What to wear for work if you’re not a lawyer

November 1, 2010

I have a hard time choosing wardrobe for those work days when I’m downtown. I’ve always had trouble with this — I am not much of one for dressing up, and I hate how so many clothes fit me (and I’m cheap — I mean frugal) so I have a limited wardrobe to begin with, but figuring out what’s appropriate for an office seems tough.

My old job was with a construction group, but the office dress was “business casual.” I’m not really sure what “business casual” is supposed to mean, other than the fact that t-shirts and jeans are not allowed. Women at that office wore denim skirts, or cotton pants, or other stuff that to me seemed less dressy than my nice jeans. But that was the rule at the office.

And my new job has an informal feel to it, despite being surrounded by lawyers and working in a downtown office. Jeans are okay, and casual is fine, unless you’re seeing non-staff people or doing something important in front of others, like an interview or something. So my “business casual” wardrobe stretched here too. Even with my limited choices, I’m only supposed to be in the office two days a week, so can usually find what to wear.

But as of last week, the dressing up begins. Because I’m working on a judicial inquiry, and we’re now into the courtroom phase of our work. So almost every day that I come downtown now, I’m at the court. And ALL the lawyers wear suits and ties. The female lawyers wear suits too. And there’s a chance that on any day I’m at court, I might have to give an interview to media, so I have to look professional. Of course, the media with whom I deal are almost never dressed up. Most of them are in jeans or casual clothes, but that doesn’t mean I can be as casual as them.

I once heard that if you want to see how a professional woman should dress, watch the ladies on the Apprentice (yes, Donald Trump‘s show). I guess it’s true — they all dress nice, although this season I find the women dress a bit too sexy for what I would have considered boardroom wear.

Anyhow, most women I see in downtown Vancouver are not dressed like the Apprentice ladies. We’re a lot less telegenic, and we wear more reasonable shoes and show less cleavage. But if I ride the elevators at the high rise towers where the lawyers and financial types work, the level of dress is definately above “business casual.” Is it harder for us middle-aged Gen Xers to figure out this dress thing? The Gen Y types I see seem to have less issues going from dressed down to dressed up. Of course, most Gen Y ladies don’t have the post-baby, middle-aged middle we older mommies tend to have. 

So I’ll have to dig out my two suits, my handful of blazers, and start looking for more formal work wear for my downtown days. Thank heavens I’ll be working at home the other three days, when I can wear jeans, or even pyjamas.


I ran away from my life and came back calmer

August 20, 2010

I didn’t realize it had been the entire summer since I blogged. Shame on me. Ah well, we do the best we can, right? I’ll try to turn over a new leaf and blog more now that back to school is in sight.

I had a stressful summer. My half-time job has really ramped up, and the stress levels with it. I’m only supposed to put in two days in their offices, but it’s been at least three nearly every day this summer, and there is so much going on, I spend hours every weekend dealing with stuff.

And then there are the boys. My kids are adorable and loveable and I really enjoy them — some of the time. But there have been a lot of points this summer when I thought I would lose my mind, when I wanted to crawl into a hole, and I’m not ashamed to admit, when they drove me to tears. The worst was a two-week period when hubby went away. One or other of my kids was sick the whole time, which of course means extra whiny and hard to deal with. And both were cranky and ill-behaved. I thought our two weeks without dad would be extra fun, but instead when he fianlly came back I was burned out. Work didn’t help, of course (see above).

Anyhow, we had set aside a week for a family driving holiday, but hubby was jetlagged and behind at work and frankly, I wasn’t up to it. So we went away as a family for a weekend, and then on one week’s notice, I booked myself a getaway.

I knew I wanted something calming, and while I wanted to go alone, I didn’t want to be by myself. So I decided a tour group would be ideal, and something mildly athletic seemed the ticket. I found a wonderful kayaking trip with a cancellation in the week I wanted, and just like that, booked it. There were not-terribly-expensive flights to the island town that the tour went out of, and the tour company takes care of nearly everything. So I spent six days on Northern Vancouver Island and four days kayaking on Johnstone Strait.

I loved it. The people were nice but I had lots of time to myself. The campsite was lovely and we even had a hot tub overlooking the ocean. We saw whales (Orcas and humpback), a bear, seals, dolphins, porpoises, sea stars, anemones, and lots more I’m forgetting. The paddling was pretty easy, and I seemed to be one of the stronger paddlers anyhow. The whole experience was lovely and I felt so calm and under-stimulated (in a good way) while I was there.

