My name is Kat Collings, and as the title implies, my career at Who What Wear has followed an upward trajectory. I climbed the ladder and went from intern to editor in chief in five years. Many people and circumstances contributed to my success, but I’m responsible for it. OK, I must sound like a pretty confident robot… That may be what you see from the outside, but the truth is that I’m often skeptical of my ability, despite the bullet points on my résumé. I doubt myself a lot, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.
You’ve likely heard of the statistic that men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications while women apply only if they meet 100% of them. My takeaway: Women need to actively cultivate their confidence because (for way too many reasons to get into here) there’s a deficit. Thanks to Clique’s co-founders, who have always believed in me, I’ve been forced to gain confidence in myself (even if it’s still a work in progress) as I’ve moved from intern to assistant, associate editor, editor, senior editor, editorial director, and finally editor in chief. Today I want to share a few career tips to help close that confidence gap. Let’s get to it.
1. Get the things that make your life easier.
One day at work, I overheard our co-founder compliment my work wife on how her clothing always looks freshly pressed. Cut to me immediately scanning my outfit to see if it passed muster and making a mental note to up my game. One thing that’s helped me succeed in my role is paying attention to the nuances of what my bosses care about and doubling down in those areas. Most of those categories relate to the quality of my work, but presentation matters too. If our co-founder appreciates a wrinkle-free look, you’d better believe I’m going to install a walk-in sauna… Just kidding, but I will carefully consider the tools that can help me achieve a spotless appearance.
When I decided to make an investment in my wardrobe, I did some research and found that LG has been dominating the ratings and awards in laundry from J.D. Power and ACSI. The consumer reports had done the legwork for me: I needed the LG Styler. The truth is that I don’t spend much time thinking about home appliances. I’m more preoccupied with climbing the career ladder than chores at home, but it turns out the two are more intertwined than I thought.
Here’s why: There are a few standout features that have had a direct impact on my confidence at work. The steam technology feature is a godsend for a quick refresh of a wrinkled but still fresh shirt, and it gets rid of any lingering odors. I’d been spending more than I care to admit on dry-cleaning, and now the Styler has all but replaced that. I can wear exactly what will make me feel the best that day without searching my closet only to realize that the trousers that were going to make my outfit are at the dry cleaner. Oh, and about those said trousers, the LG Styler has a special compartment in the door that presses the pants creases back in. Bye-bye dry-cleaning bill.
2. Take all the notes.
Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to taking notes, nothing beats old-fashioned pen and paper. Studies even say taking notes by hand may be the best way to ensure recall. Think of note-taking as your backup brain for when your memory fails you and it’s too embarrassing to ask your boss to repeat what she asked you to do last Tuesday. Also, when your colleagues are talking to you, taking notes is a sign of respect to show you’re taking what they say seriously. I adore it when editors take notes in the edit meetings I run (team, are you reading this?).
I also want to talk about taking notes figuratively, i.e., taking note of all the learnings you can gain on a daily basis and applying them to the future you so you can work happier, smarter, and with more confidence. Career coaches often recommend finding a mentor, and if you happen to have a more senior colleague who has taken a shine to you and wants to dedicate her time to help further your career, great. If that’s not the case, you can be your own damn mentor by actively watching and learning from your colleagues and your own experiences.
Basically, develop an awesome feedback system for yourself. A few suggestions right off the bat:
■ Pay attention to your work patterns. Which ones serve you, and which ones don’t?
■ Pay attention to the highs and lows. What you can learn from them? How do you react under stress? What are your stress triggers?
■ What are your interactions like with the colleagues you adore versus those you, well, don’t?
■ What stalling tactics do you engage in when you don’t know how to get started on an intimidatingly important project?
■ What factors contribute to a really productive day? At what moments have you felt satisfied, proud, and happy at work?
It’s really easy to repeat behavior and thought patterns until they become deep grooves; it’s when you take a step back and take note that you can recognize what’s happening, course-correct, and ultimately grow toward future you. You know, that woman who’s killing it at the career game and actually enjoying it too.
