Career Advice

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

The Hunt: Professional Tote Bags

professional tote bagsSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

We haven’t done a Hunt for professional tote bags in FOREVER, so I thought we’d do one now.  With OCI/EIW coming up we should discuss what makes a great interview tote, which I’ve always seen as a pretty major subset of professional tote bags. A great interview tote should:

  • be large enough to hold a folder that contains the absolute latest version of your resume
  • have structure to it — if you put it on the floor it will stand up or at least lean (so — while I love me my Planetes Longchamp bag, I wouldn’t interview with it — it’s also for this reason that most of these bags are east/west bags rather than north/south bags)
  • be mostly solid and lacking logos all over it (so in my book most Neverfulls, Goyard, and MCM bags are out — but a Neverfull in an Epi leather is a different issue)
  • have enough organization that you can ditch your purse and just carry the tote bag (or, put another way, it becomes your purse)
  • not be primarily as a laptop tote — unless you anticipate needing your laptop during the interview, you don’t need the weight and the added stress of keeping tabs on your bag (but see our laptop tote roundup if you’re looking for one)

I once joked that if you’re just looking for something to shuttle papers to and from the office, most of the rainmakers I knew carried boat bags, or at least the tote bags one gets for donating X dollars to charity or attending a conference, suggesting it was all part of “what your tote bag says about you.” Now I think it’s just because those suckers add up over the years and they’re perfect for sticking in your office closet! (Although I will note – an LL Bean rep recently told me that this bag can hold up to 500 pounds because it was designed for carrying ice blocks through the winter. Ice blocks, huge binders, whatever, right?)

So ladies, let’s discuss — do you carry a tote bag as your regular purse, or only if you’re interviewing or otherwise carrying a folder? What do you look for in a professional tote bag? Do you prefer hand-held briefcase/satchel styles, north/west styles, east/west styles? Leather, nylon, or coated canvas? Have you bought any great ones lately, or do you still carry any older ones?

First, a roundup of some general categories:

Best-Selling Work Totes

Some of the best selling work totes of all time are linked to in our Hall of Fame styles mentioned above — here are a few of those, pictured, ranging from $168-$298: 1 / 2 / 3 // 4 / 5 / 6

Featured Work Totes

Best-selling, classic styles are great, but sometimes you want to know what else is on the market today.  So: six bags we’re liking today:

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The Busy Woman’s Guide to Using Evernote and Other Note-Keeping Apps

busy woman's guide to using evernoteI don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a zillion tips on how to use Evernote and other note-keeping apps — but all seem geared at freelancers or entrepreneurs.  So we thought we’d do a roundup of some top tips for busy working women, but we want to hear from you guys: DO you use Evernote or a similar system? HOW do you use it, and what are your favorite tips?

A bit of background: Evernote is a web/app-based program that is billed as being a digital brain. You can use it for almost anything: project planning; note-taking; storing and organizing things that can include to-do lists, travel details, grocery lists, and gift lists; and much more. You can organize your notes and other content into notebooks (with or without tags), clip content from ebooks and webpages, send designated types of emails to your account, create checklists and reminders, save images, save PDFs and other files (which become searchable), share content with other people, record audio, take photos and scan documents (e.g., business cards, whiteboard notes, takeout menus, product warranties, receipts), add hand-drawn pictures or handwritten notes, and sync across your devices. Evernote also works with many other applications, like Google Drive (beta), Scanner Pro, IFTTT, Pocket, and DocuSign. You can use Evernote for free (several features plus 60 MB new uploads each month) or choose one of the paid plans.

Of course, other programs are similar to Evernote — and considering the recently-announced price increase, if you want your info synced on more than two devices, now is a great time to be aware of Evernote alternatives as well, such as:

  • OneNote – Lifehacker just did a showdown comparing Evernote and OneNote.
  • Google Keep and Google Drive – Tech Republic recently discussed how to ditch Evernote in favor of Google apps.
  • Some of the functionality but not everything:
    • B-Folders – not very easy to save articles beyond copy/paste, but: very secure, includes contacts, syncs across desktops and Androids; Kat’s written of her love for it for keeping track of various lists.
    • Pinterest – nice way to save articles or recipes for later. Con: it often only works if there’s a picture in the article to pin (since it’s a graphic search engine). Also, you can’t make to-do lists or save things like emails.
    • To-do list apps like Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, Teuxdeux, Todoist, and more.
    • iPhone Notes app – allows you to make buying lists, recipes, and more; can access on your PC through iCloud.
    • Meal planning apps like Pepperplate or Cozi (family scheduling, grocery shopping, recipe keeper and more).

Here are some of our best tips for using Evernote and other similar apps — readers, what are yours?

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Work Outfits with Black Heels

classic work outfit ideas with black pumpsWe just rounded up a ton of great black heels for interviews and beyond — and they’re such a basic, versatile piece in your work wardrobe you hopefully don’t need TOO many ideas for how to wear them to work.  Still, I thought it would be fun to come up with a few work outfit ideas, including a very conservative/classic interview outfit.

