Tips for Career Success from A to Z

Make every day at work a red-letter day thanks to these winning tips from recruiters, HR pros, fashion experts, and some real moms who are just generally killing it on the job.

A: Ambition

If you want a new gig, promotion or transfer, “think of ambition as a verb, not a noun,” says LT Ladino Bryson, founder of vCandidates.com, which connects candidates to recruiters. “Use that mind-set as fuel to get to your goal.” Women can face barriers men don’t, such as exclusion from formal networks and a lack of role models. To overcome roadblocks: 

Show off your success. “Share your wins on social media,” she says. “It’s not bragging, it’s displaying your brilliance.” And it could get you noticed by a potential mentor or invited into a network.

Avoid asking for permission. “Women tend to wait for approval from others to move forward,” she says. Action is the antidote to not being noticed.

Trust your gut. Set the goal, then go out and knock on every door until you find someone to listen to your vision.

RELATED: 

B: Blazer

successful career woman

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

If there’s a single garment that clearly conveys “boss lady,” it’s a blazer. And choosing one in a bold pattern or statement color is an easy way to give your neutral staples a lift. A cut that hits right below your hip works well with a skirt, dress or pants.

Own it:

C: Chiming In

Speak up in meetings. Sure, between their mansplaining and your self-doubt, it’s easy to lose your voice, but try this confidence-building technique: “Before the meeting, prepare your key points , then mentally commit to not letting others talk over you,” says Alexandra Levit, author of Humanity Works: Merging Technologies and People for the Workforce of the Future.

D: Desk Drawer 

organized desk drawer at work

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

After working on a company’s initial public offering for 26 hours straight, attorney Melissa Sayer, a mom of two and owner of Matilija Law Inc. in Ventura, CA, made a list of essentials every woman  needs in her desk drawer. Maintain your game face with these little lifesavers: 

  • A change of clothes
  • Nude pantyhose
  • Nail file
  • Tide Detergent Pen
  • Static Guard
  • Personal wipes
  • Tampons and pads
  • Cell phone charger 
  • Contact lens solution
  • Dry shampoo
  • Pain reliever
  • Lint roller
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant

E: Efficiency 

Urgency trumps ease. While it can be tempting to tackle easy tasks first, always knock out the most critical tasks early, says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out. Further boost your productivity by answering these questions:

How could I make this easier?
Would crafting a few talking points (not a 20-page PowerPoint) suffice?

Which tasks would go more smoothly if I had more info or resources?
Reach out to get them and move on to the next task. 

Could someone else do this faster, better or well enough?
If so, delegate.

F: Flexwork 

If you want to ask the boss whether you can be among the 75% of adults who have at least a little flexibility in work hours, use this script from Kathryn Sollmann, author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead.

Boss Says:
“If I let you do it, then I’ll have to let everyone do it.”

You Say:
“I’m glad you’d consider how flexwork can benefit everyone. What if we had core hours, say, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., that we all agree to be available?”

Boss Says:
“If you’re home, how will that foster collaboration?”

You Say:
“I’ll be in the office part-time, and we can use Teamwork and Skype.” 

G: Get Hired Now! 

More than 80% of  North Carolina career coach Ericka Spradley’s clients get offers. Here’s her strategy for success.   

Align
Create two columns. On the left, jot down the responsibilities required for the role; on the right, note your relevant qualifications. “Compare how your expertise aligns with the employer’s needs,” she says. Where there are gaps, consider how your other skills could help the company, and reposition them.

Define
Write an impressive and specific example of how you killed it at work next to each responsibility.

Refine
Review your examples to ensure they don’t sound rehearsed and that you haven’t overshadowed your experience by overusing the word we. “Employers want to know about you,” she says.

H: Heels

shoes to wear to work

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

Comfy ones, of course!

Walking on tiptoe all day is a tall order—but not impossible. Look for shoes that have cushioning and flexibility.

