Buying Snake Oil from a Guru

July 10, 2015

“My advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.” – Mary Schmich

It breaks my heart.

To watch vulnerable job seekers literally buy the advice of those with little or no experience.

I recently found myself in a conversation with a business-owner about the economy and the job market. We engaged in a back-and-forth about what seekers and employers need during the process.

“When is the last time you searched for a job?” I asked.

“Well, never,” he said.

Because of his limited experience, as a small business owner, his view was very narrow. A few years ago, mine was, too. There I was, career counseling students who were pursuing careers to which I had little exposure. I felt like an impostor – and I was worried that I was doing more harm than good. How can one give advice on something they know little about?

The sad truth is, people do it every day. And some make a lot of money doing it – those who can’t do, teach, right? But I didn’t want to be one of those guru-ninja-experts.

So I did what any responsible human would do, and I quit a job I loved and moved to New York (somebody told me, that’s where dreamers should go.)

I didn’t stray too far, though – I took a job in employer relations so I could really begin to understand market and job search trends. For the past several years, I have been working as an advocate on both sides – trying to truly understand the perspectives of students and employers across multiple industries. I’ve been through faux searches in business, STEM, education, communication, and more. I interviewed 50 employers during my first year on the job.

I’m still learning, but now I am armed with information and experience to help students and seekers succeed in the real job market.

I say real job market because most of us don’t have a clue about what it’s really like out there. We offer up generic statements like, “follow-up, practice, dress well!” But each industry has it’s own personality and preference – it’s like trying to adapt to someone who has the opposite MBTI type as you.

I will never know everything and I will never be an expert. I kind of pride myself on that. But it’s good practice to know a shit-ton about what you’re selling.

Beware of the gurus, the ninjas, the thought-leaders, and the snake oil peddlers. When it comes to advice, there are very few absolutes. Trust your gut and get a background check. The moment you slap the word “expert” on something, it tells me that you’ve stopped trying to learn. And in a changing economy, we need advisors and counselors who are willing to do the same.

“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” – Mary Schmich

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