Category Archives: Career Tips

Crushing Career Dreams…One Student at a Time

One of the most challenging (and most fulfilling) parts of my job is knowing when to inject a career advising session with motivation and inspiration and when to be a little more realistic. See, I work with highly motivated students in two highly competitive fields–STEM and music. These fields are not for the faint of heart–they require an enormous amount of discipline, persistence, intelligence and hard work.

Every semester, I meet with dozens of students who are coming to an thorough understanding of the (sometimes) harsh realities involved in pursuing these types of careers.  It’s one thing to like math and science and be the best in your small high school–it’s quite another to realize that every student around you was also considered the best.  When the passion is still there, but the skill just isn’t (or vice versa) what’s a student to do?

I often walk a fine line in these meetings–see, I too reap the benefits and suffer the consequences of the “You can do anything you put your mind to!” rhetoric of the late 80s and 90s.  I don’t want to be the dream crusher who says, “You know, if you are working this hard and studying this much and still not making a C in your first semester of calculus or music theory, maybe you need to think about other careers.”  Personally, I love the TV show Grey’s Anatomy.  I love the idea of being a surgeon and saving lives.  But I’m terrible at math, I can’t remember names of body parts in Anatomy, and I have barely functional motor/mechanical skills.  I could spend ten years working like crazy and studying every hour of the day, but I simply don’t have the skills or natural talent required to be a physician.


So, how does one help a student to figure out what they’re capable of realistically while also challenging them to explore and find new dreams, skills, and passions? With my students, I work on identifying and discussing their strengths, discuss other classes, interests, etc. they enjoyed during high school, and talking about every possible major that they express an interest in.  I never want a student to walk away from a meeting feeling as though they’ve lost something without also feeling like they’ve gained something else.  I do not ascribe to the idea that I must be a “no person” to be realistic and honest with my students.  Instead of using the tired notion that we can all do or be or accomplish anything (which has proven to be untrue time and time again) I utilize the theory that we all have strengths, interests, values and capabilities that can and will guide our careers–if we open ourselves up to this.

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Personal Branding Lessons from Taylor Swift

I remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift’s first hit, “Tim McGraw.”  It was almost summertime and I was going through a breakup myself, so the lyrics were especially poignant. Back then, Taylor had long, curly hair and wore cowboy boots exclusively. Since then, Taylor’s style has changed in many ways and so has her personal brand.

Taylor as a Country Princess


In 2007, Taylor Swift exploded into the country music world. With songs that name checked country music stars like Tim McGraw, it seemed as though she was destined to become the next female country star. From the beginning, however, her style veered a little more towards a fusion of country and pop. In rapid succession, “Tim McGraw” and her next hit, “Teardrops on My Guitar” were remixed to be more pop friendly and were in regular rotation on country and pop stations.

What does this teach us? Figure out what makes you unique–then use it.

How many of us have preconceived notions of what a lawyer looks like, how an artist should dress or how accountants act? Taylor is an example of an unconventional young female artist and an unconventional country (or pop) star. Many young female stars who come up in show business go in one of two directions: rejecting or rebelling against everything that made them popular as a child/teen actress to illustrate that they’ve grown or proclaiming their innocence (read: virginity) a la an early Britney Spears.

Which leads to lesson 2: Evolve your brand slowly.


If you listen to Taylor’s Album “Fearless,” specifically songs like the title track, you can see hints of what was to come with her next album, “Speak Now” (in particular, the song “Sparks Fly”).  From songs on her 2012 album, “Red,” such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22,” you can see the beginnings of her newer songs like “Shake It Off.”  Some people decide to do a complete 180 to change their image–they go from uber professional to bohemian artist or sweats wearing college student to conservative button downs. This can be a jolt for the people–your colleagues, friends, supervisors, etc.–who have grown accustomed to who you are (your brand or image) and can come off as being insincere.  Allow your personal brand to grow and evolve like you do–organically.

But–Have a Plan in Mind.


I’m not naive enough to think that Taylor Swift’s newer image–from her fashion choices (straight hair! heels!) to her latest album–aren’t in some way calculated.  It’s important to have goals in mind and retool your brand in ways that feel authentic to you and are in line with your goals. So you want to be a manager? That doesn’t mean you start bossing around your co-workers. Instead, begin adding more managerial type clothing to your wardrobe (if you’re insure how, check out what the heads of your department wear) and begin taking on projects that require a higher level of responsibility.  Very few people can go from undergrad to CEO overnight. Always make sure that your image, or personal brand, is in line with who you are–and who you want to be.

