You've probably heard the same bits of career advice tossed around over and over from well-meaning friends, relatives, and even bosses. But plenty of the maxims that we hear repeated actually aren't true. Here are six of the most popular career myths that you shouldn't fall for.
1. A college degree will get you a job. Generations of students have been told that if they get a college degree, they'll easily find a job afterward. Unfortunately, it's no longer so clear-cut. Degrees no longer open doors the way they used to, and too many new graduates are remaining unemployed or under-employed for months or even years, as employers opt for more experienced candidates. This is frustrating and confusing for graduates, who often feel that they did everything they were supposed to and they're not getting the pay-off they were promised would come.
2. Do what you're passionate about and the money will follow. In reality, not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you're passionate about poetry or painting, you're going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. In fact, the people who get to do what they love for a job are the lucky ones; they're not the majority. A better goal is to find work that you can do reasonably happily; it doesn't need to be your passion.
3. If you can't find a job, just start your own business. Starting your own business is hard, and it's not for everyone. It's not as easy as just having a skill and selling it. You have to have something that people want to buy from you more than they want to buy it from your competitors. You also have to be able to market yourself, deal with financial uncertainty, have some savings as a launch pad, and overcome plenty of other challenges. It's not a cure-all for anyone who can't find a job or is unhappy in their career.
4. Your major in college will lead to your career. Students often come out of school thinking that their major will lead them to their life-long career path directly, but it's very often not the case--especially for majors in the liberal arts. You might have an English degree but end up in HR, or a sociology degree but end up selling ads, or a music degree but end up as a professional fundraiser. On the other hand, degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math are more likely to end up pointing you toward a more defined career path.
5. If you're not sure what you want to do, go to grad school. Grad school makes sense when you want to follow a career path that requires an advanced degree. But it's a bad use of time and money if you're hoping it will somehow point you down a career path, or if you're going because you're not sure what else to do. Many people who go to grad school for lack of a better option come out a few years later saddled with large student loans, and not any better positioned than they were before they enrolled. Which leads to?
6. Grad school will always make you more marketable. Grad school generally will not make you more marketable unless you're going into a field that specifically requires a graduate degree. In fact, it can make you less competitive, by keeping you from getting work experience for that much longer and requiring you to find a higher-paying job than you might otherwise need because you need to pay back school loans--and even worse, if you apply for jobs that have nothing to do with your graduate degree, many employers will think you don't really want the job you're applying for, since it's not in "your field."
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.