While I thought the best part would be escaping my family, it turned out that the very best part was escaping work. There is no cell service where I was, so for six days, I was cut off and maintained radio silence. And you know what — nothing happened. The world went on without me, nothing bad happened, no clients quit or got mad. Sure, my kids didn’t see a vegetable the whole time that wasn’t covered with ketchup, and even they said they were tired of watching tv while in daddy’s care, they were all in one piece when I got back.

For five days after I returned I didn’t even yell at my kids. Of course, on the sixth day I did, and work is starting to stress me out again. But I try to recapture the calm I felt as often as I can.

Running away was the best thing I ever did for myself. I don’t know why I haven’t done it sooner. Where shall I run to next year?


What I learned about job seeking from hiring someone myself

May 28, 2010

Last week I interviewed and hired a communications specialist for a junior role at my part-time job. It was the first time I’d been in that role for a very, very long time, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

As a consultant, I’ve been on the other side of the hiring process more often than I can say. In fact, being a consultant or freelancer is basically like being a serial job applicant. I always have an up-to-date resume, because even though I have a website with a profile of me on it, I am asked for a resume all the time. I answer Requests for Proposals, Expressions of Interest, job ads, calls for consultants, and all sorts of application processes every month sometimes. I know what it is to apply, believe me.

To hire, well, that’s a newer one for me. But I figured with all my application experience, I’d be an empathetic hirer who could cut right through and find the perfect candidate without any emotion. Boy, was I wrong!

First, there was the shock at the flood of applications. I know the economy has been iffy lately, but I didn’t think PR was hit too hard. But judging from how many applications I got for a very specific role, things are tough out there. I advertised, just with the PR societies and through word of mouth, for someone with 3-5 years experience. But at least half the applications I got were from people with at least double that, some who were as experienced as I was!

I thought I’d find a few people who had most of the skills I wanted, some of the experience I wanted, and who were able to learn the rest. But I actually had several candidates who met every single one of the qualifications with exactly the experience I needed. I think the toughest thing I had to do was narrow down the list to the handful I would interview. Of course, the guy who misspelled “resume” was easy to eliminate.

I’ve decided my pet peeves in the application process are:

1. People who wait until the last day to apply. I was in a hurry to hire and wanted to interview as soon as possible. Waiting until the final resumes came in was a pain. I know, I should have set an earlier end date.

2. Long cover letters. All I want in a cover letter is to know where you heard about the job, where your previous experience is relevant, why you want this job in particular, and that you’d like to talk about this more. Four paragraphs. Not eight. Not a full page outlining every aspect of your experience or interests in 9 point type.

3. Resumes that are organized by skill. I want to know where you worked before and what you did there, not your list of skills. If you’re applying for this particular job where the needed skills are spelled out, I assume you have the general skills. I need to see how your previous work gave you the skills. Maybe this kind of resume is useful when being read by an HR manager (or computer scanning software) but not when it’s being read by the person who would be your supervisor. At least not by me.

4.Don’t spell out your conflict of interest. The job I’m hiring for needs a level of impartiality, as it’s a government issue with a lot of stakeholders. The job ad says that. Telling me up front where your politics lie and your sympathies doesn’t help, in the end it hinders.

I’ve decided I like the style of cover letter where the writer compares the words of my job ad (You asked for…) with their own relevant experience. At first they bugged me, but in the end I’ve decided that this really helped cut to the chase.

Now I’m facing the hard part. I have to tell the other people I interviewed that they didn’t get the job. And I really feel for every one of them. In fact, I feel for just about every applicant. I wish I could hire more than one person. I wish I could help most of the applicants find other work. I know exactly how it feels to be on their side of the table, and I hate that I have to dissapoint anyone. I want to hire them all, but in the end I can only hire one person.

Boy, will I apply for future openings with eyes open wider from now on.


Mother, wife, working woman, and now, tech support?

May 19, 2010

My husband got an iPhone last week. Lucky him. I’ve wanted one forever, but since my phone is used a lot for sending emails, I have a Blackberry. I find the iPhone too hard to type long messages on. Even short messages really.

