Should private bankers have to wear pearls?

Dear Shelagh

I am not actually in my first year of work. It’s more like my first year after a promotion, but I saw your response to the girl asking what was wrong with her red suit, and I thought you might be able to help me out.

I am a banker in the branch of a bank in a very small town. I am well-liked and work hard and I enjoy my job. I was recently offered a promotion to the position of private banker, which requires some training and also requires me to travel a branch in a bigger town about an hour away, but it’s my dream job and there’s an increase, so this will all be worth it.

The problem has come in the form of the training we have to go through. There is a corporate wardrobe allowance for personal bankers, which we can spend on specific items from the bank’s clothing provider. The items are lovely, and I was excited to have the budget and a reason to wear them.

But, a personal stylist was brought in to explain the corporate wardrobe to us, and that was where the trouble started. I am a simple, small town girl, and I look like most of my friends do. I have a layered haircut, which I hold in place with hairspray. My hair is a red that is not natural. And I wear two gold earrings in each ear.

The stylist showed us pictures of the kind of professional image that we should be aspiring to. The girls in the image were very young and looked like they came from England and owned a yacht. Their hair was flat and straight and parted on the side, and they wore pearls. I’ve never worn pearls in my life. The image that they’re trying to get me to project just isn’t me.

So what I’m asking you is, is my ‘look’ really a recipe for failure? Will our high net worth customers really not relate to me? Is there any way that I can negotiate with my managers about how much I comply with their image requirements, or will this mean that I don’t get the promotion. I am so sad and confused and not sure how to proceed. I hope you can help.

Happy as I am


Dear Happy

How insulting to 85 percent of the population that the required image for this bank is pearl wearing, flat-haired, English looking debutantes. But let me hand you over to the ever stylish Janine Carley-James of Restyle You before I start ranting…

Dear Red

You sound like a young lady that deserves this promotion and many more in the future; you could go far… further than a large town an hour away. Under no circumstances let your hair or earrings, pearls, young English ladies or the odd yacht or two get in the way.

I have a couple of recommendations:

  1. Approach your line manager/HR manager or whoever the appropriate person is and ask directly and specifically if your hair is too bright. If the answer is yes, then tone it down. Ask ‘should I take an earring out’, act according to the answer you receive.
  2. Express your concern that you feel you are not representing your true self with the corporate wear and ask if you could wear a pieces you select and combine it with options from the official range. I suggest you go to the shops and take some images of the kind of items you would like to wear to show them what you have in mind to help promote your idea.
  3. I feel you should always put an element of yourself in your look but it should still be in keeping with the required image policy of work. If it really conflicts then wear some lingerie you love, that way the clothes closet to your skin are your choice entirely.

Generally speaking the banking institutions require a smart image-especially for private bankers who are directly dealing with VIP clients. This means a clean, neat professional image at all times. This may conflict with your usual flamboyant look… but what do you desire the most, the promotion or your current look?

My take would be to save the high fashion statement looks for after hours and ‘knock em dead’ with your colourful personality at work.

Hope you go far.

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I’m a procrastinating chatterbox with ADHD

Dear Shelagh

I’m a true people’s person and could be considered a social butterfly, but I am rotten at job interviews. I always seem to say the wrong thing, and end up not landing the job because of it. In anticipation of my next job interview, I read your book Your First Year of Work, and found it very useful. I have now finally landed another interview and my nerves are shot. It feels like I don’t have enough time to prepare, even though I have more than two weeks. I’ve also sussed out where my problem lies and I seem to have the most issues with answering strengths/weaknesses questions.

Because I’m talkative, it is hard for me to not blab on and on about my strengths. When it gets to the weaknesses though, my brain shuts down. I always end up saying that my weaknesses are things like punctuality (even though I’m hardly ever late), that I have a learning disability (I have ADHD) and that I’m a procrastinator. Please, please help me? I never know what to say. How do I deal with these questions? I really, really want to get this job.

Nervous wreck

Dear nervous

While you describe ADHD as a learning disability, in the workplace such a condition can – and often does – make for a super-productive employee, particularly in high-tech, science, creative, marketing or sales positions. I have worked with ADHD people before and the most annoying thing about them is that they have a tendency make me look like a slacker by doing twice the amount of work in half the time.

You say you are talkative. Talking is better than not talking, but talking too much and at the wrong time can be off-putting in both interviews and at work. It gives the impression that you care more about your own thoughts and ideas than those of others. This does not go down well in the workplace.

