This is a big topic, and one I’m really excited to cover, because I think it’s something a lot of people get wrong, either because they’re misinterpreting the advice they’re given, or because they’ve never been given any advice at all.

Growing up, I was taught a very specific way to be a professional. I was taught to have the right handshake, present a professional (safe) appearance, keep my demeanor pleasant, and have a strong, knowledgeable presence. I appreciate the advice and coaching I was given, but as I grew older and held more positions, I found that the conventional wisdom on professionalism wasn’t working for who I am and the industry I’m in—in some ways, it was holding me back. So, while handshakes, appearance, demeanor, and presence are important, I firmly believe there are a number of ways to be professional.

Moreover, I think there are many ways to be unprofessional.

In this series, I want to cover both sides of professionalism. I hope to provide tips that you can mix and match to best benefit your personality and how your industry operates, and to give you concrete examples of how not to behave or present yourself. Of course, there are some tips that won’t work in practice, and some warnings that may not apply to you; but while nothing is going to work 100% of the time I aim to give you the most tried and true tips.

If there are any specific scenarios you would like advice on, please don’t hesitate to send them to me!

Freelancing: How to Find Clients/Work

This is a big topic, and honestly, there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. Here are some tips I’ve found that have worked for me, or that I’ve heard working for others, but please let me know if I’ve missed something crucial!


As with most everything I’ve talked about so far, networking is the most reliable way to get new work as a freelancer; but again, I don’t mean just throwing cards to whoever walks by. It’s crucial to develop strong networks of people who are in your industry, people who use your services, and experts and mentors in your field and adjacent fields, as it’s these networks that may lead to opportunities being sent your way. However, please don’t build your network with the sole intention to get work—build your network to learn from others, to teach what you know, and to find compatriots with whom to share successes and to compare rates, employers, and general industry trends. Your network is your professional base, and can take the place of coworkers as a freelancer. Value these people as your friends and VIPs, as in freelance more than anywhere else they will influence the future opportunities you receive. After all, freelancers generally pass work along to those who they trust to handle overflow from their own clients, and stake their name on sending you as a recommendation. Good standing in freelance networks is everything.

Industry events

These are crucial for building your network. As always, I recommend volunteering—this gives you the opportunity to organically meet new people (including crucial people!) in your industry, for them to see you at work (even though your volunteer work may not be your day-to-day job), and for them to associate you with responsibility. Of course, “volunteering as exposure” is a dangerous road. Only volunteer for organizations or conferences which have a demonstrated record of good work and whose mission you support. A great volunteer strategy I heard about the other day is to still invoice for any work you do (this is intended for, say, graphic design work—not for volunteering at a conference in exchange for an attendee badge) and to “discount” your official rate so the invoice zeroes out. Not only does this let others know your real working rates and are aware of what they’re getting for free, but it gives you firmer ground to stand upon when you are being asked too much, or when you want to start charging for the same work.  And as a freelancer, one of the first things you should develop is an invoice template. We’ll go into this next time.

Previous Jobs

Many companies rely on freelancers to deal with work overflow, and who better to ask than someone who already knows how to do the work? When leaving a job (if you want to continue working with the company (and aren’t being terminated)), let your manager know you’d still be interested in doing some freelance work. You can always reach out to companies you worked for years before, as long as you left on good terms. Keep in mind that the longer ago the job was for you, the more likely procedures and processes have changed, but some companies may be willing to bring you in and bring you up to speed with some (paid!) training. After all, it will be cheaper for them to train someone who knows most everything than to find and train an unknown quantity.

Industry-oriented sites

I suggest these with a huge grain of salt: Many internet forums and databases for freelancers can be rife with predatory clients, and with fellow freelancers based worldwide who may be able to work for cheaper than you can compete with. That being said, good clients can still be found on these sites. Do some Googling and ask around your network to find the appropriate sites for your industry, and to ask how they work—best practices for applying for jobs, posting, etc. And if you do find a good client through one of these sites, make sure to follow up with them after the job is done to ask if they’ll keep you on their roster and keep you in mind for future work. If they offer feedback, take it—people rarely take the effort to give feedback if they don’t think you’re able to improve.

