Career Guru: Once a week we hope to field queries from those of you in the Seattle area who need advice about your careers. Whether it’s landing a job, navigating office politics, or something entirely random – shoot it my way. Suggestions can be either posted in this site’s comment section or sent directly to me via [email protected] If I don’t know an answer I’ll find someone who does. Readers are also encouraged to comment if they have had an experience that they think might be helpful.
Dear Career Guru,
I am upset after being totally embarrassed when the office manager came up to me and said that I was inappropriately dressed. She even said I looked cheap. I work at a fairly large company that just hired me as a temp and I was hoping it would turn into a full time position. Now I am mortified. I was told that the dress was casual and so I wore my normal casual clothes; a cute little skirt and tank top that said, “ 99% Angel” on the front. I don’t want to dress like the other women here as they all look terrible. They wear baggy clothes, and their hair looks like a wreck. How can I dress in a way that keeps my personality and how do I redeem the situation?
What you apparently didn’t realize is that business casual is a uniform nearly as consistent as the business suit. It is, perhaps, a little more variable for women than for men but the result should be clean, neat, and professional. What is definitely not appropriate is anything-goes comfort including untidy, ill fitting or sexually revealing or suggestive attire. For men, this usually means well pressed slacks and either a dress or polo shirt. For women it can mean either slacks or a skirt which comes no further than the top of the knee. Shirts or blouses should never show cleavage and never have sayings on the front, cute or otherwise.
The goal here is to dress appropriately for the industry, the individual company, and your profession. The outside world has little chance to figure out who you really are on the inside so what you wear on the outside becomes a quick reference. Creative careers allow for more sartorial latitude, but the impression most people want to convey in a professional environment is one of orderliness, attention to the business at hand, and concern about the people you work with in terms of what they think and feel.
I would thank the person at your job who clued you in and then, ignoring the sloppy appearance of the other women there, dress for your future.
Dear Career Guru:
I am graduating at the end of this summer after completing one last class. A number of my friends are opting to go for a second degree. I will be getting a BA in business management and can’t decide what I should be doing next. Would you recommend that I go on to get my MBA, or take my chances in this job market?
-All Dressed Up And Wondering Where To Go
Dear Dressed up,
I can’t answer that question for you but I can help you sort through some of the issues involved.
Companies don’t necessarily retain the talent they should because of the increasing costs associated with longer term employees; pay raises etc . Instead they often bring in younger, cheaper talent which might make the market more available to you as a young, and relatively inexpensive person for them to hire right out of school.
However, some people have gotten commitment letters from their prospective employers only to be offered a contract buyout before they even begin. Law firms are among those who have promised jobs to kids just out of school only to then discover that they can’t afford them. In that event you might think you have a job commitment when none actually exists.
If you went for it on your own, you might increase the cost of your debt with no guarantee that you will get a good enough job to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time. However, an advanced degree would better position you vis-a-vis the competition for a number of positions. Also, you could get a job now and go back to school later. Lots of people take a year off before returning for another two year stint. That way you will have time to sort things out in your head, and explore your options on the career front.
In addition, you don’t say what your financial resources are but there are companies out there who would pay for your tuition if you pursued an MBA while working for them. The only caveat is that they would expect you to commit yourself to the company for a couple of years after you concluded your degree.
Dear Career Guru:
I am an independent Capital Finance, and Mergers and Acquisition consultant in the Seattle area. I recently made a pitch to the investment banking department of a stock brokerage firm for a couple of my client companies who were looking for additional financing. I was invited to present the companies during a dinner meeting with the head of the department. It turned into the meeting from hell. The banker started talking about his wife, and how she was beautiful but cold. Please note that I am a woman. His speech degenerated from there into what turned out to be repeated solicitations for me to engage in an affair with him. I kept trying to salvage the situation because I wanted to successfully pitch my companies, but he became so pushy that I ended up having to hit him over the head with my umbrella. This brokerage would be perfect for my current clients and, I can imagine, others going forward. What should I do?
-No Pay for Play
This is tricky because you are not employed by him so you can’t go the sex discrimination or harassment route, and you still want to do business with his brokerage so, no doubt, you will have to deal with him again. You need to ask yourself how much you are willing to put up with in order to conduct business with that brokerage. Obviously, opportunity for your clients should never compromise your personal integrity.
There is some hope that he will feel remorse at his behavior. You didn’t say if alcohol was involved. Call and confront him while he is at work, expressing your objection to his behavior as well as your willingness to continue to do business with him as long as he never acts like that again. I would document this and all other conversations with him in writing as well as document the original incident including as much detail as possible. Never agree to meet with him alone outside the office. If he continues to harass you, explain that his behavior might interest both his boss and his wife.