Own it: 

I: Interviewing 

When you want to get important insight during an interview, Kyle Bruss of  Talent Plus Inc., an HR firm, says to ask these questions:

  • What is the company’s three-to-five-year strategy?
  • What can you tell me about your most successful employees?
  • How would you define the company’s culture?
  • What type of candidates excel and falter in relation to it?
  • What are keys to success for this job in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  • What, if anything, in my background gives you pause?

RELATED: How to Ace Your Next Job Interview

J: Jeans

If you have the luxury of being able to wear jeans to work, go with either, a skinny or trouser jean in a dark navy or black wash. Keep the distressed jeans, torn knees and bedazzled pockets for weekend wear. 

K: Know-How (in social media)

What’s OK

  • Following above your pay grade on Twitter 
  • Unfriending someone if things go south
  • Filtering your more private posts if colleagues follow you
  • Declining your boss’s friend request

What’s Not OK

  • Accepting one coworker’s friend request but not another’s
  • Having heated political arguments on social
  • Sharing images that can be viewed as explicit
  • Posting negative mentions of your job, coworkers or company

RELATED: Balancing Work and Social Media Relationships

L: Loyalty

Deciding whether to stay or go boils down to three questions about your current job: 

  • Are there new roles, opportunities or projects to explore?
  • Does the work jibe with your values?
  • Are you still excited about the work?

If you have even one “no,” it’s time to consider an exit strategy.

M: Mentor

Not sure what to ask a mentor? Whip out these questions at your next meeting, says Jo Miller, CEO of Be Leaderly, a women’s leadership development and consulting firm. 

RELATED: How to Find a Mentor

  • What do you wish you had known before your last promotion? 
  • How do others in the office perceive me? In other words, what’s my personal brand at work?
  • How can I get better at influencing colleagues who don’t report to me? 
  • My manager wants me to be more strategic but can’t clearly articulate what that means. How can I get clarification? 
  • What is your best advice for re-energizing a burned-out team?

N: No Cleavage

successful career woman working on laptop

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

Save on your dry cleaning bill: You can hand-wash this cozy wrap. naadam.co, $99

You’re giving a PowerPoint presentation—not a peep show. Untuckit makes work shirts that keep you covered: Their Carlina blouse has seven strategically placed buttons (instead of the traditional six) to prevent gaping. untuckit.com, $98

O: Open Seating 

To get it out in the open, a few key etiquette rules apply:

  • No Facetime, speakerphone or excessively messy desk.
  • Definitely don’t be that coworker with the “funny” ringtone (old-time car horn!) that goes off because you forgot to silence your phone.
  • Be considerate. “Don’t look over your shoulder at your officemate’s work,” says Leah Leahy, senior account executive at HEARD Strategy in Worcester, MA. “No one wants you spying on their emails.”
  • Finally, leave the 20-minute conversations for lunchtime and set up time to talk with coworkers on Slack rather than hovering over their cube. One big do: noise-canceling headphones.

P: Pants 

The search for the perfect pair is over: Find flattering styles, cuts and inclusive sizing at J.Jill, NYDJ, Eileen Fisher, and Express.

Q: Quick Responses

These days, not being at your desk is no excuse for not replying to an email, Slack or meeting invite. “It’s imperative to respond promptly to requests, questions or the needs of our teams,” says vCandidate.com’s Ladino Bryson. “Otherwise, you will likely hinder their productivity.” Send a thumbs-up emoji via Slack, message “Got it!” via email or take a minute to send a clear, thoughtful answer when the matter is time-sensitive. Need to gather intel? Say so and alert the team on when to expect your follow-up. 

R: Résumé

woman holding resume

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

Check out the three additions your CV needs ASAP:

A Summary of Qualifications
“It offers recruiters a quick way to see your skills or experience without reading the entire résumé,” says Dawn D. Boyer, a career consultant in the Virginia Beach area. 

