8 Tips for Women Entering the Workforce

August 26, 2014

Christina Knowles

Today is Women's Equality Day! To celebrate, Christina Knowles, Executive Director at the Boston Women's Workforce Council gave us her best tips for young women entering the workforce.

The following post was contributed by Executive Director of the Boston Women's Workforce Council, Christina Knowles.

When I was asked to give career advice for young women entering the workforce, the first thought that popped into my mind was to use this opportunity to tell you how critical it is that you negotiate for your compensation package. As the Executive Director of the Boston Women's Workforce Council, my entire job is to close the gender-based wage gap and eliminate the visible and invisible barriers that prevent women from advancing in the workplace; it is a given that I'd counsel you to ensure you're being compensated fairly and at the same rate as your male counterparts.

I quickly realized, however, that while telling you to negotiate your salary is without a doubt the most important piece of advice I can give you, it isn't necessarily the most helpful - because you're already doing it (or preparing to do it). Nowadays, the majority of young professional women are well aware of the wage gap and the importance and how-to of salary negotiation. The same goes for networking and having a mentor, which is why I don't cover that in this post.
Instead, I want to highlight some of the other ways that you can advance and take control of your new career. A big part of my job is ensuring that women are advancing through the leadership ranks in the corporate world; I hope these tips will help you do just that.

I can attest that these tips are practical and effective because I learned by living them. I like these tips because, unlike networking and salary negotiations, they don't have many external variables - you are in control.

1. Dress For the Job You Want, Not the Job You Have

I cannot overstress how important this is, and that's why it's the very first tip.

Regardless of how biased and unfair it is (and it is both), how you present yourself sends a message to the world about your professionalism, authority, competency and ambition. You must put some careful thought into your appearance and make sure it conveys the message you want it to.

Presentation is particularly important for young women. Ensuring you're presenting an image of capability and professionalism helps to counteract any conscious and unconscious sexism and ageism that occurs. It also shows that you have good judgement and you know what is appropriate and have higher aspirations - which is exactly what employers want to see when they are looking to hire or promote someone.

Bonus tip: If you're an entry-level staffer but dress like an executive, you're providing a visual indication of your skill level and ambition.

2. Be Open Minded

It's great if you know exactly what aspect of a field you want to go into or have a specific job path in mind. But always be open to trying something new, especially as you start your career.

Before coming on board with the Council, I spent my entire career working on women's issues through electoral politics and legislative affairs. I never in a million years would have thought I'd be working with corporate America!

It goes to show that you never know what might come down the pipeline. You don't want to miss an incredible opportunity simply because it isn't directly in line with your planned career path.

3. Be Fast and Loose With Your Thank Yous and Praise

It (hopefully) goes without saying that anyone who interviews you, mentors you, or otherwise invests their personal time in your career receives a thank you email AND a handwritten card. I am appalled by how many people skip this step. If you can't be bothered to send a mentor or potential employer a thank you, I question your judgement, values and professionalism.

Bonus tip: Send a thank you email within a few hours of a job interview and let the interviewer know a note is on the way; be sure to write a thank you note before the interview so you can drop it in the mail right after.
Don't reserve your thank yous just for interviews. Take five minutes to write, email or call someone to say thank you or to compliment them on a job well done.

As you climb the ranks, be especially aware of appreciating and praising entry-level and support staff, who often have difficult jobs and are overlooked and under appreciated. If the office manager helped you with a particularly difficult request or an intern rocked a project she helped you with, send her an email with your thanks and praise - and make sure to copy her supervisor.

Not only is saying thank you and giving out (genuine) compliments a kind and mannerly thing to do, but so few people explicitly do this that you will make a fantastic and lasting impression and create an abundance of goodwill.

4. Find a Cause or Organization and Get Involved

This is my number one tip for recent graduates: whether you're passionate about raising money for the local animal shelter, protecting reproductive rights, or bringing bike lanes to your community, find something you care about and get involved!

Whatever you're interested in, there's a way to be involved and build your resume - see if you can sit on an organization's Board of Directors, be on the host committee for a fundraiser, offer grant writing skill pro bono, help a small business or non-profit with their accounting needs or manage a cause's social media.

Volunteering in an official capacity on a regular basis pads your resume in a big way: you'll finesse and expand your skill set, diversify your network, and broaden you knowledge base. Plus, it's rewarding to lend your time and expertise to a cause.

5. Get Comfortable with Self Promotion

Most people hate promoting themselves, and women tend to find it particularly distasteful. But if you don't want to make your successes known, no one else is going to. Think of yourself as a brand - you need to market that brand if you want people to buy it!

If you're really anxious about it, start off small by sending out an email to your closest friends and family telling them about a presentation you nailed. Work your way up to forwarding your boss an email where a colleague praised you. You eventually want to get to a place where you're letting your larger network know about your professional successes, whether that's being appointed to a Board of Directors or winning an award.

If you do it in a way that aligns with your personality and where you're expressing true excitement, appreciation, pride or honor of your accomplishment, no one is going to think you're obnoxious. You worked hard for your successes - celebrate them!

6. If You Mess Up, Fess Up

If you make a mistake at work, own up to it. Everyone screws up, and taking responsibility for your mistakes and -this part is key- proactively coming up with a plan to rectify them and prevent them from happening again is the sign of a leader.

7. Own What You Don't Know

People respect and trust you more if you are open about what you don't know. There is nothing wrong with admitting you don't know something and asking for additional information.

If you're asked a question where you're expected to know the answer, don't try to fudge or give potentially incorrect information. It's fine to say you don't have the information at the moment, but that you'll get an answer right away. Then follow up!

8. Be Proactive

When you encounter a tricky situation or identify a problem, always try to propose a solution along with it.

For example, instead of simply informing your boss that the newest fundraising numbers fall short of the goal, you would give her the numbers and a proposed solution. Even if the solution you propose doesn't end up being feasible, it shows you're a problem solver and that you're eager to take your job to the next level.

Contact Christina Knowles and learn more about the Boston Women's Workforce Council.