Dream-Job Tips From Women Who Know

© Refinery29

By Erin Donnelly, Refinery29

As kids, we each wanted to grow up to be a ballerina, or an astronaut, or a veterinarian-by-day/pop-star-by-night. But now? Maybe you're still chasing that NASA dream. Or, maybe you fantasize about being a high-flying project manager with a corner office. Maybe you want to indulge your passions — for music, food, wine, or art — by embarking on a less-conventional career. Or, perhaps you simply want to strike out on your own and start a business that lets you call all the shots.

Whatever your true calling, these six pros have advice that can help you transform thought into action. From entrepreneurs, to artists, to those for whom a "dream job" means a healthy work-life balance, these career women are sharing the secrets that got them to the top.

Read on for workplace wisdom that'll give your career a kick in the pants. Go get 'em, tiger.

Banke Kuku

© Designed by Tania lili.

What about your current role makes it your dream job?

"I am able to express myself through my designs and share my creations with the world. It’s amazing when the feedback is positive and people send pictures of the way they have used your products. I also like using my designs to help causes. Currently, my prints are primarily about the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, which is an oil-rich region going through tremendous conflict and struggle. With my prints I try to educate people globally about the ongoing crises."

Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?

"I have been fascinated with textiles as far back as I can remember. I was knitting at age five. I would always pick the floral dresses and draw patterns on everything with a felt-tip pen! I didn’t know it was possible to specialize in textiles until my foundation course at Central Saint Martins. That's where my textiles journey began."

How did your studies impact your career?

"It is very possible to go into a creative career without formal training, although I believe you increase your chances of being successful with training. Studying textiles taught me the techniques, which broaden my ability to design in many different ways."

What was your first job out of school?

"I freelanced for several fashion designers, but my 9-5 was at a fashion house called Jasmine Di Milo in London."

How has your definition of a dream job changed over the years?

"Over the years I have realized that a dream job comes with many things you don’t like to do or never thought you would ever have to do. It’s really important to keep on top of the things we don’t like, as they play a huge part is making your business and success."

What would you do over again if you had the chance?

"I would have gained a better business understanding right from the start. At the same time, you never fully understand the complexity of a start-up until you are in the position. Experience is often the best teacher."

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

"Always be prepared for every situation. Always ask yourself: What if?"

How do you keep challenging yourself?

"Keeping targets keeps me challenged. I have several different targets which include sales, PR, design, and more. These targets must be met for my business to grow. As the business grows, the targets all increase."

What was the biggest challenge in starting your own line?

"I think the biggest challenge for Banke Kuku Textiles has been to develop a strong and tailored business model. The business is just as important as the design. I would say I spend 75 percent of my time dealing with the business aspect and 25 percent designing."

What is the biggest reward of your job?

"Seeing my thoughts become reality. It could be a design idea finally becoming a finished product that people appreciate and buy. It could be a strategy in my business plan taking shape."

Shirin Valipour

© Designed by Tania lili.
Founder of the Orico London beauty brand

How do you define a dream job?

"One that thrills and inspires you to push harder and to see results."

What inspired you to start your own beauty line?

"After 25 years in the beauty industry, I was excited to see the laboratories around the world focusing on clinical research for natural, bioactive ingredients... That was the main reason I launched my own beauty line... I started Orico in August 2011 from home, where I created the concept and brand and started on choosing key ingredients for development with our manufacturer. I launched the range in October 2012 online and then opened our flagship store in Chelsea in March 2013."

How did your studies influence your current career?

"I have an Economics and Mathematics BSC from University of London, which set the foundation for business-building. My love for creativity and beauty, married with this, influenced my career in beauty advertising, leading into marketing and brand-building."

What is the most challenging part of running your own company?

"The smallest details...such as how to get an international bar code for the labels. Being responsible for every single detail is a big learning process."

And the most rewarding aspect?

"The ultimate thrill of seeing the brand succeed. Even to see our shop feels amazing and unbelievable, as I have turned my vision into a reality."

What sort of questions should women be asking themselves before setting up their own business?

"Are they ready to put their whole life into it? These past three years have been non-stop: Days focusing on the U.K. business, evenings on the U.S. business, and weekends on the shop. It's also important to stay positive through daily and weekly challenges."

What's the best business advice you've ever heard?

"I once read a quote from Estée Lauder: 'I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.'"

How much of your time goes to practical business matters and how much to beauty and so-called "creative" aspects?

"It’s a very fine balance that I try to maintain. I would say 80/20, with the 20% being the creative heart of the brand."

Are there any resources you would recommend, either for breaking into the beauty world or for setting up a business?

"I love the Harvard Business reviews for various aspects of business-building. For the beauty industry, it's not so much books but observing and following the paths of fellow beauty experts."

What is a common mistake you see women making with their careers?

"Not believing in themselves and their abilities, and sticking to a job out of fear."

When did you know that you'd made it?

"When I saw my ads worldwide and walked into my office in New York with views of Central Park."

How do you define success?


Liz Bacelar

© Designed by Tania lili.

Founder and CEO of Decoded Fashion

What about your current position makes it your dream job?