Social media

This one is risky, so again, take the big grain of salt. By posting your portfolio and rates on social media, and by posting your expertise and engaging with others when possible, you can broaden your reach and find clients through Twitter, Instagram, and especially (for some industries) LinkedIn. Building your organic network is still your priority on these sites, but you may find work coming your way through them, too.

No matter which method you use, remember that vetting your clients is a crucial step. Make sure they know your rates beforehand, and that you establish a pay schedule that works for both parties.

The Job Search: Your Cover Letter

Cover letters, I think, are wildly misunderstood. Like the resume, people tend to pack simply too much in, and too much of the wrong information.

A cover letter should be your elevator pitch.

It should efficiently communicate why you and you alone are the best fit for the job, and should elaborate on any critical, relevant skills you have that your resume doesn’t touch on or adequately explain. It’s great to talk about your passion a little, but passion itself should not be the sole content of your cover letter.

My favorite cover letter article is here: The 4 Paragraphs That Make a Killer Cover Letter

I like the structure it provides, because it gets you out of the “I’m-so-dedicated-and-passionate-about-this-entry-level-receptionist-position” zone (which we know is BS…even the hiring manager, for a lot of these, knows it’s BS) and into the real meat of the letter.

Whether or not you follow their outline, the important information is pretty simple:

1. Include who you are and which position you’re applying for.

This can be as simple as: My name is Lauren Scanlan, and I’m applying for the position of Entry-Level Data Analyst (job #10020). Including the exact job title and applicable job number, if one exists, will help the hiring manager easily find your resume in the miasma that is a corporate hiring database.

2. Include a quick reference to the company

This should be short — say why this particular company appeals to you (and though it may be true, “good benefits” is not an appropriate answer here). Have you followed them in the news? Studied their business model? Used their product? Mention your personal connection, and how you think you might be a good fit for the company. It doesn’t matter to them (yet) that the company is a good fit for you, so be sure you’re highlighting how you can help them here.

3. Why are you the one for this position?

This section should be the bulk of your letter, though it should be one paragraph at most. Don’t beat around the bush — tell the hiring manager loud and clear why you should be brought in for an interview. Do you have proficiency in Adobe Creative Cloud? Are you an expert in Ruby on Rails? Does your experience as a retail associate in a pet store give you an intimate knowledge of what pet owners are looking for in a dog toy or cat food? Whatever it is, be concrete, and don’t just repeat what’s in your resume: expand and include any information that’s pertinent but not well reflected in your resume. You can expand further in the interview, so keep it short, sweet, and to the very concrete point.

4. Include how you wish to be contacted.

Close with mentioning that you’d love to talk about how you’d be a great fit, and include your correct contact information and ways/times in which you prefer to be contacted.

5. Proofread

Proof your work! Make sure your grammar is good and you don’t have obvious typos. Have a friend read for you, if grammar and spelling aren’t your strengths. This is, again, a document that you get unlimited amount of time to write (in their perspective) and that represents you, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

No matter how you structure it, please remember to tailor your cover letter to each job you apply for. I know this is a ton of effort, but hiring managers can pretty easily tell who has put in the individual effort and who hasn’t. And remember to keep these updated right along with your resume!

The Job Search: Jobs, Jobs Everywhere

The great thing about the internet is that we can search for a new job on a job site with a few clicks of our mouse or taps on our tablets and phones. The downside is that this seeming convenience has actually, in my experience, made jobs much harder to find. Jobs are listed and then never removed; scammers post jobs with ease (and do a better job than many HR departments); jobs are listed without tags and keywords and are thus unsearchable, etc. And though the internet has been a recruitment tool for over a decade, there’s still some hesitation about hiring people who come with no personal recommendations. LinkedIn has made a difference, as employers can see which soft ties (and hard ties, though endorsements and written recommendations) an applicant has in their industry, but in my experience, a personal recommendation is best…if the option is available, and often, it is not.

