Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Delaying decisions

I once worked for the president of a company who never made decisions. You could go to this guy with an incredible amount of data, a clear point of view and a solid strategy. Still, he wouldn't make a decision. Eventually, he was ousted from the company. I have since recognized this as a pattern in many senior leaders. The slow decision making can be frustrating for an employee waiting to bring a project to conclusion. What is the cause of the slow decision making?

There can be many reasons a leader is delaying decision making. In my experience, a leader would like as much information possible to make sure they are making an informed choice. Often, time alone can help confirm the quality of data. Other times, that leader wants to gain support from corporate partners or clients before resolving the issue. I have also seen a leader delay moving a project forward because they do not want to be accountable for the outcome. Fear can be very powerful.

In the end, if you are waiting for a decision on a project you want to move forward, think about how you can help your leader. What is their hesitation on finalizing the decision? Where can you alleviate some remaining concerns around the project? How can you help them gain support from corporate partners or clients? How can you ‘manage up’?

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Can I take a year off?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a manual that had all of the certain answers about how to make choices in your career?  Many candidates approach me with the question of what it would mean to their career to take a year off.  Most wish there was a definitive answer…. but maybe it is good that there isn’t.

Some people want to unplug to travel, to care for a loved one who is ill, to spend time with their children, or just to rest their souls.   Some teachers get sabbaticals: paid leave every seven years to study or travel.  Not so much in fashion.   We are covered by the Family Medical Leave Act FMLA where if your situation qualifies   you can take up to 26 weeks unpaid time off to care for a family member and be guaranteed a job when you return.   Though you need to review this legislation and how your employer interprets  FMLA prior to making any decisions.

If your situation is not covered by FMLA and you want to take a year off to travel, or further your education, or pursue some passion, there are no certainties about how it will impact your career.   Here are some things to consider.  How happy are you in your current role?  Would you want to return to the same company?   In some cases it can be easier to take additional time off as part of a transition to a new employer.  On the flip side there is certainly risk involved when you leave one job without having another job lined up.  You also lose some negotiating leverage on salary when you are interviewing for new roles without coming directly from a current salary.   

Really smart employers will be flexible to retain talent that is performing.   If you have a great relationship with your current company and would want to return to them, an option would be to have a candid discussion with your boss and your HR generalist about your desire to take some time off.  Work with them on the timing so they can cover your role before you take the time off.   

I know candidates who negotiated to work part time for a year so they stayed connected but had time to devote to other priorities. 

Some candidates did this seamlessly.  For example, one fabulous designer on the West Coast wanted to take 6 months to surf all around the world.  She resigned from a company where she had worked for  6 consecutive years.  She had great success and career progression in her time there.  She gave them plenty of notice,  got references from them, and left on great terms.  She did take calls from recruiters while she traveled and stayed networked so that when she returned there were options and contacts waiting to visit with her. 

There have also been candidates who have not returned to their careers as easily as planned.  Some have taken roles with less responsibility and money, some had to job hunt for much longer than they anticipated.  In one case the candidate left the industry entirely after 2 full years of job hunting.

At the end of the day this is a personal decision that requires thought and planning.   It is extremely important to carefully weigh the risks and benefits.  Strong  business relationships and a great network of industry colleagues will greatly assist returning to a satisfying role.   I would love to hear from you if you have taken some extended time off and how it impacted your life and your career. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Size matters

I felt very successful as a young manager. I had a small team of one, then three, then five. I had a great deal of time to spend with my team giving them the tools they needed to be successful to move forward in their careers. For the most part, we were a happy, high performing team. I switched jobs and my next team was made up of eighty five people. It was a big jump, but I was a strong leader. I knew I could handle it. What was the difference between five and eighty five? It turns out there is a big difference.

It was impossible to give everyone the personal attention I gave to my previous teams and be involved in all of the daily tasks that went along with my previous roles. I quickly realized that one style of management does not work for everyone in your team. What could I do to still be a good leader with this large group? After a short period of floundering like a fish out of water, I decided to start listening. What did each person need from me to feel fulfilled, get their job done and build their skills? Some needed personal attention while others enjoyed autonomy.  Most needed me to help clear obstacles so they could move forward with their functional roles. Some needed encouragement and affirmation that they were on the right path with their leadership and job function. Others were concerned with career development.

