How to Be Taken Seriously When You Look Young

looking young - body languageWhat should you do if you look young for your age, and you do all the basic things you’re supposed to in order to seem older (dress professionally, wear heels, etc.), but you still get mistaken for a college student? What more can you try to get your colleagues to take you seriously?

Reader E wonders…

I’m a college professor (outside your normal demographic, but I really enjoy the conversations here). I often am told that I look like an undergrad. I have two questions. First, how do I respond to this in a workplace setting? With a frosty “Nope, I’m actually in my mid-thirties”? With “I’m told that I’ll be grateful for it one day”? Why do people think this is an acceptable thing to say to someone? Second, how can I actually look older so that I avoid these comments and am taken more seriously? I’m short (5′), which is part of the issue, but I already wear 1-3″ heels/wedges (more would look out of place here and are not my style). I use basic makeup (tinted moisturizer/blush/mascara), wear professional and structured clothing, have nice-looking but understated jewelry (including my engagement/wedding rings), keep my wavy hair shoulder-length and mostly under control, and make an effort to speak in a lower voice. This all feels like Looking Older 101–I need the upper-level class!

Hmmmmn. Hmmmn. We’ve talked about a lot of this before — how to avoid acting young, how to lower your voice, and whether long hair makes you look younger — but it sounds like Reader E has already taken a lot of these tips. What else can be done? I’m curious to hear what the readers say, but I did come up with a few tips. I don’t think everyone needs to take these steps, but for people like Reader E, who have tried everything else and are still frustrated by people telling them they “look young,” these may be the tweaks you need to consider:

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Can You Wear a Sheath Dress and Jacket to an Interview?

Theory 'Betty 2' Stretch Sheath Dress | CorporetteAre you required to wear a skirt suit for an interview, or are sheath dresses acceptable? We’ve talked about interview attire (including what to wear beneath a suit jacket) before, but let’s discuss again. Here’s Reader L’s question:

I have an upcoming call back interview at a big law firm. I am a 2nd year associate. Can I wear a Theory sheath dress and jacket or do i have to wear a skirt suit? I only ask because the Theory sheath dress is wonderful, comfortable, and super professional. The internet basically says absolutely not … but this is a West Coast based firm. Any thoughts are much appreciated!

For my $.02, I think that while a skirt suit is the default conservative option, pants suits are becoming more and more acceptable — and a sheath dress with a matching blazer isn’t that far behind. A few notes on this, though:

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How to Tell a Flirtatious Boss to Stop Hitting on You

Flirtatious bossWhat should you do when a flirtatious colleague — one who’s kind of your boss — is hitting on you at work? Reader J wonders…

I am a (female) BigLaw associate, who has become the focus of flirtatious attention from a (male) partner, who (1) works in another, but near-ish office, (2) is on the Executive Committee, and (3) has quite a reputation for hitting on firm employees (attorneys and non-attorneys alike). My friends/colleagues’ advice has generally boiled down to: Don’t outright reject him, stroke his ego, etc., but continue to deflect invitations for dinner and drinks. A few have suggested telling him I am not comfortable dating someone at work (which is true). What is your and the readers’ advice re (1) how to handle his attentions and (2) whether I should report him to someone in the firm? FWIW, I have been aware of his reputation of flirting with other attorneys, but have learned of his recent shift to a staffer.

Yeouch. We’ve talked before about handling a flirting client, dealing with unwanted attention from older men while networking, and even about dating at the office – but not this particular situation. In my legal-eagle days, I would have considered any partner (even if he was in another office or another group) to be my “boss,” and someone who sits on the Executive Committee — presumably with firing powers — to especially be my boss. So I can see why Reader J is concerned, and I’m curious to hear what the readers say. (Pictured: Hey so I was wondering if maybe you might want to…, originally uploaded to Flickr by nate bolt.)