In this post, I want to introduce you to a number of different avenues to jobs. These are avenues that I’ve used, or have heard of others using successfully. However, I’m just one woman, and my experience here will vary widely to yours. If you have a way to find jobs that I have not covered, please let me know! I’ll update this post.

So, where to start? The following methods have yielded leads for me in the past, though your mileage may vary depending on age, industry, physical location, etc. I will go more in-depth on some of these items, so treat these as jumping-off points for now:

Job aggregate sites

Okay, so I spent my intro to this post maligning these, but they are a great tool to get your search started. Websites like Indeed, Monster, and even Craigslist can give you an idea of what kinds of roles employers are looking to fill in your area (or the location you’re hoping to work in). It doesn’t hurt to apply to these jobs if you see one that catches your eye, but be aware of jobs that seem sketchy or stale, and especially of jobs posted more than 30 days ago. Also, it’s worth looking up all companies on Glassdoor to see a little bit more about their work culture and typical benefits, and to screen for any major red flags. Glassdoor and LinkedIn also have job listings, though as jobs aren’t their primary function, I’ve found them to be less reliable. Again, your mileage may vary.

When you do a search on these sites, many of them will offer to save your search, and send you update emails when new jobs come online. This is a great way to make these sites work for you in the background, and can be set up with just a few clicks. The more specific your search is, the better your leads will be—but try not to make it too specific, or you may not end up with any results, and may miss out on some adjacent opportunities. You may have to play around with the mix, but I encourage you to have at least a few saved searches on these aggregate sites.

Company websites

One strategy to find jobs you’re interested in is to go directly to the company page and look at their Jobs/Careers section. If there are a few companies you’re extremely invested in, follow their main accounts on social media (especially their HR account, if one exists!), and make sure you check back on their jobs page every few weeks to see if there are new positions. That being said, do not harass anyone working at the company. Apply for the jobs you’re interested in and qualified for (or could be qualified for), and if none exist but the company allows you to drop a cold resume, do so (but still write a cover letter!). Then, wait. The old wisdom of calling and following up in-person or on the phone is mostly out. If you have a contact and it has been a few weeks, a polite follow-up email is fine, but do not ask for updates on any current employee’s private social media, and definitely don’t call random people at the company hoping one of them will give you work (yes, this has happened to me!). Too much interest can be just as damaging as too little. Respecting the process outlined by the company will show your prospective employer you can follow and respect their process—critical and basic skills for any potential employee. However, if you do have a personal contact at the company, it’s worth it to politely and succinctly let them know you’ve applied. They may be able to get your resume into the right hands.

Career fair

Career fairs can be useful, awful, or both. I’ve been to booths at fairs that process you like an assembly line, and I’ve been to booths where I’ve had wonderful conversations with the company representatives which, while they didn’t lead to a job, did lead to an industry connection. It’s worth going to fairs that are at least tangential to your ideal career (the more focused the better, of course, but often career fairs can be very general) and speaking with the representatives there. Come up with an elevator pitch for yourself: I’m [YOUR NAME], I’m looking for a career in [INDUSTRY] doing [JOB FUNCTION], preferably in a company that [PREFERRED MISSION STATEMENT/BENEFITS/OTHER SPECIFICS]. Ask about the company—this is your low-stakes chance to see if you and the company (or any specific position) are a good fit. Don’t take up too much time, especially if there’s a line, but do remember that these representatives are paid to be there to talk do you. Don’t be shy in approaching them! After your conversation, drop your resume and business card (which you will absolutely have printed and brought with you, right? Good.) with the representative, and remind them of your interest in their company, and the position you’re looking for. Make sure to get a card from the recruiter, and to follow up on LinkedIn with a nice, quick message: Hi, I’m [YOUR NAME], we spoke at today’s career fair about [SPECIFIC DETAIL]- I’m looking for [ROLE].

