You’re a professional woman in the 21st century. Perhaps you’ve made it to the corner office. Now what? Are you fulfilled? Are your work life and home life in balance?
Maybe you feel shackled with golden handcuffs to a high-paying job while dreaming of running your own outdoor-adventure company. Or perhaps you’re still struggling to get that corner office, trudging away at a low-paying, boring office job that you thought would catapult you to somewhere higher but only got you stuck.
Women in the past half-century have ascended virtually every rung on the corporate and public-sector ladders. Soon, a woman may even capture the top job in the nation: president of the United States.
Still, no matter where you are on the ladder, it’s possible to grow, learn, expand&emdash;or even jump off the ladder entirely. In the interest of finding out how to realize real, meaningful success at work, we talked with career and workplace experts about how and when to find a new job or obtain greater fulfillment from the one you have. We also share tips on how to speak up and get noticed, negotiate a raise and always look your best.
You’ve come a long way, baby, but did you really get to where you want to be? If not, read on.
Wanna Get Ahead? Speak Up!
Not advancing as quickly as you’d like at work? Wondering why people around you are getting promotions while you’re not? Perhaps you’re not taking enough initiative at your job and are waiting for others to speak up about problems and solutions. Or maybe you’re too aloof.
Women need to muster the courage to speak up about office issues, especially in meetings, says Lois P. Frankel, a senior partner with Corporate Coaching International in Pasadena. They also need to cultivate office relationships. These are two key steps to advancing your career.
Be among the first two or three people to speak in a meeting, even if it’s only to affirm what someone else has said or ask a question, says Frankel. Early speakers are accorded a kind of self-confidence.
Frankel, an author who writes about women in the workplace, also recommends building strong bonds with the people you work with. Those bonds may help you one day just when you need it. Take time every day to pop into someone’s office for a 10-minute chat. And really listen to people when they speak. But don’t let your desire to be liked keep you from being straightforward about issues, she says.
We all want to be popular, but that desire should never overshadow the need to make tough decisions, Frankel writes on her website, corporatecoachingintl.com.
Michele Wong, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based Synergex, worked her way up from programmer to the top job at the computer software company over the course of 25 years. She says that treating people well is one of the most important paths to success.
The most important attribute to being successful is treating people well and fairly . . . being really caring about other people and treating them the way you want to be treated, Wong says, adding that a kind turn often results in a kind response.
Suddenly, you could come into a situation where you need something in a hurry, and people are going to be there for you, Wong says. It breeds loyalty.
Wong also recommends taking initiative.
If you see a vacuum&emdash;something that needs to be done or done differently&emdash;you need to take the initiative and just do it, Wong says.
And, she adds, take risks, albeit calculated ones.
It could be as simple as picking up the phone and making a cold call, says Wong. It could be trying to get hold of the CEO of the company to ask something.
Wong also says it’s important for managers to have enough confidence to surround themselves with people who may be smarter than they are.
And be yourself, Wong advises. People definitely respond better if they think you’re real.
What about the big G&emdash;office gossip? Recently, four city employees in New Hampshire were fired for allegedly gossiping about their boss.
We all know it’s bad form, but it’s so easy to be pulled in.
Davis-based career consultant Constance Stevens says talking about your company’s strengths or weaknesses can be seen as information sharing. But you should never say mean things about bosses or co-workers. And be very careful about passing along personal information about yourself to office mates.
You never know how people are going to use information, says Stevens.
â€¢ Develop strong office relationships.
â€¢ Find a mentor.
â€¢ Learn the politics of your organization.
â€¢ Don’t keep candy on your desk.
â€¢ Don’t wait to speak up in meetings.
â€¢ Don’t ask permission. Inform others of what you’re doing.
You’ve Lost Your Job&emdash;Now What?
You’re called into the boss’s office on a Friday and told the company is undergoing a reorganization&emdash;and that you’re not part of it. You’ve been laid off.
First of all, don’t take it personally, experts warn. Thanks to economic fluctuations, hundreds of thousands of workers are laid off every year. There’s a high probability that you, too, will be laid off someday&emdash;perhaps more than once.
Also, don’t see it as entirely negative.
Sometimes when you get laid off, you should thank the people, because you may not have laid yourself off, says Howard Figler, a Sacramento-based career development speaker and author. You can say, â€˜Thank you, thank you. Now I’m free to explore something new.’
According to Figler, losing your job allows you to be your own Sherlock Holmes: Become a detective and learn what other jobs might suit you better.
Figler and Davis-based career consultant Andrea Weiss advise that you talk with friends, family and former co-workers before hitting the job market. Often, you can learn things about yourself&emdash;your strengths and weaknesses&emdash;from other people.