The balance of my job had shifted. In prior roles I had spent about 35% of my time on leading and developing my team, 5% on clerical/ budget work and 60% of my time in my functional role. With this large team, 50% of my time was spent leading and developing my team, 20% on clerical and 30% on functional tasks and cross-departmental relationships. The shift in time from functional tasks to leadership was not easy until I realized my team was handling most of the functional tasks. They, and the company, didn't need me for that.  The team needed leadership. Most of all, they needed what they specifically asked for.

In the end I was able to become a successful leader for this large team, but it wasn't overnight. What can you do to prepare for a change in team size? How can you better understand expectations? How can you see when some people respond to your leadership while others shun it? How do you find the balance between team development and functional tasks?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, August 19, 2013


Usually when someone writes in all capital letters it seems like the writer is shouting. If you notice, the post title is in all caps. It is intentional and should be read as though I am shouting. Over the years I have given many presentations to students about the fashion business. In almost every presentation a student will ask what the best piece of advice I can give for them to be successful in the fashion industry. My answer is always the same. KEEP IN TOUCH.

It sounds simple, but the new generation of students graduating is not very good with this. I specifically remember a presentation I gave about two years ago; I shared the same advice with about fifteen students. I gave every student my business card and encouraged them to stay in touch. Two out of fifteen followed up one time.  I responded to both students positively and was open to keeping the connection. I never heard from either one of them again. I cannot express enough how unwise this is for students. Relationships are everything in this business and if you don’t have any, your upcoming job search will be difficult. Friending someone on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ just isn’t enough to build a relationship with executives in the fashion industry.  If you want a relationship, a personal email or phone call is what would make you stand out from the crowd.

I admit that I have not maintained connections to everyone I have ever met or worked with, but I will tell you that everyone who has remained a connection has been helpful in my career and vice versa.

Who are you happy you connected with? How can you better maintain connections with new acquaintances? How have your connections helped in your career? How have you helped your connections with their careers? What has held you back from staying in touch with potential business connections?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Managing up

We have all heard the term 'manage up'. When I first heard it, I had no idea what it really meant. I thought it meant brown-nosing. Basically, I thought if you were 'managing up' you were 'kissing up'. In one annual review many years back, I had a boss tell me I needed to learn how to 'manage up'. I was perplexed. I got my job done, and done well. My peers, employees and even my boss' boss were very happy with me. What did she mean by 'manage up'? Rather than leave the review in the dark, I simply asked her what she meant. My boss wanted me to give her daily updates on what I have been doing, what issues I encountered, any news I heard about, and how I solved problems. Although I was doing my job, she felt out of the loop. That was an easy problem to solve once I knew more about what she wanted.

I have also seen the opposite problem though. I once had an employee that came to me with every small dilemma he encountered in a day. This wasn't an assistant or associate. This is someone who had been working for quite a while. I wanted him to 'manage up' by making his own decisions and solving his own problems. I would be there for the big stuff when he needed me. It turns out his previous boss wanted involvement in the minutia. Once we had the conversation about what my expectations were and how I trusted him, the behavior changed. He started to 'manage up'.

What does it mean to manage up with your boss? How can you be sure that you are managing up? What does your leader need or want from you? What conversations have you had with your leader surrounding expectations? How can you balance 'managing up' with getting your job done? How can 'managing up' improve your daily work life? Who can help you 'manage up'?

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love Your Life

This is going to be a very personal post for me.  As I am writing this I am spending the night in the hospital with a very dear friend who is fiercely battling Stage 4 Melanoma.   She is sleeping and I am catching up on work emails. 