You are obviously a smart and determined young person, so it’s time to put some of your energy into managing this. The trick is two-fold:

  • Focus on listening, and on addressing one point at a time. Don’t try to second-guess the interviewer. What they have to say has as much value as what’s going on in your head, so respect their opinions or questions, and respond to that point or question. Don’t interrupt the interviewer – however much you may want to. If you forget to listen, you’ll not be able to make intelligent responses. If you do listen, and allow the interviewer to direct the interview, you will be far more likely to offer considered and relevant responses.
  • Write down what you want to say at the interview, rehearse each point, and wait (patiently) for the right moment to say it. Make sure that your responses or questions are to the point and add value. If you feel yourself going off on a tangent, rein yourself in and stay on topic. You may need to practise this with a friend or family member.

Instead of blabbing on and on about your strengths, practise making factual references to your achievements. It means little if you say “I am a fast learner” but a great deal if you can demonstrate this by making intelligent references to the organisational structure, or client base, of the company to which you are applying.

Be realistic about your weaknesses. If you claim ‘punctuality’ as a weakness, you may appear to be showing off – displaying false modesty. I’ve always thought it an odd question, but if your interviewer does ask what your weaknesses are, select one, but spin it as a strength. For example:

“I tend to be over-enthusiastic at times, but I’ve learned to direct that enthusiasm into becoming more informed about the things that excite me.”

Which brings us to procrastination. I wish I could tell you how I mastered this; but I still haven’t. What does work for me is drawing up a priorities list and setting daily and weekly tasks (I use my Outlook for this) and ensuring that everything on the list is completed by the end of the week. This sometimes means that I end up working on Sunday evenings (as I am doing right at this moment), but at least I know what needs to be done and by when. I’ve also become more disciplined about social media, and only dip into Facebook and Twitter when I’m on my tea break. (This article is a big wake up call.)

Lastly, I would suggest that you take time out every day to either meditate, listen to soothing music, or lie on the grass and stare at the clouds. I know this is hard to do when your mind is racing in ten different directions all at once, but this is all the more reason why you should give it a go. I would also recommend that you do the breathing exercise at the bottom of page 30 of Your First Year of Work. This will really help calm your nerves in preparation for your interview.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

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In defence of millennials


Dear Shelagh 

I recently read this article which fills me with terror and also makes me angry. I am one of these “millennials” and I work for a company where I sometimes have to select images to go in the company newsletter or to send to clients or whatever. 

So, this poor person posted a pic to the company’s Tumblr account and tagged it “clouds” and “smoke”, which is exactly what it looks like. She didn’t know that it was the exploding Challenger. I didn’t either. It looks like smoke or clouds to me. 

And then that article was written about the “dangers” of hiring people like me. What the hell is wrong with people like me? I don’t get how we’re supposed to know stuff we don’t know. I don’t get what we’re supposed to do so that we don’t look at a random picture of smoke or clouds and think, “hmmm, smoke or clouds”, not “I wonder if that could be an image of some disaster that happened before I was born…” 

Surely every generation has to deal with new young people entering the workforce, who don’t instantly recognise images of stuff that happened before they were born? I mean, I get that it’s all more scary now because social media makes sure that any stupid little mistake is transmitted around the world at the speed of light.

But seriously, what was that girl supposed to have done differently? What should I be doing differently? So that we’re not “dangerous” to hire…

Head in the clouds


Dear Head

I feel your pain: it’s always tempting for some people (click-baiting Jezebel writers?) to make sweeping generalisations when one member of one particular category of person makes a mistake. At any given moment “all” millennials/blondes/Irishmen/Chinese/middle-aged men, etc, etc, become one stupid thing because some social commenter decrees it to be so.

In your case, dear Head, the contrived bigotry of the headline has achieved its goal – annoying the targeted reader. I wouldn’t take it too personally if I were you.

The matter of this particular millennial’s (or “international social media employee’s”) mistake is another thing altogether and my immediate question is: where on earth is the manager in charge? Isn’t it a manager’s job to ensure that staff know stuff they don’t know? Surely American Apparel doesn’t simply take on social media staff without some guidance as to responsible image/copy selection? To then refer to the “insensitivity of the selection” is also sheer nonsense. This was not an “insensitive” act on the part of the employee, as she had no clue as to the image’s provenance, and therefore could not have made an “insensitive” decision. An uninformed one, yes – for sure.

I find it all rather annoying. A mistake was made and – hopefully – a few lessons were learned.

Perhaps what you and I can learn from this is: always check, ask, and check again and if still in doubt, find another image – or another company to work for.

There’s nothing at all wrong with millennials like you. You’re a rather fabulous, independently minded, world-changing lot. Hopefully this Washington Post article will cheer you up.

