No Strings Attached – The Story of My $2,000 Stipend for Interview Attire
Mid-career, I was interviewing for a major, global beauty brand, and was surprised by a phone call from the recruiter, saying the brand didn’t want to offend me, but would like to offer me $2,000 to purchase an outfit for my final interview with the head of the company, a man.
I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback, wondering what I had worn to the first 14 interviews that had concerned them. But I got over it and said, “I’ll accept the offer, but no obligation.” The recruiter knew that I was fielding plenty of interviews at the time and made it clear that it was a gift.
I knew that if I got this role, I would be entering an industry filled with talented women (refreshing onto itself) but I did worry that the emphasis on appearance could cloud or supercede great ideas and good thinking. Why is that the way it is? I’ve always loved fashion, but I wanted to be sure that my mind would matter as much as my outfit.
I decided to head to Barneys, which at that time of year–late January or early February–was full of spring break attire, and I found a Burberry tweed suit that fit the bill. After my final interview, as I was walking down Fifth Avenue in my brand-new suit, I knew the role was mine if I wanted it. But I had to choose a then little-known startup called MapQuest.
Why MapQuest? Because I thought there was a better chance that my work would be focused on results and driving the business forward, and I knew they were open to innovation. The environment was fast-moving and small by comparison, and that excited me; I loved the challenge of an unknown startup–the risk, the possibilities.
At the global beauty brand, I was worried about politics–would they matter more than any digital strategy I could offer? Also, as much as I was excited to work in a female-dominated field, I wasn’t sure if my colleagues would play nice. As I rose up the ranks in the 80s and 90s, the few women I came across in leadership had clawed tooth and nail to be where they were, and they weren’t too interested in extending a hand to others, which came as an unwelcome surprise. Nowadays, most women are supporting each other in the workplace, thank goodness, perhaps because there are more of us, allowing our natural tendency toward empathy to get more air time.
Did I make the right choice? Who’s to say? It’s entirely possible that my fears about politics were baseless, though I can’t say I regret my days at MapQuest. I was right about my assumptions at the startup, and I did love the challenge. It was up to me and my team to bring together the cartographers, who assumed users only wanted to look at maps of the world, and the engineers in order to supply driving directions to the majority of users (who simply sought navigation tools). And the suit? I flew across the country, wore it to all our meetings with investors, and, you could say, rode it to glory. It’s still in my closet, now sans shoulder pads.
Know Your Worth
While there’s no chance those stipends are still being offered, what’s the lesson for early entrepreneurs? Don’t be afraid to take what you’re worth and use it to your benefit. That doesn’t mean you need to be ruthless or scheme, but it does mean that you’re not beholden to anyone. It’s so easy, as a woman, to think that we owe someone, and as a result of feeling indebted, we stall out in our career or avoiding making the difficult choices that our business requires. But we need to be clear and straightforward–with ourselves and with others–to avoid these pitfalls. That begins with a strong sense of self-worth, which isn’t something you have to earn.
This guest post was authored by Jeannette McClennan
Jeannette is a digital technology executive who has held C-level positions at five companies, has spent her career defining and developing innovative digital products and services essential to revenue attainment and business growth