What's the Best Career Advice You've Ever Gotten?

Martin Yate By Martin Yate August 8, 2017
Whats the Best Career Advice Youve Ever Gotten?

​Our career advice columnist offers the best tips that he has accrued in his 30-plus years on the job. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

Hi, Martin! I'm a fan of your column and appreciate your emphasis on setting achievable goals and being accountable for your career success. I have just one question for you: What's the best career advice you've ever received from a career advisor? Thank you!


Experts give advice based on their professional perspective and experience: Ask a headhunter and an HR recruiter for advice on how to land an interview, and you will get entirely different answers. Every expert's point of view is distorted by his or her professional experience, and in a world of specialization, that expert's frame of reference can be rather narrow. 

I have been in this business for more than 30 years as a headhunter, an HR director for a technology division of a publicly traded company, and a training and development director for a multinational employment services division of another public company. I've hired and fired people, won promotions, been recruited, and weathered more than my fair share of rough waters. My unique work history in the field of career management gives me a wide frame of reference for the issues: I've seen the problems we all face, not from one narrow viewpoint, but from many points of the compass. 

Perhaps that's why my books have been published in more than 60 languages, giving me the honor of being a global and perennially best-selling careers author. I've been writing about career management issues every day for decades, giving me constant interaction with all levels of professionals experiencing every conceivable challenge, and my diverse (or motley if you prefer) background enables me to add to the discussion with practicality and largely without bias. 

Now I'm going to give you twelve pieces of advice that, given the above observations, haven't necessarily come from career experts but rather from all the very smart people I've had the good fortune to meet along the way. These are absolute gems of wisdom that I've adapted and have been proven to me by their long-term application in my own life. I sincerely believe them to be building blocks for any intelligently managed career. 

  1. We all work for money, so whatever you do, you need to do it well to keep that money flowing. Become the best you can be at whatever you do and continually develop the technical skills of your current job to increase job security and marketability, while also developing the skills needed for the next step up the career ladder. People get hired and promoted based on their credentials; the more you bring to the table, the easier the sell for you and the easier the buy for the employer.
  2. Every job in the world helps an employer make money; if it didn't, the job wouldn't exist. Whatever your job, it exists to support this goal. Learn how your job plays into the department's goals and what your department's role is in supporting the company's goal of profitability.
  3. Your job also exists because without it, problems would occur that get in the way of the profit imperative that rules every company. This means that regardless of job title, you are hired to be a problem-solver within your area of professional expertise. Taken a step further, your job is to:
    • Identify potential problems in your area of expertise.
    • Anticipate these problems.
    • Prevent as many of these problems from occurring as you can as you execute your duties (see No. 1 above).
    • Solve problems efficiently when they drop on your desk, and do so with due consideration for your colleagues, especially those who must subsequently deal with your work product.
  4. Two thoughts are at the heart of every job on earth:
    • No matter what you do for a living, the customer is always right.
    • Find out what customers want and give it to them. This is how you get jobs and keep them.
  5. When someone asks you a question, do this before you answer: Consider this person's responsibilities and how the execution of your job can impact their interests (see No. 4 above). This will tell you what this "customer" will value most in your reply and actions. This can be especially useful advice for a job or promotion interview cycle when you are interviewed by executives from different departments or places on the professional ladder.
  6. Always be part of the solution; otherwise, you are part of the problem. Consistently being part of the solution is what gets you into the inner circle of influence that exists in every department, company and profession, and this is where job security, promotions, the best raises and new opportunities lie.
  7. Make a difference for good with your presence every day by doing your best work toward shared goals. Be excellent in your job.
  8. Always help others when you can, regardless of their station.
  9. Job security is a myth. Set up Me, Inc.—a company you will be with forever.
  10. Manage your career, or you'll just have a series of very similar jobs that don't advance your interests.
  11. Build profession-relevant networks. People will help you through job searches and other rough patches in life better than any employer will.
  12. Recognize that you can learn something useful from every person and situation you encounter.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 



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