Ask the Readers: What Is the Best Career Advice You've Ever Been Given?

By Ashley Jacobs on 6 September 2011 (Updated 13 September 2011) 76 comments
Photo: Office Now

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Carmen, Carerra, and QOTM for winning this week's contest!

Your career is one of the biggest aspects of your life. If you work 40 hours each week, you are spending close to 24% of your week in the office. Whether you have a job or are looking for one, chances are you have heard more than your fair share of career advice, both good and bad.

What's the best career advice you've ever been given?  What about the worst? What advice are you always sure to follow when it comes to your career?

Tell us about the best career advice you've ever been given and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

Mandatory Entry: 

  • Post your answer in the comments below 

For extra entries (1 per action):

  • Go to our Facebook page, "Like" us, and leave a comment telling us you did, or
  • Tweet your answer. You have to be a follower of our @wisebread account. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it. Leave a link to your tweet (click the timestamp for the individual URL) in a separate comment.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, September 12th at 11:59 pm Pacific. Winners will be announced after September 12th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook.
  • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Note: Due to recent changes in Facebook's promotions guidelines, we have restructured the entry format of our giveaways.

Good Luck!

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Carson M.

Best career advice given to me: "Dress more professionally"

I have a dirty job that requires me to be around concrete and other filthy construction materials. While my job doesn't quite require me to operate directly with the stuff, it still finds ways to get onto my clothing. So I used to wear a lot of throwaway stuff to work, which isn't against dress code at all. However, my boss caught a glimpse of me in my dirty t-shirt and slightly stained jeans and during one of my reviews, he said I looked like a bum and requested I dress more professionally if I wanted to be taken seriously on the job. I was insulted at first, but I decided to take that advice to a slight extreme and it has literally made my job more tolerable, has made me far more client connections, and has inspired me to carry that same professionalism into the way I keep my office and perform my duties on the job. I don't blame my boss for his bluntness during that review, and I've come to learn that tact isn't one of his strong points. But I became a better professional for it and it's made a world of a difference in my life.

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OhioWldFlr

The best advice I got was from a college professor who said to avoid "burning bridges" in your career.

As in many professions, you tend to work with the same people over the years either directly or indirectly and if you have a bad reputation, it can cost you work, a job offer or perhaps a raise or promotion.

It's a small world for sure.

Guest's picture
Rachel

The best career advice I've been given is "ask for it," where 'it' means raises, promotions, extra perks, etc. Turns out women don't, but guys do, and this is part of the reason why women earn less.

(I negotiated my first raise shortly after getting that piece of advice - so thanks, Linda Babcock!)

Guest's picture
weston

My favorite business author puts it rather succinctly for those of us that run our own businesses.

Paraphrasing..."Your business is there to serve your life. Your life isn't there to serve your business."...Michael Gerber

My late grandfather said essentially the same thing when my father and uncle had to break it to him that because of labor union issues they had to close the very successful business that he had created and run for over 60 years.

After reviewing the books. He looked up at their worried faces, somewhat amused by their clear discomfort with telling him the news. According to my father, all he said was "Go ahead and close it. I created that business to take care of my family. If it's not taking care of my family get rid of the damn thing." He seemed astonished that his children would think that he had some sort of sentimental attachment to the business.

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Olivia

After enduring a mind numbing multi-houred assessment, I received this evaluation. "Do whatever you like. I just wouldn't recommend accounting, unless you really want it." Mom was more specific, "Do whatever makes you happy, is legal, and provides a living." Whew. Accounting was no longer hanging over my head. I entered art school as a Graphic Design major, planning eventuially to double up with Industrial Design. After asking the department head how to swing it, he said, "Are you nuts? Pick one or the other." That put the whole thing into perspective. I graduated as a Graphic Designer, worked in Promotion, and loved it.

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Jill

Well, I was actually told 2 things by 2 different people. One, my mother told me to be loyal only to yourself. No company will take care of you anymore. (My father had to take early retirement after being laid off with a major grocery chain he worked for over 40 years). Two, another co-worker told me a long time ago to not ever let your employer or boss see how much you could do because they would expect it every day and demand more.

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Guest

My advice: Remember your youthfulness. Children often exhibit their most unique skills and talents when they are at play. Take notice of this - whether remembering that of your own childhood or how it can apply to your children now. By developing these most innate and yet often suppressed talents, one can know the exact direction to take when considering a high potential, enjoyable career; specific to the individual :) ~Rachel

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lostAnnfound

My father taught us to take pride in the work we do, whatever the job is. If we want to be a street sweeper, he said to be the best street sweeper we could be; if we want to be a doctor, be the best doctor we could be.