The Very Conservative Interview Outfit

The ultimate goal of any interview outfit is to not have your clothes distract from your resume, your accomplishments, and your words.  Note that your heels should be walkable — enough so that you can trek to a restaurant two blocks away (and back) in comfort. If you’re buying your first suit, do check out our recent roundup of suits for every budget, as well as The Corporette Guide to Interview Suits!

A note on pants suits vs. skirt suits:  Skirt suits used to be considered the most formal option, but pants suits are accepted almost everywhere these days.  (Stay tuned — we’ll do a poll very soon to get a broader voice on the topic.) Still, there are benefits to the skirt suit that make it worth discussing. First, if you’re buying a budget suit, it’s FAR easier to find a skirt that looks good by itself than suiting pants that look good by themselves.  Second, if you’re buying suiting separates, I always think you should seriously consider buying all of the pieces that are offered — and hey, you’ve got to wear the skirt suit sometime, right? (Pro tip: don’t forget to dryclean your suiting separates together, too, so the wear is consistent.) Finally: if it’s raining, snowing, or other nasty weather, I’ve always preferred a skirt or dress — nothing’s worse than wet pant hems! (Proper rainboots are great for your regular commute, but if you’re going to have limited options for changing shoes once you arrive, you may want to read our old advice on how to interview in a snowstorm.)

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How to Prepare for Law School

how to prepare for law schoolLawyers: how did you prepare for law school? Law students, what do you wish you’d done to prepare? Ladies with an MBA or other graduate degree, what did you do to prepare for grad school?  Were you more concerned with substance (such as trying to get ahead on class reading, or better educated on the topics you’d be studying), networking (such as researching the professors and adjuncts you’d be studying with), or another side of things, such as financially preparing for grad school, or emotionally preparing yourself? What are your top tips for readers heading back in a few months? 

Kate and I are working on a massive update of our last post on the best work clothing brands for different body shapes, and it’s taking too long (stay tuned!) so I thought we’d have a fun open thread instead today. For my own experience with law school, I was glad that I spent the summer beforehand doing some light reading of one or two of Glannon’s Examples and Explanations series (as recommended by another book I read that hasn’t been revised in many years), which taught me various lessons such as that a tort is NOT a dessert. Super dorky!  One of the other things that I was happy I did was to take to lunch a number of different lawyers I knew who were working in the field I thought I wanted to be in — they gave me great advice for law school itself as well as identified general opportunities to help my career path (such as clerking, law firms to work for, nonprofits to check out, etc).

In terms of what I wish I had done — I wish I had spent more time learning about different Georgetown professors and opportunities, as well. Once you get in the mix of law school it can be a little all-consuming, so doing prep work beforehand would have been a good thing.

Ladies, let’s hear from you!  How did you prepare for law school, business school, or another graduate degree program? (If you went straight through, please note that; if you had a year or more between undergrad and grad, please note how long.)

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Affordable, Easy Office Decor Ideas

easy office decor ideasLadies, what are your favorite easy office decor ideas? What’s the first thing you do in any new office, and what ideas would you recommend to summer associates, interns, and others? Decorating your office with cute desk accessories and more can be an essential way to making your workspace happier — and giving yourself more energy. But, if you’re a summer associate, intern, on-site consultant, on a secondment, or any other kind of temporary worker, you don’t want to put in a ton of effort into decorating your desk or office. So what are the top affordable, easy office decor ideas that help you avoid staring at boring blank walls or that ubiquitous cubicle-wall shade of beige-gray-tan?

Obviously, you should make sure not to damage the office in any way, such as leaving behind adhesive residue or accidentally removing paint/drywall when you remove things from the walls. You also won’t want to bring too much stuff, or else by the end of your time there you won’t even want to bring it all home. (Plus, it’s a little weird when a temporary worker looks like they’ve moved in, yes?) So what are the best ideas beyond “colorful tissue box”? (Always an option!) We thought we’d round up some great ideas for cute desk accessories and other simple, fast ways summer associates can decorate their offices.

(Update: as you see in the comments, a lot of readers bristled at the very idea of this post, noting that summer associates or interns should NEVER decorate their office. We’ve updated the post a bit for clarity, but it’s a good reminder to know your office. )

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Sleeved Dresses with Pockets

dresses with sleeves and pockets roundupI was just writing something about the best default thing to wear to a networking event (like a conference) where you don’t know what to wear — and my answer was, if all else failed, wear “a sleeved dress with pockets.”  Sleeves because it looks like a complete look — no need for a cardigan or blazer to forget somewhere — and pockets so you have a place to stash business cards, key cards, and more.  Then, I thought to myself: good luck finding that workwear unicorn!  Despite lots of readers (year after year!) saying how much they love sleeved dresses — and dresses with pockets! — very few companies are granting that mystical request.  So I thought I’d do a mini hunt: FIVE sleeved dresses with pockets. (Psst: here’s an old WSJ article about why so many dresses are sleeveless.)

Let’s start our hunt with some of the top-rated dresses at Nordstrom

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