But he needed a new phone, so he got an iPhone. And he’s having all kinds of fun playing with it. Which is fine. I’m jealous a bit, but at least we have on in the house. But he expects me to have all the answers about how things work on his phone. And I don’t.

Admittedly, I know more about computers than anyone else in my family. Given that we all have macs, I administer them, I deal with software and hardware, I set up everything, I fix stuff when it’s a mac thing I know. But as hubby’s tech toys get more sophisticated, he expects more tech support from me, which I’m finding a bit much. If he’s on the laptop more, shouldn’t he learn more about it? If it’s his iPhone, shouldn’t he solve his own set up issues?

I thought the new tech toys like the iPhone and iPad were intuitive and a child could work them. Yet here I am still, tech support. Hubby has just told me that when he bought his iPhone the Apple store offered to show him tricks on how to use it, and he said “It’s okay, my wife will show me.”

Great. Another job for me to juggle.


Can you explain your job so a seven year old can understand?

May 6, 2010

My kids don’t really understand what I do for a living. They know I write, they have some vague understanding that I work with the news people. But they don’t really get what public relations is.

So it was really tough this week when my seven year old’s grade one class called on parents to come talk about their jobs. I kept trying to think of how I would explain it. Could I find a way to describe PR so kids could understand?

Do you understand what PR is? I find many adults have a vague understanding but don’t really know themselves. I teach a course on media relations and even then I feel like it can be hard to define without a lot of examples.

So what did I tell the seven year olds? I asked if any of them have seen a reporter on the news, then asked if they’ve ever seen a reporter interview someone about what’s going on in their organization. Almost all nodded yes, so I told them I was that person being interviewed. They seemed to get that, so I told them I write a lot, and talk a lot. I asked if they like to write. Lots of kids raised their hands. I told them they could be in PR. I asked if any of them liked to talk (my son was first to raise his hand at that!), and then told those that raised their hands that they could be in PR.

When I was a kid, my dad was an engineer, and that’s the only part I understood. My mom “helped people with problems,” which is all I understood about her role as a social worker. I don’t think I really explained the essence of my job to the grade ones, but at least I came up with an explanation they could understand. Could you do any better?


My mother never had it this bad: The demands of a working mommie’s busy week

April 17, 2010

We have just made it through a working family’s version of a week of h-e-double toothpicks. And I am sure every generation says this about their parents’ years, but I am pretty sure my mother never had a week like this.

With both my husband and I working for ourselves, we usually have some time to run errands and the like during the week. But lately we’ve both been taking on new contracts and are both working full out. For him, it’s meant a race to get home by 4:30 to race the boys to their swimming lessons. Or rushing the boys out the door in the morning to before-care (a daycare feature of their after-school program we almost never used before) so he can get to work early. For me, this week has meant four days of working downtown, instead of only two, meaning no time working from home. It meant working nights to catch up. But I also had two breakfast meetings that had me leave home before the kids even woke up. And I had three evening sessions that meant I got home after the boys were in bed. Plus we had our first baseball game (my son’s team, but as coach it’s my team too), two baseball practices, and I had book club. I’m exhausted just writing it down.

It was so bad that:

  • We didn’t sit down for a family meal together until Friday.
  • I didn’t see my kids for two 24-hour stretches.
  • It took me 2 1/2 days to do three loads of laundry.
  • The guys had to wait around one morning for pants to come out of the dryer because they had nothing clean they were willing to wear.
  • We ran out of milk and vegetables.
  • My older son was practicing for his spelling test on the walk to school Friday because it was the only time I had to help him.

On the bright side, I did bike downtown four days in a row, so at least I got some exercise despite the schedule. And on an even brighter note, it’s really made us appreciate how easy we usually have it, and how great it is to have a weekend to relax. Of course, the weekend would be better if it would stop raining for this afternoon’s baseball game.


Downtown smokers — isn’t there a law against this?

April 12, 2010

I have been working downtown now for almost a month, and now that the weather is good and I want to go for a wander at lunch, I’m fed up with the smokers.

Outside every doorway, blocking the sidewalk, is a crowd of smokers puffing their cancer sticks, blowing the smelly smoke towards walkers-by like me.

I thought Vancouver passed a law against smoking within six feet of a doorway. But if such a law exists, it obviously isn’t being enforced anywhere near my office!

On the brighter side, today I biked downtown on my brand new hybrid commuter bike. I love my new bike!