I am and always have been a very driven person when it comes to my career.  From college until I had my first child, my career in fashion/retail was my TOP priority.   It caused some strain on those closest to me and my personal relationships but those who loved me hung in there!  When I had a child my world shifted entirely.   There were no longer enough hours in the day for me to be who I used to be from a career perspective and who I wanted to be for my family.   I watched other parents do this seamlessly but I struggled.  I felt I wasn’t doing any of my roles well and wrestled with stress, anxiety and fatigue.  I continued to push on for seven months.  The morning of September 11th 2001 I said goodbye to my husband who  I had not spent quiet time with for as long as I could remember. I dropped our son off at a day care provider I was not satisfied with, and headed to work.  I was on the phone with a vendor in NYC when the planes hit.  I was supposed to be in NYC that day but my work trip had been pushed out.   It was a pivotal moment for me and millions of people.  Life is precious.   I realized I needed to make a change. 

After 12 years of all career it was frightening to let go.  I discussed it with my family and we decided I would step out of the industry for a year and see how it went.  We planned from a budget perspective…slashed our income in more than half….moved to a smaller home.   I was in a new world of stay at home moms with children.  For six months I introduced myself including the fact that I used to be a Merchant.   Hard to leave that identity.   I took an entire year off that I will NEVER regret.  But there is a part of me that gets great validation from my career and I just love the people in our industry.  So I slowly started working again.  12 years and an additional child later I have my own business and am back to full time work.

It is not the dream I used to have of being a Brand President leading an army of fashion talent but it works with the rest of my life.  The days are intense but there is balance and flexibility.  My dear friend who is fighting for days reminds me how important it is to love your life every day.  Our industry is intense and the more we earn the more is expected of us.  However when people perform, have confidence and plan there are always options.   I talk to many candidates who are not happy and in an unhealthy work environment .   Life is too short.  Make sure you stop and evaluate.  Have you had a pivotal moment?  Did you make adjustments or just keep muscling through?   Do you enjoy what you do?  Does your career allow you to have a balance in life that works for you and those you love? Does your life allow you to do work that you enjoy?   If you need to make a change…what are your options?   Keep an open mind there might be wonderful things you never considered just around the corner!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Being a fashion designer

When I tell people I work in the fashion industry, their first question is always “oooh are you a designer?” There is a glow around the term ‘fashion designer’. People outside the industry picture runway shows, fabulous parties and famous people. While that can be part of the job, unless you are Karl Lagerfeld or Derek Lam it’s a very, very small part of what a fashion designer does. I am not a designer, but I used to be one. This post will be dedicated to telling you what the life of a fashion designer is really like from the beginning to maturing in your career.

If you become an assistant designer be prepared to do paperwork. If you are going to work at any mid to large size company, paperwork will be a big part of your job. You may do some sketching if you are lucky enough to work for a designer who is interested in your input, but do not be fooled. Your job is taking that creative sketch and translating the details for your factories. You will be writing how far the stitching should be from the hem, adding reference numbers for what logo should be on a particular item, adding the colors etc. Again, when you first start working, you are the lackey. You are not deciding what colors to add or how far the topstitching should be, you are only adding what you are told into the product management system.  You are usually doing this paperwork late into the evenings or even on weekends. There are some creative parts of the job. You may cut swatches or find some inspiring images to help prepare for a presentation. You will shop the market, search for the perfect shade of red and put a few boards together. I would estimate creativity is only about twenty percent in the beginning.

As a designer moves up in their career, there is more of a creative focus. The designer is sketching, shopping, preparing for presentations and researching trends but will also spend a fair amount of time on paperwork. The designer will meet with management having their work critiqued. Depending on the company, this can be brutal. It can also be very rewarding. In my opinion, the designer phase is one of the most fun stages of being a designer.

As you move up in your career, things change. When you are a director or Vice President in a fashion company, you both increase and decrease your level of creative control. Let me explain. When you are in this high level as a designer, you rarely sketch. You give your team creative direction and work with them to achieve it. Your time is spent leading your team, dealing with a budget and ‘managing up’ rather than hands on designing. Running a design team means managing many different creative personalities. This can be both fun and challenging.

Of course these descriptions are not absolute and give general information from my experience and the experience of my friends in the industry. What interests you in a design career? If you have questions about being a designer in the fashion industry, please add your questions into the comment section of this blog.

Learn more about the fashion industry from Career Coach Kate Kibler at