are some fields where pounding the pavement or following up after an application might still be expected (I’m thinking perhaps modeling/fashion and entertainment industries). Otherwise, that advice sounds like its from the days before email and the internet were a part of everyday life.

    1. Stephanie

      My theory is that the more passive, let-fate-decide, prep well and wait approach doesn’t sell books or coaching sessions. And I think you’re right that that *might* have worked back in the pre-Taleo days.

      1. Creag an Tuire

        Yeah, if we go with the job hunting = dating analogy, then a lot of career counselors are like “pickup artists” — they give you intentionally terrible advice so you’ll keep failing, and keep needing their “advice”.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq.

      Some of it, I’m sure, does come from real hiring managers. I mean, if you were fed all that dribble when you were job searching, and eventually got a job, you’d probably start looking for the same things when you were in a position to hire. Unless you started reading blogs or something. :)

      1. cuppa

        There is someone in my office who thinks of the coming in and dropping off a resume as “doing it right” and it drives me crazy.

    3. Kelly O

      You should deal with state unemployment offices. The advice is maddening, the detail they want is crazy, and the FIRST bit of advice given is to look for jobs making 90% of your last salary.

    4. Tinker

      I think a lot of the really bad stuff comes from places like “my crotchety relatives that I haven’t learned to fact check yet” and “the comments section of news articles, which I still read”. Same place as everyone else, in other words. The career counselor, having possibly “got a job as a career counselor” as their prior experience in the matter of job searches, isn’t immune from ending up being a secondary source of information assembled by the known-bad sources of such information — and given that the feedback loop is decidedly sketchy, they may not realize this themselves for quite some time.

  18. Annie

    3. “It no longer matters how long your résumé is.”

    Yes! This is such terrible advice! I am the “first line of defense” in the hiring process at my company and something that I’ve seen consistently is unqualified applicants with 3-5 page resumes. There is just no need for that! We hired a guy last week who had 20 years experience and his resume was one of the best laid out I’ve seen so far, and it was only 1.5 pages. If your experience consists solely of washing dishes at Chili’s for a couple of years, but you insist on spending 4 pages describing your experience there and going on about your “natural talent” for designing chocolate teapots… I will probably delete your resume without passing it on to the hiring manager. When we hire for entry level we want people who can be trained, not people who bluff their experience and act like divas.

  19. BadPlanning

    The “tell us your weakness” question always brings me back to a particular embarrassing interview (it was during college with an on-campus recruiter…so I was all shiny and clueless) where I was asked the weakness question. I totally blanked. Could not think of a thing to answer with — not even “I’m a perfectionist.” After hemming and hawing, I finally said, “I know I have weakness, but I can’t think of one to talk about right now.” Mercifully, the interviewer moved on — but I definitely didn’t get a follow up.

    1. Felicia

      My most embarrassing interview, I answered that one by saying my weakness is interviews. Honest but not what I should say. Don’t kknow which is worse, mine or yours :)

    2. Nobody

      At the interview for my current job, one of the questions was, “What are your three biggest weaknesses?” I was prepared to answer the biggest weakness question because it is so common, but I was NOT prepared to discuss three weaknesses! I gave my prepared answer, then came up with a second decent answer, but I could not think of a third. Finally, I just said, “I can’t really think of any other weaknesses related to the requirements of the job.” I still got the job!

  20. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

    Argh. Someone JUST called me to ask about a job. Our website says very clearly not to call about jobs, but to follow the process we describe.

    Me: Hello, this is Ashley X
    Her: Hi. How are you today?
    Me: Who is calling, please?
    Her: My mom works at x company and her co-worker said to call you because I just graduated from college. (note – never identities herself. Never lead with “my mom”)
    Me: Okay. All job openings and application instructions are listed on our website, you can take a look there and see if there’s anything that looks like it might be a fit.
    Her: Okay, but I have a degree in X and I thought maybe you had openings in Y [note that X would no way prepare you for Y]
    Me: Hmm…I want to be upfront and tell you that X background isn’t typically what we are looking for. We generally look for Z. [back to my spiel about website).
    Her: Okay, sorry for wasting your time.
    Me: Thanks, feel free to check out the website.

    This was a totally pointless conversation for everyone involved, and sadly, how so, so many of these unwanted calls go. I am certain her mom told her to do this.

    1. cuppa

      For the last position I hired, I had someone call at least two or three times. I knew who she was by caller ID, but I took note that she never told me herself who she was. She was always calling to “follow up on her application” with nothing else to say, which is my biggest pet peeve ever.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        It’s maddening! I don’t think this person was trying to conceal her identity, as much has she had no clue what to say once I answered the phone. At least be prepared if you’re going to ignore the directions.

