What is the best piece of careers advice you???ve ever been given?


Time for a parlour game!

I’d like everyone to play along with this one. Just answer the questions

What is the best piece of careers advice you’ve ever been given?

And of course tell us why!

I can imagine that for some people this might be a sensitive subject and so I’m happy if people want to email me their answer to t.hooley@derby.ac.uk so that I can anonymise and post up here. Everyone else can just add their answer as a comment.

To get us started I’ll share mine.

… After four hard years slog I went into my PhD viva having given very little thought to the outcome. I certainly hadn’t given any thought to the official regulations that surrounded PhD vivas and consequently didn’t really know what the possible outcomes were. Consequently when I was informed that I had another year’s work to do I assumed that I had failed the thing and that my personal and intellectual inadequacies were now a matter of public record.

One long lost weekend later I crawled back into the office and sat flicking through the fragments of my broken dreams (AKA my thesis). A postdoc in the office above me happened by at the right time and I unburdened my tail of woe to him.

“Yes, that happened to me as well.” He said. “It’s awful isn’t it. First I blamed myself, then I blamed my supervisor, then I blamed my examiner and then I condemned the whole system. But, eventually I realised that I just had some more work to do, and I got on with it.”
This was like a bolt of lightning to me as it jolted me out of my self-pity and communicated two key messages.

  1. There is no point dwelling on the past, particularly if you are searching for reasons why the present shouldn’t be as it is. Life isn’t fair – get used to it. It is only by focusing on the future that life and career can move on.
  2. Purposeful decisions and practical hard work move you from a bad situation to a good one.

This piece of advice was the best piece of advice that I’ve ever had because it was wise, because it came from experience, but probably most of all, because it was timely. I needed to hear it at that point in my life, I needed a ladder out of my crisis and the postdocs comments provided me with that. From then on I got focused, got cracking and got realistic about my thesis. What ended up in the public record was my thesis itself which although of extremely limited interest to the world at large is not actively a record of my intellectual inadequacy.

Would I have done this without this piece of advice? Maybe? Probably? In all likelihood someone else would have provided the advice I needed a few days or weeks later, but it is also possible that without some advice and encouragement I would have thrown in the towel and headed off to do something different. Would that have been a bad thing? Who knows….

So that’s my story. Let’s hear yours.



  1. The best advice I got wasn’t actually advice at all. Way back, when I was looking at Unis and trying to decide what course I wanted to do, I was thinking about becoming a lawyer. But I was having trouble deciding where to go amid lots of courses. One of my friends then said to me ‘You know, Ghislaine, you say you want to be a lawyer and go and study law, but the first page you turn to is always the Biochemistry one – are you really sure law is what you want to do?’That was a really useful wake-up call and a valuable insight into how much your unconscious actions can say about you – and how others can sometimes see things that you can’t yourself.

  2. The best advice I can remember came from my mum, do whatever makes you happy.She always told me that earning lots of money isn’t important if you???re not happy with what you are doing and that you spend too much of your life at work to be unhappy. I still think it’s an important point and very glad to report that the work I do makes me happy.

  3. My best careers advice came from an astrologer (yes it’s true!) to become IT literate as communicating would be very important to me (this was early to mid 90s sometime). I became the proud owner of an NVQ. My worst came from the "careers adviser" at school…. can’t say any more, too bitter šŸ˜‰

  4. In university I had no idea what careers were available to me, and at a party someone happened to mention that they were training to be a librarian. I complained about how I could never do that because I wouldn’t get the grades, but I did better than I expected, and the stuff they’d told me came back to me. It was really a short aside coversation. But it pretty much decided the course of my career.

  5. Not so much a piece of advice but an approach – when I was career changing, I got stuck in a very negative phase where I just moaned about my job all the time. I saw a great Careers Adviser who let me get away with it for about 10 minutes, and then asked me "what do you actually like doing?", which really got me to focus on what I was good at, and what wanted out of a job. It was a big attitude shift for me, because I’d always thought that my career decisions would be guided by what an employer would allow me to do, and what by what I wanted to avoid – adopting a more positive mindset was quite challenging but continues to make a massive difference.

  6. Just stumbled upon this post…In life, I would say it is to remember that there are things you can control, and things you can’t – there is no point in worrying about the latter, but be prepared to choose your response.In the workplace (and at school, college, uni etc), choose your battles carefully to save yourself bother and preserve your career trajectory.

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