Career Advice

Below, find some of our recent career advice stories. Have a question for Kat? Check out the Contact page.

Your Job, Your Career, or You: When to Quit

hate job or hate careerWhen should you quit your entire career? How do you know when you’ve chosen the wrong one? How long should you give yourself before you quit — and how many jobs should you try in that career? Reader F has SUCH a great question about this:

Question for you: how do you know if you hate your particular JOB or hate your whole CAREER? I’m a first year associate in (the biggest of) big law, and I know it was supposed to be hard — I knew I was going to bill 200 hours a month coming into this! — but I think my position might be particularly hard because of people I work for. How do I know the difference between a challenging environment (and maybe should switch jobs) or a terrible career choice (and maybe should switch careers)? At what point do you throw in the towel and say, “It’s not them, it’s me”?

I can’t wait to hear what readers say here because I think this is something a LOT of people — particularly entry-level BigLaw lawyers — struggle with. We’ve talked about changing careers before (the pros and cons of different careers, as well as my own experience in career changes. While I had yet to find my fit in the law before I decided to focus on this blog, many of our readers are happy lawyers, and hopefully they’ll have some great advice for Reader F. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my take:

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Naked Nails, Nail Care… and Polish

naked-nails-professionalCan naked nails be a polished look?  Are unpolished, unmanicured nails unprofessional?  Reader A has an important question:

I have a reader question that I’d like advice on. I’m about to start my first job out of law school and would love to have a very low-maintenance nail routine (no color polish) that I can do at home. Mostly, I have terrible cuticles and I’d like to have a more polished appearance, but my job is not flexible about leaving during working hours and I’d rather spend my weekends with my kid. Manicures seem like a waste if I’m avoiding color polish. Can you or readers advise? Should I be trying to fit in weekly/monthly manicures as a requirement of working?

This one speaks to me as I also hate spending time on manicures — so I’m curious to hear what readers say here. As I’ve discussed before, there was about a month of my life (maaaaybe 6 weeks) right after I got engaged that I went for manicures weekly. Then: it got old. I don’t particularly enjoy them, I get bored if I can’t be reading during it (like one can with pedicures), and with the recent NYT exposé on nail salons I’ve just skipped the entire routine this summer. I have, in the past, advised readers to get a simple manicure (with clear or light pink or beige polish) for job interviews and possibly the first week of the job, on the assumption that you’re shaking a lot of people’s hands and you want to look as polished as possible.

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Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional?

Are Skirts and Dresses Unprofessional? | CorporetteAre skirts and dresses unprofessional? What if you have a boss who has a firm opinion, one way or the other? What if you have a boss who forbids YOU from wearing dresses and skirts, when other women in the office can and do? Reader A wonders…

I recently started a new job in a creative industry, and our offices are officially business casual but usually just regular casual. My boss hates that I wear dresses and skirts. She told me that looking feminine in the workplace is bad for careers and she only wants me to wear jeans or khakis if she’s in the office and I can only wear skirts when she travels. I’ve abided by it for a couple months since she was really persistent about it, even though other women in the office wear skirts. I’m confident that my skirts are not inappropriate length wise, they’re standard work skirts from Macy’s and Lane Bryant. Nothing ruffly or lacy either.

Anyway, my manager is leaving the company, but now I feel insecure about my clothing. Is it a bad move to wear skirts and dresses several times per week?

Wow. Honestly, your former manager sounds super annoying — particularly given that other women in the office wear skirts! I can only assume it’s a personal problem with you (something about your style irks her) or she is being sizeist, whether consciously or unconsciously. (The other possibility I thought of after Googling Reader A’s email address: The manager felt threatened professionally by Reader A, who already has an established, successful career — and wanted Reader A to look less managerial.)

Whatever the issue: I’m sorry you had to deal with it, and I’m glad the manager is on her way out. We’ve talked before about when feminine clothes are unprofessional, as well as how to look professional in a business casual environment where the guys are in jeans and hoodies, but not all at once. So let’s discuss.

  • Know your office. You say other women in the office wear skirts — how are yours different, if at all? Are you wearing them with much higher heels that you wear with pants? Are the women who wear them in different roles than you are (for example, much more senior or much more junior/administrative)? Reading office culture — and fitting in — is an important part of your job. You don’t have to give up your entire personal style, but you do have to learn when to play it safe — years ago we had a successful goth lawyer guest post on this very topic; we also recently discussed how clothes are only “empowering” if they actually help you get power. Without seeing your office it’s hard for me to make suggestions, but when I hear “creative business casual” I think of a shirtdress with flat boots, for example, or a sheath dress with a jean jacket and a scarf instead of a cardigan. We’ve talked about how to transition a conservative wardrobe to a casual office before.
  • A feminine style is one thing; being in costume is another. This doesn’t sound like it’s an issue with Reader A, but I’ll mention it briefly. If you tend toward a more girly style — A-line skirts, high heels, full makeup — you may be crossing the line from “dressed up” to “in costume.”  Particularly be wary of more vintage styles for the office.
  • Start slowly. Since you’ve been abiding by your manager’s weird “rules,” the office may perceive this as a style change — so start slowly. Wear one dress a week, not all dresses. See how people react, what comments you get. On the days that you aren’t wearing skirts or dresses, dress up your pants outfits as well — wear a blazer with jeans, or a feminine cardigan with khakis. (Some of our advice on dressing for a promotion may help bridge the gap between your jeans wardrobe and your dress/skirt wardrobe.) If you have a favorite pair of shoes you wear with your skirts or dresses, wear them with your pants and see how it goes.
  • Get an honest second opinion. If after a few times of wearing a dress you still feel uncomfortable, talk to your HR department or a more senior colleague you trust to give you an honest opinion. They know your former manager, your office, and you, so they may be able to give you better insight here.

