Career tips from a workin' mama
All things being perfect, equal-opportunity workplaces would really be equal opportunity, regardless of race or gender. But the world's not a perfect place.
I had an opportunity today to speak on a public relations panel to a group of students in a class that I was in myself about eight years ago, and it started me thinking how much I really love my job as a communication specialist in media relations at the very university and in the very college where I received my undergraduate degree.
In many ways, it's my dream job. I've wanted to work at the university since I started my career full-time in 2007. But I've done a lot in the meantime to get me where I am today. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about getting this job is that I compiled and submitted cover letter and a portfolio of professional clips the very week Noah was born and interviewed about two weeks later. Looking back, I'm amazed that I was able to pull that off! It's also a great, family friendly workplace that's very supportive of women in leadership.
So from my perspective as a working mom who has sort of moved up through the ranks in media/writing jobs, I wanted to offer some advice to other women (especially you working mamas) who are looking to excel in the workplace.
- Everyone has to start somewhere, even you. Being a woman shouldn't be detrimental to your career, but it doesn't entitle you to an automatic step up, either. I started my career with an undergraduate degree and some graduate classes under my belt working at a daily newspaper for $10/hour. The hours were crappy (mostly night hours), and the pay was terrible for someone with a college degree. I lived at home with my parents.
- Even if you have a kind of crappy or low-paying job, make the most of it. I'd definitely say I earned my $10/hour at that newspaper job. I was required to write two or three articles per day and take the occasional photo. By the time I left that job, I was writing those articles, copy editing other writers' and editors' work and laying out the news section several nights per week.
- When you've gotten what you can out of the crap job, move on. Don't be afraid to look for something new. Don't even necessarily listen to those people that tell you to have at least two years experience under your belt before you move on to bigger and better things. I left that first job after 10 months, but I left with years-worth of experience.
- When you move on to the next job, don't kick your heels up and think you have it made. Unless, of course, you somehow manage to get your dream job with that little experience. Not going to happen for many people. You have to continue working hard, going above and beyond what's required of you, gaining the skills and experience that will get you the job you eventually want to get.
- Be prepared, at some point, to put in several years in one place. This was the second job for me. Moving up is good, but job hopping is not. Potential employers will see you as wishy-washy and not dependable.
- Put your social skills to work and network, network, network. Something that has been really helpful to me is being a part of professional organizations, attending events and making connections and also maintaining good relationships with fellow employees (and even previous fellow employees). You never know when you may have to call on one of these people for a reference, and the more people you know, the more likely you are to have someone who will actually get you a job.
- Bide your time, and when that dream job becomes available, go for it. For me, this was after three years of working as a managing editor for a trucking magazine. Not ideal, and a pretty male-dominated industry, but incredible experience. The media relations job happened to become available just weeks before I was preparing to go on maternity leave, but it was a job I'd applied for before, when I had less experience. I had known then that I would apply again if I ever had the opportunity. So I took a chance, and it paid off.
- Don't be afraid to tout your accomplishments. Seriously. Learn how to write a resume that accurately reflects what you've done. Know how to brag on yourself in a cover letter. I think women can sometimes be discouraged from putting that type of stuff out there; they're supposed to downplay it, give credit to others, be a team player. Bullshit. If you singlehandedly came up with a program that saved your organization $50,000, then say it. If you started the first social media accounts for any magazine owned by your company (which is something I did), then say it. The same thing is true for interviews. Learn to be comfortable talking about your accomplishments.
- Learn how to judge when to leave your personal life at the door and when to bring it to the table. Some people couldn't care less about little Timmy's baseball game or Janet's first tooth. Others love for you to know their kids' names and will also ask about yours. It's a fine balance and one that takes practice, but it's certainly a skill worth honing.
- Don't let anyone walk over you, including other women. You don't have to be a bitch who's always got one eye out for someone trying to stab you in the back. But don't be a doormat, either.
- Find a supportive network of other working moms. It really is a big help. I love my online mom friends, specifically ones on Twitter and the ladies from Liberating Working Moms.
- Seek balance. Don't ever let yourself feel so pushed to succeed, to be everything to everybody, to prove that a woman can do that job that you neglect your family and your little ones. Even the dream job isn't worth that.
Edited to add: I just wanted to be clear, in hindsight, that the opening statement of this post was speaking in general and wasn't aimed at any particular organization or company.
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