If you’re job searching, you’ve probably heard a ton of advice from well meaning relatives, mentors, and friends. But you probably aren’t getting career advice from superstars—you know those mythical people who do what they love and love what they do and really make an impact in the world?
Keeping in mind that not everyone will succeed following the standard cookie-cutter job advice, and that taking a few unconventional risks just might be the smartest move for you, here are a few essential pieces of advice you probably won’t get told, but that maybe you should follow.
1. Job requirements are not set in stone.
Yeah, yeah. It’s important not to apply to anything for which you are blatantly under- or unqualified. Even so, unless the job is academic, legal, or medical—fields in which hard skills are crucially important—what matters is usually the value you bring to the position and your willingness to hit the ground running. It’s not common to get a hiring manager to look past their checklist of requirements, but with a little ingenuity and pluck, you just might have a shot.
2. Embrace imposter syndrome.
A combination of control and hard work, the feeling that you’re really good at what you do, and a healthy dose of insecurity might just be the magic potion. If you constantly feel that you’re not good enough at what you do, you’ll only push yourself to do better—and soon outpace everyone who thinks they can just sit back and go through the usual motions.
3. Don’t be realistic.
The number one thing people are going to tell you is to be realistic. But reality is an illusion. If you dream big and work hard, you can probably accomplish the unrealistic—even the unthinkable.
4. Don’t pick based on numbers.
So many people are picking careers these days based on average salaries or other employment statistics. Pick what you enjoy doing and strive to work really hard at it. You can make a good living doing almost anything if you seek to work with the top people in the field and match their pace. Picking a boring job you hate just because the numbers say it’s steady? That’s a sure path to burnout or boredom.
5. Let your passion develop.
Doing what you like doing isn’t the same as slavishly following your passion only. Remember that some of the hardest-core passions develop over time. You could choose a smart career path that you like well enough, but which suits your particular skills and talents, your passion might just grow organically into something that will really set you up.
6. Create a position.
If your dream job isn’t open—or doesn’t exist—do some homework. Study your industry, research companies you’d like to work for, find your niche and then start pitching yourself. If you can solve a company’s biggest challenges or can figure out a way to show them you’d be indispensable, then you’re well on your way.
7. Start at the top.
If you just keep sending your resume among the thousands to HR, it might take you ages to get hired. Try getting your materials in the hands of the higher-ups first. Use your network. Call in favors. Be tactful, but get yourself heard by the people who matter most at a company. When in doubt, work the decision-maker’s personal or administrative assistant. Build a relationship there and you’ll find you have a powerful ally.
8. Think five years in the future.
Don’t just apply to every job that seems like you would like it now. Research the company, ask a few questions, and get a sense of what it’s like to work there. Then think yourself five years into the future. What would you actually be doing at this company or in this field, once you’ve worked up from entry-level? Make decisions based on that five year plan, rather than the any-job-will-do-right-now plan.
9. Your boss matters
It doesn’t matter how great the company is. Your work experience will be dominated by who your boss is. Finding a good mentor you respect is crucial. Pick someone you can learn from, and whose inner circle you would like to aim for.
10. You need more than hard skills
What gets you a job right out of college, or fresh in a new field, won’t get you promoted to the next level. You’ll need to become savvy at working office politics, at listening, at reading body language, at being an essential team member. You’ll always need to keep your technical skills sharp, but these soft skills are the things that are going to take you furthest in your career.