And remember:



didn’t become this–



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Mindy Lahiri Style on a Real World Budget

For the past several weeks, I’ve been OBSESSED with The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling, best known for starring and writing The Office, stars as Mindy Lahiri, a NYC OB-Gyn.  The show centers around Mindy’s romantic adventures and her quirky colleagues at her practice. One of my very, very favorite things about TMP is that she’s not a size 2 and she wears bright, fun, form fitting clothing.  There’s an amazing blog, The Mindy Project Style, that chronicles every piece of clothing Mindy has worn for the past three seasons. While I love, love, love the blog for ideas on how to incorporate more of Mindy’s flirty, colorful style into my own wardrobe, I absolutely can’t afford most any of the pieces. I’ve been looking for a blog post that illustrates how to have Mindy quality style on a real world budget, but I couldn’t find anything, so I thought, why not write one?

Mindy’s Style

Mindy’s look is colorful and super girly without being childish. She often wears form-fitting dresses and pencil skirts, in “look at me” colors.


She also loves patterned pieces and sweater vests with bright belts and statement jewelry.


mp8mp6The more episodes I watched (I binge watched the show and finished all three seasons within a couple of weeks) the more I fell in love with her style and knew I had to work to incorporate more statement, figure loving, bright pieces into my own wardrobe.  But how to do that on a budget? I began checking out websites like Asos, Burlington Coat Factory, and TJ Maxx to look for inexpensive patterned blouses, colorful sweater vests, and larger pieces of jewelry.  My wardrobe isn’t Mindy ready yet, but here a few things I found:


This TJ Maxx sheath dress is a steal at $39.99

LOVE this figure flattering houndstooth dress, TJ Maxx, $39.99

LOVE this figure flattering houndstooth dress, TJ Maxx, $39.99

This one has a really fun pattern. (TJ Maxx, $49.99)

This one has a really fun pattern. (TJ Maxx, $49.99)

Mindy loves brightly colored coats during the winter, so my next stop was Burlington Coat Factory. There, I found (and bought) an adorable wool coat similar to this one:

Green trench, Burlington Coat Factory, $69.99

Green trench, Burlington Coat Factory, $69.99

If, like me, you have some decent basics (jeans, white tops, black skirts and pants, etc.) then a quick (and relatively inexpensive) way to Mindy-up your wardrobe is to add fun and colorful scarves, statement necklaces, and tights.


Statement necklace, $27.99.


Polka dot tights, $10.00.

Multi-colored earrings, $15.99.

Multi-colored earrings, $15.99.


Houndstooth scarf, $19.99.

Plaid tights, $5.00.

Plaid tights, $5.00.

For other Mindy-style pieces on a budget, I recommend for fun skirts and dresses, The Limited for colorful sweaters, and, a flash sale-based site.

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Workplace Resources for LGBTQ Employees and Their Allies

After my last post on becoming a more proactive LGBTQ ally in the workplace, I received requests for resources on how to find out if a workplace is LGBTQ friendly and tools to become a better ally. Below I’ve included websites with information on finding out how LGBTQ inclusive your workplace is and tips to being a more proactive ally.

Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index


Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

In the 2014 CEI report, 304 major businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

Human Rights Campaign’s booklet, The Cost of The Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion

In this follow-up to the groundbreaking 2009 study, Degrees of Equality, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has studied the national picture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers’ experiences of inclusion on the job as contrasting with the perceptions of their non-LGBT coworkers on issues. The study reveals that despite a changing social and legal landscape for LGBT people, still over half (53 percent) of LGBT workers nationwide hide who they are at work.

Pride at Work


Pride at Work is a national non-profit organization that seeks full equality for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. The site features relevant issues, ways to get involved with legislation, and resources for LGBTQ workers.

Pride at Work also offers information on issues Trans people face in the workplace, including healthcare needs and discrimination.

Out Professionals


Touted as the nation’s leading LGBT networking association, Out Professionals provides information on finding jobs and connecting with other LGBTQ employees.

Out and Equal


Out & Equal is committed to creating safe and equitable workplace environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. We believe that people should be judged by the work they do, not by their sexual orientation or gender identity. Every day, we work to protect and empower employees to be productive and successful—so they can support themselves, their families, and contribute to achieving a world free of discrimination for everyone.

