The Worst Career Advice You’ve Ever Heard


2018 Update: We still think this is a great discussion about the worst career advice you’ve ever heard, but you may also want to check out our recent post on the best career advice from coaches for lawyers and other professionals.

Here’s a fun question for today: what is the WORST career advice you’ve ever heard? I just saw an article about this at Inc. — about how “follow your passion” is really dumb advice — and I thought it might make an interesting topic for us over here. The worst advice I ever got was a version of the “follow your passion” advice, when a career coach once advised me to “Find something you love — like baseball! — and then go be a lawyer for baseball.” I kid you not, those were the exact words. Putting aside the wonky sentence structure, so many things struck me as wrong about this. Maybe I like baseball because I like drinking beer in the stands while talking to friends! Maybe I like the excitement of the game, or the statistical analysis of players’ performances! Maybe I like collecting baseball cards, or following the players over the course of their career as they move from one team to the next? Whereas someone who ends up loving sports law would, presumably, have a passion for contracts, intellectual property, and all the other things that go into the game and the business of sports.

Another thing that maybe didn’t serve me the best — back in journalism school, the university encouraged us to write to different news entities to get internships. As a hook to get these future “employers” interested, we were advised to offer to work for free, usually in the first line of the letter. I suppose it worked — I certainly got some internships out of it! — but it took me years to figure out how to write a cover letter without offering something huge in exchange, and added a lot of anxiety to informational interviews and more.

Ladies, over to you — what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received or heard?

Pictured: UH TCU Baseball, originally uploaded to Flickr by thatlostdog.


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. “Don’t worry about the law school loans, everyone at [X] law school gets jobs at big law firms and pays back their loans within 5 years thanks to salary and bonuses.” -Advice given to me by 3L when I was looking at law schools in early 2007.

    I unfortunately followed that advice. Then 2008 happened.

    • Anonymous :

      I think this is pretty bad advice even pre-2008. So many hate Big Law and are miserable staying there for five years and nobody going into law school has any real information about whether they will be able to tolerate the job. Taking on a massive amount of debt that can only be paid off by working *one particular job* is pretty nutty no matter what the economic environment.

    • +1. My variant was “Go to the best school you get into.” I gave up a full scholarship to a perfectly good law school in the region I wanted to live and practice in and moved 1000 miles away to pay full tuition at a T14 school. Which I started attending in August 2008.

      • Anonymous :

        +1 I turned down (in 2007) a full ride scholarship to attend a very good law school in a location I wasn’t excited about moving to, and decided to pay full tuition to attend a similarly ranked school in a cool city because I thought “whatever, the loans will be so easy to pay off.” I thank G-d every single day that at the last minute my chosen school gave me a big scholarship. I want to shake my younger self so, so hard.

      • Anonymous :

        OP Here. Yea, this advice was related to the best ranked vs. slightly lower ranked with partial scholarship decision. 2007 me was stupid.

    • Wanderlust :

      100% this. Class of 2009 at a non T-14 school in a HCOL city. I love my job, and I love being a lawyer, but this was a $200k mistake.

      • Anonymous :

        Not trying to be snarky, but can I ask why you think it’s a mistake if you love your job and love being a lawyer? Most people I know who say law school was a mistake dislike practicing law.

        • I think she means that her choice of an expensive law school was a mistake, not law school in general.

  2. You should show up at offices instead of emailing them your resume–they’ll appreciate your gumption.


    • jumpingjack :

      I know several people (myself included) who have gotten good jobs by doing this. Though I would never ever say that it works because it shows “gumption.”

    • This worked for me. I was serveing subpeenie’s when I bumped into the manageing partner in the elevator, and he was so impressed with me that he asked me to interview for a job once he figured out I was actualy a LAWYER and was already admitted to the NY Bar (which Mason never was). So it can be beneficial to show up if you are abel to impress properly. YAY!!!!

  3. Anonymous :

    “Go to law school, it’s a good investment.”

  4. From a male MD professor, in his 60’s+, during an interview for MD/PhD programs

    “Don’t do an MD PhD. You’ll never be able to have children.”

