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Seven First-Job Tips for Women

Twenty-three-year-old Hannah Seligson describes her first full time job as a nightmare. After graduating with a degree in political science from Brown University in 2004, she moved to New York City to work for a firm which develops communications strategies based upon public opinion surveys. Faced with a demeaning boss and leering older male colleagues, she lasted in the position for less than a year.

"There were so many things I wasn’t prepared for," Seligson said. After comparing notes with friends and realizing they faced similar challenges in their first jobs, she decided to write a book to tell young women what she wished she’d known before entering the workforce.

"It’s a neglected issue, because young women’s pay is often equal to that of young men, and at this age we’re not hitting our heads on the glass ceiling or trying to balance our careers with our families, so on the surface things are equal," she said. "But young women really do have very different experiences than young men in the workplace."

"New Girl on the Job" will be published by Citadel Press next spring, based upon interviews with young working women across the country.

In a YOUNG MONEY exclusive, Seligson shared some of her tips for "new girls on the job":

1. Grow Thick Skin

When Seligson started working for her female boss, "I expected her to be my best friend," she laughed. Seligson believes it’s crucial for young women to realize that their relationships with female colleagues will not mirror their friendships. "Don’t personalize things and get upset," she said. Instead, she said, use criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve.

2. Clarify Expectations

"Ambiguity is the nexus of so many problems in the workplace," Seligson warned. In her first job, she and her boss didn’t check in frequently enough, and as a result she did not realize that a project she was working on was not what her boss was looking for until she had already devoted several weeks of work to it. Seligson emphasizes the importance of requesting a detailed job description and asking lots of questions, to build a strong foundation of shared expectations.

3. Be Assertive

"In school, you can put your head down and do your work," Seligson said. "But on the job, you must put yourself out there to get ahead." Seligson believes that entry level jobs offer prime opportunities to gain an understanding of the larger picture in an organization and offer up creative ideas. "Have confidence," Seligson advises, "even if you have to fake it."

4. Be Willing to Fail

"Give up trying to be perfect," Seligson warns. She believes fear of failure prevents many young women from taking risks in their jobs and careers. "Boys grow up playing sports where they …get knocked down and get kicked right back up," she said. "Girls have to learn to be willing to fail, because otherwise they won’t ever take risks."

5. Negotiate Your Salary

Seligson cites findings by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever which indicate that women who don’t negotiate their starting salaries lose out on more than half a million dollars over the course of their lifetimes as a result of incremental raises. "Negotiate with whatever tools you have," Seligson, whose company agreed to pay her moving expenses, said.

6. Don’t Get ‘Assistant-ized’

Assistant positions can be great ways to break into a company or an industry, but Seligson warns to be careful not to get stuck in support roles. "If you’re in the position for two or more years and that’s not the norm of your industry, you need to sit down and work out a strategy with your boss," she said. Be upfront about the fact that you see the position as transitional, and lay out a plan for a move up.

7. Bring the Next Woman Along

Seligson was surprised – and distressed – to discover that women often work against each other in the workforce. "There always has to be a certain amount of goodwill between people to make things work," she said. Beyond that, she proposes, "keep in the back of your mind what the collective power of women could achieve if we all worked together."


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