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How do I respond to unwanted advice?

Student Career Placement Consultant

A person grades papers at a desk.There are few things that get ignored quite as often as unwanted advice, but I’m writing today to suggest that if you’ve been receiving unwanted advice about your career expectations or your job search — from your parents, or your friends, or your spouse — it may be time to take a break from ignoring it and see if you can find some value in what people have been trying to tell you.

I’m going to describe some different types of advice and suggest what you should take away from each type — and how to deal with it. All of my points aren’t specifically relevant to career advice, but learning how to deal with other people’s input will serve you well in decision-making about your professional future and in dealing with supervisory input throughout your career.

If your parents are suggesting that you change majors, you either haven’t done a very good job of explaining why you chose that major or — perhaps — you chose it without actually thinking about how it will benefit you after college (in which case their concern might be valid).

I hear about this type of parental input a lot, because most of the students I work with are majoring in English, and many parents don’t think that’s a good idea. However, a report published on Salary.com says that English, yes, English, is number one on a list of  “College Degrees that will earn your money back.”

Whatever degree you’re earning, if there are people telling you it’s a bad idea, it’s up to you to do your research and create an argument to prove them wrong. Be able to defend your choice by telling them what skills you are learning, what you will be able to do with that degree, and the career(s) you hope to enter that this degree will prepare you for. All this thinking will also serve you well as you interview for jobs.

If your friends don’t like the person you’re dating, you have two obvious options: break up with him or her or get new friends! However, you don’t want to respond with what I would call a “knee-jerk” reaction. If people are telling you there’s something not quite right about your relationship, it may be a good idea to listen to their input. It’s up to you to decide if their perspectives are legitimate, but listen to them.

Sometimes they will have your best interests at heart — perhaps they’re seeing signs of abuse (or the potential for abuse) that you’re not seeing because you’re just so excited to be with that person. Sometimes those friends are jealous that you aren’t spending as much time with them now that there’s someone else in your life. Sometimes they just don’t see the attraction, but you do. I’m not seriously suggesting that you break up with someone just because your friends don’t like him or her, but I am suggesting that you listen to them and think carefully about their concerns, especially if you’re getting this message from more than one person.

If other drivers on the road are telling you you’re a bad driver (and they may be doing this with hand gestures), don’t assume that you’re fine and they’re the bad drivers. It’s possible that they are, and if it only happens once or twice, it’s probably not your fault. But if you find yourself in near-miss collision situations with any frequency — or if you get those hand signals more often than once in a blue moon — it may be time to slow down, rethink the basics, and perhaps take a refresher course in driving.

If your teachers (or your advisor) tell you that you’re not doing well enough in school, you may need to give up some of your extracurricular activities (formal or otherwise) and hit the books. If you truly believe you’re doing the best you can, it may be time to find a tutor. Most colleges and universities have tutoring centers, and your tuition dollars pay for those tutors, so why not take advantage of them? Or maybe you just need to attend a workshop on time management, or organization, or study habits. Most colleges are going to provide all of those as well. Get all the help you can while it’s readily available — especially since you’re already paying for it.

You may be wondering what inspired this post about listening to unwanted advice. For more than two decades, I've been teaching students how to write resumes and cover letters. Often, students ignore my suggestions for revision, and I’m now assuming many of them saw those suggestions as unwanted advice.

If one of your teachers takes the time to make suggestions about how to improve your work, and gives you the opportunity to actually revise your submission (instead of just getting a poor grade for inadequate work), pay attention! Don’t ignore what that teacher said ... or argue that your way is better. It’s okay to have an opinion, but don’t be snarky about it. That teacher isn’t giving advice to show off or make extra work for you or belittle you. The teacher is trying to help you — that’s the job!

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