Guest's picture
Guest

Show up, return your calls.

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Nisha

When I was in business school in 1998/1999 the IT market was booming. when it was time for me to focus on a concentration, all my peers and classmates urged me to go for IT, with me being Indian, I guess I fit the stereotype. My heart was not in IT though, but in Finance, but my classmates were spooking me that I might not find a job easily. One of my finance professors told me "follow your heart - your career will follow". I am glad I listened to him, and went for a concentration in finance. Soon after I graduated in Summer 2000, I was the first in my class to land a job. The dot.com and IT industry bust was round the corner and several of my classmates who had been pushing me to opt for an IT concentration were calling and emailing me desperately for job leads.

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Rusty

One of my bosses gave me advise that was "Don't burn you bridges" shortly after I left my job.
Other career advise was to try to get as much education when you're young, because when you get older life changes with more responsibilities and it's harder going back to school while working.

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Rusty

I like you on facebook too.

Guest's picture
NJJ

My Best Advice: Treat every job as if you are replaceable So always give every job 110% and no matter how big or small of a paycheck you receive. Never take your income for granted and always save for a rainy day! :)

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Guest

Years ago, I was told I wasn't as smart as I thought I was and I needed to listen to what others have to contribute. I was shocked and frankly insulted, I thought I was a team player, but others thought differently. After I gave it thought, I realized she was right and had actually been nice about it. I would cut off people, rush and not listen to other solutions, my way was the best.
I started right way to wait my turn, consider all sides and make an informed decision and consider others feelings. Was the best advice, I have ever recieved and have lived it over twenty years. Now when my team has difficulty finding a solution to a problem, I am consulted for my opinion. Now that's teamwork! :)

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Kristy OT

Best advice? Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Who even has a "career" anymore? Multiple skill sets, multiple income streams, that's where it's at.

Guest's picture
Monica

http://twitter.com/#!/MonicaJamer/status/111121552933781504

Guest's picture
Bostonita

Best career advice:

Don't wait for anyone else to give you permission.

Do what you know needs to be done today. Take the risk. Make that decision. Assume that new responsibility. Just don't wait.

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Lisa

The best advice I ever got about a career was to find a field that interested me then seek out people who were at the top of that field. Study them and how they operated. If possible, interview them and ask questions specific to their success. Emulate them.

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EB

The best career advice I've ever been given is to "Never be afraid to do what you *have* to do to do what you *want* to do."

Guest's picture
NL

Research the company, including its employees, to understand its culture and come up with specific ways you could help solve its problems.

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Brandon P

The best career advice given to me was to mail interviewers after an interview. Writing a small thank you card can go a long way when companies are trying to decide who to hire. Even a simple e-mail within 24 hours of an interview shows your appreciation for them to take time to interview you. Furthermore, sending a last thank you will leave them with a positive impression and will hopefully make your name and face more memorable.

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Kristin

When you start a new job, find a good mentor.

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Carerra

The best bit of advice I got was, "If you can type quickly, don't tell anyone." Especially if you're a woman. Focus on showcasing the skills you want to use more often.

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Garry Aernouts

Do something that you love, not something for the almighty dollar. Even so, when you near the end of your life, you will never think, "I sure wish I'd spent more time at work."

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Carmen

The advice I was given was "do more than you're asked to do". Going the extra mile does make a difference in the eyes of those that work above you.

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L. Ann

During many years in the corporate world, the 2 best pieces of advice ever received were:
1) document, document, document
2) always cover your a**

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@heathbarj

"Silence is agreement" , if you dont speak up your just agreeing with everyone around you.

Guest's picture
Guest

Find something you love and go for it -- forget about the money, forget about how to get there - just go for it!

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theMark

You should wake up and look forward to going to work. - My Dad

So I left my cubicle and started my own company with a friend. It's been a lot of work, a lot of up and downs. But, it's been exciting and I look forward to going to work every day. Thanks for the advice dad!

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Kirsten

Find something you love to do and get paid for it. LOL That is what my dad told me. He also told me that I should always give my very best no matter what and that it is easier to find a job when you HAVE a job...all good advice.

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Kirsten

Like you on FB

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Kirsten

http://twitter.com/#!/miriama59/status/111185815958331392

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Christie

(Best Advice) Find something you love to do and find a way to get paid for it.