Consider volunteering in a field you’ve always wondered about. Explore new possibilities, and you just might stumble upon a whole new career.
But while you’re out exploring and looking for your dream job, Figler says it’s OK to maintain an interim job to pay the bills.
People feel embarrassed about interim jobs, he says. They shouldn’t. They are absolutely instrumental to the process.
How To Ask For a Raise
So you’ve been at your job for more than three years and still haven’t received a raise. The problem may not be your bosses; it may be you.
Experts who study workplace behavior say women are less likely than men to ask for a raise. If women want equitable pay, though, they need to ask for it.
Ann Rosenthal, a lab manager at UC Davis, asked for a bump in pay a few years ago. She says it was an incredibly empowering experience and recommends that other women muster the gumption to do it.
I was nervous, and there certainly was a part of me that totally did that â€˜oh, there’s no way I can do this job; I’m not qualified’ thing, says Rosenthal. But for the most part, I felt what I was asking for was very reasonable.
Her advice for women wanting a raise? Go for it.
Know what your weaknesses and strengths are, and play to your strengths, adds Rosenthal.
Here are some salary-negotiating tips from Davis-based career consultant Constance Stevens:
â€¢ Know your bottom line. What is the lowest salary you will accept?
â€¢ Learn what the market will bear. Salaries are lower in Sacramento than San Francisco. Find salary information at salaries.com.
â€¢ Continue asking for what you want. Rephrase your request in a nonthreatening way. For example, say, I’d like to get closer to the range of $62,000 to $65,000. How can we do that?
â€¢ Ask for salary boosters such as a signing bonus or a retention bonus after a year. But be sure to get it in writing. Some managers agree to deals not allowed by their company’s human resources department.
â€¢ Be assertive. Discuss what you’ve achieved, but don’t brag about it. Know your strengths.
â€¢ Consider the entire compensation package when negotiating. Perhaps you can’t get more money but can get a higher company contribution to your 401(k), more vacation time or a car allowance.
I knew I’d made it when . . .
. . . I earned a title that is too long to be published in a newspaper, too convoluted for anyone outside the academic realm to understand and has too many qualifiers for my children to pronounce or explain. The true confirmation of my success comes when I realize I am a role model to my 11-year-old daughter, who still beams with pride and welcomes me home from work every day as if I was a rock star. She recently proclaimed to her friends: â€˜My mom is really, really important. She is a boss and goes to meetings all day.’ &emdash;Lisa Lapin, assistant vice chancellor for university communications, University of California, Davis
. . . I was appointed to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board by Gov. Gray Davis and then by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with formal confirmation each time by the Senate of the state of California. &emdash;Genevieve Shiroma, SMUD board member
. . . my professional association honored me with two statewide awards for excellence [and] the very same week my kid’s teacher told me they thought I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I had a fleeting moment of feeling balanced. &emdash;Dianne Hyson, assistant professor, Sacramento State
When To Leave Your Job
You’ve been doing a lot of clock watching these days as you process the same paperwork you’ve been handling for years. You used to love the challenge of finishing reports and presentations before anyone else, then presenting the work to top management. Lately, though, you can barely stay focused enough to spell correctly. Is it time to find a new challenge? Workplace experts say it probably is.
When you see an appointment on your calendar, and they don’t show up and you’re happy about it&emdash;that’s when it’s time to leave, says Howard Figler, a Sacramento-based career development speaker and author of The Complete Job-Search Handbook (Holt Paperbacks, 1999).
Any hint of boredom is a sign to get out, he adds. Boredom is bad stuff. A lot of people accept boredom in exchange for security, but it eats away at them.
Experts say staying in a toxic work environment can be just as bad as resigning yourself to a boring one&emdash;or even worse. It’s easy to spot a toxic office: The boss never smiles and frequently yells at staff or speaks ill of them behind their backs. The employees look miserable. Workplace consultant Lois P. Frankel calls this a depressed organization. Oddly, workers in these degrading environments often don’t leave&emdash;much like a spouse who doesn’t leave an abuser&emdash;because they feel so demoralized. The experts’ advice is clear: Get out!
Usually, your body will tell you [when you’re working in a toxic environment], adds Figler. You can get heartburn, stress, bodily aches.
Another reason workers decide to leave a job is because they need more balance between their work lives and their personal lives, says Davis-based career consultant Andrea Weiss. It’s about making choices based on personal values, she says.
That’s what’s going to bring you the most happiness in your career&emdash;if you’re doing something that is in line with your values, she adds.
