Sunday, June 20, 2010

When You Need Career Advice, Be Sure To Ask The Right Person

When I was an account person, nothing was more annoying than what some clients did after an agency creative presentation. They would show our ads to their support staff and ask the staff’s opinion about our work, often getting responses which were way off base from people who  knew nothing about advertising, the product or the issues facing the brand. But they freely gave advice and opinions.

The analogy holds when seeking advice from any source.  When you need advice, make sure you ask people qualified to give it to you.

Most of us seek advice from friends, parents, co-workers, spouses or our significant others. That is fine as far as it goes. We ask them about dating, marriage, careers, life.

But be careful when it comes to getting career advice.

Most people give advice based on personal experience. Friends give advice because they are friends and don’t want to disappoint you. But your friends will get you into more trouble than your enemies, simply because they mean well. Parents give advice because they know you well and have perspective on life. But parents are often out of touch with the nuances of your profession and career. Presumably, spouses and significant others know us best and can guide us in the right personal direction but they rarely understand the intricacies of whatever decision you are asking about.

People will tell you what they know based on hearsay or their own experience. Someone who had a good or bad experience in a job three or five years ago is only qualified to tell you about their experience. They cannot tell you about the current situation. The people they worked with or knew may no longer be there or may have nothing to do with what you are asking about. Nonetheless, they will give advice anyway because you asked them for it.

When people ask me about whether they should interview at a company, most often I tell them to explore it. Interviewing is about gathering information. In the quest to obtain new employment, many people forget that the interviewing process is about getting enough information to make an informed decision. I can often tell candidates about the people who work at a company, about reputations, about who seems to do well and those who fail. That’s because I am an expert in the business.

It is essential to consult an expert when getting career advice.

The other day an EVP who had recently been cut back asked me about an account director’s job he was interviewing for. A friend had turned him on to it. What kind of friend would turn a $250k executive on to a $150k job? One who knows nothing about either the job or his friend. This person was only just out of work, still on severance, and had no business talking on this kind of job. It was personally demeaning and left him wondering about his career and his choices. The person who made the introduction was really trying hard to be a friend. But I discovered long ago that friends mean well but don’t always do or say the right thing.

A common scenario is that someone is told about an opportunity at a company. Before they agree to interview, they ask their friends about the company. Some may have worked there. The friend may have had a good, bad or indifferent experience, but will happily tell their friend to go or to stay away based on their own experience. Even if their job had nothing to do with what their friend might be interviewing on. I always tell candidates – you can grow up with someone, you can go to high school and college with them, you can even date the same people, but no matter how close you are, you are not them. It is important that you understand where people are coming from when getting advice.

If you want to know about a company, for instance, ask an objective recruiter. There isn’t a big agency where I haven’t interviewed literally dozens (hundreds?) of people who have worked there. Because of my many years experience, I understand what they are about and who can succeed there. I know advertising.

But then again, don’t come to me and ask about your sore throat. I may have opinions, but I am not a doctor.

I would love to hear your stories about getting bad advice to share with my readers.


  1. Paul, maybe this is just my experience but recruiters have sometimes given me the worst advice. While you are not unique, I've come across few like you in that I feel I am getting truly unbiased and premium advice. It is usually either because they have their own interest at heart (wanting to place me instead, etc.) or have never worked inside an actual agency but for maybe a quick cup of coffee. I can't count the number of times a recruiter told me how great this or that place is when anybody who has come within 5 feet of the place knows how much of a disaster it is or is becoming. The moral of my post is not to bash recruiters (there are some great ones out there - including you) but rather EVERYONE (no matter what position they might be in) has biases and it is always up to the prospect to figure out who to trust and who not to trust. In my opinion it is about filtering, not deciding which ONE person to trust. A view from many angles/lens is sometimes exactly what you need.

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I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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