5 Career Planning Myths Debunked

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Nobody ever said career planning was easy, but here’s a secret: Most of the hurdles you’ll face are self-imposed.

That means you have the power to break free from them and ultimately change your career trajectory for the better. All it takes is a mindset shift and the willingness to put in some work.

Ready to breathe new life into your career? It’s time to debunk these five common career planning myths once and for all.

Myth No. 1: I Can Only Find Work in a Field Related to My Degree

A 2019 report from labor market analytics firm Emsi found that education actually doesn’t determine our careers as much as we might think it does. In fact, the majority of college grads go on to work in fields that are only tangentially related to their degrees, if at all.

“One of the biggest career myths I find people get stuck on is the notion that what you studied in college, or even grad school, needs to align with the field you’re targeting for work,” career coach Rita Friedman says. “While you can’t expect to compete for a job as a director of nursing with your BA in creative writing, you could reasonably move into, say, accounting if you had the right training and some practical experience.”

If you have relevant experience and knowledge, put it front and center when communicating with prospective employers. This way, organizations will see you have what they want.

For job seekers who still question whether they have the right educational background, Friedman says taking professional development classes is one great way to learn new skills and work some high-value keywords into your resume. If you decide to take on more debt to take those classes, just make sure your consider how to manage any student loans you already obtained when getting that creative writing degree.

Myth No. 2: I’m Too Old to Make a Career Change

This is a tricky one. A 2018 AARP study found that 61 percent of workers aged 45 and older have either seen age discrimination in the workplace or experienced it firsthand.

“For older candidates, it’s key to have a tight presentation that focuses on your most recent experience — and possibly leaves off much older work — and a decent LinkedIn profile and photo,” Friedman says. “If you’re worried employers might think you lack the tech skills to do the job, be sure to highlight those skills and that your experience with relevant programs is explicitly referenced.”

No matter what your concern is, make sure your tone, language, and level of energy in your application and interview match the target job. One other note: Older workers may actually have a leg up when it comes to breaking into the consulting world in particular.

“[Clients] don’t care about your age. They care about whether or not you can get the job done,” longtime recruiter Abby Kohut says. “You can do it through consulting firms or reach out to people in your network.”

Myth No. 3: I Don’t Have the Right Connections to Elevate My Career

No matter your age or industry, networking is always important. However, it can also be quite intimidating.

According to a team of researchers from Harvard, the University of Toronto, and Northwestern University, it’s easier to overcome networking aversion when you approach the task with a focus on learning and looking for common interests with others. Thinking about what you can give to the relationship can also take the edge off of networking.

“Even if you don’t belong to a country club or enjoy chatting up everyone you meet, there are lots of ways to break out of the bubbles we all tend to find ourselves in,” Friedman says. “I’d also say that most people have many more connections than they realize.”

Friedman suggests first thinking about the organizations and institutions where you’d like to cultivate connections. Then, think about whom you already know and whom they might know. (Don’t be afraid to do a bit of LinkedIn stalking!) Joining relevant professional and social organizations can also help you develop connections organically, especially if you’re looking to move into a new field where you don’t know anyone.

Myth No. 4: There’s Nothing Special About Me

This is a confidence thing that really comes down to owning the qualities that are uniquely you, according to Kohut.

“Whatever you think is your greatest weakness could be your greatest strength if you explain it to somebody correctly,” she says.

Say you’ve been freelancing for the last few years so you could work from home while raising your children. That shows you’re adaptable to change and capable of juggling multiple demands at once. If you’ve been patching together consulting work since being laid off, you’re not unemployable — you’re resilient and resourceful. It’s all in the way you frame your experience to employers.

In other words, the things you fear make you less desirable than other candidates may actually be the superpowers that get you hired in a crowded job market. When job hunting, look to companies whose core values are aligned with your own. It’s easier to sell your experience in an attractive way when your audience shares your basic outlook.

Myth No. 5: I’ll Never Find a Better Role Because the Job Market Is Too Competitive

Some industries are more competitive than others, but Kohut says the reality is that competition is always crazy. Sometimes just taking one small step toward the job you want is the right move.

If, for instance, your dream is to work in fashion marketing, taking a job in the customer service department of a fashion brand may not be a bad idea. You can eventually transition into the role you want, assuming you beef up your resume with relevant skills and training. (Again, professional development courses and seminars are great places to look.) The point here is that you have a foot in the door when competition is thick.

Career planning certainly has its challenges, but adopting the right mindset can help you smash through many of these self-limiting beliefs. You likely have more control than you think you do.

Marianne Hayes is a longtime freelance writer and content marketing specialist.

By Marianne Hayes