Looking for a new job? Expect to get some really bad career advice

You’re going to get some bad career advice, even from well-meaning people. So who should you listen to? The people who know you best? Experts and business leaders? Who?

People who know you:

  • As a teenager, John Lennon’s aunt often told him ”The guitar’s all right John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”
  • Elvis Presley’s high school music teacher told him he had no aptitude for singing.
  • Isaac Newton was considered “unpromising” in grade school.

Experts and business leaders:

  • Mainframe computer people were sure the PC would not catch on. In 1977 the founder of Digital Equipment Corp. said ”There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
  • Studio executives were sure the TV would not catch on. In 1946, Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox said Television “won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
  • Telegraph people were sure the telephone would not catch on. In 1876, a Western Union internal memo stated “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

Of course the telephone, TV and PC all caught on, and now they all fit in your pocket. Clearly, genius often goes unrecognized, and experts and business leaders are often wrong.

So is there anyone worth listening to?

Labor market forces dictate everything about how you will be treated in your career. (Those negotiating tricks your father-in-law recommended aren’t going to matter).

If you have marketable skills that are in short supply, you will generally be treated quite well. If you have skills that are easy to find, you are not going to be treated well. Market conditions dictate what experience you need for a job, how fast you can be promoted, how much competition you have, what salary you can earn, and how much leverage you have in your negotiations.

If the person giving you career advice is not intimately familiar with your industry, your job function, your local economy, and technological advances that affect all those areas, be skeptical of their advice.


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