I know I’ve mentioned this numerous times on the blog and on Twitter and to really anyone who has ever sat down with me for more than five minutes: I love Kate White. She’s one of the women who I am so, so thankful to have had cross paths with.
I definitely knew of Kate White (hello, she’s the former editor in chief of Cosmo!) so when I was asked to work on a project for her at my old job, I was over-the-moon. Well actually, I was over-the-moon and filled with tons of anxiety. It was one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on and it was also one of the most rewarding! All of the communication was over email, but we finally met in person for lunch one day and I was just…. impressed. Major girl crush. Kate White is definitely a “That Girl.”
There’s so much to love about her, but I especially love that Kate White is a major career-woman and majorly committed to helping young women succeed in their own careers. (You have to read her book I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.) As a twenty-something entrepreneur trying to figure out my career as I go, Kate White has been an incredible influence in my life so far.
She asked if she could contribute to College Prepster and of course I said yes. I really love this post she wrote and I think you will too. It’s so spot on:
Since I used to write coverlines for a living, I sometimes still peruse them at the newsstand, and there was one on the September issue of Lucky Magazine that really jumped out: “Who’s That Girl? The Newest Street Style Stars and How to Dress Like Them?” It taps into that craving to be the chick other girls emulate (and yes, even envy) because of her awesome fashion sense.
But though looking fabulously hip is nice, even nicer is being a That Girl in terms of your career. A Career That Girl (CTG) dazzles her boss (or customers/clients in her own business), is constantly buzzed about, and snags major promotions and job opportunities. That kind of success has so many rewards beyond just being stared at by other women. I’m talking about power, autonomy, and money.
I saw many CTGs during my magazine career. They seemed to live by these six rules:
ONE // Think Big and Sticky.
CTGs know how to generate killer ideas, ideas that grab (and hold) people’s attention and make money for the companies they work for (or the companies they’ve started themselves).
Recently a friend of friend’s daughter asked for time on the phone with me in order to pick my brain. She told me she wanted to be a bestselling book author of humorous essays, like David Sedaris. When I asked her what she planned to write about, she said she didn’t know. That’s a pretty classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Your big idea needs to come first.
Feeling stuck in that area? One idea-generating strategy is to ask yourself, “What’s missing?” What void could be filled in your workplace? What problem could be solved? Listen to your gut but be sure to consider what your organization’s needs are, not simply what you’d fancy working on. Then jump in and be the answer.
If you want to make your mark by creating something—whether it’s book or a screenplay or the next Spanx—look for the intersection of the universal with the specific, in other words, aim for a creation that addresses a very particular (and intense) need but also resonates with a fairly large group of people. Spanx had a very specific but broad audience (women who wanted a flat tummy in their sexy dresses). Lena Dunham’s movie, Tiny Furniture, about a girl moving back home after college, is another perfect example. Anyone in a certain age group can totally relate to that film, whether they’ve actually lived at home as a 23-year-old or simply worried they might be forced to.
TWO // Break Rules.
Think for a second about Fashion That Girls. Their fabulous style is often about going against the grain or throwing out the rulebook, i.e. pairing a casual sweatshirt with a fancy skirt or wearing pink in winter. You need to be a rule breaker to make your mark professionally. Break out of the pack by ignoring phrases like “That’s the way we’ve always done it here.”
THREE // Be Bad at Something.
Yes, you read that right. Let me explain. When I was taking part in a program at Harvard Business School this summer, I was lucky enough to be in a class taught by the brilliant professor Frances Frei, who told us that for a business to truly succeed, management must be willing to be stinky at something. This affords them the time and resources to focus on what they want to be good at and known for. It’s really another way of saying: get a clear (personal) brand strategy, focus totally on where you excel, and say no to anything that doesn’t enhance your brand.
A perfect case in point: The College Prepster website. It doesn’t try to be all things to all people.
FOUR // Don’t Care What Anyone Else Thinks.
Remember how That Girls in high school and college seemed to exist in a bubble, unconcerned about what everyone was saying about them. It’s as if they knew how cool they were and no one could make a dent in that.
Well, if you are going to be a CTG, you can’t care either. If you get all tangled up in worrying about being judged, it will make you look needy and unconfident.
The actress Natalie Dormer, one of the stars of Rush, told me that she tackles auditions following the advice an older actor gave her: “Instead of fretting that they are waiting for you to fail, remind yourself that what they’re really hoping for is for you to be the solution their problem.”
So go into meetings and presentations focusing on what you can do for the other players, rather than worrying about yourself. And something else to try? Just plain faking it. Studies show that faking confidence when you’re nervous not only helps you in the moment but also makes you more confident over time.
FIVE // Create the Right Buzz:
There’s always buzz around fashion That Girls and CTGs need it, too. But you’ve got to have a real strategy. Zoe Weisberg Coady, co-founder of the marketing firm Brandstyle Communications, says that it’s essential to always look at the bigger picture so that everything you do on social media, for instance, has meaning. “A good first step is to determine your ‘message’ and be consistent about it,” Coady says. “What do you want to put out there on behalf of yourself? Once that’s figured out, stick with it and continue to go back to that core message with anything you do whether it’s posting a picture on Instagram from a weekend camping or featuring a business article on a start-up you admire on Facebook. When you post things that you truly love, and there’s meaning behind it, you will establish yourself as a credible source.”
Coady stresses that when it comes to social media, it’s not just about putting something out there and waiting for a reply. “Engage with other people and ask provocative questions when you post. Model yourself after brands that are killing it on social media and follow suit.”
SIX // Look the Part.
I know I said that this was about career, not fashion, but the right style can reinforces the notion of you as someone worthy of attention. That means great shoes, bag, coat, separates. Don’t worry about having a lot of stuff. Invest in quality pieces and add when you can afford more.
And just as great businesses have to reinvent themselves at certain points, you may be due for your own reinvention. Just became a boss or launched your own company? Signal that with a new look a la Miley Cyrus. There’s nothing like a stunning new haircut to say you mean business.
PS Don’t forget to order Kate White’s book: I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This and say hello to her on Twitter (@katemwhite)!
PPS Want even more advice from Kate White? We spoke together on a panel!