What are your thoughts, readers? How would you handle this (now, as well as with that manager) if you were in Reader A’s shoes? Do you think dresses and skirts can be unprofessional?  

(Pictured: Hollywood 819, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jessica Hartman Jaeger.)

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N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!

What’s Your After-Work Routine?

After Work Routines Here’s a fun topic: what is your after-work routine?  Do you have one that’s necessitated by outside factors (must walk dog, pick up kids, etc) or internal factors (must put on gym clothes and go to gym immediately)?  Do you find that it helps you transition your mindset to a more relaxing one?  What do you do at the beginning of the day (prepare food, lay out clothes, etc) to help your after-work routine along?

As I’ve mentioned before, I do think an after-work routine can be a powerful way to segue from workmode to me-mode.  My own after-work routine always involved changing into jeans when I got home from the office — it helped me feel like I could “be myself” and relax without putting pajamas on; I also found that I was more capable of hanging up dry-clean only work clothes neatly if I did it before total exhaustion set in.  (I usually had already eaten dinner at the office or out and about with a friend.)  I’ve never been great about being productive in the evenings (unless you count socializing), and personally workouts only happen if I exercise in the morning (sigh).  These days, with small kids, my after-work routine is mostly driven by outside factors — reconnect with kids, make/buy/eat dinner, bathtime/bedtime GOGOGO.  By the time the kids are asleep I usually space out for a while, watching TV and fussing with my iPad.  I’ve discovered that I get a second wind around 10 PM, when I’ll sometimes work on personal projects (family albums, family research and planning, etc) or try to shop for future TPS/coffee break posts — but I’m starting to realize the better move is to go to bed before I get that second wind, hopefully so I can get up early to get focus work done, like writing (or, hey, working out) before the kids get up around 6:30 am.

How about you, ladies — what is your after-work routine?  Do you have a schedule of after-work activities (gym class, book club, etc)?  Given your druthers would you prefer relaxing time or productive time — and at night, or in the morning?

Pictured: Atlanta,Georgia,downtown skyline, dusk, originally uploaded to Flickr by apple.white2010

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Law School, Orientation Outfits, and Dressing For You

Law School, Orientation Outfits, and Dressing For You | CorporetteHow should you dress for law school orientation? When you’re planning which outfits to wear, how much should you worry about looking professional, or put-together, or about making a good first impression? Reader N wonders…

I am extremely excited to be starting law school in the fall but I am puzzled by the idea of picking orientation outfits. Any suggestions?

Congratulations, Reader N! I still have such fond memories of law school, and we’ve covered a lot of things about it here, such as what to wear for mock trial competitions, which bag is best for law school casebooks, hornbooks, and of course your laptop. We’ve even talked about how — if you’re shopping for clothes before law school — your money may be best spent on interview and work attire. 2Ls, 3Ls, and recent grads: Anyone care to write a guest post on what bag is best these days, as well as any other tips or tricks for marrying the digital world with the study of law? For example: Did anyone like reading cases on Kindle or taking notes on an iPad (or, gah, an iPhone)?

ANYHOO: I’m sure I worried about which outfit to wear to orientation, but I couldn’t tell you what the heck I wore if my life depended on it. I was only two years out of college when I went to Georgetown, and honestly I don’t even think anything had occurred to me as not being “work-appropriate” (beyond a super short corduroy miniskirt that one of my older editor friends had pulled me aside and told me was not appropriate). Some of the older students had already formed conservative work wardrobes (particularly those who were coming from years on the Hill); others maybe just had a preppier style.

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How to Choose the Best Office

How to Choose the Best Office | CorporetteIf you could pick any office, which would you choose? What factors would help you choose the best office? Reader C wonders…

I’m thrilled to have accepted a new job! I’m an attorney in my late 20s making a lateral move to a mid-size boutique firm after five years with my current shop. Of all the things on my to do list, one is really stumping me.

In discussion with the office manager of my new firm-to-be, we arranged a day for me to come by in a week to deal with paperwork, etc. before I start. She told me I could pick my office that day, so it could be set up for me. I said, “Great!” Then I hung up the phone and thought, “What?”

Other than the obviously draw of bigger + more light — what should I think about or ask when I get to choose my own office? As a luxury I didn’t have at my first job out of law school, it feels like an opportunity that might (but not necessarily will) be seen as a strategic choice. There will be associates both senior and junior to me, and I’d hate to unwittingly end up in territory typically reserved for interns (especially because I look so young). Am I overthinking this?

Aaah, the pressure — I feel for you, Reader C. We’ve talked about whether location or size matters for offices, as well as how to decorate your first office, and what to keep in your desk, but we haven’t explicitly talked about this. Some considerations:

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