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Listen Up! Memorable Career Advice


“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.”  – Oscar Wilde

And thank goodness, according to the 50+ people who were willing to share with ASTD their answers to this question: What’s the best career advice anyone every gave you?

In honor of its annual Career Week, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) partnered with Bev Kaye and me to conduct a survey designed to surface a variety of career-related issues… and document some of the best career advice around.

Respondents generously passed along the wisdom that they’d gathered over the years to create a summary of some best practice themes for those who want a successful and happy career.

Take responsibility for your career 15%
Do what you are good at 11%
Do what you enjoy and believe in 11%
Have faith in yourself 11%
Maintain positive business relationships 8%
Concentrate only on what you have control over and be proactive 8%
Network with others 6%
Educate yourself and stay current 6%
Keep your priorities straight and a sense of proportion 6%
Be assertive 6%
Don’t avoid taking risks 4%
Balance work and family 2%
Be committed 2%
Learn from others 2%
Pursue jobs with good benefits 2%
TOTAL 100%


Topping the list is the advice that everyone must take responsibility for their own careers. And we couldn’t agree more. Each employee owns his or her own career. The organization and your supervisor have a role to play, but you’re in charge of orchestrating the resources you need to realize your personal definition of success.

Much of the advice also focuses on the human side of the business. Technical expertise is the price of admission when it comes to career development. Maintaining positive relationships and networking effectively with others is the key to developing greater self-awareness and accessing opportunities for growth.

The nature of the work to pursue is another theme in the advice. Many of those who responded to the survey received memorable advice about choosing work that they would enjoy, be good at, and believe in. It make so much sense. If you’re going to spend 40 – 60 – 80 hours of your life each week on something, make sure it nourishes your mind and soul.

One final and powerful theme in the “best advice received” revolves around having faith in one’s self. Related to owning one’s own career, we need to trust our instincts, judgment, and fundamental capacity. We need to stay centered and not be confused by the countless messages and ‘noise’ around us. But it’s sometimes a lot easier to do that when someone you trust reminds you that ‘you can do it!’

So, what do you think? What else do you see in the data? What other great career advice have you received?

This article was originally posted by ASTD in honor of 2012 Career Week.


  1. Life is your career, be responsible for your actions in life.

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  3. The first advice I would offer is this: be wary of following the careers advice your college gives you. In journalism school, for example, students are routinely instructed that, though they may wish to write about development issues in Latin America, in order to achieve the necessary qualifications and experience they must first spend at least three years working for a local newspaper, before seeking work for a national newspaper, before attempting to find a niche which brings them somewhere near the field they want to enter. You are told to travel, in other words, in the opposite direction to the one you want to take. You want to go to Latin America? Then first you must go to Nuneaton. You want to write about the Zapatistas? Then first you must learn how to turn corporate press releases into “news”. You want to be free? Then first you must learn to be captive.^

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