Let me guess, in high school, college and early adulthood you probably received a lot of career advice. Most of it was well-intentioned, but how much of it ended up actually being useful?

If you're anything like me, the answer is not a whole lot. When I entered the working world I found that guidance counselor-administered aptitude tests, talk of steady progression up a "career ladder," and tidy, well-marked paths from college degrees to professional gigs pretty much amounted to fairytales. No one prepared me for what the professional world was really like. I had to figure it out on my own (which was fine, actually -- what they told me sounded insufferably dull).

At least now I know I'm not alone in this experience. On Medium recently career advice writer Raghav Haran insists that most people muddle through their careers with OK jobs rather than awesome ones simply because they misunderstand a few fundamental truths about work. It's not entirely their fault -- usually no one told them. Harav aims to remedy this oversight, sharing eleven pieces of essential career advice many of us failed to learn back in the day. Here are five to get you thinking:

1. Job requirements are negotiable.

Most of us (especially women) will only apply for a gig if we meet all the requirements. Sounds sensible, but it's a mistake, insists Harav. "Apart from jobs like academic professions like medicine or law, job requirements are largely negotiable--you just have to prove that you can bring value to the table," he writes, offering a few examples from his own life, including when he "ran a usability test on the mobile app, mocked up some design suggestions, and sent it to the head of product design" to land a product design position at Quora.

The takeaway then isn't that you can just apply with a resume and a prayer to any gig you fancy. Getting a hiring manager to look past their pre-selected requirements takes considerable effort and ingenuity, but it can and should be done for the right role.

2. Don't use data to pick a job.

Not sure what you want to do when you grow up? One obvious solution is to look at lists of "most in-demand professions" or "jobs with the highest salaries" and pick based on these objective criteria. That's a mistake, according to Harav.

"When you're striving to be great at what you do, the 'averages' don't matter," he explains. Or in other words, if you choose a gig based on data that isn't suited to you and which you feel blah about, you'll end up being mediocre at it and do less well than the numbers suggested. On the other hand, pick something that plays to your strengths and ignites your passion and you're well on your way to beating the odds if the statistics aren't in your favor. "Do what you enjoy doing, and be great at it. Everything else will come," concludes Harav.

3. Your boss matters more than your company.

Most people ask themselves, 'Do I want to work at XYZ company?' Wrong approach, says Harav. Instead, ask yourself 'Do I want to work with XYZ person?' "Having the right mentor is the real key. Not only will you learn a ridiculous amount just by being around successful people in your field, you'll also get into their 'inner circle' if you can prove that you're legit. And then you will have more opportunities than ever before," Harav writes.

4. It's OK to take a pay cut...

... as long as it's for the right reasons. Don't let the immediate rewards of a higher paycheck or impressive title distract you from the longer-term mission of building a great career. If you have to choose between an impressive salary and a better mentor, for instance, it will usually pay off to opt for the mentor in the long-run.

5. Technical skills will only get you so far.

Did you fight your way to the top of the design or marketing department by being the best designer or marketer at the company? Bravo for you, but if you want to make the next leap in your career, you're going to have learn a whole new playbook.

"Most people think that if they just get good enough at their craft, then everything will be fine. And it's true, being good at what you do does matter. But you need much more than that," declares Harav. "You need to know how to navigate the world of office politics. You need to figure out how to add value outside of your role. You need to figure out what your company needs, and give it to them--even if they don't tell you what it is."

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the beginning of your career?

Published on: Mar 10, 2016