So you’ve decided it’s time to move on and find a new job.  Since it’s been a while, you search for career advice, and voila: you find endless free career resources- woo hoo!

free career advice

Especially when finances are tight, “free” career advice is SO compelling. I get it.  However, while you may be thinking you’re saving time and money, you may be spinning your wheels or following outdated or off-target advice.

Here are some downsides of commonly used resources, (and, don’t worry, I included some at the very end that are actually helpful).

1) Books at the library.   I recommend some “timeless” career books right on this page that can help you identify career themes and interests.  But, for job search strategies, yikes!  Almost all of them have 5-20 year old job search advice and are not up to speed on today’s best strategies.  You may spin your wheels and lose out on opportunities because you’re following old advice.  You also may feel more lost than when you began:  a book provides broad insight, but often people are left without a clear next step that’s specific to their situation.  (You learn that you’re good with team-oriented projects and you care about environmental causes… NOW WHAT?)

2) Free online “advice.”  Ooh!  Fun!  For example, here’s a Buzzfeed quiz- “What Career Should You Actually Have?”- with over 18 million views at this point.  Entertaining, for sure.  But career advice that takes into consideration your own personal circumstances, interests and connections?  You won’t find that online.  Many hours later (’cause that’s how addicting the internet is), you are still where you started, with some funny stories to share with your friends (like that guy who swore at the hiring manager on the train, heading to his interview), but without a direction.  (The exception here is that it IS helpful to use the internet for research about your industry and target organizations, and to use LinkedIn or a social platform for networking.)

3) Your alma mater.  Many colleges and universities are starting to offer free career coaching to alumni.  In fact, I often recommend that people investigate that option first, before working with a private coach.  They’re great for connecting you to alumni in your chosen field, and many are starting to offer career exploration or resume coaching to alums.  But, if you are looking to change careers, that process takes a while, often much more time than you’re allotted with the counselors – so you get partway through the process and may feel stuck when the services stop.  These coaches can be wonderful, but given all of the needs they’re serving, they are limited in what they can provide (and they’re typically generalists, so they may not “get” your industry in the way that you’d need).  You’ll definitely need a plan to have a sounding board to continue your progress beyond the scope of alumni career services.

4) A recruiter.  First, recruiters are paid by companies to place you at a company- and they typically only get paid to refer “round-peg-round-hole” candidates for jobs.  So, if they say you can’t make a switch from Product Marketing to Product Management- and you think they’re dashing your hopes for a future career shift- what they mean is “I can’t sell that to my client right now,” and NOT “you can never make that switch.”  I’ve worked with many people who’ve been disillusioned and distracted by a well-meaning recruiter, when in fact they were able to make career shifts with the help of their own connections. So, recruiters are great for offering context for what’s currently marketable for a specific set of jobs, but they are NOT career advisors who can help you make a shift too far afield from what you’re currently doing.

5) A mentor.  A client of mine went to visit an industry mentor for some career advice.  His industry advice was wonderful, and she’s glad she went for that insight.  However, as someone who was very advanced in his career, his resume advice for her was awful; it was a holdover from the days of type-written (like from an actual typewriter) resumes, and it would have severely interfered with her marketability if she had followed his advice.  Mentors have their own, often strong opinions; however, sometimes their advice is spot-on, and sometimes it might not reflect today’s reality.

6) Your friends and family.  This one’s a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, here are people who know you best, and can help you see skills you might be overlooking.  On the other hand, many times family members have their own agendas and/or internal reactions to specific jobs, and may disrupt or delay your career decision-making process.   The careers that they suggest for you -perhaps it’s the field they’re in- might have a flexible work schedule (for example: nursing), but might involve tasks or settings that are not at all interesting to you (for example, the sight of blood).  So, ask them what SKILLS they think you have, for sure!  But if they’re not able to sit down and help you brainstorm or research career options based on those skills, you need to find another sounding board.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t investigate these tools/resources.  In fact, they may be helpful, if you understand that they’re all just ONE perspective of many, and that a career change is a process and not a quick-fix kind of thing.

Use books (if they’re current); see if you can get coaching from your alma mater; use your network; use your mentor, talk to recruiters. But recognize that those “free” resources can sometimes, if off-target or if you don’t seek other resources as well, come at a cost of lost time, confusion, and missteps in your career exploration.  In the end, what is the true cost of losing valuable time in your search?   And what’s the cost of continuing to feel confused, frustrated, and possibly underpaid, while you’re trying to save some money as your own DIY career coach?

If you’re confused about your career direction, find a sounding board to help you figure out your career aspirations and put your career change into motion.  It could very well be someone else who’s not a career coach, but who TRULY takes the time to understand you.  If you do work with a career coach, even though the coaching’s not free, you may be employed more quickly than you would otherwise, while saving a lot of frustration in the meantime.  (That said, which career coach you choose matters a LOT- a topic for another day.)

Still looking for free help? 

Here are free resources that ACTUALLY work, although these are better after you have decided upon a career direction, and are not so good for career exploration.  These are more along the lines of free career TOOLS – which can be very helpful- and not free, quick-fix career advice, which can often lead you astray:

– Career-focused online networking tools like LinkedIn, or industry-related online groups

– Research tools such as Google Alerts (set them up to let you know about news happening at employers you’re interested in)

– Web apps like to help you organize your job search

– Peer support groups or meetups that are targeted to your industry

– Free online courses (for example, at EdX) that help you develop a skill that you’ll need in your new profession

– A journal: several studies have shown that regular journaling during your job search helps speed up the process and provide insight that’s valuable.  (Although it may be helpful to have a coach who can help you sort through your 1AM musings)

– A former boss, or coworkers who really “get” you, are current with the marketplace, and will gladly be a sounding board for you

– Free re-training programs offered to you because of a special status (veteran, unemployed, mom returning to the workforce, etc.)- AS LONG AS it’s a career field you’ve researched and you think it would be a good fit

The fact is, there are many great, free career resources out there. The trick is to learn which will help you, and which might cost you precious time in the long run.