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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Surefire Ways to Get Career Advice That's Actually Useful to You

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Trust me, I know it’s hard to know where to turn for career advice that’s actually helpful. Emphasis on “actually helpful.” After all, almost everyone (and literally their mom) is willing to give it to you. But, finding words of wisdom that’ll actually you get you closer to your career goal always feels harder than it should be.

Even though I’ve coached job seekers for years and am now that voice for many people, I’m no different than you. I’ve asked for help with my career plenty of times—from friends, family, coaches, colleagues, you name it.

Most of what I got in return was a combination of cliche or unhelpful. However it wasn’t all a wash. Over the years, I’ve learned that if you want to get awesome advice, you need to use five simple techniques.

1. Skip Your Best Friend—and Ask Your Most Successful Connection, Instead

Yes, going to your best friend’s your typical default when you’re trying to get honest feedback. Not only is it easy, but you trust him or her to be completely honest with you. Also, sending a text sure is more convenient than figuring out how to word an email to someone you have drinks with every few months.

However, when it comes to your career, honesty’s not always enough. Instead, you want to go to the friend who has the career you want. This doesn’t mean that she’s a step ahead of you on the ladder in your field—but rather that you both define success similarly, and she’s well on her way to getting there.

Bill Sullivan, founder of The Tyche Project, lays out why this is a better move: “This [person] generally shows an ability to look deeper into challenges and come up with viable solutions based on experience and opinion.”

Emphasis on experience—sometimes you have to be on the same road to know which way to go.

2. Ask the (Old) Boss

While it sometimes makes sense to ask your current manager for advice, Tami Reiss, co-creator of the JustNotSorry app, suggests not go to him or her until you’ve looked for advice elsewhere:

“If it was work-related, I learned not to go to my boss until I had a few options on what to do; bosses need to have confidence in employees’ abilities to solve problems.”

So, who better to turn to in order to get those options than your former boss. After all, this person doesn’t have a vested interest in how you’re performing in your current job. At the same time, if you had a great relationship with him or her, he or she’ll want to help you continue to do well. Most importantly, he or she know what makes you tick (and what ticks you off).

By taking this step first, you’re not jeopardizing your credibility when you do ask your current manager for help; rather you’re showing that you’ve done all the legwork possible. Now you’re coming to him or her with potential solutions, rather than just a host of problems.

3. Find a Mentor

Instead of turning to someone close to you personally or professionally, COO Brian Delle Donne points out that it might be best to turn to a mentor who is an “unbiased individual…that wants to see you succeed and is in a position to provide strategic advice to that end.”

A mentor-mentee relationship’s generally low-risk because this person has nothing to personally gain besides a sense of satisfaction when you become successful. That’s exactly why mentors go out of their way to help you. Even better, this relationship can begin to feel more like a friendship as you know each other longer. Don’t underestimate the benefits of getting close to someone older, wiser, and more experienced than you.

4. Take Your Parents With a Grain of Salt

If you’re looking for general life advice, your parents probably have some that’s timeless. However if you’re seeking out help with an industry-specific problem, it’s best to steer clear. They might have your best interests in mind, but they unfortunately probably don’t completely get what you do, nor the options available to you.

Also, keep in mind that parents subconsciously might be reliving their glory days (or lack thereof) through your career. As Aaron Hurst, an economist and entrepreneur, says: “Projecting of one’s self is most pronounced in relationships between parents and their children.”

So, just something to keep in mind when you’re deciding what parental tidbits to follow and what to just smile politely about (and laugh about to your friends later).

5. Be Open to Tough Love

There are lots of different kinds of advice you can get—but often times, the best kind is the honest, tough love that opens up your eyes to the big picture (or, in some cases, the realistic picture). One way to get this? Hiring a career coach who doesn’t owe you anything but honesty.

Joe Lyons, a successful sales VP at a storage startup, explains: “The career coach for me is unfiltered, raw, and unafraid to offend. I call it career-course-correction through advanced thinking.”

Like Joe, I’ve worked with a coach, too. Throughout the sessions, he was able to identify my biases and patterns, call me out on them, and then help me develop solutions for breaking through them. Sure, the truth hurt on occasion. But it also set me free.

At the End of the Day, You Need to Make the Call

One mistake I’ve made and have seen others make is to grab hold of the most recent piece of advice, and then run with it. A better approach is to wait until you’ve gathered input from all sources, let things sit for a day or two, and then evaluate everything again. You’ll almost certainly make a better decision, and you won’t overweigh the feedback that’s most fresh in your mind.

Steve Kaplan, a business development executive at a pre-IPO company, sums it up beautifully:

“I believe that, in general, the more feedback the better. But at the end of the day, we are responsible for whatever action we take, not our advisers.”

Choose wisely!