  5. In conjunction with the law school notion, people (adults) need to stop telling high school kids they can go to whatever college they want and wherever is the “best fit”. That’s how these naive 18 year olds get saddled with 6 figure debt from undergrad only. Unless you’re going into a highly ranked program at a private school or out of state public school, you should go to in state public. And yes I know plenty of people that have significant debt from doing in state public as well, but overall it’s less.

    • Anonymous :

      + all of the $ I saved by going to state U and working for room & board

      Seriously: why is random relative who lives 20 miles from Davidson all set on going there or Wake? I h8, H8 that everyone’s all “this is the right school for u” when I’m all on the “take AP courses and go to state U and then transfer if you really really want that name on your diploma” when this means that a nice fellow (who is not so good with the math of this) will be saddled with debt forever?

      • +1 to instate :

        Piggybacking off your North Carolina example… especially because UNC is a very strong institution with an incredible alumni network. I could see going private if your in-state options are less than stellar, but otherwise?? Good grief. I managed to get away with zero debt from UNC. Private law school, even with massive scholarships though………….. weep.

        • lost academic :

          My advice is specific certainly for college in NC, but can be generalized – don’t let people get scared of a sticker price for college. It’s all about what the final cost is. My brother was insistent to go to a place he could major in meteorology and ended up in-state at NC State. I went to Duke. I had almost no cost or loans. It took everyone in the family to get him through NCSU and he owes 25K. I have a major pet peeve about college guidance counselors (in Georgia) steering kids ONLY to state schools, with and without HOPE scholarships there, and away from things that even IF they’d kept HOPE all 4-5 years would have been cheaper.

      • NC specific :

        To be fair, private schools like Davidson and Wake often offer much more impressive financial packages to students than state schools. I got a full ride to Davidson but as an in-state student in NC only got $1000 towards a UNC education. I didn’t end up choosing either, but it would have been cheaper for me to go to Davidson than UNC.

        • +1 to instate :

          Fair point, for sure. Every applicant/family financial picture is different, too. Between aid and scholarships my UNC was basically free, and because of Chapel Hill’s low cost of living, I was actually able to pay for my living expenses with summer jobs. Please excuse me while I pine for the good old days :)

        • Anonymous :

          He’s not really scholarship material though (not in a negative way, more like the parents don’t realize that private-school financial aid is much more extensive than state U but the Qs are more invasive, so they are likely to look through a single-mother situation to the noncustodial parent’s 1040, which is probably where the price – aid is still likely > any state U school (would be different if he were an OOS student looking at NC schools, but still pricey).

          Other relative is all State, UNC, here I come! Some people have parents who tell them that they’re better than that. No help, IMO.

          • Chiming in as a Davidson Alum :

            Totally agree with your point – I know several people who went OOS to a pubic school without financial aid and didn’t consider the impact of loans down the road.

            The one thing I will say for Davidson (not the case when I was there, but proud of them for doing it) is that their financial aid is grant-based only. It’s totally possible you could graduate with loans if you needed private loans to cover the gap between what FAFSA says you can cover and what you realistically can cover, but the loans won’t come from the school’s financial aid package…and this is for all need-based aid, not just merit-based.

            As lost academic said, sticker price can be deceiving. My tuition with financial aid came out even (if not better) than I would have paid in-state in my home state, but agree that this varies quite a bit state to state.

        • Anonymous :

          I think that’s true if you’re very smart (like way more than the school’s average), very needy or an out of state student.

          I know a few W&L alumni who went there based on generous aid but home-state schools were not great and OOS at VA schools had no aid that helped in their situation.

      • Yup! I went to a good big ten school (in state) in a major ranked top 3 in the country. I almost went to a different, out of state big ten school and if I went that route, I would have made sure to graduate early bc I came in as a sophomore thanks to all my AP credit. All the stressing in high school was worth it because it saved at least $25k.

    • Also in Academia :

      I think that finances are part of fit, and way more complex than “state schools are cheaper than private.” I see too many students taking financial aid advice from friends, rather than making their own decisions based on their own financial aid packages!

