What's the Best Career Advice You've Received?

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Often the best advice is the simplest advice. Whether it’s about money or productivity, seemingly minor things can make the biggest differences.

With careers, in particular, one strike of inspiration can be enough to set you on a fulfilling path. Over at Man Repeller, Harling Ross writes about the bit of advice she received from her college advisor that changed everything:

She asked me what I thought about when I was bored and my mind was free to roam around and noodle whatever it wanted to noodle. She asked if there was anything in particular that buzzed in the periphery of my thoughts as I went about my day, or inspired me to open multiple tabs to browse on my computer. She told me to consider what the answer was, and warned it might take some time to identify, because sometimes the thing you’re thinking about constantly has become so ingrained it feels like an actual part of you, like a nose or an eye or a name.

“Once you figure it out, ask yourself if there’s a job where you could think about that thing for a living,” she said.

That turned out to be the best career advice I’ve ever received. 

With that in mind, here’s some of the best advice members of the Lifehacker staff have received.

Virginia Smith, Managing Editor

It wasn’t advice, exactly, but at one point an editor nudged me to do more stories on a more specific beat than what I was covering at the time. That pivoted into my next job (which involved exclusively covering said beat), and tons of experience. Since then I’ve realized that specialized beat reporting—whether that’s about finance, transportation, real estate, etc.—is one of the best possible ways to create a niche for yourself and help guarantee that you’ll always have work.

Josh Ocampo, Staff Writer

Never tell an employer you often work late; I used to have a terrible habit of working nights because I wanted to get things done, though they probably could’ve waited until the morning. My supervisor told me once they know you work late, they’ll count on you for it and know you’re reachable at all hours of the day.

Claire Lower, Food and Beverage Editor

Don’t insult the current staff or work of the place you are applying. Talk up your skill set and make yourself seem valuable without insulting the past work of others.

David Murphy, Senior Tech Editor

If you’re working on a big project, give yourself a buffer of a day (or whatever) to think through the process at the end, review your work and make sure everything looks solid before you turn it in. You’ll be a lot less stressed than when you’re powering through something to meet a deadline and are only hoping you didn’t make any mistakes along the way.

Heather Hass, Creative Producer

Don’t work for free. I was working for free right out of school and I had a friend who told me that a lot of companies try to take advantage of new grads or people who are eager to get into the industry, but that it’s bad to support these companies. I had everything backwards and thought, ‘Yay! I’m in! Someday they’ll pay me.” It was at a cool place and I was making videos, but it was for free and that wasn’t cool.

My advice would be that if you are doing work and the company is trying to gift you the ability to say you work (for free), to find somewhere else. Working for free basically perpetuates that system.

I also had a friend tell me something that changed how I price things, freelance-wise. I was going to do work for his company and he said to price things like the big guys do. It changed how I had my whole pricing setup. He also said not to give him a friend discount, which I also don’t do now. Work is work!

Nick Douglas, Staff Writer

In my early 20s, a friend gently suggested that I try to develop professional friendships before I need something from someone. I had to teach myself to be less selfish in my networking.

Alicia Adamczyk, Personal Finance Writer

My dad’s coworker got remarried when I was a freshman in college, and because we had known him most of our lives, I attended the small reception, along with a few other people from the firm. As we were catching up, the wife of another of my dad’s longtime colleagues asked me what I was planning to do with my life. At that point, I had no idea and said as much. I’ll never forget what she said after. “As a woman, it’s important that you look for something with flexibility.” She went on to explain that if I had kids, I’d want a career in which it’s ok to work from home, or take time out and not be penalized.

As a baby feminist, I was put off by the advice at the time. I smiled and nodded, but on the inside I thought she just didn’t get it—women can have demanding jobs too, right? Women can do it all! Now I realize that her advice was prescient and more nuanced than I thought at the time. Having flexibility really is key, and is something I seek in a career. Not just because of any children I might have, but because it makes me a happier (and more productive) person in general. So, thank you, Mrs. Labadie. I’m sure you don’t remember the conversation you had with an 18-year-old know-it-all, but it stuck with me.

And how about you—what’s the best or most thoughtful career advice you’ve received? Let us know in the comments.

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