What's the worst career advice you've ever received?

Workers share their stories

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Stressful entrepreneur sitting in the office chair with a laptop on the table and holding his head

Earlier this month, the Scottish government's online careers advice service became a source of hilarity after advising an academically gifted 13-year-old to take up a career as a chimney sweep.

The Fife teenager, who is top of her year-group at maths, was told by the My World of Work service to consider jobs as a chimney sweep, acupuncturist, bodyguard or hairdresser.

And she's not alone. It's worth remembering that some of the world's most successful people were given terrible career advice.

After his first audition, for example, Sidney Poitier was told by the casting director, "Why don't you stop wasting people's time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?" Poitier vowed to show him that he could make it, going on to win an Oscar and become one of the most well-regarded actors in the business.

Marilyn Monroe, meanwhile, was told by modelling agents that she should consider being a secretary instead.

And back in 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after just one performance telling him, "You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck."

And rather more recently, Still Game star Ford Kiernan revealed how a careers teacher once recommended he become an egg packer.

"I was called to his office and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said 'I would like to be a cameraman for STV," Kiernan told Herald Scotland.

"He went 'ah, no, going by what's available just now, probably egg packing would be the thing you would be better at'."

However, things don't always turn out so well for everyone. A survey last year commissioned by Arden University found that one in ten British adults regrets basing study choices on poor career advice while at school.

Earlier this year, MPs called for more to be done, and that schools offering substandard careers advice should be downgraded in Ofsted inspections.

"Young people and their parents need the best possible and clear guidance to inform their choices and decisions," said Iain Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation, and Skills Committee.

"With the skills gap widening, it is essential that young people are well-informed about the experiences, qualifications and training they need to pursue their chosen careers and that the guidance they are given is grounded in accurate information about the jobs market."

Unfortunately, this massage hasn't always been getting through. We look at some real-life examples of terrible careers advice.

Avoid computers
"In the early 70s I decided to major in computer science. I was visiting a friend, and his mother asked: 'What are you studying?' I said computers, and she replied: 'That's a mistake, there's no future in computers.' Evidently she worked in old-school data processing and her company was having lots of layoffs." (Reddit)

Think laterally
"I was seeking advice from my graduate institution's career center about alternative careers that could make use of the skills associated with my history doctorate so I didn't have to begin again from scratch. Their suggested alternative? Captain of a nuclear submarine. Truly." (QuickBase)

Bring cake
"The worst career advice I received was to bring baked goods to all of my meetings to avoid losing the attention of my employees. I originally thought that this was a fantastic idea. However, one of my employees was allergic to an ingredient in the brownies, and an ambulance had to be called after they frantically stabbed an EpiPen into their thigh!" (Business Insider)

Put your (imaginary) family first
"I should find a job with flexible hours so that I can come home in time to take care of my kids and husband (I'm not even dating anyone)." (Reddit)

Do a job you hate
"'Just major in finance. It's kind of like maths, but easier.' The ensuing five years of soul-crushing corporate work was less than pleasant. (Careersrover)

Don't take a pay rise
"The worst advice I've received was to not take a raise in salary when approaching the next tax bracket because it would cost me a net loss considering the additional taxes. It came from my macroeconomics professor in college, and I failed the course." (Business Insider)

Don't wear trousers
"The worst advice I've received is that a skirt is the only acceptable fashion for a woman in business and that pants can ruin a young woman's career. Apparently Hillary didn't get the same memo." (Business Insider)

And finally...
"'Do what you love and the money will follow'. I did. It didn't." (Business Insider)


The 25 top quotes about career success

The 25 top quotes about career success