Get Out of the Office
When it comes out that a “normal” woman has spent an absurd amount of money on laser eyelid resurfacing or something, people are often derisive. She’s vain, spoiled, frivolous. (I don’t think this, mind you. I think that if you earn your own money, you should feel free to spend it as you please, such as by creating jobs in the eyelash-extension industry). But when a celebrity does this — for instance, when Cyndi Lauper is photographed living the aftermath of what looks very much like a chemical peel — the same people often leap to the celeb’s defense, noting that “In her industry, you have to do that stuff.”
Similarly, when you are an employee, it’s all about wearing neutrals and looking sharp without standing out. (If you’re in sales, you have license to turn it up — once I noticed my real estate broker’s implants, I couldn’t unnotice them, and neither could any man on Wall Street. She did fine, plenty fine.) In many work environments, employees are expected to blend in because they take a backseat to the company and its products. But if you are an entrepreneur or freelancer, you are both worker and product. You can be a total hottie or fashionista: everyone understands that you need to advertise.
Your entrepreneurial drive is probably strongest when you’re young, and it’s much easier to take risks when you don’t own anything big and don’t have kids. Balls-out, ladies.
Develop an Undeniable Work Portfolio
I wrote about the idea of a work “portfolio” in How to Win When the Workplace Runs on Feelings:
Even better than a resume, create a work “portfolio,” especially if you are young and have only one real job on your resume. Give every project, initiative, marketing campaign, etc., that you work on its own page or Powerpoint slide in this portfolio. A resume with one job on it makes you look like someone a new employer doesn’t have to pay that much. A woman with twenty pages of easy-to-browse documentation of twenty projects she worked on in that job is a force to be reckoned with. Quantify everything.
Resumes are necessary, and you should update yours every few weeks, and possibly keep several versions around for different types of opportunities. A resume is also is kind of a test of whether you bothered to research the rules for writing resumes and whether you’re conscientious enough to have bothered to tailor yours to the particular position being offered. But resumes are also a bit of a holdover from the pre-Internet era, when people actually fretted over what type of paper to print said resumes on (they actually sold “resume paper” and “resume envelopes” at Staples) and whether it was unprofessional to use “Love” or Christmas stamps.
The idea that you should pitch yourself for a job based on one page of plain text is quite silly, especially when it’s entirely likely that the hiring manager is just going to Google you or look you up on Facebook anyway. It is bizarre to send a resume over the internet without actually using the internet to better express the information on the resume, such as via your portfolio website.
A portfolio website should have a simple domain name like yourname.com (stick a middle name in there if you have to) and should contain a businesslike headshot of you (anyone can look nice in one photo — incidentally, standing in a park is way less cheesy than the arms-folded, white-background shots real estate agents use in the ads they post on benches). Keep it staid — it shouldn’t be so aggressive that it looks to a current employer as though you’ll be jumping ship any minute. Such a site should contain a few helpful and informative blog posts about developments in your industry (I think putting up the first three posts and then posting even as little as once a month is fine), and any articles you’ve published elsewhere, or actual samples or photographs of whatever kind of work it is that you do. It’s very easy to offer your writing to someone who will publish it if you don’t expect to get paid (for instance, I wrote this for a website about college and graduate school admissions). Or, simply publish a whitepaper (“print to PDF” is an excellent feature) and announce its presence to the world. I wrote this around 2002 (!) and I’ve left it online just as a sort of writing portfolio piece. Yet, people keep finding it; it made its way into a business school course reader one time, and one of my GMAT students used it in a presentation in 2010. People lose their shit over whitepapers.
What does this have to do with appearances? Whether you’re so hot you must be guarded by eunuchs, or whether you fear you are less attractive than would be ideal, having your name on a whitepaper kind of trumps all that. Even on Mad Men, where almost all of the women in the office are secretaries and the women not beautiful enough to be secretaries are relegated to working the phones in a windowless back room, there has been exactly one successful-yet-not-terribly-attractive woman, in Season One: Dr. Greta Guttman, Sterling Cooper’s “our man in research.” She is German, she has a Ph.D., and everything she does is quantifiable and exists in weighty research reports.
If you are currently twenty-four and floating along on a rose-petal-lined path of male attention and general goodwill, enjoy it! But realize that you’re probably getting “extra credit” fairly regularly, and will have to do 110-200% as well later, when you no longer get that automatic extra credit. Thinking now about the future will give you plenty of time to make the transition into thriving without such a pretty face making your first impressions.