"There is never a boring moment. My job is to discover emerging technologies for fashion, beauty, and retail and showcase them at our summits and competitions in New York, London, and Milan. It's hard work, but fun to travel the world to meet brilliant tech entrepreneurs. As a result of this constant research, I'm a trusted source to top fashion brands. And, it's a great pleasure being able to bring tech innovation to some of my favorite designers in the world."

Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?

"Since I was a little kid, I've always loved fast-paced activities, discovering things first and then sharing them, speaking different languages, and creating events. I feel like I've been doing all of these things all along, whether as a journalist, TV producer, tech executive, or entrepreneur. It wasn't the job description that defined me, but how I tackled the job."

How did your studies guide your career?

"I went to a low-key college and an Ivy League graduate school. I speak Portuguese and began learning English, Italian, and Spanish on my own with the help of cassettes and books. Being able to speak different languages gave me an edge early on in my career. It's also important to expose yourself to journalism, legal studies, and coding. Each of these things changes the wiring of your brain and the way you solve problems."

What was your first job out of school?

"I became a writer for the local newspaper. There were no openings, but I pitched them my position. Over 20% of the town's population was Portuguese-speaking and no one on the staff spoke it. I worked for free for three months to prove my value, and then was offered a position."

How has your definition of a dream job changed over the years?

"At first it was monetary; I was heading to Yale Law School. I gave it all up last-minute, and headed to Columbia School of Journalism instead. My dream job became a career with relevance — the ability to impact the world at a global level, to make it better somehow. It's natural for role models and goals to evolve with time."

What would you do over again if you had the chance?

"I would have taken more math and business courses in school. There's a lot I had to catch up to later on."

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

"Work hard, even when no one is looking. I've always tackled every task, no matter how small, with great dedication. If it was a simple web search, I'd come up with the best possible results, while also aiming for the fastest turn-around... When I see an intern working hard with this kind of integrity, I make sure to hire her or him as fast as possible."

How do you keep challenging yourself?

"I love life-hacking: tricks, shortcuts, or new methods that increase productivity and efficiency... If you're not the kind of person who settles, great opportunities keep coming your way. I also love networking with no agenda — just having conversations with interesting people, helping people when I can. It's amazing how building good business karma can help you later."

What are some red flags a potential employee might have?

"An unfocused resume — one that shows a little bit of everything — is a big minus. You want to show employers that everything you love and are good at leads to this position — no matter if it's entry-level. Another biggie is an addiction to excuses. When you're young, it's a valuable thing to learn quite quickly to say, 'I messed up, it won't happen again.' Lastly, a disregard for good writing."

What was the biggest challenge of starting your own business?

"The stress of having to do a lot with very little... There's little room for error, and no chance for excuses. That said, it's important to stress that being entrepreneurial and being an entrepreneur are two different things. Being entrepreneurial is being a creative problem-solver, a builder. You don't need to own a company to get there."

What's the biggest reward of your job?

"Being able to build a career at a global level, and still be a mom of two. Since my hours are long, but flexible, I can still have plenty of my girls in my life."

Vanessa Anne Redd

© Designed by Tania lili.
Six Years musician and co-founder of Sharp Attack Records

What about your current role makes it your dream job?

"I guess there’s a reason it’s called ‘playing’ music. No day’s the same, and sometimes it really does feel like playtime — and you’re a full-time dreamer. Whatever mood you’re in, you can always play your troubles away."

Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?

"I wanted to be a vet until I had to cut up a worm. I worked a lot of jobs...but making music was the passion...I do remember an exact moment, though, where I sat at the piano thinking, I can write poetry and I can play the piano, maybe I should put them together?"

How did your studies impact your career?

"I did music grades that have always made me think of myself as a musician as well as a writer and performer, but you don’t necessarily need to take grades. At the end of the day, you can teach yourself how to play and make music at any age, if you’ve got the determination."

How has your definition of a dream job changed over the years?

"I think when you’re doing creative things, you’re never totally satisfied with what you make, and that’s what drives you on. The dream job’s constantly adapting to try and realize ever-greater dreams."

What's the best piece of career advice you've ever received?

"Gary Numan saying, 'Start your own record label, so you can get everything out there as quickly as you can and as much of it as you can.' So, Marc Makarov and I started Sharp Attack Records."

How do you keep challenging yourself?

"Trying to move the comfort zone further away and try new things and new ways of working... There’s always more to do. The challenge is finding time to do it all."

What's a huge myth about being a musician?

"That punk rock doesn’t take practice."

What is the biggest challenge of making music your life's work?

"It’s probably to be able to step outside of yourself and hear what the listener’s hearing, but also to be totally absorbed in the moment. And, the classic problem of being 'ready for the muse' at all times. You may hear a symphony, but do you have a pen?"

What's the biggest reward of your job?

"Being able to be totally expressive. As a musician you basically get to turn ideas and feelings into sound, which makes you feel like some kind of magician or physicist. Seeing what you’ve created or are creating directly affect other people is rewarding in any job."  

Julia Oudill

© Designed by Tania lili.

Head sommelier and general manager for La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels & Compagnie Delicatessen

Why do you consider your job a dream job?