Industry Associations

Many industries have professional associations or publications, and they are a great way to get information about what is going on in your industry. You can find information on cutting-edge research and best practices, as well as listings for conferences and other professional events (more on these below). Often, they will also have a section for job listings. Find the important associations and publications in your field, and sign up for memberships, or at least to their e-newsletter. Some will have a fee, but you may be able to make this tax-deductible as part of a job search, and you can think about it as an investment in your future. And read whatever publications you subscribe to! Nothing impresses prospective employers like someone who keeps up-to-date of their own volition!

Placement Agencies

Agencies can be hit or miss, but I’ve found (at least in my experience) that they can be useful when an applicant has specialized skills, such as language ability. If a company is looking for a candidate with Japanese proficiency, they may reach out to one of these agencies, which will have a number of resumes on-hand to send as potential matches. Before you send your information to an agency, make sure you know how they charge (they should charge the hiring company, so this is a way to screen out any who want you to pay to list with them) and which companies they’ve hired for before. And let them know once you’ve found a job, so they’ll take you out of the pool.

Personal referral

Personal referrals come from networking, and networking takes many forms. I’ll break them down below:

Life networking

Your uncle has a job at his workshop. Your best buddy from college has a friend who is looking for a copy editor. These referrals come from your life, from people who you met without any intention of ever getting a job lead from them. These referrals are luck-based, and can stray into nepotism if you aren’t careful, but they can be a source of tips (just don’t blame me if your mom’s friend knows of an animator job that’s perfect for you when your background is in watercolor illustration…).

School networking

Alumni networks can be great—they tend to be stronger/more useful if you attended a school that has a specific focus, and are even more useful for graduate programs. Career centers and alumni relations groups tend to keep lists of industry-specific alums, and many provide that information so others can reach out for informational interviews (a great way of building your network!). You can also look up alumni on LinkedIn, and see if any work in the companies you’re interested in.

Digital networking

LinkedIn and other social media can be great tools for networking, but I find their best use comes from connecting with people you already know, or have met in person. I’ve only very rarely accepted people I haven’t actually met into my LinkedIn network, and most of the times I have, I’ve regretted it, or have seen no benefit. However, LinkedIn can be a great tool for keeping in touch with industry peers or friends and colleagues from schools or past jobs, who may know of opening positions, or of unlisted opportunities. When looking for a job, it’s certainly worth posting on LinkedIn that you’re looking, and what you’re looking for (as long as this isn’t a flag to your current employer that you’re about to jump ship…post with caution). Let your social networks work for you.

Industry networking

People love getting together. People love free beer. People love making connections, because connections mean new projects, new sales, new exchanges of information. Do a search for industry-related events in your area, including happy hours, MeetUps, conferences…even sales pitches disguised as networking events, if that’s somewhere you might be able to learn about your industry and meet others involved within. Again, bring your business cards and a few copies of your resume. Don’t be shy about giving your cards to those you meet, and if someone asks for your resume, give them one, too (I wouldn’t just go handing resumes out).

Also, this is actually not the chance for your elevator pitch. Spend networking events getting to know those there, and do a lot of listening. You can give your elevator pitch if asked why you’re there, but otherwise, use your time to ask a lot of questions. This is your opportunity to get the lay of the land, and people love talking about themselves. If you ask questions and listen intently to their answers (and ask follow-up questions!), people will remember you as being invested and inquisitive. Again, follow up the next day with any cards you get, in a similar format to the career fair: Hi, I’m [YOUR NAME], we met at [INDUSTRY EVENT] and had a great talk about [SPECIFIC DETAIL]. After that, you can follow up with a request for an informational interview, a note that you’d like to keep in touch, or an ask to let you know if they hear of any roles that might be right for you, depending on if you feel comfortable asking your new acquaintance about this. I would hesitate on the last one, only because you don’t want this new link in your network to feel used for a job search.