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Rumours of retrenchment

Dear Shelagh,

I have been working at a wonderful company for little over a year now and although I am less experienced than the others in my position, I feel like I am a significant contributor and I bring a lot to the table.

The problem is not that I feel like anyone disagrees, rather that, in the light of probable retrenchments on the horizon, I am at the bottom of a pretty great pile.

I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive when it comes to assessing my possible fate, but I don’t know where to go from here. Do I approach my bosses and ask them if I should be keeping my ear to the ground for a new job?

Do I secretly start looking for a new position without telling anyone in case they start to think I want to leave (I definitely don’t)?

 Reluctantly Retrenchable


Dear Reluctantly

That’s a horrible situation to be in, I agree. There’s little worse than giving your all to your job with the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head.

I think you should speak to your bosses. Tell them that you’ve heard rumblings about retrenchments and would like to know if you are likely to be affected. They may be reluctant to give you a direct answer, though, as retrenchment is not something that can be done on a whim; there is a series of steps that have to be taken and strict protocol to be followed. Counselling for staff members forms a part of that process.

If the indication is that the company is heading in that direction, tell them that you truly don’t want to leave, while reassuring them that you will continue to give them 100 percent for as long as you work there. Discuss with them your intention to start looking around, and request a good reference should the worst come to the worst. I’m sure your bosses will respect your honesty.

Regardless of their response, try to bear in mind that retrenching staff is a horrible thing to have to do; not only are they losing valued employees, but they are also facing the reality that business isn’t good. The retrench-or can quite easily become the next retrench-ee. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and both positions are horrible.

I truly hope that the rumours are just rumours. Let me know!

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Workplace skills for 12-year-olds?

Dear Shelagh

I have just discovered your advice column and have to say I think it’s a brilliant idea.

I’ve just bought your book for my son who is in his third year at University and I just know it’s going to be a big help – I certainly found it very informative. Thank you for writing it!

My question is about my 12-year-old daughter. I would like to do more for her in the way of teaching her work-related skills. I realise I didn’t really teach my son anything practical (I’m a widowed mom, so there’s no one else to chip in) about job skills or CVs or anything and I want to get that right with my daughter.

Is there anything you can suggest that will help her as she grows up? She says she doesn’t want to read the book!

Concerned Mom


Dear Concerned

I’m so glad you like my column – and thank you for buying a copy of Your First Year of Work for your son. You have entirely made my day.

I can understand your daughter’s reluctance to read the book. I think twelve-year-old girls have enough on their plates as they move from childhood to womanhood, but I really do applaud your decision to teach her some ‘real life’ skills. Sometimes we moms just give up and do it ourselves – which has no long term benefits whatsoever.

Work-related skills for twelve-year-olds in seven easy bullet points:

  1. Teach her about the power of ‘earning’ by matching her allowance to certain extra household duties. I wouldn’t be too soft about this as paying your children to do the chores you least like is a perfect way to introduce her to the realities of work and reward. I haven’t cleaned out a fish tank or picked up dog poo in years.
  2. While I don’t believe that children should be financially rewarded for doing things they should be doing anyway, verbal recognition for keeping her room tidy, washing the supper dishes or making you a cup of tea will reinforce the small delight of knowing that her good deeds are appreciated.
  3. Teach her about money management by opening two bank accounts for her: one for short term savings (holiday money, or new boots) and long term savings (buying a new bike or an iPad). Be wary of lending her money; rather encourage her to save for whatever it is that she ‘needs!’ – and once her monthly allowance is gone, it’s gone.
  4. If you haven’t already started, teach her to cook – not only to cook, but to draw up a menu and shopping list; then go shopping with her so she can learn the value of things, what they cost and how prices vary.
  5. Let her be the boss of something; something for which she has to delegate responsibilities. This need not be a regular thing – perhaps an occasional family picnic or hike. Be there to guide her, but don’t take over. Let her learn from her mistakes (no plates at the picnic!) rather than pointing out the obvious. (This, I confess, is a message to self.)
  6. Consult her. Ask for her advice. When practical, present her with a situation related to home life, your work, an issue with a friend, etc. and ask her what she thinks the best solution would be. Listen to what she has to say, and give her feedback on the advice that you heeded.
  7. While parents sometimes have to lay down the law, allow yourself to negotiate with her: Perhaps she’d prefer to do the Sunday lunch dishes than clean up the dog poo; or perhaps she’s more of a morning person and would rather get up an hour earlier to study than miss her favourite TV show the night before. If that works for you, then be flexible. She will then learn to be flexible in return.