Sacramento resident Jann Taber knows just what Weiss is talking about. In May, Taber left what she describes as a great job as a spokesperson for PG&E to open her own firm, Rebel Public Relations. She says she had no clients and no savings in the bank when she made the leap. But her entrepreneurial spirit beckoned&emdash;and so did her heart. Taber’s primary motivation for leaving the job was to spend more time with her two sons.
I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit . . . but I also have an unrelenting commitment to work/life balance. I like having what I do for a living be flexible so I can spend time with my family, says Taber.
She’s talked with other women who’ve made similar choices to leave 9-to-5 jobs and start their own businesses.
Almost all of them say it’s the best thing they ever did, says Taber.
Signs It’s Time To Look for a New Job
â€¢ You’re bored.
â€¢ You dread going to work.
â€¢ You feel unchallenged.
â€¢ You crave more work/life balance.
â€¢ Your work performance is lackluster.
â€¢ Your work is not being recognized.
â€¢ You feel drained at the end of the day.
â€¢ Your workplace is experiencing turmoil.
â€¢ You need more money or are earning below market rate.
Looking for a Job
When you launch a job search, open your mind to new possibilities. Do some soul-searching. And try not to settle for a job that doesn’t really interest you.
So says Davis-based career consultant Andrea Weiss.
You could get another job, notes Weiss. But soon after you get it, a lot of the same key issues could come up.
Weiss advises making a list of the skills you hope to use at your new job and of jobs you’ve always dreamed of doing. A skills-assessment test could help, she adds.
Know the job market, says Weiss. Look at career websites and newspaper want ads and read business articles about hot jobs. Do informational interviews and job shadows.
But most importantly, network, network, network.
Two-thirds of all jobs are found through networking, says Weiss. Cast your net wide to friends, family, colleagues, professional associations&emdash;everyone you come in contact with.
When it comes to finding a new job, Davis-based career consultant Constance Stevens says you need to be open to career serendipity. That’s means doing things outside your comfort zone&emdash;taking a class or pursuing a hobby&emdash;that seemingly have nothing to do with your job search. You may be surprised what comes of it. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon a new idea for a job or meet someone who knows a person who’s looking for someone just like you.
Networking, doing informational interviews, taking classes, letting people know that you are in a career transition, going to conferences and professional meetings, joining a listserv&emdash;all these things increase your career serendipity, says Stevens.You meet people, [and that] increases your chance of being in the right place at the right time.
Weiss says you should modify your rsum every time you apply for a job. With a computer, it’s very easy to change your rsum to highlight a specific skill set.
To prepare for job interviews, Weiss recommends videotaping yourself in a mock interview. That way, you can spot undesirable speech patterns or movement tics to avoid. Also consider practicing a three-minute presentation describing yourself and the job you’re looking for, so when you do go for that interview, you have a template to fall back on.
Finally, create a network of fellow job seekers. Meeting regularly to walk or go have coffee helps cut down on the aloneness of a job search, she says.
It’s a major emotional roller coaster, says Weiss. Avoid seeing the negative people in your life.
Dressed for Success
Is it OK to wear a spaghetti-strap sundress to the office? The short answer? No. The long answer? Also no&emdash;most of the time. You might get away with it if you wear a professional-looking jacket over the dress or a shirt under the dress.
According to Stephanie Cumberland, a Sacramento-based image consultant who runs a company called presenting YOU, some workplaces allow casual attire. But sexy, revealing clothing is never appropriate on the job, she says.
So how should you dress for the office? The key to a good wardrobe is classic, basic pieces, says Cumberland. If you buy what’s in fashion at the time, it may not be in fashion next year.
Here are some classics that Cumberland says every woman should have in her wardrobe:
â€¢ A suit with matching jacket and trousers. A suit makes you look pulled together, says Cumberland, and allows you to create multiple looks. You can wear the pants with or without the jacket, and you can wear the jacket with other skirts or pants. Pick a suit in a solid, neutral color: black, brown, gray or navy. Pinstripes are sharp and slimming.
â€¢ An A-line or pencil skirt that falls just above or below the knee.
â€¢ A white button-down shirt with a collar. You could be a size 0 or a size 30 and still look good in it, she recommends. It should have princess seams in the front, and it should be crisp and clean. It means business.
â€¢ A knit twin set.
â€¢ A little black dress.
â€¢ Slingback shoes. Slingbacks are great for Sacramento, says Cumberland. It’s a very classic shoe that serves many purposes. You can wear it in the summer and winter.
â€¢ Supportive, correct-fitting undergarments. It doesn’t do any good to wear great clothes and not have a supportive bra or to show panty lines in the back, Cumberland advises.
â€¢ Accessories such as scarves, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Accessories refresh your clothes, she says.