A conversation with… “New Girl on the Job” author Hannah Seligson

June 1, 2007, 6:57 PM UTC
Fortune

Today, another new Friday featurette — “Conversations” — which will give us a chance to profile and hear from someone interesting. We’ll do audio for each of these as well, but I should warn you that I’m new to that aspect of blogging, so I can’t promise award-winning radio (or anything close!) anytime soon. While I’m learning, though, it should be good for a few laughs :o). And guys, I know we’ve been heavy on the women of late, but this might be good reading for you, too, if you’re going for that sensitive co-worker look. Hope you enjoy, and suggestions for future conversations are more than welcome. Have a great weekend!

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Some people get fired and take off to Fiji. Some fall apart and go on benders. And some are like Hannah Seligson, who after getting fired from her first job out of school — a plum consulting gig she only kept for nine months — was inspired to begin writing a book about it. But New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches (published this week on Citadel Press) isn’t just another snarky, tell-all tale of Gen Y corporate woe.

Instead, the 24-year-old Brown graduate used her journalism chops to assemble the stories of more than 100 other Gen Y women in the midst of climbing the ladder themselves, and combined them with sage advice from women who’ve already been wildly successful — including Bobbi Brown Cosmetics founder Bobbi Brown, CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien, and Women for Hire CEO Tory Johnson — into a primer for young women with corporate aspirations.

And the lessons are many. While young people in general often have a tough time transitioning from college or home life into their first jobs, Seligson says, young women face some unique challenges. They’re more likely to become “assistant-ized,” for instance, where they’re given heavily administrative roles and languish in them for much longer than normal or necessary.

And because they can sometimes be more soft-spoken in the workplace, they are also more likely to be given the doormat treatment by their bosses. This can quickly lead to what Seligson calls “work martyrdom,” where young women find themselves working far longer hours than they need to or doing extraneous work simply for the sake of doing it.

As easy as it is to fall into these traps, finding good mentors can help young women avoid or escape them. But that’s just the first step to building the career you want. “Change is spawned by a movement,” Seligson says. “Sometimes we have a sense as Gen Y women that we’ve arrived, but we can’t let academic parity make us believe that there’s workplace parity. We haven’t arrived. But that’s why setting a precedent of success early on, in the formative years of your career, is critical.”

To that end, Seligson shared some of her best tips for the “new girl”:

  • Map out a career plan. Find a career, not a job. This means thinking about your interests and talents, and building a career around them, because you’re far more likely to be good at something you like. And it’s all about taking a long-term view: Imagine where you’d like to be five years from now, and work backwards from there.
  • Negotiate your salary. According to an American Association of University Women study, women one year out of college make 80% of what their male peers do, so that inequity sets in from the first day on the job. That’s why you’ve got to negotiate from the very beginning — even if it’s just for extra vacation time or other perks. If you don’t, you stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career.
  • Modulate your expectations. Anything worthwhile takes a long time. You never fly as high as fast as you think you should or want to, but that’s okay, because it’s a learning process. You may think you can do your boss’s job and do it better, but she’s been doing it for 15 years. So learn from your bosses and relish those experiences.
  • Build your team. No one does it alone, or with just one person helping her. You need a board of advisors — a wide range of people who can help you develop professionally. Go to them with specific requests and objectives in mind to make the most of those relationships.
  • Manage laterally and down, as well as up. We always talk about managing up, but it’s also crucial to manage people at your own level. Every employee should have peers on his or her side, but for women it’s especially important because we’re often already working against a boys’ club mentality. And as the average job tenure gets shorter, we’re all going to be job-hopping and in need of a broad network of people with their ears to the ground, so cultivating those relationships is major.

For more from Hannah Seligson, check out her site and her work on the Huffington Post. And listen to my recent interview with her here.