Out for Work


Out for Work functions as a complimentary component in the total educational experience of LGBT students, primarily in the development, evaluation, initiation and implementation of career plans and opportunities. OFW’s programs, resources and services provide assistance to students in the cultivation and enhancement of skills to explore career options, master search techniques and strategies and research employment opportunities.

National Center for Transgender Equality


The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.

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Becoming a More Proactive Ally for LGBTQ People in the Workplace

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC for the 10th annual Out for Work conference.  Out for Work is a wonderful organization that helps people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) and their allies learn more about navigating the job search, coming out as LGBTQ, and advocating for LGBTQ friendly workplaces.  For university career centers, Out for Work has a Career Center Certification Program that helps identify strengths and weaknesses their offices have in working with LGBTQ students and trains them on becoming better advocates for the community.

If you’re interested in becoming a stronger advocate for an LGBTQ inclusive workplace, I suggest contacting and/or researching organizations like Out for Work and Out and Equal to learn more about how to do so.  I’ve also included some tips here on becoming a better LGBTQ ally in the workplace (some are considered best practices and some come from my own experiences).

1. Recognize your privilege.

At this time, our society (and often, workplaces) is hetero-normative and cisgender (or cis) normative. (Cisgender means that your biological sex matches your gender identity or expression–i.e., you have a vagina, thus “female” is listed as your biological sex and you also feel and identify as a feminine person or a woman. Transgender means that you may have been listed as “male” on your birth certificate because you were born with a penis, but this may not match your gender expression.  You may identify as a female/have a feminine gender expression, etc.) Essentially, this means that from an early age we absorb the belief or assumption that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender and we act accordingly.  People who identify as LGBTQ are becoming more visible, with increased representation in the media/pop culture, society, the workplace, and the news.  Most of us, however, still make the assumption when we meet someone that they are heterosexual and cisgender.  If you are heterosexual and/or cisgender, acknowledge the fact that we live in a society that is set up for heterosexual and cisgender people, which can make the world (and the world of work) more of a challenge for people who identify as homosexual, gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, trans*, etc.

2. Don’t make assumptions.

Once you recognize and acknowledge that you are part of the more privileged area of society (i.e., you are heterosexual and/or cisgender) work on not assuming that everyone else is also straight or cis. A great way to decrease the assumptions you make about people is to stop asking new co-workers if they are married, have a boyfriend (if they are a woman) or a girlfriend (if they are a man). As a woman who is also very feminine, people often make the assumption that I am a heterosexual woman, especially since my partner identifies as a female to male (FTM) trans person and uses gender neutral (they, them, their) or masculine pronouns (he, him, his).  Based on the assumption that I am heterosexual, I am often asked about my partner with the asker assuming that my partner is a cisgender male or feel “safe” making comments to me about LGBTQ people that aren’t very positive.

On the subject of not making assumptions, make sure that you don’t assume that all LGBTQ people are the same.  Some people who identify as LGBTQ enjoy talking about their non-work lives. Others are very private. Some are liberal, some are conservative, some are moderate. Some want to be married and/or have children; others couldn’t care less about these things. Some are great workers and some aren’t so great. Don’t judge all LGBTQ people by one or two individuals. We are as diverse in our religious, political, racial, cultural, etc. beliefs, identities, and backgrounds as any other large group of people.

3. Be a stronger advocate.

If someone around you makes negative or prejudiced comments about people who identify as LGBTQ, diplomatically let them know that it is not okay to make those sorts of comments around you. Everyone you work with won’t be as accepting of LGBTQ people as you may be, so remember this: Being an ally is not something you are, it is something you do.  (Or, ally is not really a noun, but more of a verb.) Check out your companies’ score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (an index that measures how LGBTQ friendly a workplace is) and advocate for ways your company can achieve a higher score.

4. Educate yourself on LGBTQ issues.

A lot of people operate under the assumption that the biggest issues LGBTQ people face are religious opposition and/or the right to marriage, or civil unions.  Although these are important issues for many LGBTQ people, they are certainly not the only issues we face. This map illustrates how many states have non-discrimination laws in place for LGBTQ employees. As you can see, many states still have no protection in place to prevent LGBTQ workers from being fired if they “come out” or discuss their identities at work.  That’s right, it is still perfectly legal in many states (including my current state, Kentucky and home state, South Carolina) to fire employees if the employer knows or even thinks they are LGBTQ.