      • This is super true and was true 15(!!) years ago, when I was looking and my cheapest options were UPenn and Yale because my parent’s finances were such that I got 100% need. Even then, “need” is found different at each school, so I think it worth the application fee/time to fill them out. Stanford found my friend’s “need” to be $30,000 and an Ivy found it to be $4,000 (so she went to Stanford). I probably would have gotten a full ride to my state U and could have saved on housing, but my life would be very very different. I say it was worth it to have $10k in subsidized debt to find my ppl (nerdy, dreamy types).

  6. “You can do anything with a law degree.”

    Also lots of stuff you CAN’T do when saddled with six figures of student debt.

    • Anonymous :

      omg THIS. People are finally backing away from the “law school is a good investment” and “six figure debt, so what?” advice, but I still hear this all the time. No. No. No. nooooooo. you can do ONE and only one thing with a law degree. BE A LAWYER.

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Oh my goodness yes. There are so many things you can’t do when you have that much debt. There are also so many jobs that see you have a law degree and assume that if you are looking for something else that you’ll immediately leave once you can get a legal job again.

    • A from Boston :

      Luckily I went to Northeastern, and Micheal Dukakis taught a public policy class there. Being one of the most prestigious teachers he actually talked to the whole freshman political science class (his class was so in-demand you usually couldn’t get in until senior year), and told us not to go to law school unless we actually wanted to be lawyers, because otherwise it wasn’t worth the time or money. He taught us, before any of us unnecessarily got on the pre-law track, that you didn’t need a law degree to hold public office.

    • Anonymous :

      Another variant of this, “a law degree is like a credit card in your back pocket”–soooo, something that allows you to rack up a lot of debt but doesn’t actually signify an ability to repay?

  7. I had a therapist once tell me that if people see me crying at work, they’ll respect me more for being able to show my emotions freely.

    She was quickly no longer my therapist.

  8. Anon for this :

    “Cut your hair, it’s unprofessional.” Glad I didn’t listen to it.

    • Depends on how long it is. I will judge the crap out of you if your hair goes down to your butt.

      • I think you should work on not judging women based on the length of their hair. I have seen women who are very good at their work have very long hair. I just wish may hair could grow so long.

      • You can judge me for all sorts of things, but if you have to resort to judging my butt-length hair, I feel sorry for you.

  9. Amelia Bedelia :

    my career services person ACTUALLY said we should evaluate what types of tv shows we like to watch to evaluate an area of interest.
    like medical dramas and courtroom dramas in ANY way reflect actual practice??? Just. Stupid.

  10. Anonymous :

    This isn’t really advice, but it makes me sad that our it’s so ingrained in our culture that you have to do something practical that will easily support a family. I went on a whale watching trip in Canada once on vacation and the guy on the boat said “Ever since I was four years old, I loved whales and the only job I could ever imagine was leading whale-watching tours, so of course I grew up to do it.” and that just made me so happy for that guy and simultaneously so sad for myself and so many other people. I loved so many things when I was a kid but somewhere along the way I and pretty much everyone else gave up on all those things in favor of something more practical that we weren’t passionate about. I don’t even think it came from my parents, who were very supportive (although they did point out realities like the fact that being a marine biologist does not mean snuggling with baby seals all day), but more from our culture at large that I just absorbed. Now obviously the world needs a lot more doctors and lawyers and accountants than whale-watching naturalists, and often times the kid’s idea of the job is very different from the reality (see, marine biologist) but I just wish more people got to do what they wanted to do when they four years old.

    • IDK, I think it’s pretty solid advice to pursue a career that will enable you to support yourself. I don’t think that’s a problem with our culture – needing to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head is pretty universal.

      • I tend to agree–I think the problem in our culture is that it’s increasingly hard to do something practical and put food on the table *while* still having the time and money to also do what you loved to do at age 4. So I think the problem isn’t that we all need to pay the bills, so much as that often that’s all we are able to do.

        • Not meant as snark, but I think it’s also sad that there are jobs that require commitment and effort and benefit others, like leading whale watching tours, that are insufficient to support a family. [Disclaimer: I actually have no idea what whale watching tour guides made. It might afford a comfortable living.] My SIL’s DH is a teacher with an MA, and they are stretched pretty thin…but I don’t think it means that we should discourage people from becoming teachers.