A few thoughts:

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Guest Post: From Growing Up Poor to Working in Big Law

Growing Up Poor | CorporetteHow does your background — like growing up poor — affect your life in Big Law or other conservative jobs? After all, Big Law (and other Big jobs) can be interesting places, full of strange traditions, big personalities, and a lot of assumptions — that everyone knows what to wear yachting or for a golf scramble, for example. Today, I’m happy to welcome back Ruth Moore*, a lawyer turned actress (who’s currently a recurring character in a TV series) with some deep thoughts on how growing up poor affected her legal career. Ruth has guest posted before, with a Tales From the Wallet post about how to break free from golden handcuffs (and get used to paying tuition again). Welcome back, Ruth! – Kat.

This post came about because I was telling Kat about how I’d always been curious which of my Big Law colleagues had also grown up below the poverty line. I have this theory that there were certain habits and ways of thinking from growing up poor that stuck with me as a young adult, when I suddenly went up a couple of rungs on the socioeconomic ladder.

Some of those habits were sartorial. For example, even though I was earning a lot of money, I was still very cheap with myself, especially in the beginning. I distinctly remember buying a pair of jeans from H&M for $39.99 and thinking, “Wow, I’m buying forty-dollar jeans at full price, I really made it!” For work clothes, I splurged on two skirts and three shirts (deeply discounted) from a chain that represented, to me, the height of luxury: The United Colors of Benetton. Dry cleaning seemed too frivolous so I’d just wash them by hand. I wore my Aldo heels with the same pride with which my officemate wore her Louboutins. I didn’t get a professional haircut until my fourth year as a lawyer, opting to trim it myself instead. It’s kind of a miracle that no one reported me to “What Not to Wear.” (Pictured: Money, originally uploaded to Flickr by loopoboy 2.0.)

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Fun But Professional Patterns and Colors

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | CorporetteCan fun colors and patterns ever be professional? Reader S wonders:

The only black piece of clothing I have is one blazer and I don’t have a single white thing. You could find me in a floral skirts with striped tops, long bright dresses, and when I occasionally wear jeans, I always pair them with shirts and blazers. My favorite patterns are stripes and florals, favorite colors are purple, red, orange. Can this ever be professional? I feel very uncomfortable in black and would hate to give up my favorite pieces. The field where I hope to find a job is business causal.

Great question, S! We’ve talked about how to start wearing prints, as well as how to mix prints — but not in a long while (other than this brief mention in our post on how to shop your closet and Play Clothes). So let’s talk about it. First: I don’t think there is anything inherently unprofessional about prints, colors, and patterns — indeed, some of the most adventurous dressers, who mixed prints and patterns in the boldest ways, are some of the male partners I knew at my old law firm.  The easy advice here is that it’s very, very easy to throw on a solid cardigan or blazer that picks up one of the colors in your print, throw it on with a neutral trouser or skirt, and go to work.  But let’s have a bit more fun with it…

Fun but Professional Patterns and Colors | Corporette

Layer multiple patterns and anchor them with a solid piece, either in a neutral (black or white) or a color from one of the prints. (Check out our new Professional Prints board on Pinterest to see the pictures bigger, and click through for the sources.)

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Are You an Office Mom?

Office Mom: Valid Management Style, or Career Suicide? | CorporetteOffice Mom: Valid Management Style, or Career Suicide? | CorporetteHere’s a fun question for you: are you the office mom*?  I’ve read that being the office mom tends to hurt your career because people see you as, well, the MOM instead of the professional you are. So here’s the Q: do you agree that being the “office mom” is a bad thing — or is it just another management style? Are you the office mom, or do you work with one?  Is it more appropriate (or effective) in some office cultures, and less in others? 

For my $.02, I have always been totally guilty of this — long before I became a mom. I never baked cookies or cupcakes for people, BUT: I like to be prepared, and I generally remember the birthdays and other fun stuff (with a little help to remember personal details).  So I used to carry with me (and keep in my desk) all sorts of stuff — Shout Wipes! Bandaids! Tissues! Spare chargers! Fans! Sweaters! Coworkers always came to me when they needed something.  In some ways this was a plus — I’m definitely an introvert, and I’m sure I sometimes come off as cold if I’m focused on other stuff (thank you, resting bitchface!) — so this was my own little way of being friendly and approachable. I suppose I subscribe to the idea in the WSJ article — office mom as management style.

I’m curious, ladies — what do you think?

Pictured: Pink cupcake – meeting leftovers, originally uploaded to Flickr by Alpha.

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