What are things all professional women should know how to do by age 30, 40, 50, or 60?
So, a loooong time ago, readers had a threadjack on “things all 35-year-old professional women should know/do” — I thought it was a fun discussion, but it particularly stood out because one of my first freelanced stories, back when I was a magazine journalist (before law school), was basically this concept.
I don’t remember if it was ever published or not (I vaguely remember the publication going belly-up before the article came out), but I remember making a hard sell to my editor for why all women should know how to tango.
This is why we probably shouldn’t have 22-year-olds write these things.
After all, knowing how to tango is great, but if you do NOT know how to tango, do not in any way feel deficient in your life. (In fact, for most of the things on this list, don’t feel deficient if you can’t do them yet.) I thought I’d come up with a few fun things and then turn it over to you guys — what do you think all 35-year-old professional women should know how to do?
(Does your answer change if the age changes? What is it for 30, 40, 50, 60?)
ANYWAY. I thought I’d round up my top 5 — I’d love to hear yours!
Five Things All Professional Women Should Know How To Do:
#5: Sing Your Own Praises
Keep track of your own accomplishments, and don’t feel bad about raising them in meetings with bosses, clients, and others.
#4: Say Thank You / Give Genuine Praise
As you become a leader and have more say in whom you work with, being genuinely appreciative and grateful for the skills and work of those around you is an important quality to cultivate. And I don’t just mean the executive team — everyone who’s employed by your company!
#3: Know When to Admit Your Mistakes
I have a Post-it on my computer that says “Grace, Not Perfection” — because mistakes happen! Know when to to admit your mistakes — and when to ask for help. Which leads us to our next one…
You. Can. Not. Do. It. All. Yourself. Say it with me, ladies — learning how and when to delegate in your personal and professional life is super important.
The #1 Thing All Professional Women Should Know How To Do:
#1: Say No
Noooooooooooooooooo. No. It’s a single sentence! It’s ok to say no to professional and personal things. Don’t feel like you need long, wordy explanations or apologies. Just. Say. No.
Readers, over to you — what do you think are the things that all professional women should know how to do? How does your answer differ for, say, a 30-year-old and a 50-year-old?
Picture credit: Fotolia / Monkey Business.
Make a phone call. If you can’t call people on the phone, and you don’t have a disability that prevents you from doing so, you aren’t a professional.
+1 and I would add write a coherent, polite email.
I hate the whole “why can’t everything be online, I’d rather get my teeth pulled than talk on the phone” thing. Sometimes, talking on the phone is simply the best way to accomplish a task. I’m in my 20s, so not an old fogey by any means and it drives me crazy when my peers act like making a phone call is the most difficult thing in the universe.
On the flip side, I’ve gotten a few opportunities others have passed up just because I was willing to make a few phone calls and they weren’t. So other people’s incompetence has worked out well for me. But it’s definitely something all professionals should know how to do!
I’ll add a “Top 5” specific skills in addition to the soft/general ones listed above:
1. Be proficient in Excel – know a variety of useful formulas (like VLOOKUP), as well as how to use pivot tables and write/record basic macros.
2. Be able to create a budget.
3. Understand how to create/evaluate a business case for a new product/idea.
4. Know how to fire someone.
5. Be able to create and present a high-quality presentation on a topic you are familiar with.
What field do you work in? I’ve never had Excel be relevant to my practice as a transactional lawyer, although I know it’s critical for folks in other fields.
I use Excel to bill cleints. I have the spreadsheet prepopuleated with the hourly rate, and the task based billeings, so all I have to do is throw in the hours each month, and voila, out pops the billeing sheets that Frank sends out to the cleint on the first of the month! Once you learn how to use excel and these MACROS, you will be much more valueable to your firm and your billing requrements! YAY!!!!!
Other than number four, these seem strangely specific to a certain sector. I am an 11-year attorney and have no use for one, two, or three (though I happen to be somewhat proficient with Excel, formulas like VLOOKUP are not at all useful for my day-to-day work). Number five may become relevant at some point in my career but for now, I am focusing my business development time and effort elsewhere (i.e., not on making presentations). That reminds me, though, sales skills (whether in the bus development context, B2B, direct to consumer, whatever) seem to apply to a quite a large segment of the working world.