          • I absolutely agree. I find no particular correlation between salary and importance/value/difficulty of work, and that’s always going to be unfair.

        • That I definitely agree with.

      • +100. I became an attorney because I thought it would be a way to support myself/family (and so far that has proven correct.) As a result, I have significantly more financial security than I would with my “dream” job from childhood or then the rest of my family.

        It would be great if we could all just do a job we loved, but that’s just not a practical choice unless you are independently wealthy/have family to support you for the rest of your life. If forced to make the choice again, I would still take the practical job that allowed me to buy a house, payoff my student loans, take international vacations, and buy clothing without worrying about whether I would still be able to afford food or gas that month.

      • grapesoda :

        Co-signed by my husband who graduated from art school, which he loved, only to go back after 10 years to get a degree which would facilitate stable employment.

    • Agree… but as I get older, I do get excited when I think of all the things I am interested in that I will be able to learn more about/get involved in/take time to do when I retire. So, I didn’t get to be a marine biologist, but I can take some classes when I retire and read about it for fun and travel to see seals, or whatever.

      Obviously there are a million things that could make my retirement turn out a lot differently from how I want, but I do think that many things that get put on the back burner for work/earning money are interests to pursue late in life.

    • Hahaha, I’ve always wanted to be a judge… so I went to law school, but just because I want to be a judge doesn’t mean I get to be one.

    • If kids got to be what they wanted to be when they were four I would be a horse.

      I actually AM a whale biologist. And it turns out that so many people are willing to play with whales for free that it’s pretty hard to get paid to play with them for fun. Most people have to find some kind of balance between living their dreams and making a living. It’s awesome if you can do both, but everyone has to make choices.

  11. A woman my mom’s age told me to wear the same clothes I wore to my job interview for my first 3 consecutive days at the job. This was to give me some time to buy more work clothes. Good intentions, but no.

    A career counselor told me to ask everyone who had rejected my applications for feedback about why I didn’t make it to the first round of interviews. Meaning, ask for feedback on my rejected resume and cover letter from (dozens of) people (nationwide) who had no idea who I was.

    My parents were always both prone to zippy comebacks that I was supposed to use on my boss, because I think they just forgot their own time being junior and having to avoid p!ssing people off.

  12. “Don’t worry about student loan debt. It’s viewed as good debt.” argh

  13. jumpingjack :

    A law school career services adviser told a friend, who had excellent grades and was single at the time, not to apply for a summer associate job in BigLaw because “she might want kids someday.”

  14. I asked my my C-suite level male boss for career advice during an internship (in my early 20’s):
    “Wait until you’re 45 to have kids like I did.”

    (His wife was conveniently two decades younger)

  15. “Don’t apply for a job unless you’re sure you would take it if you were offered it.”

    How do I know that until I learn more about the job? This person meant well — they were trying to to minimize my time and stress applying for a whole slew of jobs — but it was still bad advice.

  16. “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, it just matters that it’s done.” A woman gave me this advice regarding male colleagues taking credit for stuff she did.

  17. “It’s nearly impossible to get a federal clerkship/Big Law job/X prestigious job if you attend your non-T14 law school”

    Two federal clerkships and a Big Law job later…. (and with zero debt bc I went to the lower ranked school). Booyah.

    • YES. I went to a T14 school but was told flat out that because I didn’t do prestigious jobs over the summer I wouldn’t get clerkships or biglaw and – no joke – I should probably just stop interviewing and take the first job offered to me even if it wasn’t in law, especially because “you probably want to start having kids soon, right?”

    • Same.

  18. R in Boston :

    “Put your head down and work hard. The work will speak for itself.”

    • As with “it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” above, this is in the category of things I wish were true about the world, but just are not.

    • Anonymous :


    • I hear this all the time and it rubs me the wrong way, but I can’t quite figure out why. Can you share why you think it’s bad advice?

      • Because there’s a lot more to being successful than being a worker bee.

