How Personal Can You Keep Your Personal Life?

Binocular Smile, originally uploaded to Flickr by cobalt123.How do you fend off questions from nosy coworkers — particularly when it’s a “plus one” business event and you’re by yourself? Reader R, moving to a new city, doesn’t want to feel like she’s under a microscope at an upcoming picnic:

I’m relocating & starting my first professorship at a university. The faculty are having a picnic in honor of the new members (myself and one other person) before the semester begins. This is also a “family & signifcant others” event and therein lies the problem: I’m single & moving out of state. Translation: I won’t know anyone or be able to invite anyone. Not to sound shallow, but I don’t want to field questions about my personal life (i.e dating, engaged, etc) because it is really no one’s business. But with children & spouses/so’s running around, I feel as though it is inevitable. Age, too, plays a factor. I am by far the youngest faculty member…

Congrats on your new professorship and the new city — it sounds like an adventure! I think you’re right to expect some curiosity about your personal life, but I think that’s par for the course for any smaller office. I think the bigger (and more impersonal) the office is, the more you can stay private — but even then, the more you become “known” (particularly when you start supervising people), the more people become curious about the basic facts of our personal life.  So while I can understand not wanting to get into the deeper details of your personal life, you may be heading into the office with the slightly wrong attitude. It isn’t an interrogation — people just want a simple answer, and I think will find it weirder if you decline to answer than if you answer briefly. Some sample scripts for you: [Read more…]

What to Wear on the First Day at a Very Casual Office

Pictured: Clean slate, originally uploaded to Flickr by mikecogh. What should you wear on your first day at a very casual law office? Reader F wonders…

Thanks for the great blog – it’s been holding my hand, fashion-wise, since I started law school. I have a question: what should an articling student wear to work (especially on my first day) at an extremely casual law firm populated with some very prestigious lawyers? By “extremely casual” I mean that the last time I saw my principal at the office she was wearing ripped jeans and a vintage poncho/jacket sort of thing. She is a very senior & highly respected lawyer, and I am a lowly student, so my quandary is this: on the one hand, I don’t want to look like an overdressed nerd in a suit, but on the other hand, I clearly do not have the seniority to dress as she does. How to split the difference? What should I wear on my first day? Thanks!

Great question, F — you’re right to assume that you need to bank some credibility before you can start wearing very casual things. We’ve talked about how to have a great first day on the job, as well as what to wear for a business casual office, but we haven’t talked about what to wear at a very casual office. For my $.02, this is very field specific — and for most lawyers I’m going to fall on the “be safe and wear a suit” side of the continuum.  Your job involves representing other people, not yourself; your job requires you to get immediate respect on first impressions (e.g., from judges and juries) — and your boss wants to know that you understand that.  Since you describe this as a “very casual office,” I’m guessing the odds are approximately 90% that you’re going to immediately take off the blazer and leave it in your office — so make sure you like your outfit sans blazer — but you still want to show up and have that “I’m here and ready to work!” conversation in your suit. (You can then let your blazer live at the office to become your wear-with-everything black blazer.)   [Read more…]

Business Lunch Etiquette: When Do You Offer to Pay?

business lunch etiquette

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on when do you offer to pay for your share of lunch — links have also been updated below.

What is good business lunch etiquette where interns or summer associates are concerned — when should you offer to pay for your share of lunch? In general, when in business settings should you offer to pay? Reader S, about to be a summer associate at a law firm, wonders…

During summer social events, what is the protocol for paying for your share of the festivities / food / drink? I don’t want to be entitled but I also don’t know who to ask about paying. I might be over-thinking things a little, but I wanted to see if there was a polite (and non-awkward) way of asking about these things.

I think this is a great question — you hear a lot about summer associates being entitled, and it’s nice to hear someone wanting to contribute. We’ve talked about some good business lunch tips before, but we haven’t talked about when to pay. I’m curious to hear what readers say here, but for my $.02, this is how I look at it: [Read more…]

When Do Girly Clothes Become Unprofessional?

dressing-too-girly

2017 Update: We still stand by our advice on when girly clothes become unprofessional, but you may also want to check out The Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women.

If you wear girly clothes, will you be seen as less of a professional? Reader A wonders…

I recently parted ways with a company where I was being micromanaged, like my boss didn’t trust me to do anything without his help and supervision. He never said why, but he kept treating me like some incompetent child. At the same time, I’m really into mid-century fashion, and I would wear really girly things that wouldn’t really been seen in most traditional offices – polka dots, shades of pink, lacy headbands, and even bows. I knew it was unorthodox and I may get some weird looks, but in hindsight I’m wondering if my clothing made my manager see me as a little girl, and maybe that’s why he wasn’t taking me seriously as a young professional. Do you think there was any connection between my fashion choices and my boss’s micromanagement?

Yowza. Ok. We’ve talked before about being feminine, as well as wearing vintage to the office, but we haven’t really discussed how going Extremely Girly affects how colleagues perceive you.  I do think  A few thoughts:

  • In general, wearing the occasional girly item is OK.  For example, something pink or polka-dotted will not make you seem like less of a professional, particularly if you otherwise act like a grown-up. Similarly, a bow here or there is fine, provided you don’t look like a present waiting to be unwrapped.  Personally I’m not a huge fan of headbands, but I think that sedate ones (solid ones, if not ones that match your hair color) are occasionally OK at work.
  • That said, it’s a bad idea to wear very girly things exclusively — Elle Woods was comical because she wore pink ALL THE TIME.  [Read more…]
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