I hope this helps. You sound like a fabulous mother!

Readers, I’m sure you have loads of other practical ideas for Concerned Mom. Please share them below.

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The woman in the ‘too’ red suit

Dear Shelagh

I recently started my first job at a large accounting firm. Obviously, we have to dress “corporate”. I am only a junior secretary, so I don’t have a lot of money, but I went out and bought three suits that I could afford. I have recently been called in to my manager’s office and told that my red suit is “too red” and that I need to tone it down a little. I have three suits that I wear on different days, and I’ve spoken to the other girls and they say that they have about the same. I feel that my red suit is being unfairly criticised. There’s nothing in the company rules that says we can’t wear red. Am I being unreasonable, or are they?

Red Suit


Dear Red

While it’s wonderful to read that you’ve recently landed your first job, I’m sorry that one of your early learning curves should be about something as seemingly small as a red suit. Welcome to the world of ‘unfair’.

My second job ever was for a banking institution way back in the day of synthetic fabrics too awful to describe. My work uniform was a hideous turquoise trilobal frock that clung and crept like a crepe bandage. I’ve never been much of a style queen, but I knew I had to do something to liven it up a little, so I added red – very red – tights and white platform baby doll shoes. I though I looked amazing; sadly the branch manager didn’t (there’s no accounting for taste) so I had to follow the trend of thick beige pantyhose. Fortunately we were visible to our clients only from the waist up, so the public didn’t get to see the granny tights.

What this amounts to is that I’m probably not the right person to advise you on this matter, so I sent your question to the impeccably groomed Janine Carley-James of Restyle You. Here’s what she has to say:

Dear Red

Unless you work for Virgin Atlantic Airways, a red suit just isn’t the ticket to fast track your career advancement. The colour red is not the issue here, rather the amount of it in one go. Do not fret however, your red suit can still earn its keep as part of your work wardrobe – just never both pieces together. Always separate them; for instance, the red jacket with grey pants/skirt. It could also work with smart jeans on casual Friday or, at a push, black pants/skirt. Take care with black as I think the contrast is too great for a bright colour to work with black, unless of course, you introduce another item such as a scarf or a blouse that combines both black and red in one garment.

The red skirt can be worn with a pretty neutral blouse/cardigan such as white or cream accented with a bold necklace. This way your ‘red’ will still be impactful but not over powering.

In future get more bang for your limited budget by buying separates rather than suits. This way you can combine creatively to give you exciting looks for each day of the week; you sound like a bold fun girl and that should never be squashed, just conveyed a little more subtly. – Janine

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Intern seeks greener grass

Dear Shelagh

I am a young woman in my first job – which is a paid internship, after which it will be possible for me to get a proper position at the company I’m working at. However, I believe I should keep my ears open for other opportunities, and I have listed my current employer as a reference on my CV. She is very angry that she keeps getting calls from potential employers checking my reference, and tells me that it shows that I’m not committed to my job. So I have two questions. The first is, must I be dishonest with her and pretend that I’m not looking for other opportunities? And the second is, what am I supposed to do about providing a reference if I’ve only ever had this job and I can’t use her?

Honest jobseeker


Dear Honest

Congratulations on finding a paying internship. I’m sure you know that there are thousands of graduates who aren’t as fortunate.

I can’t help wondering why you are looking for other opportunities when you already have an almost guaranteed place where you are. Is there something about the company that’s not working for you? Something about your employer? If so, consider addressing these issues before deciding to move on. If not, and if you are really just looking for greener grass, then perhaps it’s time for a rethink.

Put yourself in your employer’s shoes for a moment. Training and mentoring an intern is a time consuming and costly business. Sure, your employer gets something out of it too, but if she’s already talking about a permanent position, she will almost certainly continue to invest in you. But why should she bother to do this when you’ve let it be known that you’re using her as a stepping stone to greater things?

Why not take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that you have right now? Why not learn all you can, do your work with the utmost integrity and show your employer that she made the right choice in selecting you? If you decide in a year’s time that there are valid reasons for you to move on, then discuss this with her, rather than letting other potential employers be the messengers.

So, to answer your questions: there is no point in being dishonest and denying that you are looking for work elsewhere when she already knows this. If you are determined to leave, then do her the courtesy of letting her know why and ask her permission to use her name as a reference (this is always good practice). If she declines, then you are back to square one and must use your CV and academic testimonials to attract other prospective employers. If you decide that you do want to stay; apologise for putting her in such an awkward position, and commit to earning her respect.

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