My 20 year old sister always refuses to watch Working Girl with me, protesting that it “looks ancient”, but it’s a movie that has taught me a lot about work. Released in 1988, it may not have dated well, but we can still learn some valuable career lessons from the ambitious Tess McGill (played by Melanie Griffith).
Tess is a working-class secretary who is hungry to achieve an executive’s position. Every morning, Tess and her giant hairdo get the Staten Island ferry to Manhattan to join the rat race. Unfortunately, she is underappreciated at her job and experiences sexism at her workplace, not to mention having her idea stolen by the boss she thought was her mentor. Still, Tess manages to overcome all of these obstacles and get herself the career she always dreamed of. Here are some career lessons we can learn from Working Girl.
Stay in Control at Work Events
Unfortunately, the calming medication Tess takes before attending a work function sends her into a drunken stupor after too much tequila, leaving an unknown gentleman to get her home. Far from portraying herself as the sharp businesswoman she was aiming for, Tess was out of control and unprofessional. The next day, Tess discovers that the man in question is in fact Jack Trainer, the very person she is trying to do a business deal with. You never know who you will meet at work events, so it’s always best to keep a clear head in order to avoid any embarrassment.
Dress for the job you Want
The movie opens with Tess dressing in loud suits, bright eye make-up and heavy jewellery with big hair. However, she soon learns that she needed to dress a bit more sharply if she was to be taken seriously. By the end of the movie, Tess is transformed, wearing sharp suits, with short hair and heels. It’s a lesson to learn – always dress for the job you want, not the job you have. At your current company, notice what the management wear and start to emulate that style. You never know when an opportunity to attend a meeting will arise, and it’s unlikely that anyone will want to take someone who is dressed a bit too casually.
Capitalise on Opportunities
When Tess’s boss broke her leg ski-ing, she took the opportunity to step into her boss’s shoes – literally. When Tess found out her boss had stolen her idea, she took matters into her own hands, arranging meetings with the company in question to pitch the idea herself. She asked her friend to pose as her secretary and even crashed a wedding reception to get closer to the business people she wanted to speak to. She ended up pitching a business deal whilst dancing with someone who thought she was a wedding guest. Look for opportunities all around, even in places you wouldn’t necessarily think they would be. It’s sometimes the crazy ideas that are the best ones.
Treat Subordinates With Respect
In the final scene when Tess had made it and has her own office, complete with a stunning view over the city, she is surprised to find that she has been allocated a secretary. But far from treating her like a slave, Tess makes it clear that they will have the relationship she never enjoyed with her former boss. If you are a manager, be the kind of boss you would like to have yourself. Be a mentor, be respectful and fair – and above all, do not try to pass your secretary’s ideas off as your own!
Tess doesn’t have the luxury of a college education to fall back on. Instead she has worked hard to fund herself through night school for 5 years in order to get her business degree. In addition to this, Tess was always surprising people with knowledge she had gleaned from unlikely sources, for example W Magazine. Learning doesn’t stop – always look for chances to further your learning, whether it’s through courses, training or even reading things on the internet and in newspapers. You never know what you will pick up that will come in useful later.
Working Girl is a tale about a girl who isn’t afraid to take chances to get ahead. As Tess herself said, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I didn’t set up.” Whilst I wouldn’t recommend following Tess’s fashion tips, I admire her bravery and desire to get what she wants even when the odds are stacked against her. Working Girl taught me to dream big and take chances, not forgetting the most important lesson of all – wearing trainers with skirts to work before changing into heels in the office.