Some Keywords
Sixty-two percent of employers who use applicant tracking software admit that some qualified candidates are filtered out of the vetting process by mistake. Try to beat those odds by using critical terminology—lifted from the job description itself—to help avoid being filtered out.

Your LinkedIn Handle
Your profile should match your résumé 100% because some companies will disqualify a candidate if they see any discrepancies. Other social media handles, unless used professionally, are not advisable because an old post (um, girls’ night out!) could come back to haunt you.

S: Schlepping

purses for successful career women

Photo by Joyce Lee

Photo by Joyce Lee

Whether you’re commuting, traveling or just toting around your day-to-day necessities (you know, phone, tablet, sneakers, banana for a snack), you need a bag that will keep you organized.Here’s a selection of the lightest-yet-roomiest multitaskers under $200. 

Own it:

T: The Third Door

Entering the third door in the workplace means doing what no one else does to garner results no one else gets. “Successful people treat life and business like a nightclub,” says Alex Banayan, author of The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers. The first door is the main entrance, where the line curves around the block. The second is for VIPs. “But the third door is where you run down the alley, crack open the window or sneak through the kitchen,” he says. That means pitching the CEO in the elevator or asking for an assignment that could lead to a promotion.

U: Upgrade Your Compensation

Whether you’re gunning for a raise or starting a new job, do this:

Never accept the first offer.
It’s easy to think that the initial offer is acceptable, but HR has a salary range and will start at the minimum with the understanding that you will negotiate.

Approach pay like a puzzle.
Think of a negotiation as problem solving, not a battle. What will it take to make both parties agreeable?

Come with facts and figures.
Demonstrate how the scope of your role has changed and quantify the increase in your workload,” says Sarah Sheehan, an HR expert and cofounder of Bravely, a career coaching platform. Show how you’ve delivered results with solid data, like increased revenue or customers added to the company. 

Think beyond cash.
“Maybe you need a better technology platform, increased administrative support system or a larger budget,” says Margaret A. Neale, author of Getting (More of) What You Want: How the Secrets of Economics and Psychology Can Help You Negotiate Anything, in Business and in Life. “Always look at your compensation in terms of a package—not just salary.” Be creative and be willing to accept resources (extra vacation) or policy changes (flextime) you need to get the job done successfully as an alternative to cash in hand. 

V: Volunteer 

“If you fundraised for the PTA, it shows you have leadership, marketing and organizational skills,” says Lynda Spiegel, founder of Rising Star Resumes. Plus, it gives the recruiter a fuller picture of who you are. 

W: Warm Up

If your office is freezing, invest in a silk or cashmere-blend wrap that’s a neutral color so that it matches any outfit you’re wearing.

X: X-ray (the corporate culture)

Take tips from John Arthur, author of Manage Your New Career, on how to ID your  company’s values.
 
Study the culture.
At some firms, it’s OK to arrive a little late sometimes. At others, even a minute late is a big no-no.
 
Socialize...a little.
If you always RSVP “no,” you won’t know your coworkers as well, which could impact your place on the team.
 
Ditch the drama.
When going through a rough patch—illness, marriage trouble—tell your boss, but don’t let it distract you from your job.

Y: Yourself 

Keep part of each day sacred for restorative moments—an early morning run, time to read a novel. “For a long time, I didn’t paint, but it was always on my mind,” says mom and Silicon Valley business owner Krista Skehan. After meeting with a life coach, she pulled out her paints again in 2017, and it made a world of difference. “A massage lasts 60 minutes and maybe lingers the rest of the day, but painting haunts me in a good way,” she says. When a work challenge arises, she pauses and thinks about that next brushstroke on the canvas. “I feel more in control of my wishes, which sets me up for a happier environment.”

RELATED: Why You Should Make Time for Painting

Z: Zipping Your Lips!

Margaret showed up 10 minutes late? Unless your job requires you to take attendance, leave it be! “If too much time is spent gossiping, productivity and morale are compromised,” says Leah Leahy, senior account executive at HEARD Strategy in Worcester, MA.