        1. cuppa

          Exactly! I don’t think she was trying to conceal her identity either, she just had no idea what she was doing and hadn’t really planned anything to say, so she forgot to say her name. More than once. :)

  21. so and so

    I wouldn’t even encourage someone to get a bachelor’s without a good reason. There just aren’t jobs out there. Now I’ve got a BA and no professional experience after six years out of school. No one will hire me on my field at this point. It was one huge waste of the money I shell out on loans and the time I could have used to get ahead in the shit job I’ve got like my degree-less peers.

    1. fposte

      I’d differ there. I agree that it’s not the door-opener that people hope, but the absence of a college degree is a real door-closer; when people can hire college grads for shit jobs they prefer them to the non-degreed, who end up struggling much harder to find jobs.

    2. Ruth (UK)

      It may seem like having a BA doesn’t help you, but NOT having one will leave you completely and absolutely ****ed (unless you have a very specific other skill/trade that will actually be useful, or really do plan to work in retail your whole life).

      So and so, I really know what it feels like to feel like a degree was wasted, and to feel like you can’t get a job. I’m 26 now, and graduated when I was 21 (BA in English). I then spent the next nearly 4 years working in a string of temp retail/cleaning/door-to-door/etc jobs interspersed with being unemployed, followed by a 2-year stint in production line work. (add in the fact that I also worked these kind of jobs part time since I was 16 and it was beginning to feel like a VERY long time).

      I went through a phase where I gave up bothering to job hunt or even think about it. I spent over a year just reckoning I could probs stick out production-line for the next 50-odd years and then die. I went through a nasty bitter phase, during which I started following this blog (and left some bitter comments somewhere along the way, and so have since changed my screen name mwahahaa).

      I don’t have any really specific advice to offer, I’m hardly the expert on job-hunting, etc. But really DON’T give up and start thinking you should just settle with whatever you’ve got now. If you keep looking and keep applying (properly, not just throwing any old application together at the last minute), you will find something eventually.

      I don’t exactly have an amazing ‘dream’ job, but for the last year I’ve had a (permanent, full time) office job which is mostly basic admin (it’s definitely more involved than something like data entry, but it’s not creative or anything). I amused my coworkers the other day by stating with no context, my realization that you couldn’t train a monkey to do my job (it was a common speculation at my production line job on whether it would be possible for trained monkeys to learn how to do our jobs).

      Sorry if this reply got a bit long, but from one grad (who thought my degree was a waste and I should just forget about it) to another, keep trying and give it time, and you will find something – often things seem impossible until they happen (and then afterwards if feels like it was so easy).

      Good luck :-)

      1. Ruth (UK)

        (ps. I may have got some time frames wrong. I was already working part time when I was a student and it’s hard to estimate/remember time when you went through as many temp positions as I seem to have done)

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I’m sure this doesn’t help you at all at this point, but I think there’s a good bit of variation depending on what your degree is in. There certainly are fields that hire recent grads (teaching, for example), but that doesn’t mean that there are enough jobs to go around. And depending on what you want to do, there are entire fields with no work whatsoever without a degree.

      As much as I’d like to sometimes, many of my (nonprofit) funding sources prevent me from hiring someone without a degree for some positions. It’s just the bar to entry sometimes.

      I’m sorry you are having so much trouble.

  22. Student

    Shameless plug for grad school:

    Grad school in science will pay off. It will not limit you in job selection from employers wondering if you’re too qualified. You can pursue many careers inside or outside academia, and outside your particular specialization. For employers, it signals you have a good grasp of math and strong analytic problem-solving skills that are well above-average.

    Though many of us are employed outside our specialization our outside academia, our unemployment / underemployment numbers are the lowest, bar none. Our salaries are also well above average. We also normally get paid , albeit modestly, to attend grad school; it’s very unusual to accumulate grad school debt (but normal 4-year BS debt is typical).

    Grad school for other professions is completely different than grad school for science. Of course, I suspect the humanity PHDs probably didn’t get electrocuted nearly as often as I did, so there are some downsides.

    1. LabTech

      No, science, generally, encompasses too many fields to unequivocally state that it will pay off. I’m in chemistry and I can safely say that it’s incredibly difficult to get a job in the field, whether at the bachelor’s or PhD level. (American Chemical Society Unemployment is at it’s highest in years: see link in next comment for details.)

      I’m guessing this case is comparable for physics and math (save for a few particular high-demand sub-fields), where getting a higher education isn’t necessarily worth it.

  23. Wakeen's Wifey

    How about the advice to go above and beyond, send a reply directly to the CEO if that’s who you’ll be working for, or other ‘out of the box’ approaches? I assume apply in the format you’re supposed to and your qualifications will (hopefully) make you stand out, without going crazy?

    I feel like I read articles where there are lovely fables of super creative applications to jobs that work… someone sent their resume with a pizza to show they could ‘deliver’… other wacky stuff. .. reminds me of stories of women marrying their one night stands. I can’t take any of it seriously, or should I?