Recruiters often reach out on LinkedIn (remember to set your profile to “actively looking” if you’re job hunting!), and may or may not have qualified leads. Remember to do your due diligence on the recruiter, and ask them plenty of questions to determine if the leads they have are real so you aren’t wasting your time. Some industries rely on recruiters; in others, they’re totally useless/don’t have a place in the job search. Try to figure out early on if recruiters will help you in your industry. And it may not hurt to reach out to some yourself (politely!) if your skill set seems to match jobs they say they’re looking for—but only reach out if they say they are interested in that kind of contact.

I hope this gives you a number of jumping-off points on your job search. I’d like to dive a bit deeper into a few of these, and we’ll be covering more elements of the job search in this series, like creating and curating your personal brand. Until then, give these a try, and see what you come across! And let me know if I’ve left something off!

How to Approach Personal and Professional Development

Thanks to blogs like this, social media, traditionally-published books and articles, workshops, and podcasts, there’s a wealth of information on personal and professional development. It can be overwhelming just to figure out where to start, let alone find resources that are applicable to your situation. So, before I delve into my opinions on the subject, I’d like to outline some ways to use everything I’ll be posting here.

1. I’m not always right (and neither is anyone else!)

I hope this is obvious, but if it wasn’t, consider it said here and now: Take any advice you get with a good grain of salt. My advice is inherently limited by my own experiences and research; your mileage will vary, and only you are going to know what will help you grow and further your own goals. There may be times when it behooves you to totally go against something I’ve advised. The important thing is to follow your instincts, sort through which parts work for you and which don’t, and adapt advice as you see fit. That being said, I do encourage you to not dismiss things that may be helpful but will take you out of your comfort zone: After all, we only gain experience through living that experience, and every time you stretch your comfort zone you get to keep the extra space.

Which leads me to…

2. Figure out what you want, and use your personal and professional development journey to get closer to that goal

Picture what you want…now go get it! Easy, right?

Just kidding. I’ve known a handful of people who have always known what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be, and even then, some of them took a roundabout way to get there. If you aren’t one of these people, don’t worry — figuring out what you want out of life is going to be the first topic I’m going to cover here, precisely because it’s good to start out with a goal. It’s okay if your goal is small and vague, because it’ll change as you learn more and put your tools into action.

As I said, we’ll be going into more detail on this soon, but I want to give you a small teaser: When I was in business school, I realized that no matter where I ended up, I didn’t want to work somewhere that required me to wear a suit. I have never been comfortable in suits, and would rather be able to work somewhere where I was allowed to be professional in a more casual setting, even if it meant losing out on opportunities that may earn me more money, or help me meet other aspects of my goals faster. It also meant giving up on certain careers entirely, but they’re careers that wouldn’t have suited me for a number of reasons, clothing least of all. That choice allowed me to focus my search to jobs I did want, and led to other similar realizations about the lifestyle I wanted while working.

I recognize this depends on having the privilege to choose, but these considerations are still worth thinking about even if you are not in a financial or other situation that allows you to pursue the career you want, because…

3. You reap the benefits of whatever you put time into

This is an important lesson to learn now. You aren’t allowed to know how much time as you’re given on this earth, but you are allowed to decide what to do with it. And let me be clear right now: I don’t (and nor should anyone) expect you to use every waking breath to be bettering yourself. Time off is incredibly important, and rest is beneficial to your brain and well-being. But I want you to consider how you use your time on a daily basis. How long do you spend scrolling through endless status updates on social media? How many levels of Candy Crush have you played this week? How many shows have you binged this month?