(Great Advice) You attitude determines your outlook. No matter what job you have, do it with a great attitude and great thankfulness.

I met someone this weekend with a job most would consider "not so great", but she had the most wonderful attitude I have ever encountered. She was the breakfast buffet lady at a hotel I stayed at for 2 days and both days she was kind, thoughtful, caring, and concerned for all her guests, even coming around to hand out mints to each person compliments of the hotel. She was an older lady, probably in her 70's, but really took her job seriously and made the best impression on her guests. Lynda, of Tennessee, I salute you!

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Colleen M

No matter where you work, no matter what your job, work like you own the company.

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Elle

I'm not eligible for the competition because I'm from the Caribbean. However, a fellow employee told me to always cover my butt. This was reinforced by an employer who told me to make a note about everything, so that I always have something to back my words and actions.

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Julie

I like WB on FB.

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Julie

I can't think of any career advice I've been given. I have observed that if someone (inlcuding me) leaves a task or detail undone, it appears that you expect someone else to do it, handle it, clean it up. So, "follow through"!

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Julie

https://twitter.com/#!/julesann/status/111238540737777664

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Therese

The best advice I've received was to follow your own dream, not someone else's dream for you.

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Ernest S.

The best career advice I was ever given was "spend more time listening rather than talking. Given that you have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately." I think this is really important when you are dealing with clients.

The worst advice was "always stay late so your boss thinks that you are a hard worker." It is so much more effective to work hard during the day and show your boss that you are a balanced person. Plus, it shows a lot more integrity than slacking off all day and working late (just to send that late night email message).

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Ernest S.

"Liked" on Facebook

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Guest

The best advice I was given is to never say no to ANY opportunity presented to you...even if it means extra responsibility for the same wage. It will eventually pay off and you'll be recognized for your versatility and willingness to take on new challenges without hesitation. Trust me...you will reap the benefits in the end.

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John McLain

Do your passion. That's the best career advice I ever got. A college counselor once told me that enthusiasm coupled with talent or learned skills in your chosen field will generally lead to a comfortable income. Conversely, if your priority is mainly high income, chances are really good that you will not have the interest or enthusiasm or passion to succeed at it. Satisfaction and happiness are more likely to result from doing what you like. If you like it, chances are you will do it well. I'd always loved to read and write, so I studied journalism, which led to a career on daily newspapers, then on a magazine, then into university public relations, then into national media consulting, then into writing short stories and now published books, including a PR book, a novel and a screenplay. And it has all been interesting -- and fun.

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Jen B

A colleague of mine recently told me that I should have a goal and/or dream job, and to think of each job as a lily pad where I stay long enough to gain the necessary knowledge and experience before moving on to the next lily pad. Each lily pad should bring me closer and closer to my goal/dream job.

Guest's picture
Sareer

My former American reporting manager gave me advice when leaving our company here. I am originally from Europe but went to India at the age of 22 and have been working here for four years. Attrition is a huge issue in India-based companies. She told me to not get impatient but stick around for longer than I planned. People nowadays easily get impatient and quit a job. I have been around for longer than any other foreigner in my company and continued to work hard. The pay off was a change in profile offered to me which is challenging but very interesting - and I can see it make a difference later on.

The other piece of advice I was given was by a former executive in Germany whom I contacted for mentoring advice in his industry. He told me that MBA and all is nice but what is really looked for is actual work experience and (again!) people sticking around and not loosing patience too quickly. He said he did do his MBA alongside but apart from the MBA tag it didn't help him in his career as much as his work experience. He is an early retiree and is still sought after by head hunter - and that not because of his MBA but his work experience. I see a lot of my friends struggle because they run from degree to degree which to me makes less sense now. I am doing a distance degree course out of interest but I prefer to work and learn every day.

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Jason

You work for you, no matter whose name is listed as the payer on the check. At the end of the day, your employer will put its interest first, and so should you. Your job is a means to an end, the more enjoyable and rewarding it is the better, but it is still a means to an end none-the-less.

Guest's picture

"Do what you love."
Pretty standard answer, I know.
I hope I can make the complete transition from cubicle life to art studio soon! :)

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Keri Ritenour

I tweeted via @KeriRitenour http://bit.ly/pENQYa

Guest's picture
Keri Ritenour

I "liked" your post and commented on my FB page via Keri Slinde Ritenour

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Keri Ritenour

I have had a lot of good career advice. My advice: don't burn bridges. It really is a small world.

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Betty D.

Advise from my dad- No matter what it is you're doing, be the best. It has served me well over the years.