5. Be an active ally.

Reach out to your LGBTQ co-workers. Ask them how their partner is doing or how their weekend was.  Let them know, through action, that you are a safe person for them.  It is wonderful to advocate for a friendlier workplace for LGBTQ employees and to vote for politicians who support equality, but it can also mean so much to an LGBTQ person to simply get to know them as a person, a co-worker, and possibly a friend.

6. Come out of the closet.

If your child, your best friend, your next door neighbor, etc. identifies as LGBTQ, let people know this.  Be proud of the people in your life who are LGBTQ and be vocal whenever you can about your allyship.  Remember the first tip–recognize your privilege? As a member of a more privileged group (heterosexual or cisgender) realize that sometimes you may be in a great position to advocate for LGBTQ issues at work while sometimes LGBTQ people aren’t comfortable doing so.

Picture this: It is 2006.  I am 22 years old and have recently started a job at a library.  “Brokeback Mountain” has recently premiered in movie theaters.  My supervisor, a co-worker, (who is/was an ally) and myself are sorting new magazines.  My co-worker pulls out a copy of The Advocate (an LGBTQ themed publication) and begins talking about how hot Heath Ledger is.  My supervisor glances at the picture and agrees, he is hot.  But then she says, “Ugh. Of course he’s on the cover of that gay magazine.  He’s probably one himself.  Why does everything have to be so gay these days?”  Those three sentences, which were perhaps said thoughtlessly, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable around my supervisor from then on.  I wish I had felt safe enough (and brave enough) to proudly come out to her and let her know that those comments made me feel uncomfortable.  But I didn’t.  I had only been at the job two months and I really couldn’t afford to lose it.  Although it wasn’t my co-worker’s, who was a great person, responsibility to stand up for me and LGBTQ people in general, I would have been so grateful to have an ally in that moment who could have said for me what I was too afraid to say.


There have been many wonderful allies throughout my career who made me feel like I was in a safe environment, who advocated for LGBTQ issues in the workplace, who asked me how my partner was doing.  I am forever thankful to them for not only respecting me and my sexuality, but working to make the workplace better for everyone.  I hope that this post encourages you to become a stronger ally.  If you have any questions about other ways to be a better, more proactive ally, feel free to send me a message, comment, tweet, etc.

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Review of New York and Company Clothing

First, I must say that it breaks my heart to have to write this review.  I discovered New York and Company clothing a few years ago when I was a grad student and fell in love. They offered fashionable clothes for work at incredibly affordable price points–particularly if you combined their prices with the almost weekly coupons offered.  My favorite line of clothing from NY&Co was the Seventh Avenue suiting collection which offered tons of quality work wear for women with hips.

In the last year or so, unfortunately, the quality of NY&Co clothes (and my beloved 7th Avenue brand in particular) has decreased with every season. In late July, I bought a pair of 7th Avenue boot cut slacks in a dark blue shade. Not only did I have to go up a size (inexplicably, they’ve changed the fit and sizing of many clothing items) but discovered the seams of the pants were ripping and turning white(??) after approximately two wears. I went to the NY&Co website to find out if anyone else had experienced this same problem and read review after review from shoppers who were dismayed to realize that the fit and quality of their favorite pants had drastically changed.

I’ve since found that the drop in quality isn’t just limited to NY&Co pants. This beautiful leaf dress that I discussed in a July post shrunk after ONE WASHING (gentle cycle, cold water, air dried) and became faded. I’ve been searching for great fall/winter pieces that were not from NY&Co since I’ve heard complaints similar to mine from friends and colleagues, but have few cute, professional items at an affordable (for me) price.

So when I got an emailed coupon for $100 off a $200 purchase, I decided to ignore the (many) negative reviews and give the brand one last try. I purchased this, this, and these.  I’d heard fewer negative comments about NY&Co skirts and hoped that the company had once again raised the quality of their pants for fall.  They were labeled “tweed” which has always struck me as a durable fabric, so I gave it a go. Last Monday, three hours into wearing the gray “tweed” pants, this is what a co-worker pointed out to me:


After sitting at a desk for three hours, the pants were already piling and ripping–as though I’d had them for three YEARS! The adorable diamond skirt, so beautiful in pictures, was so thin that I knew I’d never be able to wear it on a brisk fall day and the brown “tweed” pants were the same shoddy quality as these gray ones. I returned the brown pants and the skirt, having never worn them.  When I mentioned to these salespersons who were processing my return that the gray ones had already pilled and ripped, they replied “Hmm…weird.”  No apologies, no explanations.