Trust me, no one is immune — I’ve played more solitaire than I will ever care to admit, and I have an explicit ban on installing Match-3 style games to my phone. But becoming conscious of your time and how you use it will help you find pockets of time in which to level up your life. Can you listen to a podcast about your hobby or career on your way to work instead of the radio? How about dedicating an hour each weekend to reading? Could you have lunch with a coworker instead of browsing Buzzfeed in your cubicle?

Your skills are like financial interest, and effort put into bettering them will compound over time — honestly, in my mind, time is the most important resource you have, and it’s far from free — it’s worth a lot, to all of us. We’ll work on learning to use it to your advantage, especially when using it to work toward your goals.

In fact, set a goal now. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but couldn’t find the time? We’re at the beginning of the year, when resolutions have been recently made. Find the time in your week, schedule it on your calendar, to achieve your goal. Mine for this year is this blog; yours can be anything. Start now, and we’ll use this time to make it to the end together. The important thing is to start somewhere, now!

4. Accountability is your friend

I find that declaring intent often is one of the best ways to transforming your habits and meeting your goals. This can be anything from simply writing your goal down and keeping it in a visible place where you see it daily, to getting a buddy with whom you communicate about the status and progress of your goals. I keep a star chart for my daily writing on which, like one might do for children, I give myself a star every time I complete my goal — let me tell you, it’s underrated. Giving myself a daily star gives me more pleasure than any other treat or bribe I’ve tried to give myself in the past. There’s something so satisfying about watching those stars add up! I also announce my intent on social media, mostly to friends, whose acknowledgement and comments help me commit to the work I’m doing.

Find your own way to keep your goals in mind. Photos, Pinterest boards, written goals, frequent updates, accountability partners…heck, even writing your dream salary down, if that’s what’s most important to you. Become accountable to something, and you’ll help keep yourself on track to your future.

5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Part of why it’s taken me so long to get this blog started is, honestly, fear of putting myself out there. In the writing of this post, I’ve thought of at least three better ways to go about it. Maybe I’m making no sense at all! Maybe I’m boring you all to tears.

Guess what — mistakes happen, will always happen. And frankly, they, too, are critical to your development.

There’s a reason why “tell me about a time you failed” is a popular interview question: Not only does it show that you are introspective and have good enough self-awareness to identify a moment or period of personal failure, as well as the courage to share it, but it shows that you’ve carried your mistakes with you into the future with, hopefully, the experience of how to deal with it already under your belt.

There’s been a lot of work done on fear and vulnerability, and how instrumental they are to finding your stride as the person you want to become. This goes back to pushing your comfort zone, but the more you can become vulnerable and face your fears, the bigger your comfort zone grows, and the more uncertainty you can handle…because now, fewer things are uncertain. You’ve already dealt with the ambiguity of fear, the anxiousness that comes with trying something new. Embrace the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability, and make them work for you.

And, something that’s so easily forgotten in the internet age: no one is perfect. Every single one of us is growing and learning day by day. By making, acknowledging, and learning from your own mistakes, you become more compassionate to the mistakes of others. And who knows? Your mistakes, if handled well and learned from, may just make you more friends.

6. Keep an open mind

I am all for skepticism, believe you me. However, so many of the moments I’ve had that have taught me something about myself came about from trying something new. By remaining open to change and flexible, you’ll achieve your goals with less work and better results.

That’s a big promise, right?

But I mean it. Again, trust your instincts: If something inside you is telling you to pivot, and you’ve done your research/know it won’t cause you or others harm, go for it. The worst that happens is that you fail…which, as I’ve already pointed out, can be a good thing. So what’s the harm?

I’m not saying to give up your high-powered Wall Street finance job to take up beekeeping, but if something is telling you that you need an apiary, maybe start by taking a class or reading a book. Explore what calls to you, and don’t be afraid to pivot if the timing is right.

Okay, my “tips” blog post is becoming small teasers for many of the things I’m going to cover in detail this year, but I hope you keep these things in mind as you start or continue your journey into personal and professional development!