Professional Development

6 outdated career tips—and why they’ve changed

Written by Kate Lopaze

You don’t use the phone, watch TV, or dress the same way your parents did when they were your age—so why would you use career advice that has been around just as long (or even longer)? Some pieces of advice in the career world will truly never change: hard work pays off, and you should never get drunk at a company holiday party. Otherwise, things are negotiable. Let’s look at some infamous career advice that might not be so valid anymore.

Keep a low profile on your personal life.

Advice: Keep your work life and your personal life totally separate, even on social media.

What’s changed: Social media like Facebook has evolved over time to include more than your “friends” per se. Relatives, acquaintances, former dates…all show up in your news feed, so why not add coworkers into the mix? Why not even add your boss, if you get along and find her opera singing/supermarathon running/jewelry crafting hobbies interesting? Social media has blurred social lines a bit and has helped make relationships a bit more informal. When used well, it’s a way to break the ice and build relationships with people you might otherwise only see at work.

However, this one does come with a caveat: if you do friend colleagues and managers on social media, set filters or try to keep things clean. Anything you post that can be seen by coworkers becomes fair game. And definitely don’t complain about work if people from work can see it. If you wouldn’t want to see a screenshot of something you wrote land in your work email inbox, don’t write it.

And it’s not just social media—socializing with coworkers and sharing (appropriate) details about your personal lives can help you bond and feel more connected to your workplace. Small talk about your weekend or cute pictures of your boss’s kid are not likely to derail your professional relationship or keep either of you from doing the work that needs to be done. And we all need allies at work—someone to talk with when things get stressful or with whom you can grab a non-work-related lunch. Chitchat about work-only things will only go so far. You’re much more likely to have good relationships with your coworkers if you can bond over other things you have in common.

Keep a strict work-life division.

Advice: Don’t even think about work after you leave. Don’t check email after hours. And when you’re at work, don’t do anything personal or non-work related.

What’s changed: It’s true, email has helped create “work creep” that can lead to stress outside of work hours or leave you feeling cheated on your personal time. But like all balances, it’s important to keep negotiating your work-life balance to make sure it still works for you. If it makes your workday better to spend half an hour at night checking a few emails or lining up your to-do list for the next day, do it. If you need a quick break during the afternoon to talk to your partner, take it. Keeping a single mindset for eight straight hours is not only difficult, but it can increase your stress. The most important thing is that you’re not letting personal time at work upset your productive time, and that you’re not letting work squeeze out your personal decompression time and priorities.

Never show weakness.

Advice: If you’re struggling or you don’t fully understand what’s going on, don’t let anyone know. Fake it, or stall until you can straighten it out on your own. Asking for help is a sign of weakness and incompetence.

What’s changed: You know what takes a lot of unnecessary time and energy? Faking it. If you don’t understand what needs to be done, ask your manager or someone involved with the task. You shouldn’t lead with, “Oh man, I have no clue what to do here”—but it’s perfectly all right to say, “Just so I’m clear here, this is what I think the next steps are. Can you confirm?” Or “Can we walk through this again so I understand?” Your manager would rather have a good outcome on a project than a result where you clearly winged it and got things wrong.

If you need help, ask for it. Otherwise you risk not being able to bluff your way through as well as you think you can, and wasting both your time and others’. Invest a little time and honesty up front and make it easier on everyone—not least of all yourself. Think of it as a learning opportunity, not a failure.

Don’t challenge the boss.

Advice: Never challenge your boss on anything. If you don’t agree, just let it go and wait your turn to be the one in charge. After all, she’s the boss for a reason. Do what you’re told, and publicly agree with the official point of view.

What’s changed: The manager/employee dynamic hasn’t necessarily changed, but it’s more culturally acceptable now to disagree—albeit diplomatically and productively. This is not to say that you should openly scoff at a particularly ridiculous idea or laugh in your boss’s face when he asks you if you agree about something. Rather, frame it as a respectful difference in point of view. For example: “I see what you’re saying, but what if we look at it from this other perspective?” Set it as a dialogue instead of just publicly rejecting something your boss has said. Like you, your boss has an interest in making sure things get done in the best way possible, so if you have a difference of opinion that could improve an outcome, don’t be afraid to speak up in a respectful and constructive way.

Standard politeness rules apply here as well. Loudly contradicting your boss in a meeting with other people is not likely to go over very well. Nobody likes to be shouted down. But presenting an alternative choice, and acknowledging the validity of what was already said, is a much more productive way to disagree without being rude or unprofessional.

Never say “no.”

Advice: Especially when you’re just starting out, always say “yes” when you’re asked to take on new things or responsibilities. If you say “no,” you’re not a team player.

What’s changed: Saying “yes” to everything is a shortcut to burnout, and employers have become more conscious of cultivating employee morale. There’s only so much you can handle in the work hours you have available. The better way to handle this is through negotiating and prioritizing. Instead of saying “I just can’t do this right now,” figure out why you can’t, and ask for help prioritizing tasks if this potential new one is important for you to take on.

The key to this one is making sure that your rationale for saying no is a legitimate one. If you just don’t feel like doing it, that’s not going to go over well. But if you genuinely don’t have time, or object for specific reasons, you can be honest about those. Lay out the reasons why, and open a dialogue about how this new ask can or should fit in with your existing workload. It’s always better to have a “here’s why” list of talking points ready to go, so that your boss doesn’t think you’re lazy, or can’t do the work.

Don’t be a job hopper.

Advice: Don’t jump from job to job. Settle in and build experience at one job for several years. Job hopping makes you look like an unreliable employee.

What’s changed: The world, basically. The job scenario where you start right out of school and stay there for 40 years has become, essentially, a unicorn. The average person now will have eight jobs before they turn 30. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees who are 25 to 34 years old typically stay with a job for three years.

Job hopping can be a way to build your skills and maximize your opportunities instead of staying in a role that may not fit your long-term goals. Job hopping can also mean moving to different jobs within the same company if you find other roles that fit better. While switching jobs every year for the next 15 years is not an ideal strategy (that might truly start to send up red flags for potential employers), you shouldn’t let “well, I just started this other job” discourage you from seriously considering a job opportunity that pays better, or is better aligned with your career goals.

Not all advice is true forever. When it comes to your own career, it’s important to think about whether that advice will truly help you, or if it just doesn’t fit with the way the world works anymore.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.