I work in healthcare administration. I don’t think most of these are specific to healthcare, but from these comments, I’m guessing are not relevant to anyone in a legal profession!
I was previously in consulting and all of these would be relevant to most types of consulting as well, regardless of the specific industry.
I use Excel less on a day-to-day basis now that I’m in an executive role, but to me it has become more important to be proficient – it has become an efficiency tool for me. For example, just before the end of the year, I used Excel to compile about a hundred and fifty end-of-year emails – a spreadsheet with names and a few additional details, plus mail merge, made it very quick and easy to send personalized notes.
I don’t know. I am in marketing and would +10000000 all your points. I expect these from anyone in a commercial role or someone considering starting their own (small) business (e.g. start their own solo legal practice).
How can markenting work without Excel and presentations? Marketing is all about data, numbers, budgets, sales and revenues
Yeah, the first 3 seem very field-specific! I might as well advise you that you’d better be proficient at marking up indemnities :)
I would add: Covering one’s posterior in a way that doesn’t make it obvious and annoying.
I’m very envious of all of you out there who work in fields that apparently operate without budgets! I’ll grant that Excel skills may be less widely necessary than I believe, but budgets and business cases seem pretty industry-agnostic to me. “Deciding how and where to spend money” is a pretty core to managing most businesses.
Of course our industries have budgets and business cases (although a different term may be used), but at my job, none of that is part of my role (legal-adjacent). Do I need to understand the basics of what they are, yes, but the only budgeting I do is submit a training and travel budget requests for my team in a spreadsheet for my boss (only formula is summation) and the only business case stuff I do is pressuring the business to ensure that have done one before I do a contract. I rarely see the business case because I just want to know that the right business managers have signed off on it. I have zero input on business cases.
Yeah, +1 to this. LAnon, your comment above seems a bit argumentative. There are plenty of professionals here that are not managers/not part of budgeting preparation or decisions, though we are of course perfectly aware that our department/firm has one!
Day-to-day, my involvement with budgets and business cases is making sure the business team leading the relevant deal is on top of it.
I would like to support you.
I think that you absolutely need this if you want to make corporate career and become a manager in any field.
But! For me and you it makes a big advantage that others don’t care to master it. Lucky us!
I would add google docs and other instruments
I’m a surgeon and have a significant management role and I disagree that you absolutely need these to be a manager in any field. I consider myself pretty successful and these don’t really apply to me.
I delegate excel work and it would never be considered worth my time to do that work myself- we employ analysts who work with data and provide the answers we need. I also delegate writing a business case although I am able to review them and make revisions. I do think most people need to manage budgets at some point, although even that I don’t do the drafting of the actual document myself.
For the lawyers that do not think they need these skills – they are handling the work of business, and law firms, even solo practitioners, are businesses. This is why law practices can struggle financially when their lawyers are just fine at practicing law. When you make partner, you may want to hire a financial administrator to manage it for the firm, but before then, it’s good to have basic knowledge of the way things work. Excel is mostly basic math to help you understand if you are breaking even, or leaning toward profit or loss. It makes it much, much easier if you have a system, as you can run out of envelopes these days with more than two back-of-the-envelope calculations.
Nope. I’m in-house for a F50 company and I do not need to create budgets or spend time creating presentations and I’m pretty sure my boss would be pissed if I spent time trying to learn excel at work. Even budgeting for outside counsel and operating costs are done by a separate legal operations department. My job is the truly legal part – counseling, negotiating, drafting and generally exercising sound judgment and advising the business on legal risk.
Only #3 would really matter in my field, and even then you can be a professional without managing people and never need to know how to fire people. The other 3 are clear in the “not my job/someone actually has a different job that does that” here.
I’m a litigator in BigLaw and I use 1 and 5 a lot. I can do things faster than my colleagues because of my facility with Excel; I think its a huge advantage. Also knowing how to prepare a litigation budget is becoming increasingly important as I get more senior.
I work in emergency/disaster management so I’m always an outlier for these things! Though I think being able to give an cohesive presentation is always a good skill to have!
At first I thought you meant personal budget, not business and I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with that as well!
In real estate and these are spot on.
