Outdated Career Advice to Leave Behind in 2019

Leave the lip gloss, impostor syndrome, and “boys’ club” games behind

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Social media is all a-chatter about not just a new year, but a new decade looming.  But as you’re popping champagne, singing “Auld Lang Syne”, and watching the fireworks to ring in 2020, keep in mind that there is career advice that has no place in the new decade.  Here are three things to leave behind in 2019 – and what to do instead:

1. Ditch advice focusing on your appearance.  Women especially receive a lot of unhelpful and outdated advice on their appearance.  “Make sure you always wear make-up… but no too much!” “Wear heels because you’ll look more confident!” “Wear only neutral nail polish shades, because you don’t want people to make assumptions about you!” (??)

The problem here is, of course, that this advice reduces you to a workplace ornament first.  Before your expertise and talents are considered, this advice tells you that you exist to be aesthetically pleasing to your colleagues before anything else. 

What to do instead: Look, it’s generally good practice to bathe for the sake of colleagues breathing around you.  And if your company has a dress code policy, such as business casual or formal business, it’s true that you probably shouldn’t roll up in torn jeans and a ratty old Bon Jovi t-shirt. But the more you show up in what makes you feel comfortable and powerful, the more your talents speak for themselves. If you love throwing on some heels and lip gloss, great! Just don’t do it because you think it’s your duty to look any certain way for anyone else’s pleasure. And if lip gloss and heels really aren’t your jam, then guess what – that’s okay, too. Leave them at home.

2. Stop waiting for permission.  You’ve likely heard by now the staggering statistics that women more frequently need to feel 100% qualified before they even apply for some roles – regardless of whether or not they could do the job well.

Well, guess what – did you know that more women actually get hired once they apply? That’s right – once women just ask to be considered for a role, they are more likely to be successful than their male counterparts in getting the job.  

This is not to say that there aren’t systemic issues of sexism in hiring, and that there aren’t biases in some recruitment practices.  But the tide is turning… for those who ask.

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

What to do instead:  To quote the old basketball wisdom: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  Unless a job opening or an internal promotion explicitly states “We will publicly shame and laugh at unsuccessful applicants,” throw your hat in the ring and ask.  There’s no downside here – if you don’t get the promotion or job, you’re no worse off than you were already. The only thing that can come of it are positive changes.

3. Stop ‘playing the game.’  Some of the most poisonous advice that comes from “experts” is that you have to play mind games and manipulate others to get ahead.  I’m sure you’ve heard it all – “play up the feminine side of yourself with male bosses to get their attention,” “Speak up, but stop if others around you start to appear uncomfortable,” or “You should be confident, but not over-confident – you don’t want to come off as aggressive!”

This advice is so terrible because it implies that different genders have a monopoly on personality traits.  If you’re assertive, that’s like a man, and it doesn’t look good for a woman – so tone it down. If you bring in cookies to work, though, you may look too nurturing and no one will take you seriously (yes, that’s actual advice from a career “guru” out there!).  

What to do instead: This is simple, but it’s not always easy: advocate for yourself.  If you work in a male-dominated workplace and are being interrupted in meetings, there are a number of ways to stand firm and re-take control of the conversation.  An example is talking over the interrupter firmly, and not backing down.  No, this isn’t easy if you’re new to advocating for yourself, but people will start to get the message that you will not tolerate being steamrolled in meetings. 

The same goes for building relationships with bosses and colleagues: lead with your talents, set your boundaries, lather, rinse, repeat.

In Conclusion…

The truth is, humans are multidimensional beings.  You can assert yourself in the boardroom, and be a trusted confidante to a colleague in need.  You can ask for a raise using market research and evidence of your wins, and also be charming and friendly in the conversation.  And finally, there is no embargo on baked goods – you can bring cookies in to the office and nail that big project. 

Out with the old (advice), and in with the new (decade)!

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