        • R in Boston :

          Anon, that is a very elegant way to say it. The hard work rarely gets noticed by itself. Plus there are always people who will not do the work but who will be loud about taking credit for it. Work hard, of course, but also be your own best advertising agent.

    • I’ve gotten a version of this before from my supervisor — “I’ve always felt that if you just keep your head down and do good work, everything else takes care of itself.” That was when I knew it was time to leave that job.

  19. A from Boston :

    Most of the advice I got wasn’t actually bad, just incomplete or poorly delivered . . .

    Before the recession, I was told to ~follow my dreams~ and study what I was passionate about, and the money would follow.

    It actually wasn’t terrible advice, but incomplete. I would’ve loved it if someone had told me that co-op employers hiring political science kids get a lot of applicants who’ve already volunteered on campaigns and/or worked summer internships at the State House, so I needed to do at least one of those before it was time to apply for co-ops if I wanted my first one to be a paid gig. People told me these things were helpful, but no one came out and said “look, passion and intellect only get you so far, you need to do these things if you want a job when you graduate.”

    Then our co-op advisory gave us really vague, useless advice on what to wear to an interview. For guys, it was easy and straightforward, but in typical clueless dude fashion (no pun intended) all he told us ladies needed was a blouse with a nice skirt or slacks; again, true, but incomplete, I could’ve used more specific advice, because I definitely didn’t dress well when I went to internship interviews. And if someone had told me how affordable the work clothes at H&M were, I would’ve invested in my first blazer much earlier!

    After the recession hit, some people told me I should go into something like finance or software engineering because “that’s where the money is,” and they were right about that, but the advice was very impersonal; it would have been great if they’d tried to convince me that I was, in fact, smart enough to go into a field like that and it wasn’t as boring as it seemed. If someone had said “A, you should be a software engineer because you see things this way, and you’re really good at X, Y, and Z,” I might’ve actually considered it.

    Finally, one of my friends kept telling me I needed to get a hundred copies of my resume and send them everywhere, just hit the town and give my resume to everyone, apply to every single job I saw even if I wasn’t remotely interested or qualified (“because you never know!”), because that was the only way I’d ever get a job! I did not take that advice.

    • Yes! Don’t just tell me that a field is lucrative, tell me why it’s interesting, what you get to do, why I might be a good fit (especially important after all that “girls aren’t good at ___” sexist stuff I internalized at a young age…)

  20. Anonymous :

    I actually got great career advice that I never listened to. Is that worse?
    I have an engineering degree and was debating going to law school. Every. Single. Lawyer I met told me NOT to go to law school. I was debt-free and financially stable, but fell victim to the “I can make a difference” appeal that law schools love to offer. I now have a job that is in no way more fulfilling than my engineering jobs with a TON of debt and a TON of regret.
    I remember thinking that all the lawyers I talked to were just “too jaded” and “negative.” Well, now I’ve joined their rankings. I would only encourage law school if it’s a top 50 school and you are offered a full ride. No joke.

    • WorkingMom :

      You know, my husband really, strongly considered law school several years back. We would have had to take out loans for the whole thing – and enough people advised against it for all of these reasons, that he chose not to. He later started his own business and is thriving! I think a lot of the “don’t do it” advice came from this blog, and I’m grateful – because knowing our situation, I do NOT think he would have been happy. (We live in a smaller town, so chances of getting a job that paid enough to pay off the debt was slim to none, unless we wanted to move.)

    • I love my job and I am very glad I went to law school While it was expensive, thanks to my law degree, I am financially stable. That said, when people ask me for advice about law school, I almost always recommend against it. I have a niche practice and consider my practice to be the reason for my contentment. However, practicing law is grueling and for the investment to be worth it, you have to land a BIGLAW job and stay at it – not an easy task. For this reason, my advice is (1) be sure you want to be a lawyer, (2) be sure you know what lawyers do (a lot of people have no clue), (3) go to a T14 law school (it is much easier to land a BIGLAW job out of the T14), and (4) only go to the best law school in the region you intend to practice if you do not get in to a T14 law school Otherwise, law school is a bad investment.