Late to the party but anyone touching consumer product development would find 1, 2, 3, and 5 relevant! I’m an engineer, and a truly hope Project Management, Marketing, and Purchasing folks can also handle these as well!
Personally I’d keel over if anyone tried to pry Excel away from me.
In pretty much any role in business being able to do a spreadsheet and a presentation are critical. That includes anything white collar/professional in a company, and in consulting, and most of what I would consider “corporate” roles. Usually its MS Excel and PowerPoint, sometimes at more techie firms its Google Suite. For anyone with high career aspirations its even more important. I’m kind of surprised to learn that lawyers don’t use these tools too. How do ideas get communicated? How do you show the value of something, or a list of data, or pros and cons? (I use Excel a ton in my personal life to for making complicated decisions).
I think the point is to know what basic software tools are important in your industry and become proficient. When we have a new hire at any level who can’t do the basics they end up wasting a lot of time. In most roles these days you can’t just delegate to an assistant to type stuff up, you need to be fairly fluent yourself.
Know how to use basic office equipment and Google.
+1 to Google!
+1, or just be WILLING. I can’t tell you how many people I work with who refuse to use Excel for tracking simple data (I work in a rural hospital/nursing home, so not everyone has a business degree or anything, but come on, you can type numbers into a spreadsheet, it’s 2018). It’s infuriating.
I disagree with #1. I hate it when people say “no is a complete sentence,” and I think that’s particularly bad advice in professional situations. It might be a complete sentence but it can come off as brusque at best, more likely rude. I’m all for saying no, and don’t believe people have to be apologetic about it, but if you’re saying no about a work issue, you likely need some type of reasoning. And in social situations, I think there’s a world of difference between “No” and “No, I’m not able to _____.”
I think you’re taking it a bit too literally.
I think people mean it literally, though. And, I agree with HSAL. No need to feel (or be) defensive or provide a long explanation but a simple reason goes a long way.
I hope so, but the frequency with which commenters here say it, I’m suspicious. I really like Vicky Austin’s framing though.
You’re 100% right about the linguistic/semantic side of it, but I honestly think that “no is a complete sentence” is better directed at the hearer than the (would-be) speaker. I.e., “I am declining this extra project/extra work/offer for a date. You are not privy to my reasons. All that matters to you is that I am saying no.” Therefore, as the speaker of the “no,” you need to have the mantra in your head in order to stick to it, no matter how nicely you choose to phrase it.
Yeah. I often remind myself “my job is to convey the information that I am not doing Thing. My job is not to convince the other person that my not doing Thing is a good idea.”
Small Firm IP Litigator
“I’m all for saying no, and don’t believe people have to be apologetic about it, but if you’re saying no about a work issue, you likely need some type of reasoning.”
This. If I asked a more junior associate to send me a draft of a brief by the end of the week, I can’t imagine him/her just saying NO being appropriate. There are of course times when you should say no to something like this, but I would expect someone to offer an explanation like “I’m in depos all week” or “I am out on vacation.” And perhaps offer a solution – like I’ll get it to you next Tuesday instead, or suggest another team member that can help out.
Know how to set-up and run a meeting. Like, even just a 1 hr/30 minute one. Things like: have an agenda, know how to identify the necessary parties (and who isn’t necessary to invite), run the meeting/take minutes, keep sidetracking conversations to a minimum.
What about reduce (or eliminate) the word “like” from your vocabulary. I can’t tell you how many times a young women at work (I work at a Fortune 50 Company) appears to be very professional, but when she opens her mouth that word comes out much too often and at least to me, she loses credibility and comes off as very immature. Also, use of the word “absolutely”…..it’s so overused.
I try SO hard with things like this – I probably am that young woman! It irks me too.
i try to eliminate “like” and “ums” as much as i can. my stutter/stammer sometimes gets the best of me and i fear that i look or sound unprepared when just the opposite is true. many folks definitely do overuse it, but some people really just can’t the words out sometimes.
Or maybe actively stop policing the way women talk? It’s already often hard enough to speak up as is….
This one! I say “like” because of where and when I grew up. I probably uptalk and vocal fry too. I’m also smartAF, and aware that people judge me for the way I talk. It almost definitely means I miss opportunities, but they’re also missing the opportunity for my input. I’ll just keep chipping away at the ol’ patriarchy with people who can handle my speech patterns.