"I spend every day as a sommelier, which for me is not only just a job but a passion."

In a nutshell, what do you do all day?

"I spend most days looking for new, amazing wines and introducing my discoveries to join us at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. I spend a lot of time meeting with winemakers and tasting their wines and travelling to different Domaines to discover wines firsthand. It's not all tasting wine, though! I spend a fair amount of time making sure we have the right amount of stock for each wine, making sure things are stored properly, and running the wine bar."

How did you train to be a sommelier?

"After a baccalaureate in the catering industry in Biarritz, I spent a year in Bordeaux to do a specialization in wine, and then I started to work in Paris at Le Carré des Feuillants from Alain Dutournier. He offered me a position of a two-Michelin-star restaurant, even though I was young. I grew up in the restaurant industry, so I was always around good food and wine...I followed my passion and turned something I was interested in into my career."

What sort of skills would one need to pursue that career path?

"Curiosity, humility, a lot of organisation, and a keen sense of smell and taste, of course!"

What's your favorite thing about your job?

"Each day is different for me. One day I could be opening a rare wine for a customer, which is a great honor. Other days, I might have lunch with a group of fellow sommeliers to talk about new discoveries or attend a panel tasting for a magazine. I often run wine tastings in our private tasting room above our wine shop, which is an exciting way to introduce wine to people new to tasting wine, or those who are more advanced."

How do you challenge yourself on a career level?

"I started with Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Paris and have only recently moved to London, so a big challenge for me is translating my knowledge between two languages. I have a lot of work to do to challenge myself, but first, I try to know more and more every day."

What are your career goals at this point?

"In France, I've received a few sommelier awards at competitions, so that's something I would love to do in the U.K. I am also writing a book, which I hope to finish this year."

What is the best career advice you've ever been given?

"Never forget where you come from or who helped you to be where you are."

What advice would you give someone interested in becoming a sommelier?

"Sommellerie is like music; you have to learn the theory before playing. So, it takes time, but as soon as you can read the music, you understand everything much easier and much faster."

What's the biggest myth about your job?

"That we spend our days drinking and getting drunk!"

Are there many female sommeliers?

"Recently women, especially younger women, really have found their voice in the industry."

Are there any resources that might help someone waiting to get in the business?

"I like to have a look on the different website of each wine region. They always let you know if there is a change or news to know. I also read Decanter, or La Revue des Vins de France."

Diane Crook

© Designed by Tania lili.

PR director for Salt Resort Wear

What about your current position makes it your dream job?

"I am really enjoying working for a start-up, as it means you have a lot of flexibility both in terms of how you work and what you can achieve. The team at Salt is extremely collaborative and there is a great synergy. It is good to be in an environment where you can build a brand and business with no limitations."

Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?

"I knew I wanted to be in a creative industry and loved fashion. I originally started training to be an actress but realized before going to college that I didn’t have the passion to accomplish it professionally. I retrained and went to art college and eventually specialized in fashion, which, of course, I was very passionate about."

How did your studies affect your career?

"I was fortunate to study a vocational course at London College of Fashion, and we were actively encouraged to mix with our industry peers and to go out and get as much experience in the field as possible. I was simultaneously studying, working as a stylist, helping at London Fashion Week, and interning for PR agencies. It really helped me focus and hone skills which would help define my career."

What was your first job out of school?

"After freelancing as a stylist I was very fortunate to get offered a job working for Prada and Miu Miu doing visual merchandising. It is such a powerhouse brand, and was an amazing opportunity; working there was like training at a fashion school in itself."

How has your definition of a dream job changed over the years?

"When I was younger, I was hungry to understand the inner workings of the industry and spread myself across as many projects as possible. When I first started I was like a sponge, eager to please and to make my mark. I worked endless hours, had late nights, and was continuously travelling. However, as I have gained experience and confidence, I have become more focused on the type of company I want to work for, in terms of what they believe in, or how they are going to approach things in a creative way. Having twins threw a huge curveball into the mix and meant my personal priorities changed, so a dream job for me at the moment is really about having a small element of flexibility."

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

"Don’t spend too long planning. Make the decision and get on with it. Why spend weeks or months analyzing what you could do instead of actually getting on and doing it? I was also taught that making mistakes can be a positive thing in order to help you learn. Sometimes mistakes can lead you onto somewhere new."

How do you keep challenging yourself?

"I am constantly trying to learn new skills and over the past few years have taken courses in French and Italian. I am in the middle of doing a diploma in Marketing with the Chartered Institute of Marketing. If I do not understand something, I ask or research more about it."

What are some red flags a potential employee might have?

"I always look for people who are willing to learn, work passionately and collaboratively, and are able take feedback on board. Keeping your ego in check when you start is important to remember as we have all had to start somewhere."

What's the biggest myth people have about working in fashion PR?

"That it is super-glamorous and all you do is go to parties and hang out with celebrities."

What's the biggest reward of your job?

"Getting to travel, meeting creative and passionate people, working extremely hard, and having a sense of achievement when you make things happen."


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Career Magazine: Dream-Job Tips From Women Who Know
Dream-Job Tips From Women Who Know
Career Magazine
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