As women, we are given endless career advice — lean in but don’t only prioritize work; take on as many projects as you can, but also set limits; be kind to everyone but don’t be a pushover. The advice comes so fast and furious, that it can be hard to hone in on what to listen to. In an attempt to quiet the noise and focus on what’s really important, we’ve zeroed in on the advice that has really impacted us and helped us through our own burgeoning careers.
It may sound simple, but this is actually very hard advice to follow. Odds are you have a lot of people in your life weighing in on what they think you should do or what your next career move should be. First off, remember they’re sharing their opinions because they care about you. But also remember, their opinions are just that: their opinions. Ultimately you need to listen to yourself and, as the adage goes, trust your gut. You are the one who has to live with the choices you make, and you are the one who knows yourself — your wants and needs — best.
At every job, you’re going to meet people who inspire you, who you work well with, and who you genuinely like. Hang onto those people, lean on those people, and let those people lean on you. As you move through your careers (and they more through theirs) you will become invaluable resources for one another. Remember, we’re all just humans trying to figure this whole life thing out and jobs are just a part of that. As your career grows, so will your network of colleagues and former colleagues you love. It’s a network that you will be very thankful for.
Read about women whose careers you admire.
Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration, and the best way to get inspired can be as simple as reading. If there are women whose work you really admire, read about their early days. How did they get started? What pitfalls did they face? Was there a moment when they “made it” and how did they get there? Reading these stories is not only interesting; it might just give you a little insight into how best pursue your goals.
There is this delusion that a lot of us have when we’re young, that one day someone is just going to knock on our doors and hand us an opportunity to pursue the career of our dreams. That’s, sadly, not so. To get to where you want to go takes dedication, work, and a whole lot of hustle. Get moving!
A lot of research (and personal experience) shows that women often hold themselves back because they don’t feel as if they’re entirely qualified for potential opportunities. Meanwhile, men are throwing themselves at opportunities just because they feel as if they’re just nearly qualified enough. The moral of this story: You’re likely more qualified than you think you are. And if you’re offered a position that you want but don’t think you’re qualified for: take it! They wouldn’t have offered it to you if you weren’t the right person for the job.
Life is hard enough; if someone offers you help, take it! Similarly, if you know someone who works at a company you’re really interested in, reach out to them! Not to be all boys vs. girls again, but the reality is, guys would probably accept the help offered and they’d feel far less guilty about it than we do. Careers are a hard egg to crack, there’s absolutely zero shame in grabbing that helping hand.
Do research, find out what people with similar positions make, ask for raises, ask for what you’re worth, and don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities if the payment doesn’t feel fair. Talking money isn’t necessarily fun, but it is crucial. Negotiating your salary is critical as well, and being adequately compensated for your time and expertise is beyond important. The pay gap is also very real, and entirely uncool. Luckily, there are a lot of resources out there for negotiation and salary best practices; make sure to do your homework.
Everyone needs a break and everyone includes you. Here in the U.S. we have so few vacation days to begin with, it’s crucial to take the ones we’ve got. Statistics show that even with the few days we’re given, Americans use far from their allotment of vacation days. That’s not good for anyone. You need a break, your brain needs a break, and you’ll likely feel more productive and invigorated when you get back to the grind.
“Just following up;” “just checking in;” “just wanted to know if you’ve decided.” Just has a sneaky way of undercutting your authority and making it seem as if you’re asking for permission. As one Google exec put it on a LinkedIn post, “I began to notice that ‘just’ wasn’t about being polite: it was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.” We’ve taken her findings to heart.
Okay, there’s a caveat here: If you’ve done something that warrants an apology you can say sorry; otherwise, scrap it. As women we have a tendency to apologize a lot — when asking for things, when sharing a controversial opinion, when sharing any opinion — and it’s totally unnecessary. We shouldn’t apologize for doing our jobs. Like just, the word sorry undermines and 99% of the time is totally unnecessary.
Dress like yourself, but yourself at work.
We say “dress like yourself” because there is nothing worse than feeling like you’re in your mom’s clothes when you’re trying to be your best professional self. If your work has a dress code, find items that fit the code that also feel like you. Even if your work doesn’t have a dress code, find what you want your work-look to be. You should feel confident and look professional; the two are not mutually exclusive.
It can be really tempting to say yes to all things asked of you at work (especially when you’re at a new job) but that’s the fast track to taking on too much and burning out. Make sure to set limits for yourself and respect those limits. People will always ask you to take on more; it’s up to you to know when more isn’t the right choice.
This could also be written as, “don’t take things personally.” If you and a colleague disagree about something professional, don’t let that disagreement trickle into all your interactions with them. Relatedly, if a boss gives negative feedback on work you’ve done, remember that’s not a criticism of you. Take those negatives, learn from them, and don’t take them personally. Remember, it’s just business.
As women, we have a tendency to sell ourselves short. Don’t fall into that trap. Own your profession, be proud of the work you’re doing, take on challenges, and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn from time to time. Advocate for yourself, work on projects you care about, and be sure to be your own best PR agent. It might feel weird at first but it will become more and more natural over time.