  24. Jesse

    Not everything in this article is accurate. I am an 18 year HR executive and many of my peers also don’t agree with this article. I would recommend readers carefully understand the experience and knowledge of HR leaders and writers of similar content.

    That said, number 1, 3, 6 and 7 are not completely accurate.

    1. The degree is not only for current jobs but for future jobs as well. Not every barista with a degree plans to be a barista forever. I have hired many employees with degrees in different fields and when they don’t have much experience I look at their education because it also shows their commitment and persistence to complete school. for these same reasons I look to hire any military veteran as well.

    3. This is not always accurate. If your seasoned professional be concise and highlights your successes. But I have interviewed hundreds of senior level managers, specialists, executives and vice presidents whose experience and qualifications would require 2-3 pages. If this isn’t you, then a 1-2 page resume is best.

    6. Nowdays many applicant tracking systems have added technology that filters resumes based on keywords for those positions, which aren’t always accurate or thorough. Also, if it’s a popular position your resumed can get lost in the shuffle of resumes because they can also be forwarded on multiple times. Following up 7-10 days after sending your resume is good and shows persistence. Many people have called me to follow up and although I may not always answer, they do leave a briefe message which I can appreciate and allows me to remember their resumes. Often times people apply for any posted position that is not of genuine interest or they don’t know anything about the company they are applying for. This is refreshing a still a good way to make your resume stand out. Just remember be patient and polite.

    7. Knowing the name of the hiring manager, means you did your homework and know your audience. Most times resumes get forwarded on to the hiring manager and you knowing more is refreshing. Most cover letters are generic templates that are not personal or relatable and show a candidates true interest or understanding about the company they are applying for.

    1. Fruitfly

      For #1, I also think that it is okay to get a graduate degree even if you are working in a job that doesn’t seem to require one. Being in graduate school actually gave me more knowledge about my field of study than just having only an undergraduate degree. I agree that no one knows what would happen in the future…maybe you will move into a field of study where a graduate degree might come in handy or maybe mentioning a graduate class you took in your resume might give it a little boost.

      I am not sure about following up with employers though. I, too, have applied to job positions where my resume seemed to be completely ignored. But I am not really sure if calling the employer just to let them know I am one of the candidates that applied will help. Most hiring managers do not provide their email addresses or phone numbers.

      I do think we need to research the hiring manager’s name, since many resumes got responded to that just says hiring manager. And I think many companies don’t want candidates to know who the hiring manager is just yet.

    2. misspiggy

      Surely if a keyword filtering system is so unreliable that good candidates regularly get missed out if they don’t follow up, it would be better to ditch the software?

      1. Graciosa

        Yes, yes, yes – please.

        As a Hiring Manager, I find it so frustrating to have my staffing team insist that they need to screen resumes by counting keywords (or having the software do it for them).

        This is NOT an effective way to screen resumes.

    3. Kelly O

      I think people overestimate the ease of figuring out the hiring manager, particularly with larger employers who may not have employee directories readily available to the public, or who provide job descriptions just vague enough to make determining a department difficult.

      I tried it. Trust me. Hours spent searching Google (and then learning about sourcing and searching) and LinkedIn, trying to figure out exactly to whom my cover letter should be addressed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m beginning to feel like, if they wanted me to know who it was, they would just say so in the ad (and the cover letter shouldn’t be about the interviewer anyway, if we’re being honest.)

  25. Elizabeth

    I want to print this out and give it to my father. He has given every single one of these pieces of bad advice. Sigh.

  26. So Very Anonymous

    I actually got a job once because I called to follow up. The hiring director told me later that she had interpreted that call as meaning that I had gumption!!! and would be awesome at a marketing job instead of the one I’d applied for because I could make cold calls!! and gumption!!!! and was awesome!!! Flattery (I was AWESOME!) and railroading (you don’t need experience when you’re awesome + GUMPTION!) turned out to be this person’s only management tools, which meant that if you turned out not to have gumption and/or be awesome (which is, ultimately, not a measurable accomplishment) life was not good. (It had been killer hard for me to work up the courage to make that phone call). One of those cases where following a lot of advice that didn’t feel right did get me the job… but it got me a job that I soon discovered I didn’t really want.

  27. Jessica (the celt)

    Alison, I found it amusing that while I was looking at other posts showing below yours on USN, I discovered one that has the exact opposite advice as your #7 as their #1 piece of advice to cover letter writers. Yours was written on the 5th and theirs on the 21st. I obviously trust your advice more, but I found it highly amusing that they had two opposing pieces of advice in recent articles. :)

    (I’ll post the link in a separate post, but it’s titled “5 Cover Letter Cliches That Make Employers Cringe.”)

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