Business Etiquette Advice

Business etiquette advice for the professional woman.

A Feminine Approach to Business Casual

Dressing Femininely at Work | CorporetteBusiness casual can be tricky — particularly when you’re transitioning from a conservative office.  But what if the culture at your company isn’t just business casual, but ultra-feminine business casual — and you’re still most comfortable in a gray suit?  When you’re in a new job and feeling pressure to dress a certain way to fit in — even getting critical comments from coworkers — what should you do? Reader E wonders…

I recently relocated and am in the middle of a career change, and I’m really stumped about how to dress for work. I work in a business casual environment in a small, Southern city. Women tend to dress hyper femininely here: today my boss is wearing a pink ruffled tunic over flowy trousers with embellished flats. The job is entry level, but it’s an important step career-wise. I’m all for dressing to fit with office culture. But, really, yikes.

Right now my pencil skirts, sheath dresses, flats, and cardigans are getting a lot of “why are you so dressed up?” and (from the office mean girl) “do you always wear such depressing colors?” I guess these are my questions: how far do I really need to go to fit in with office wardrobe culture? and how can I femme-up my wardrobe without looking like 5’10” wedding cake?

Hmmn.  Well.  It seems like a few things are going on here, some of which we’ve talked about before, such as transitioning a corporate wardrobe to a casual office, looking stylish and professional in a business casual office, as well as surrendering a bit to office culture (but as the song goes, don’t give yourself away). I may also detect a smidgen of . . .  judgment? superiority? in your email, which we’ve also talked about before when you take a job that’s beneath you.  I know all about finding your groove with one set of work clothes, having a rough time transitioning to a new office with a very different culture, and then feeling a bit like you’ve lost yourself in the process.  So I definitely have some thoughts, but I can’t wait to hear what the readers say.

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What to Wear to a Networking Dinner As a Student

What to Wear to a Networking Dinner | CorporetteNetworking dinner attire can be tricky.  But if you’re a business student on a budget — and soon to be job hunting — the question is that much harder.  Reader K wonders…

I’m a student in my last semester of business school and I have some networking dinners to attend in November. Could you recommend something to wear- preferably on the cheaper side (i.e., under 100)?

It is always so frustrating trying to figure out what to wear to these things! I’m curious to hear what readers say. We’ve talked about the tricky subject of wearing business casual for networking events, as well as what to wear to an interview dinner, but not in a while. So let’s discuss.

Some thoughts on what to wear:

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Is a Vintage Movie Poster Acceptable Office Decor?

Is a Vintage Movie Poster Acceptable Office Decor? Is a vintage movie poster professional enough to hang on your office wall at a new job? Reader E wonders…

I just changed jobs and now have a ton of wall space. My mom graciously had a vintage Wizard of Oz poster professionally framed for me. I haven’t found a place for it in my house — is it too “cutesy” for work? (Pictured: Reader E’s poster.)

I work in state politics. As far as mirroring my boss — she has pictures of her family on the walls, some awards, etc. Alternatively, I have some D.C. pictures, etc., that would be more professional, but I wonder how I would match my accessories to those pictures — the pictures are more office-hallway professional-ish. Thoughts?

Interesting question, Reader E! We’ve talked about office decor before, but not in a really long time. As I’ve noted before, I think a lot of this comes down to a few factors:

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Joining the Office Fantasy Football League

fantasy football league at workShould you join the office fantasy football league — even if you hate sports and don’t want to commit the time? What about other guy-centric office hobbies? Reader S wonders…

What is the rule on joining the office fantasy football league (or other comparable sporting activity) when you don’t know or care about the sport? I want to fit in and seem like a team player, but I also don’t want to look like an idiot when I don’t know what I am doing.

For context, I am a junior associate in big law; however, I work in one of the mid-sized branch offices. One of the perks of working in the branch office is that the environment is smaller making it is easier to get to know your colleagues. On the flip side, working in a branch office means that if you do not participate in events, you may stick out like a sore thumb. To make matters worse, I am one of three (3!!) female attorneys in the office and I am the only female associate — and the men in the office LOVE fantasy football. I would love some advice on this one. Thanks!

Interesting question, S. I am also not a huge fan of sports (have I told my soccer story on this blog? I forget*), but sources tell me that fantasy football is still appropriate to talk about now, so let’s discuss. My $.02 here is similar to what I’ve said before (regarding topics such as saying no to sports at work, and joining the boys’ club with office hobbies like sports): Do it. Tell yourself you’ll do it for one season, and try to get into it — commit to spending a bit of time on it every week (see below). This is partly about getting into office culture, partly about networking, and partly about paving the path for women after you — to feel comfortable in the league or to get friendly enough with people in the office to create other kinds of office activities (i.e., changing the office culture). Hopefully after one season you’ll have stronger friendships in the office, and you may find you actually enjoy it. If you don’t, though, you’ll be much more informed next season about why you don’t want to do it — and may have some new office friends to suggest other office hobbies with.

Some practical tips from our source (i.e., Kate’s husband, who never skips the office fantasy football league): [Read more…]

Negotiating a Salary (and Other Benefits)

negotiating salaryLadies, have you ever negotiated your salary or other benefits? Share your tales from the negotiating table with us — we want to hear your wins! This probably won’t be terribly relevant for all of the summer associates out there about to accept job offers, as those are usually lockstep/nonnegotiable offers — but perhaps one of you has a story about someone who actually did negotiate that offer.

Some thoughts out of the gate:

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How to Handle Necessary Personal Calls at Work

How to Deal with Necessary Phone Calls at Work | CorporetteSometimes you simply have to make personal calls at the office — perhaps to ask your doctor a question, call a plumber about a broken hot water heater, or something else along those lines. While you’re at work, how should you deal with personal telephone calls, especially when you’re playing phone tag? Reader J wonders…

Five years ago, you answered a question about personal calls in the office for wedding planning and other activities that could optionally be handled outside of regular work hours. What about calls that just can’t be handled before or after work or on the weekends?

I find it extremely frustrating and somewhat embarrassing to have to manage calls with my doctor’s offices and my bank during business hours, but these are the only times that the businesses in question are open and will take calls. The doctor’s office is a particular frustration. When you call in, the receptionist takes a message for the doctor or nurse, who then calls you back when convenient for them. With no scheduled time to expect the call, it inevitably interrupts work or is missed, leading to phone tag. If I can pick the call up, I cannot always get to a private place, making the call highly uncomfortable and sometimes ineffective. I imagine people have that problem with lawyers too. How to cope?

Interesting question, Reader J, and I’m curious if people think this has changed through the years. In 2010, I remember disagreeing with the letter-writer’s habit of taking long personal calls at the office with her mother for wedding planning (as well as talking to wedding vendors). In years since, we’ve talked about “homing from work” as well as how to handle frequent doctors’ appointments, so I’m curious what readers will say.

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