How to Do the Work You’re Not Ready For

how-to-do-work-youre-not-ready-forWhat do you do when your boss gives you work that is beyond your skill level? Reader C asks a great question…

How do you handle a situation when you’re asked to do a task you’re definitely not ready for? I am a newly admitted lawyer in my first job out of law school and I have been doing mostly doc review for 6 months, only within the past 2 weeks have I started doing substantive legal work. My boss asked me to cover a meeting he could not attend. The purpose of which was to allow non-lawyers within the agency to play “ask the lawyer” (me) about general legal questions accumulated over the past month. I am unfamiliar with the legal material and do not have time to prepare. I told my boss I didn’t feel I could competently answer the questions in the allotted time and asked if we could reschedule. Did this make me seem incapable, weak, etc.?

This seems timely, especially since I just read an article with Marissa Mayer where she noted that she never felt ready for any of the work that she did. From the article:

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do,” she said last year while speaking on her best decisions in a talk with NPR Correspondent Laura Sydell. “That feeling at the end of the day, where you’re like, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ I realized that sometimes when you have that feeling and you push through it, something really great happens.”

So how do you do the work you’re not ready for?  How do you figure it out without screwing up?  I hope that this can be a great thread where we share stories and advice for one another.  Here are some tips, both for Reader C and for other women in this situation.  (And let me just say, I totally get why Reader C was hesitant about this meeting — it sounds like a minefield.)  That said… [Read more...]

The Incompetent Boss

How do you handle an incompetent boss? Reader C wonders…

Corporette is my top go to blog for advice on anything career related.  I haven’t found much on dealing with an incompetent boss though.  Could you consider doing a post on how to handle a thoroughly incompetent boss? It’s almost worse than incompetent – she actually does some level of harm whenever she is involved in a meeting, on a project, etc.  (As a bonus which you may or may not want to tackle – she has 0 social intelligence, micromanages and is a chatty Kathy all wrapped into one.)

She sounds delightful!  We have talked about how to handle a chatty boss, as well as how to handle a micromanager boss, but let’s talk about the incompetent boss.

First: Figure out if this is a personality conflict between you and her.  For example, does she horde work she should have /could have given to you, and then get overwhelmed and ask you for help with it at the very last minute out of desperation?  This may stem from her lack of trust in you  — she may not want to delegate your work to you because she doesn’t trust you, so she takes on too much and has to ask you for help out of desperation at the very last minute… in which case you need to build up her trust so you can get the work done.  A few more ideas: [Read more...]

How To Celebrate a Win

how to celebrate a winHow do you celebrate a professional win?  Reader M wonders…

I have a question for you and the hive mind…yesterday I ‘sealed the deal’ on an important partnership for one of my projects, and I find myself wanting to celebrate.  Honestly, my family and friends don’t want to hear all the details because, well, I spend too much time working anyway and work should not be the topic of discussion when I’m not working!  But this is a big deal for me, and I want to celebrate – how do you go about celebrating a work success bigger than “I finished the report” but smaller than “I finished my PhD”?  FWIW I had a party when i finished my PhD!

This is a great question, because the rules do change a bit when you get out of school.  Professional success is great… but it can be a bit lonely.  First, not everyone understands what it means — they may not understand the details of your win (you did what?), or they may not understand the significance of your win.*  Secondly, because a “win” so often translates to money or promotion, you start to deal with jealous friends, or seem vain yourself.  So really — and I’m curious what the readers have to say here — my answer is you generally celebrate “by yourself” or “with your close friends and family.” (Pictured:  Party Hats, originally uploaded to Flickr by Infidelic.)  For example, I like to celebrate things by pampering myself:

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Dude: What’s Your Car?

Devan's Pimped-Out Ride 3, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jennerally. What kind of car should the overachieving chick drive?  On the one hand, a designer car could impress clients and colleagues… but on the other hand, it can also convey that you’re “not working for the money.”  Reader K wonders:

I’m graduating from law school next month and I’ll be starting at a large regional firm in the Fall. For the past 11 years, I’ve been driving an old 2-door Honda. It was a great car for commuting to law school, but I’m definitely ready for an upgrade. My husband and I have talked about buying a new car and he really wants a higher-end sedan (audi, lexus, acura). I would love a luxury car, but I would be equally happy with something more modest. I’m worried that if I pull up in an expensive new car on my first day at the firm, my colleagues will assume that 1. I don’t really need to work (untrue) or 2. I’m materialistic and fiscally irresponsible (also untrue). My husband and I are in our 30′s, we’ve both worked and saved for quite a few years, and I have a small amount of law school debt, so it’s within our reach to upgrade.

Am I worrying about nothing or should I consider my colleagues’ perception when deciding what type of car to purchase?

This should be a fun one — I’m already seeing shades of our engagement ring discussion, as well as our intern-with-the-Birkin discussion.  I should say upfront that I’ve been living and working in NYC for about 15 years now, and cars just don’t matter that much here. (Pictured: Devan’s Pimped-Out Ride 3, originally uploaded to Flickr by Jennerally.)

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Is the Best Office BIG or Well-Located?

Office Hallway HDR Test, originally uploaded to Flickr by WintrHawk.Reader B writes with a great question: should she leave her well-located office and move to a bigger one down the hall?

There is a large office that has been vacant in our firm for 9 months or so (another associate was let go). I have a small office, but I like the location of it. It’s right next to the partner I work for and the assistant we share, and there’s always activity around it, which suits my work style. The large office is down the hall a bit, in a quieter area with less activity and visibility, all of which are “cons” for me. I’ve been going back and forth with asking to move (I know they’d say yes). I think the large office looks better to clients, I’ve been here for several years now, and I’m the only attorney still in a small office, the rest are occupied by paralegals. Any thoughts as to size versus location and which is more important?

Tough, tough question. My gut reaction is you should stay put because you seem happy in your current office… but your points about the paralegals and clients are serious things to consider.  (Pictured: Office Hallway HDR Test, originally uploaded to Flickr by WintrHawk.)  Whichever one you choose, you may want to read our suggestions on office decor.

I suppose the first question to ask is whether there are any dream offices — i.e., larger offices, near your partner or in other active areas — even if they may be occupied at the moment? [Read more...]

Salary or Title: Which is More Important?

Up! originally uploaded to Flickr by Peter πWhich is more important — your salary or your title? Reader D wonders…

I would love to see a post on the relative merits of pursing a higher title or more compensation. Would readers be willing to be paid less (or the same amount) for a title bump? Or, would they demand that any title bump come with an increase in pay? Is title more important than money? Or, is money more important than title?

Interesting question. My first reaction was “money — duh” but I suppose there are situations where a title would be more important than money. We’ve talked before about how job hopping isn’t the best idea, but in some professions (for example, magazines), historically, the way to get through all the bottom-rung positions (editorial assistant, assistant editor, junior editor, etc.) was to change jobs as frequently as possible. The salary bumps were miniscule, and the job title was, generally, ceremonial — a junior editor still had to sort reader mail as much as an editorial assistant — but they helped you advance to the real editing much more quickly. So I suppose, in today’s environment — where more and more industries are taking the Hollywood “Harvard grads start in the mailroom” approach to hiring, and where people often take internship after internship because real jobs are scarce — well, maybe I would take the title over the money. (Pictured: Up! originally uploaded to Flickr by Peter π.)

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