When discussing career stuff with my mother, I'm often struck by the sense that we come from different planets. She has been an attorney for more than 30 years and has regularly been one of the few, if not the only woman doing what she does, where she does it. I, on the other hand, work for a publication with a dedicated Women's section, in a format that didn't exist when my mom started out (the interwebs), and most of my immediate colleagues and bosses are women. Again, different planets.
In that vein, many of the career "rules" that made sense for my mother and her generation don't work for me and mine. Here are a few traditional career nuggets women should question, or flat-out ignore -- either because they're outdated or, frankly, never made much damn sense in the first place.
1. "Never turn down a networking opportunity." Building connections is good (estimates suggest that roughly 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking), but the idea of "networking for the sake of networking," is flawed, said Vanessa Loder, a speaker, executive coach and the CEO of Akoya Power. "People feel they need to have coffee dates and reach out to everyone, and they spread themselves really thin."
Loder (who has an MBA from Stanford and worked in private equity before quitting to start Akoya) urges clients to take meetings with people who spark their curiosity, even if they can't fully explain why. "You might be fascinated by a certain person, or job function, and have an intuitive sense that you would love to talk to them and find out more," she said. "I really advise women to follow those gut feelings and listen to that little voice."
2. "Above all else, think strategically."
Again, strategy has its limits. If you only ever explore career opportunities that appear to have a direct link to your job, you miss out on so much good stuff. "Follow your heart and your intuition, and take meetings or classes that feel right in your body, rather than forced," Loder said. Maybe nothing will come of that photography class, or informational interview in a totally different field. But maybe it'll start you down a new and interesting path. Or as Steve Jobs once put it -- "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards."
3. "Narrow down your five-year plan."
When pondering the dreaded "five-year plan," don't think small; think expansive. "When I encourage my clients to picture what they want their lives to look like in five years, I ask them to think about their personal and professional lives -- and then I encourage them to make it even bigger," said Loder. Imagine what you want, and then add a "breakthrough goal" on top of that. And ask your friends to get involved too, as they may be able to imagine possibilities for you that you can't see yourself. The tendency is to think of the five-year plan as a way of winnowing things down. "[But] the whole point is to go as big and bold as possible," Loder said.
4. "Multitasking is good..." As HuffPost President and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington has said: "We think that multitasking is efficient, that it saves us time. And in fact, the science shows that there’s no such thing as multitasking -- it's actually task switching and it’s one of the most stressful things we can do." And not just stressful, but inefficient. "Research has indicated that it takes 10 to 20 minutes to refocus our energy on a project when it's interrupted," said Emily Seamone, a career transition and work-life counselor. Focus on just one thing at a time. It's saner and more effective.
5. "…And gaps on your resume are bad."
Taking time off either through choice or circumstances used to be a big resume red flag, but that's no longer the case. Whether you spent time traveling, pursuing a new project, raising a baby or helping family and friends, the key is selling that time off to recruiters. Seamone suggested being brief, professional and if at all possible, tying your experience into something work-related. And don't feel one iota of shame. "If you feel insecure, the person interviewing you is going to perceive that, versus, 'I had the most amazing opportunity, or I developed this project, or I helped take care of my sister," Loder said. "Owning it with confidence is more important than the 'gap.'"
6. "Going back to school will help you get ahead."
The idea that it's always a good idea to go to grad school to propel your career forward-- or to find yourself -- is misguided, said Seamone. "The worst case scenario is finding out that the degree is not really necessary," she said, "and you now have a huge amount of loans to pay off." (As US News reports, roughly 40 percent of the $1 trillion in outstanding student loans were for graduate and professional programs.) Seamone recommends doing informational interviews with people in the field to get their take on whether a degree is valuable or not before making any decisions.
7. "Prep, prep, prep." As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue in their recent Atlantic cover story, "Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect."
That's why Loder encourages her clients to "dial it back a little," and understand the difference between being just prepared enough and making themselves nuts. She cited one of her mentors, a professor at Stanford who experimented with winging it before a big talk. She found she was able to do it just fine and was, if anything, more relaxed and candid.
8. "You must follow your passion."
There's no doubt that doing something that you absolutely adore, professionally, is wonderful -- "but keep in mind that that may not always lead to a stable job or income," Seamone said. Don't beat yourself up if your current job isn't necessarily your obsession, or feel compelled to turn every passion (your love of writing or, say, cooking) into a career.
And remember, it can take time to figure out what that passion is in the first place. People need time to get to know themselves in a "career context," Seamone said. Even if it doesn't necessarily set your soul on fire, a job can still lead you to new and interesting things.
9. "Work you and real you are different people."
There are limits to how much you can cut loose in the office, and what flies in a startup is likely to be very different than what is acceptable in a more buttoned-up, corporate environment. But the notion that you have to somehow become a more serious you (or more or less anything, for that matter) has largely dissipated -- and good riddance.
"The role for success in the working world has been a white male for a really long time, and a lot of cultures hold that up as the way to be," said Loder. "But the way to be happiest -- and to have an impact -- is to be authentic."