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Career Advice from the Women of BinderCon

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This past weekend marked the first-ever BinderCon, or “Out of the Binders” conference in New York City. The conference, a symposium “to empower women and gender non-conforming writers with tools, connections, and strategies to advance their careers,” took place over a two-day period and featured women writers in some of the most prominent positions in today’s media. Each woman who gave a speech, led a workshop, or participated in a panel represented a wealth of knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, success. Although the conference focused on writers, advice from participants spans all career aspirations. Here are some of the best tidbits from the speakers of BinderCon.

“When there wasn’t a venue for me, I started my own.” –Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet didn’t wait for an invitation to start reviewing books. She knew what she wanted to do, and she did it. With no outlet, Peet started writing reviews and posting them to her own blog. Venues began to take her seriously because she showed that she was a force to be reckoned with. Now, Peet regularly publishes reviews on websites such as “Like Fire” and “Bloom,” and has contributed to dozens of reviewing sites. The takeaway: Stop waiting for someone to open a door for you. Open it yourself. If there’s no door, smash through a few walls. If you know what you want, don’t wait to do it, just do it.

“People want to help you if you’re easy to work with.” –Lisa Levy

Manners matter, and they matter even more when you’re networking. One of the most important things you can do, says Lisa Levy, freelance writer and reviewer, is be nice to other people. Promote other people’s work, not just your own. Be polite in a networking setting, but also in everyday life. Hold doors for people. Say please and thank-you. You never know if the person you just held the elevator for is a future connection, or even a future employer.

“Know when to walk away and to not be nice.” –Merve Emre

But, cautions Merve Emre, don’t be too nice. Emre, a freelance writer and reviewer, says that it pays to let editors know that, if they can’t meet your terms, you have no problem pulling a piece and going elsewhere with it. Stick up for yourself and your work, and don’t let the higher-ups walk all over you for fear of offending them.

“If someone can’t help you, go to the next person.” –Natalia Oberti Noguera

The world is a wide-open place. In it you’ll find certain people who can help you take your career to the next level. You’ll also find people who can’t (or won’t). It’s not their fault, so don’t be impolite, but don’t give up, either! If you hit a dead end, says Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Fellowship, keep asking. Talk to people until you meet someone whose help you can count on, even if it’s someone who can give you useful advice. This ties in with another piece of advice Noguera quoted from USBC’s Toya Powell, “Fortune is in the follow-up.” So, when you meet someone, follow up.

“When it comes down to it, you should be a little bit more of an asshole.” –Jessica McGlory

Arguably one of the best lines of BinderCon, Jessica McGlory, founder and CEO of Industry Forecast Project Inc., isn’t promoting outright rudeness in the workplace. Instead, she’s adamant that women should speak up for themselves and take credit for things they’ve accomplished. McGlory told about a time when she’d raised money for a charitable cause she was passionate about. She’d filled out the applications and signed the forms, but her advisor was quick to praise the entire team—even though McGlory did the brunt of the work solo. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘this happened because of me, and without me it wouldn’t have happened,’” McGlory says.

“Own your expertise.” –Adaora Udoji

So many women are afraid to call themselves experts on a topic, says Adaora Udoji, broadcast journalist and entrepreneur. Even if it’s just a topic you’re passionate about or keep up with in the news, you should consider yourself, an expert, Udoji says. Often, women are overlooked as contributors or employees because claiming expertise can be seen as “bragging,” while not mentioning what you’re good at is “humble.” This is not the case, Udoji insists. “Would a straight, white man hesitate to claim his expertise?” she asked. “No. Neither should you.”

“Sit at the big kid’s table.” –Natalia Oberti Noguera

Noguera told the audience about a friend’s piano teacher’s daughter who’d tried out for volleyball and made both varsity and junior varsity teams. The daughter decided to play on varsity, which meant she’d be on the bench during every game of her junior year. When asked why her daughter would choose the bench over play time on JV, the mom answered, “Because she’ll get to practice with the better players.” Sure enough, the daughter started for varsity her senior year, while her friends who’d chosen JV the year before sat on the varsity bench. The lesson? If it’s an option, always practice with the better players. You might be out of your depth at first, but they’ll teach you more than those on par with you.

“Know enough to be dangerous.” –Alejandra Owens

In our age of information, it’s easy to feel like we need to know everything about everything to succeed. This isn’t the case says Alejandra Owens, a marketing advisor for AARP. Instead, you just need to know enough to be dangerous. For example, you don’t need to know everything about SEO, but you should know enough to sit down in a room full of people who code and ask them about their strategies in their own terminology. They’ll both appreciate the effort and respect you more for it.

Photo: Brad Barket / Getty Images

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