Additionally, I’ve had to return two pairs of pants to the store after security tags were left on them. In fact, I was in the process of having Pants 1 fixed when I saw and bought Pants 2 and they did the same thing–left the security tag in them! When I visited the store for the second time in two weeks to have the pants fixed, I received a short, lackluster apology but little else.

On a final note, I’d like to add that I stopped shopping at New York and Company stores and used their website instead about two years ago when I was accosted by every sales associate in the store at least three times about applying for the New York and Company credit card. The last straw for me was going into the store with my fiance and being badgered by every sales person about the card as I attempted to exchange a couple of items.  I realized I’d forgotten my wallet outside and as we had a (private) discussion about going back to the car, a sales person stepped IN BETWEEN US and said all of our problems about the wallet would be solved if we applied for the credit card (??????).  I’ve been in the actual store about ten times in the last year–things had gotten better regarding the card, but the last few times I’ve had go in the store the incessant credit card pitches have returned.

So, do you guys have any suggestions? I’ve polled friends about new stores, but I think it’s time to let go of the hope that New York and Company is going to come to their (collective) senses and begin producing quality clothing again.

Sad times.


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Taking Care of Yourself Like it’s Your Job

Working on a college campus at the beginning of fall semester is not for the faint of heart.  I’m currently juggling new classes, two major staff changes, practice interviews for students, an LGBT career series and general advising/career counseling appointments.  When your partner also works at said college, every day feels like it’s packed with last minute appointments, weekend events, and random crises.  When you factor in that we also recently bought a new home (that had a major leak this weekend) and adopted a puppy, (who, as a Great Dane, is really more like a very small horse) you can imagine that I want to spend my weekends napping or zoning out. 

So, how does one take care of themselves while also managing work/home/life responsibilities? Personally, I try to prioritize and organize every single thing. When we realized this weekend that our A/C unit was leaking and destroying our downstairs storage closet (along with our floors, walls, etc.) finding said leak and figuring out the next course of action suddenly took priority over cleaning the kitchen or putting together the last of the IKEA.  

While home and work emergencies occasionally happen (and subsequently head to the very top of the “To Do” list) its also important to prioritize mental and physical well being and happiness. It’s so tempting to feel guilty about making relaxation a priority and to just keep going and going, but that leads to burn out pretty quickly.  I can always find something at home to do, clean, organize or unpack and I can sometimes find myself feeling bad that I didn’t get everything accomplished at work.  But I know that if I don’t schedule in time for me and the relationships important to me, I become exhausted and cranky.  This sometimes leads to forgetting to do things at work which ends up taking more time out of my day which stresses me out further. The cycle can be endless.

So, how do you de-stress when life gets busy? 

1. Delegate.

I remember that I have a partner who is also capable of handling the puppy, the house, or random errands. Sometimes it’s hard to let go and allow your colleagues or loved ones help out with things, but utilizing your support network is so important.

2. Make yourself a priority.

At 7pm on almost any night, you can find me in the bath. 7-8 is my time to read a book, get online, or nap. Sometimes life happens and I miss this time, but I can usually tell the next day.

3. Take 5 minutes.

Smoking is a terrible addiction, but one good thing that comes from being a smoker at work is taking 5 minutes out of your day to go outside, get away from everything and do something you enjoy. We non-smokers don’t often take those few minutes because we don’t have the call of addiction beckoning to us outside our office doors. Take the time anyway. Walk around the building, talk about your weekend with a co-worker, have a cup of coffee. There’s a reason that service jobs are required to provide employees with 15 minute breaks and it’s because everybody needs one.

4. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Next April, my partner and I are getting married in Chicago. Happily, these means we need to take a trip there in a couple of months to taste cakes, finalize a location, etc. When I don’t have time to take a bath or even five minutes, I remember that soon I’ll be doing something I love–traveling–and I can push through to finish what I’m working on.

5. Keep your eye on the prize.

Whatever reason you’re doing the work–to pay for your house, to take trips, to help people, to keep food in your mouth–try to remember it when times get tough. When you’ve been asked to pull an extra shift or work the weekend, when an event goes badly, when someone is rude…keep in mind why, on a larger scale, you do what you do.

I hope these tips help you! I’m not an expert on relaxing, though, so if know of other ways to de-stress or get away from it all, let me know!

Make yourself a priority.

Make yourself a priority.


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