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Advice / Job Search / Networking

A Simple Test That Will Help You Tell if You're Getting Bad Advice

In my previous career as a management consultant, I was considering a big career shift (leaving the field to start The Muse) and turned to a trusted mentor. She gave me some advice—and then added a caveat that I now apply to any advice I receive:

The vast majority of advice you’ll be given in your life will be one of two types: Either ‘Do what I did’ or ‘Do what’s best for me right now.’ Make sure you take the time to identify if either is the case before taking the advice at face value.

Turns out, she was dead right.

I asked a few other advisors at the management consulting firm what I should do. One partner strongly advised me to stay—cautioning me that I was walking away from a career with real promise and pushing me to think about what I was giving up and who I was letting down by leaving. But while he may have been right about my potential career path (or flattering me to convince me), after further reflection I realized he also had a horse in this race: He liked working with me, and he had other projects coming up that my expertise would have been a perfect fit for. A good example of “do what’s best for me right now.”

Another partner told me to go and take some time to see what else was out there in the world. After probing a bit, I learned he had done the same. It may have been solid advice, but it was helpful to know that it was influenced by what had worked for him (or, alternatively, was a way to continue justifying his decision from years ago).

In the end, I got many perspectives and made the decision that was right for me, but I’ve taken this trick with me and use it whenever I get advice. Most of the time, I still find most advice to be helpful in one way or another (although context does help), but by asking myself, “Is this what they did or what’s best for them right now?” I’ve found a few duds I’m glad I can ignore without worry.

Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.