Why is career advice becoming less useful?

One thing that people love to do is give career advice.  It feels great; when someone asks you for advice, they’re essentially giving you strong affirmation and compliment of nearly your entire worldview.

Something discussed within my little group of industry buddies is not just us sharing our own career-related thoughts with each other – it’s also discussing, as a concept, is career advice actually helpful?  Some thoughts below:


Most career advice is highly autobiographical

Unfortunately, lost within all the career advice self-congratulatory glow is that advice is largely autobiographical.

The person giving advice is essentially saying what advice would have been most useful for themselves years ago.  While also giving subtle backhanded compliments to themselves about their previous life choices.

That’s great and all – except, everyone’s individual situation is highly complex and contextual, where even slight differences in someone’s immediate circumstances could completely change whether a piece of advice is good – or garbage.


Some fundamental career-related changes in the past 25 years

And not everyone seems to appreciate that variance – or even really acknowledge the possibility.  For example, say a 50 year old is advising a 25 year old.

Twenty-five years ago, when that advisor was maybe 25 years old, consider for example: the gig economy did not really exist, employer loyalty was still a thing, and student loan burdens didn’t really exist.

Regarding advice for what worked 25 years ago vs what would work now…any single one of those factors could be a complete game changer.

There are other major changes, but just considering these factors alone – the contextual career advice would already be way different.  Unfortunately, sometimes it seems that not everyone has recognized this reality – or thinks that we’re still living in 1995.

Gig economy: Depending on who you ask, the rise of the gig economy is either a great thing or the death knell of the middle class.  Regardless, given how many people take part in it now vs a generation ago, it’s a huge factor,

Staying at a job for an entire career: This used to be way more common.  ‘Blame’ it on whoever you want, whether it’s employees for not sticking enough to one company or companies taking existing employees and gradually squeezing them dry – but the fact remains, people are changing jobs way more often than they used to.

College: Back in the day, most entry-level didn’t require a bachelor’s degree, and it was extremely rare to see an undergrad degree cost the same as a small house (if not more).  The result being, way higher student debt than any other time in our country’s history, which has massive implications on career decisions (among other things).


…and things are still changing, except more quickly than before

With the rise (and acceleration) of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, things are changing really, really fast.  And very few people, including myself, are successfully grasping just how fundamental some of these changes and implications actually are.

As a side note, I’m not very political, but it seems the only semi-mainstream politician who fundamentally understands this seems to be Andrew Yang – at least right now.

I don’t know enough about his policies to say whether I support him, but I do agree with his outlook regarding how AI is causing massive changes to the employment landscape – and with probably much more disruption to come (aka industrial revolution).

We’re kind of at an unprecedented time in history, where job types are being created (and effectively destroyed) at a faster rate than we’ve pretty much ever seen before.

Data science: For example, my field of data science is going through some huge changes; specifically I can’t keep track of all the related startups being funded or acquired, many of which are ultimately trying to make the role of data scientist a relic of the past.

Of course, from a startup/VC PR perspective, that’s not how they’ll frame it though – “Innovation, progress, everyone wins!!!”


Conclusion: As usual, this isn’t a complete list, and generally advice is still pretty useful – if for no other reason than to just get another perspective; something else to think about.

However, I do wonder whether people are mindful enough about some of the fundamental limitations of career advice – and whether people recognize just how much some things have changed (are are still changing).


The views expressed on this site are my own and do not represent the views of any current or former employer or client.


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