How to Ask for Truly Useful Career Advice

During my long and winding career path, I’ve been stuck at many difficult points, uncertain as to what to do next. In those times, I’ve relied on the advice of others to help guide me down the right path.

Most of the time, choosing to accept the advice of others has turned out well. At other times… not so much.

After some reflection, I’ve realized that there are several elements that make up good career advice and a few elements that are present in bad advice. If you look for people and situations that have far more good elements than bad ones, you’re likely to get great career advice.

Eight Key Elements of Good Career Advice

Your advisor is successful in multiple areas of life and has been for a while.

A person who knows how to achieve positive things in multiple areas of life is someone who can analyze situations well and come up with good solutions. That’s the kind of person you want advice from.

People who are one-trick ponies – they have a great career but are a disaster in other aspects of life – often have their lives out of proportion and thus can give skewed advice. An advisor doesn’t have to have the same balance as you, but some balance is great.

Your advisor has little or no material stake in your decision besides helping you.

Don’t ask your boss for advice on whether to accept a promotion or not. Don’t ask your coworker whether you should apply for the same promotion that your coworker might be interested in. Don’t ask someone who might “rat you out.”

Instead, when you’re stuck, look for someone who has no stake in the outcome. I always tend to look for those who are not my direct competition or do not have a vested interest in one particular choice when I’m asking for advice.

Your advisor has experienced similar crossroads in the past.

If you’re struggling with whether or not to become a stay-at-home mother, don’t ask for advice from someone who doesn’t have children. Instead, ask someone who recently struggled with that decision and see what they think.

It might be difficult to find someone who struggled with your exact dilemma, but simply finding someone who had to work through something similar is good enough.

You have already thought about the pros and cons of the decision beforehand.

Good advice usually builds upon your own thought process. It either confirms ideas you already had or challenges them in some fashion.

Before you ever ask for advice, sit down and make your own lists of pros and cons regarding the decision. Know the ins and outs of each path from your own perspective and don’t simply allow the advisor to make the decision for you. Their role is to add new elements and perspectives to your decision, not make the decision.

Develop action plans.

If you go one way on the advice, how would you do it? What would you do if you decided to go the other way?

Think about your initial plan for each path you might take. Consider a few of the obstacles that might come up with each plan and how you would deal with them.

This process can often reveal problems with your plans and provide an open door to valuable advice.

Your advisor is willing to criticize.

If you genuinely want the best advice, recognize that it’s going to come with some criticism. It’s not going to involve looking at you as a perfect person – you’re not perfect.

Instead, the best advice considers you as a whole person, both positively and negatively. Don’t look for advice from someone who is just going to tell you how great you are. At the same time, don’t get advice from someone who will just belittle you.

Your advisor is willing to admit mistakes.

Someone who is unwilling to admit mistakes is not someone who is a good evaluator of a situation. If they’re willing to ignore problems for personal reasons, they’re likely to either ignore or overemphasize problems in your situation, giving you a skewed view.

Look for people who are good critics of themselves. They see flaws in themselves, but they’re accurate in those depictions of flaws.


Advice that just reiterates what you already thought is useless. Advice that just builds you up is also not very useful. Listen for advice that identifies flaws in the plans you already have.

Even more than that, listen for the more subtle things. People are sometimes uncomfortable speaking their full thoughts on a subject, but they’ll often let little elements slip. Listen for things that seem to stick out and ask follow-up questions. That’s where the real value of advice often lies.

If you’ve read this whole article, it’s likely that you’re seeking advice for something important in your life. Good luck in wherever that path might lead.

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