Kate White is a former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, as well as the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Hush and The Sixes, and the creator of the Bailey Weggins mystery series — If Looks Could Kill, A Body to Die For, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Over Her Dead Body, and Lethally Blond. She’s also the author of popular career books for women, including her latest:
I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know, a witty, straight-talking new career guide for women.
We asked White to share some of her secrets in a brief interview. Here’s what she had to say:
Monster: How is what women need to do in order to achieve career success different from what men need to do?
Kate White: I don’t think women have to go about achieving career success in a way that’s substantially different than men. The key to excelling in a job is to go big or go home—to do more and better than what’s expected. That’s the way for both men and women to set themselves apart from the pack. But I do think that women sometimes trip themselves up in certain ways that a man wouldn’t. We often worry too much about what other people think and so we restrict or change our behavior. For instance, we don’t grab the seat next to the boss at a meeting or take on a project others may want or call someone out on stealing one of our ideas—because we’re worried about the possible reaction. The other day, a woman told me that she’d started dressing up more at work in order to look polished and promotable and after a few days a co-worker told her: “Hey, you’re making me look bad.” For a moment the woman worried if she should scale it back. But you need to do what has to be done and not worry about whether people will like you.
Where the need to be liked really hurts women is in our pocketbooks. Studies show we don’t negotiate as often as men and that we are less likely to ask for more when we’re offered a salary for a new job or a raise later on. Don’t worry they’ll snatch the offer back. Go ahead and ask for more. Remember that they’re often starting with a lower number than they’re ultimately willing to give.
Monster: In your experience as a leader and manager, what are many women doing wrong — how are they impeding their own professional development and success?
Kate White: I’m not aware that many women are doing something wrong that is impeding their professional development, but there is a mistake I see some women (and men, too) make: they fail to manage their career as well as their job. You have to spend time every week being the relentless architect of your career: learning new skills, networking, and doing the math. By doing the math I mean figuring out when is the right time to hit certain targets in your career. Think about the job you’re aiming for. When do people in your field generally achieve it? What’s the timeline? Don’t get too cozy in your current job because it may be time for you to move.
Monster: What’s a major lesson you learned early in your career that changed how you approach your work life?
Kate White: This may sound kind of crazy for a major lesson, but when I was 29 and working for a legendary editor named Art Cooper, who later went out to brilliantly re-invent GQ magazine, he told me one day that I should learn how to write cover lines. He said it was a skill all good editors needed and he’d taught himself how to write them. It was the first time it occurred to me that there were some things you didn’t necessarily learn on the job and you had to be proactive and accelerate your learning curve. And since then I’ve always thought a lot about what I might need to learn that I didn’t already know organically. For instance, when I was named the editor of a major women’s magazine, I realized that my cover-line writing skills still weren’t fabulous, so I hired a top copywriter to teach me to write cover lines. And so by the time I got to Cosmo, I knew how to write fabulous cover lines. Lines like “Why Guys Cheat in August” and “Never Lose an Orgasm Again” played a big role in Cosmo’s success.
Monster: Is work-life “balance” achievable for modern women, even though for most it seems ever farther out of reach?
Kate White: I wish I had easy answers on work-life balance, but I don’t. We need companies and bosses to create environments that make it easier for working parents. I interviewed a woman for my book, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This, who told me at the liberal non-profit organization where she’d once worked, working moms left their coats on other floors so no one saw them going home at a reasonable hour to be with their kids.
But we also have to be the bossy pants of our own work-life balance, just as we are bosses at work. We need to throw silly projects overboard, delegate, re-delegate, set boundaries (try not responding to email from work colleagues between 7pm and midnight and you may just discover that the world doesn’t fall apart).
And as women we have to accept that if we want to be good moms, we sometimes will have to make tradeoffs that on the surface seem unfair. I absolutely believe it’s possible to have a great job and be a mom, too. But if you are a mom of a two-year old and you want to stay really connected to your child, you won’t want a job that requires a sixty-hour workweek. That job may have to come at a different time of your life or possibly not at all. But there’s probably another kind of wonderful job for you out there that isn’t so demanding.
Monster: What’s a bit of counter-intuitive or surprising advice you might have for women hoping to better their careers?
Despite what some people might say, I think it can pay off to wear your heart on your sleeve. Don’t be afraid in a job interview or in a meeting to show your passion. You don’t want to get too emo, but interviewers and bosses like passion. It shows that you’re engaged and invested and ready to kick some serious butt.
> Get more advice in “Career Track Challenges for Women” — and share your thoughts on women’s careers in the Comments section.