If there’s one thing you can depend on when you have a job offer, it’s advice from other people. Typically, the advice is well meaning, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging to hear and respond to.
I once heard a hard-driving banker tell a young grad who was ready to embark on a career in film editing, “Finance is where it’s at. Sure, you’ll have to give up your life for a couple of years. But just put your time in there, and you can write your own ticket.”
Then there’s the parent I’m friendly with who asked his son, “Do you really think taking a job as a photographer’s apprentice is a good career move?”
And I can’t forget about the work colleague who told me about her response to her son’s engineering job offer: “Well, the pay is nice, and it has great medical benefits, why don’t you just take it!” No matter to her that it was in a field he’d come to realize he had little interest in pursuing.
Frankly, if I had a dime for every time I heard a parent advise an adult child to take a job for medical benefits—well, I’d have a boatload of dimes.
Although career advice typically comes from well-intentioned people who have your best interests at heart, only you are completely in touch with what those interests are. It’s natural to be torn between your desire to please those you’re close to (like your parents), and your need to make your own choices in the world.
The stress can lead to ugly arguments, heated debates, and pent-up frustrations. Trust that you alone are the decider of your career path, and arm yourself with non-fighting words the next time someone in your life tries to tell you what to do.
1. Play the Generation Game
This is great for when parents and older relatives encourage you to take a job you don’t think is a great fit simply because that’s what they did. You may hear stories that start with, “When I was your age…” These veterans of the workforce may tell you how they put their years in, regardless of how much they liked the day-to-day work. Here’s an example of how to respond to this kind of advice:
That’s an interesting story, Uncle Sal. It’s hard for me to imagine working at jobs I wasn’t happy at for so many years. If I can help it, I’m going to go another route. Ideally, I’d like to find work that both pays the bills and is enjoyable and stimulating. Studies show I’ll be happier, more satisfied, and more effective in work that engages my passion and skills.
2. Be Polite
The next time a well-meaning pal or family member asks you why you think you’re going to be happy working in the marketing department of a large company, try not to get too riled up. There’s no need to be rude, but there’s also no need to waste time debating whether the job offer you received is right for you. If you want a second opinion, you’ll ask. Here’s what to say:
Thank you for your thoughts. I’m really excited about this position, but of course I plan to read through the offer and think things through before I accept.
Then, change the subject.
3. Just Say No
Sometimes you need to opt for the direct approach. When people in your life begin offering their two cents on whether or not you should do this or do that (even after you’ve already made up your mind), shut it down as quickly as possible. Don’t allow it to turn into a debate. Try this tactic:
Chad, I love that you care so much about my career decisions. But I don’t really need advice on this job offer. I’ve got a plan for evaluating if this is the right fit for me. If I need any more insight, I’ll let you know.
4. Be Candid
I have clients draw up a list of qualities they hope to find in a job and in their future employer. Identifying these factors makes the decision to accept or decline an offer much easier. If you’re receiving flack from a family member on why you’re choosing the job with the longer commute, candidly remind them that you’ve considered the pros and cons of the offer and are confident that you’ll make the right decision. Try this gentle approach:
Mom, I know that job sounds awesome and has great medical benefits. However, the top three things I want in my next position include being in the tech sector, working for a small, agile company, and wearing many hats to help it grow. This opportunity with the awesome insurance option doesn’t meet any of my other criteria, so it’s just not for me.
If all of the above fails, you might have to get philosophical. One of my favorite quotes is from the British poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who wrote, “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”
The fact is, you’ll learn far more by making your own choices and learning from them than you ever will by taking the advice of another. As long as you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re far less likely to meet resistance from everyone who wants to weigh in on your life choices.