  21. like a man... :

    This isn’t the worst advice by any means, but it does rub me the wrong way. Advice from women in leadership: “If you want to get ahead, be more like a man and don’t talk “womanly” things (e.g, motherhood, babies, pregnancy, etc.) and “play ball” with men. As a result, yeah, I got ahead, but there are no pictures of my kids in my office, I feel guilty when I talk about them, it was HUGE fun pumping in the airplane/airport bathrooms, lugging milk in coolers and pretending it wasn’t happening. I hate that advice “for women to get ahead and to be like men” is still true in many workplaces.

    • This is similar to what I was going to post as well – I read “Hardball for Women” and “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” before starting my first job in business, and while some of the advice was helpful, all of the “talk like a man, think like a man” stuff just made me want to scream. I will NEVER talk about sports or use sports analogies – and quite frankly, coming from me they just sound silly anyways since I’m a 5-foot ball of pep when I’m not in court mode. And the “don’t feed anyone lest you come across as motherly” thing also goes entirely against my nature – sure, I’m not bringing in baked goods, but I keep a candy bar and a tea stash in my office and you bet your buttons I regularly offer both to folks when they stop by.

      I am girly as **** – my office decor is Kate-Spade inspired and right now it smells like cinnamon. I can still negotiate hard and be respected for my intelligence.

      • oh man. The sports analogies reminds me of that scene in the Office where Jan tries to teach the women how to use sports metaphors at work.

  22. Anonymous BigLaw Associate :

    Any advice that means “don’t be yourself.” Sure, there are things we do that may alter our appearance or behavior – like dressing appropriately and being more formal in certain meetings or in court. But changing things that go against the fundamental nature of who you are, that’s just not going to work in the long run. “Be like a man” is one of them (unless you are inclined to be like a man in the first place and actually know what “be like a man” even means). Hiding personality traits or interests that are in no way unprofessional is a broader variant. A workplace that is sustainable won’t require that, but should rather value folks that have diverse backgrounds and interests.

  23. Anonymous :

    Tell me if I am understanding you correctly. Are certain positions in law only available to people who went to certain select schools? Are you saying that if a person went to a state university, there are certain jobs that will never be open to her, no matter how brilliant and capable she is?

    • Yes. Not every good job, but there are many jobs where it is significantly harder for even the brilliant and capable to open the door if they didn’t go to a top school.

      • jumpingjack :

        I know of at least one top law firm that not only will not hire entry level attorneys unless they went to certain top schools, they won’t even consider lateral associates and partners who didn’t go to these schools.

  24. Never ask for a raise…but if I don’t ask, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. You need to find the right way to ask, but by not asking, you demonstrate your lack of awareness of the market and self-worth, in addition to signaling what type of leader you are.

  25. “Be a teacher because when you get divorced you’ll have the same schedule as your children.” Dear old dad.

  26. not a law student :

    It’s my first time posting here, but for those of you who are having the state school discussion, what are your thoughts on an Ivy vs. a top 15 school in the same city if you get a full scholarship to the top 15 school and the Ivy with no scholarship? Are the opportunities different, even in the same city?

  27. I was told by my boss when I was pregnant with my third child that I may want to consider either looking for part time work or take a lower level job/ take a pay cut as my next move “because I am a mother of young children.” Worst career advice EVER!

  28. My law school career counselor once advised us to go into “niche practices” and advised that “space junk law” and “robot law” were really hot. This was in 2007. Maybe I’m missing something, but I haven’t seen much posted in either field lately….especially not in my Midwestern market (where 70% of my law school classmates ended up working).

  29. “You’re a woman, act like a woman and use it to your advantage.” …. I just thought it was demeaning.

  30. Worst bit of advice: Don’t have kids early in your career. Wait until you are older and more established.

    I ignored this advice and I’m glad I did. Having kids early is easier because you have less responsibility. As you get more senior, you’re striving to make partner (if you are a lawyer) and working to enhance your visibility within your firm and outside it. Now that I am 10 years out of law school, I travel a lot and I would be missed if I went on maternity leave. I couldn’t imagine dealing with infants right now.