Guest's picture
Betty D.

Responed on Twitter. http://twitter.com/#!/1bets1/status/111485624128774144

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Angie W

Best career advice I was ever given was that I was a customer service rep not only of my customers, but also of my coworkers. This helped me put into perspective all of the times that I had to deal with less than ideal work situations because I realized that I was here to serve my coworkers as well as my customers.

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Geckotraveler

I work in real estate and at times can be expected by customers to be available 24 hours a day. It can be easy to fall into the trap of letting people dictate your schedule to you but, you must still allow time for family and friends. Early on I found out that if I said I had plans with a friend customers were not hesitant at all to ask who was more important. Now I plan time with my friends and family and state I have an appointment instead of disclosing particular details and it's true, I schedule those times in my planner. No one even considers telling me that I should cancel an appointment that is preceived to be with another customer.

Life is a balance and you need to find that balance especially when you work for yourself. I also let most of my calls go to voicemail and have a message that states 3 specific times a day when I return phone calls. People can then expect when they will hear from me and not sit expectantly by the phone minute by minute just waiting.

Guest's picture
Pamela

This has served me well MANY MANY times. Get everything in writing. Nothing verbal.

Guest's picture
Dat T

The best career advice I've received: spend less time talking and spend more time being a thoughtful listener, i.e. really listen to what people say before formulating a response.

It sounds easy enough, doesn't it? My experience says otherwise. In ten years plus of professional work -- working across 3 regions of the globe -- unfortunately I can count on one hand the number of really good listeners I've encountered.

My goal with my own nonprofit now is quite simple: recruit people with ideas who are good listeners. They are the ones who make good colleagues and leaders.

Guest's picture
Rebecca B. A. R.

The advice I was given was: Stick up for yourself, b/c nobody else will do it for you. Whether or not your liked at your job, or are an excellent worker, very few people will ever stand up for you or compliment you to a boss.

Guest's picture
Diana

The best advice I've gotten was to make sure you are active in groups that relate to your career. Yeah, it can get kind of schmoozy, but it's a great way to keep in touch with people and keep up to date on who is moving where in your professional circles.

Guest's picture
QOTM

When I worked at a tech company that operated as a high-pressure long-hours sweatshop, I reached a breaking point where I was ready to take any other job I could get just to escape. A colleague told me "don't run away from something bad - run toward something good." That thought stuck with me and I held out for the right new job instead of any new job. It took a few months longer, but I ended up with a higher level position at a Fortune 50 company, a 25% salary increase, and a much better work environment within which I had opportunity to grow and learn new things. Since then I have given that same advice to others many times.

Guest's picture
Jayanth Bagare

If you want to be promoted, start playing the role, you will be given the role

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Emmy

The best advice I got when I was young, companies don't care about you. I had just been forced to quit a job of 2 years, when my vacation time was rescinded a couple days before I left for a training program. I wasn't even on the schedule when they decided they needed me there. I was only 18, and companies have not gotten any better with their compassion or care for the employees.

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Maria S

If you wouldn't do your job for free, get another job.

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Ryan C.

Never hit "Reply All" when you want to point out how wrong the boss is.

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BRB

I was told and it was demonstrated every day by my parents that if something is worth doing, then it's worth doing right.

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kristina wittchen

Put your raise in the 401k plan.

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Raina

The best advice I've received so far was to pick a career that I love and that makes me happy. It's cliche, but I finally figured out what that career was meant to be, and I'm now on the path.

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Janet

The best career advice I've been given is to never be afraid to ask for help. Speak up if you don't understand something or need someone's help to complete a project.

Guest's picture
Janet

I tweted my advice: https://twitter.com/#!/janettwokay/status/112282418475573249

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Janet

I follow you on Facebook and also posted my advice on your thread there (Janet Janet).

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Dee Dee

Be kind to others

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Lynda

"can you imagine doing (fill in the blank) 10 years from now? if yes, go with it."

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Lynda

i like wisebread on facebook

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Lynda

http://twitter.com/#!/oshkoshbgosh123/status/112511529760464896

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dolce-doulet

The best career advice I was given was to network with co-workers from the start to make sure you have connections when the time is right. It has paid off for me a great deal in regards to positions open and interviews

Guest's picture
Francesca

The best career advice I've ever read is contrary to most career advice: Work hard to gain mastery of a subject or skill, and the interest or passion will follow - rather than vice versa.

Guest's picture
Kelly

Dress for the position you want to have, not the position you are are in.