10 career rules worth breaking

Rules were made to be broken. And that’s certainly the case when it comes to a lot of the well-intentioned career advice that gets doled out on the regular. A common problem with a lot of so-called ‘career rules’ is that they’re out of date, or simply suggestions rather than hard and fast rules. Take any career advice with a grain of salt, and do what’s right for you.

Yes, rules certainly have their place in life and in the world of work. They exist in order to control the mayhem. When communicated clearly, they make sure everyone knows what everyone knows. They keep organizations focused, with everyone heading in the same direction. And in a perfect world, they would apply equally to everyone, regardless of what differentiates us, our status, rank or performance. According to evolutionary psychologists, human beings are hardwired to test, if not break the rules. It’s where creativity lives. And it’s happening all around us.

career rules to break career advice

If you’re looking to make a career change, find a new position, or shake things up, here are some rules worth breaking. Or at the very least, bending!

Only apply to jobs you’re 100% qualified for

Yes, you should absolutely apply for roles that align with your qualifications and skills. But don’t feel like you must satisfy every listed requirement on the job description. The truth is, a job description is an employer’s wishlist – they’re painting a picture of their ideal candidate. Most employers have flexibility in the number of years of experience, background, and skills required, as long as you’re a good overall fit for the role.

Every job has a learning curve. If you think you could be successful in the role with a little training, go for it! Increasingly, employers are looking for education, experience and a willingness to learn. They know they can teach skills but not talent or personality. So stretch a little; if you don’t reach, you’ll never learn anything new or grow. And what’s the point of that?

Apply to all the jobs

Job-hunting can be soul crushing. At some point, you may find yourself applying for anything that seems even remotely applicable. Don’t. Step away from the keyboard. Breathe. This is the time to remember what you’re looking for. Take time to customize your resume and cover letter for each role you apply for. It’s quality you want, not quantity. Reach out to your network. Stay tuned in. A targeted approach is far more effective and satisfying in the long run.

Don’t talk money

Unless you’re working with a recruitment professional, you’ll often go into an interview in the dark about salary range. Many opportunities don’t mention salary, and for some reason, popular wisdom is not to discuss money until an offer is on the table. That workplace etiquette has to change. Let’s be honest, the reason you need a job is to get paid. That makes salary a crucial consideration in whether the job is right for you.

Ask about a salary range in the initial interview. You don’t have to get into specifics (discussing a range helps with this) but you should know if you’re in the right ball park. You’ll be saving yourself and your prospective employer time by pulling the plug if you’re light years apart.

Don’t ask too many questions in interviews

This piece of advice is so wrong it’s almost comical that it became a piece of advice in the first place. Ask. Many. Questions. Ask all the questions! It’s an opportunity for you to learn more about the organization in ways that really matter – feel free to ask about work culture, what a successful candidate looks like or opportunities for growth.

The questions you ask tell the hiring manager as much about you as your resume does. Questions generate a productive two-way conversation that paints a 3-dimensional picture of the role, culture, and organization you’re interviewing at. A wise hiring manager will appreciate insightful questions.

Do as you’re told and don’t rock the boat

Old-fashioned career advice will tell you to do as your manager asks and keep your head down. They’re the boss, and it’s your job to listen. No. The truth is, in today’s fast-paced working environment, yes men and women are far less valuable than employees who challenge the status quo, ask questions, and drive positive change. There’s nothing wrong with challenging your boss if you have concerns about their directives. Just because you were told to do something, doesn’t make it the right decision. Never accept an answer like ‘because this how we do things here’ either.

Work hard and good things will come

This little bit of advice is as old as time. It’s almost karmic. Do good and you shall be rewarded. Though this sounds good in theory, it doesn’t always play out in real life. Sometimes simply working hard won’t be enough to get that raise you’ve been hoping for or snag a promotion you’ve been eyeing.

Now we’re not advocating a nihilistic, slack-off-because-work-is-meaningless view. You should absolutely work hard and do your job to the best of your ability. However, working hard isn’t the end-all-be-all of your career. It’s okay to ask for things you want in your job. It’s okay to take some downtime for yourself. It’s okay to work smarter rather than harder. Use your vacation days. Take a break to grab a coffee and chat with coworkers. Leave the office a little early sometimes. Good employers understand that work-life balance and not being ‘on’ at every moment of your working day is essential to maximizing productivity.

It’s impossible to ‘have it all’

This is one of the more ridiculous claims, and more often than not, it’s directed at women in regards to having both a family and a career. Let’s settle this one once and for all: it is absolutely possible to have it all. Find the right employer – one that understands the importance of work-life balance and that you have interests and commitments outside of work – and suddenly anything is possible.

In today’s 21st century workplace, there’s more flexibility than ever before. With telecommuting, freelancing, contract jobs and many other forms of non-traditional work, it’s absolutely possible to ‘have it all,’ if that’s what you want. It’s also the case for other elements of your career like salary, benefits, retirement savings, and flexibility. There’s no reason you should feel like you must sacrifice one to get another. Great employers will work with you to find the right balance for everyone.

Advancing means climbing the corporate ladder

In today’s multifaceted workplaces, the corporate ladder is no longer your only option when it comes to career advancement. If you don’t feel a management career is right for you – no worries, being a manager isn’t for everyone! – there are plenty of other options. You can make a lateral move into another company with a more attractive compensation package. You can start your own business and become a consultant or freelancer and work on your own terms. Or if you’re happy where you are, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with staying in your current job. Not everyone needs a promotion every few years to feel fulfilled in their career. And that’s okay too.

Love what you do

We’re told to look for work based on how satisfying and fulfilling it will be. But, for many of us, a so-called ‘dream job’ isn’t realistic. There’s nothing wrong with heeding the call of student loans, paying rent, and your need to eat. There are other equally valid criteria to consider when accepting a position. For many, work is a means to an end, a way of supporting what they’re truly passionate about. Perhaps you work so you can travel and see the world. Maybe you work to support your son’s passion for hockey or your daughter’s post-secondary education.

You don’t have to love your job, but you can certainly love paying your bills and saving for the future. You don’t have to love what you do, but there are things you can love about what you do, like the people you work with, being part of a team, making a contribution.

Stay as long as possible

The world of work has changed dramatically from the days when employees spent their entire working life with a single company. While potential employers want to know you’ll be around for a while and that spending time and money ramping you up in a role isn’t a futile exercise, in our fast-moving world of work, hiring managers may actually become concerned when they see a long tenure on your resume. They may suspect you’ve stagnated or haven’t kept up with new technologies or skills, or that your experience is limited to one industry and is non-transferable. Change is interpreted as growth and career trajectory. And you want to change things up, increase your network, make new connections and reinvigorate your career.

 

We live in disruptive times; rules are being broken and rewritten all around us at lightening speed. Evolution is nature’s way of breaking the rules. Anything that grows, changes or adapts is in some way a rule-breaker in the most positive sense, especially when you consider change, flexibility and agility go hand in hand. And these are all good and necessary things for employees looking to be employable in the future, and forward-thinking businesses looking to thrive. Progress is change; change depends on breaking the rules.

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