Plan a basic event. This can include a birthday dinner, happy hour for work, kid’s bday party, etc.
I’m willing to bet nobody would include this on a list of things that all professional men should know how to do.
Maybe it’s true that all professionals should know how to plan an event. But when it comes down to it, 9 times out of 10 a woman will be asked to plan the event because she’s “better at it” than the men are. I’m not fussed if I can’t plan a birthday dinner, happy hour, or kid’s birthday because I guarantee you that the men in my office will not be asked to plan any of these things for work so I don’t intend to do so either.
If these are important in your personal life, so be it. But that’s not part of being a professional woman.
Men need to know how to do this too. 20 years ago I told my life partner that I would go shopping for the grill menu and stand by the grill – he could handle the rest. Our next event was held at a restaurant. When cost came up post event, I mentioned that it was the starting price for spousal harmony if he didn’t step up.
It should be.
I decided I was going to let the guys figure out a group dinner in December and they messed up the timing and one of them messaged me at 8:30 the morning of saying they needed to find a new place to make reservations.
So maybe not necessarily a professional thing but surely needing to figure out schedules and think through logistics is something all professionals (and adults) should be able to do
There’s crossover here with the “be willing to g00gle things” point above. The men in my office planned all the Christmas stuff this year. There were a few protestations (aka, fishing for disproportionate appreciation) that they didn’t know how and the instructions weren’t online. Somehow, I think they muddled through fine.
My (male) partner is amazing at event planning and it has helped his career to know end.
I actually really enjoy planning stuff like this & am good at it– but at work NOPE. I will never voluntarily take something on like this. It is thankless, people often complain, you almost never get any credit for it, and it takes you away from projects that will advance your career. I’ll do it if I absolutely get cornered into it (and voluntarily for people I like outside of work), but really try not to be put in that position.
Small Firm IP Litigator
I am going to just say no to this.
Know the difference between you’re/your, there/their/they’re, its/it’s, and to/too/two. Spellcheck alone can only take you so far.
While I’m generally in support of a woman’s freedom to speak however she chooses (“like”, for example), I think all professional woman should be able to speak in their professional capacity without referring to coworkers or clients as “baby” or “honey” or any spinoff. A female coworker constantly calls all of us (and her clients) by these names and I find it very, very uncomfortable.
yes to this. There is an older woman in our office who does this, and for her, I think it is a way to show her status. But I also don’t think time = status, so super tricky.
Be able to accept negative feedback with grace and consider it thoughtfully.
+++. This has been my biggest professional goal for the last couple of years.
Since this is a fashion blog, I think it’s good for women to know what type of work clothes suit their frame (assuming no recent significant body changes). Many young women are encouraged to wear button up shirts, but it can be hard to find ones that fit properly. At a certain point, many realize that we don’t have to wear that type of shirt, and find something more suitable.
Mrs. Type A
Give feedback to their boss.
By 30 you should know whether your boss is helping you and others of not. And, if not, then how to talk to him / her about it. Part of that is being specific with what good looks like, which is also a skill one should have by 30.
Whenever someone in their 30s comes to me complaining about their boss, my first question, “how’d they take that feedback.” It’s surprising how many people will still suffer in silence at this age.
I would say that one needs both the will and the skill. You need to have the guts to speak up. But you also need to be experienced enough to effectively do it.
These are some great ideas and I for one would be interested in a tutorial on:
* how to give feedback to your boss
* most used Excel formulas/tricks
* how to fire someone
* tips on budgeting
* CYA with grace
Let me add: plan your pension and financial independence.
Texan In Exile
1. Be able to shake hands properly.
2. Be able to introduce yourself properly. First name and last name.
3. Be able to answer the phone properly – that is, not, “Hello, this is Texan. How may I help you?” but, “Texan Exile.” (Unless you are working at Macy’s, in which case you have to answer the phone the way they tell you to, which is more along the lines of a chirpy, “Better women’s sportswear!”)
4. Refer to yourself as a woman, not as a girl. I finally had to tell my new co-worker that it’s not my business what she does when she’s not around me, but in meetings with our team, I do not want to be called one of “the girls.” Honestly. She is 43 years old. Has she not learned this by now?