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Top job myths

Thirteen pieces of conventional career wisdom that just aren't true.
/ Source: Forbes

Should you think outside the box to succeed? Do you need an MBA to get rich? Is someone from China stealing your job?

If you answered yes to any of the above, it’s official: You have fallen victim to some of the most prevalent myths out there. Don’t feel bad. In fact, most of the workforce subscribes to some very common beliefs about how to find, get and keep a job. Unfortunately, many of those beliefs are misguided.

To help you differentiate career fact from urban myth, we examined the conventional career wisdom, and then consulted employment-industry professionals to see whether or not it held up under scrutiny. In the course of identifying and de-bunking the 13 resulting myths, we spoke with career counselors at top universities, executive placement firms, management consultants, the job search professionals at and even Dick Bolles, author of the perennially best-selling job-hunting manual, What Color Is Your Parachute?

What we found is that job myths are invented and passed along for a number of reasons. Let’s take the above statements one at a time. “Thinking outside the box” is a catchy phrase, and one that’s thrown around a lot by the media. But what does it really mean? A bunch of noisy, disruptive employees — the last thing a company wants.

“Managers want people who get along well with others, who adapt and build consensus,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement consulting firm. “They don’t want the person who always wants to go a different direction.” If you have an innovative strategy you want to share with your boss, one way to raise it without losing points is to e-mail him a memo, which he can review on his own time.

As for earning power, it doesn’t take much digging to see that there are myriad ways to bring home big bucks without first forking over your life’s savings for business school. Only 16% of the members of the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest have an MBA (meaning, of course, that 84% of them do not) and Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, didn’t even finish college. In fact, a different degree is a much better indicator of future wealth — an M.D. According to the most recent National Compensation Survey, chief executives rank only 9th on the list of the 25 top-paid occupations. All the other careers in the top ten are in medicine. (See: “America’s Best And Worst Paying Jobs.”)

Finally, when it comes to off-shoring, experts agree that the risk to American workers has been overstated. According to a 2005 McKinsey Global Institute study, neither China nor the rest of the Third World has the talented labor pool necessary to steal U.S. jobs. A mere 13% of university graduates in the low-wage countries surveyed were deemed suitable as multinational employees.

Diana Farrell, institute director, blames low employee suitability in China on three factors. “One is language skills,” she says. “English is not that well-spoken, though there’s no question that is changing. Second, cultural issues, fitting in with the way global companies work, is another factor. And finally, the nature of education outside the tier-one schools in China — the quality is not so good, and there is an emphasis, particularly in engineering, on theoretical and not practical thinking.”

We’ve listed those, plus ten more job myths — everything from the rules of office dating to the harsh truth about getting fired.