3. Leave old-you outfit signifiers behind.
The path from intern to EIC necessitates growing into new roles and being taken far outside of your comfort zone. You know how they say “fake it until you make it”? Turns out that’s pretty good advice. I know I’m not alone in battling insecurities about being qualified for a role, and it’s funny how even admitting that seems like a weakness. Imposter syndrome is real, and to help combat it, I remind myself constantly that I’m in the position I am for a reason and that I earned it. Believe it or not, the fake-it-till-you-make-it mentality also applies to your clothing…
There are certain items that simply don’t inspire confidence, and in the bag department, I can think of a major one. Sorry, freebie canvas tote bags, I’m about to pick on you. College Kat definitely had a canvas tote for all her books and binders (I’m dating myself, but it wasn’t the complete norm to bring your laptop to class in my era). Working Kat continued to carry that college-era signifier, and now I’m going to stop talking about myself in the third person and get to the point: Flimsy canvas tote bags didn’t align with the image of a confident working woman I wanted to grow into.
The good news is that a major upgrade in the bag department doesn’t have to come at a steep price. I’m a big fan of Free People’s under-$50 vegan leather totes for a polished purse that can still hold everything. I recently got the Hayward bag above and find it to be delightful. It’s functional yet fashion forward, and most importantly, it can accommodate my laptop and a change of shoes to walk home in. Plus I feel like a chic boss lady when I walk around with it, and that, my friends, is worth the investment, whether you’re opting for the $50 version or the $5000 one.
4. A blazer solves pretty much everything.
Though it was almost seven years ago, I still vividly recall my interview to become our co-founder’s assistant. I wore a mismatched suit to convey that I was professional but not too uptight for a creative industry. Meanwhile, I was so uptight. Just a 30-minute make-or-break interview for my dream job—no big deal. I styled a navy blazer from Zara with forest-green J.Crew trousers and a vintage white button-down (always troll vintage if you’re trying to save money and don’t want to look like a fast-fashion mannequin). Turns out I’m still a major fan of dark green shades like this Mango blazer above as a stylish alt to traditional suit colors.
I’ve always been a big believer in a blazer with a capital B. Dressing for a non-corporate job can be tricky: A confident outfit is equal parts polished, professional, unfussy, and trend forward. The easiest way to nail that combination is with a tailored blazer—but not just any blazer. You need a fashion-girl blazer, if you will. There should be something about it that communicates your personal aesthetic, whether it’s in the color of the season or has details that make it stand out from the pack (another favorite of mine is a cropped Helmut Lang iteration with a raw hem.) If your outfit is on the casual side, a blazer can instantly smarten things up. It’s my office desert-island item, and I think every working woman should have one.
5. Work will be there when you come back.
You know in job interviews when they ask you for your weakness and the classic annoying answer is “I care too much. I’m so invested in my work that I blah blah blah”? Well, the thing is, if you’re dedicated to your career, which I bet you are since you’re reading this story, it’s kind of true. It’s easy to dedicate 97% of your energy to your work and somehow hope that the remaining sliver of time is enough for, well, everything else. Spoiler: it’s not. That hilarious Cruella de Vil meme comes to mind.
Believe me when I say that balance is crucial for high performance and confidence at work. The idea that working less helps you work better might sound counter-intuitive, but think about it this way: If you’re working late on a regular basis, many things go out the window, including self-care, mental space to think big-picture, and time for your brain and body to repair themselves. These are things you need to be your best high-functioning, confident self, and they’re as crucial as sending that email or checking that item off your to-do list.
While there are a million ways to move toward balance (and trust, it’s always a work in progress), I thought I’d share one of my favorites: a little hydration reminder device. Sometimes we get so busy we have a hard time remembering to drink enough water. Here I go referencing memes again, but this rings true: “You’re basically a houseplant with more complicated emotions.” I put this Ulla band around my water glass to remember to water my houseplant self. It blinks at you if you haven’t lifted your glass to take a sip in the last 30 minutes. And if I need a tiny blinking device that looks a lot like Eve from the movie Wall-E to remember to take care of my whole self, so be it.