Career Tips from the Women of Mad Men - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


Career Tips from the Women of Mad Men

Joan and Peggy from Mad Men reveal their secrets to career success.


In 2013, Mad Men dominated Emmy nominations with Christina Hendricks (as Joan Harris) and Elisabeth Moss (as Peggy Olson) grabbing seats for best actress. Well deserved, in my opinion. I’ve been hooked on Mad Men ever since I first watched Joan commanding the office space (though it was obvious the men controlled the fort). Joan has a sexy elegance that inspires admiration and respect. However, she wasn’t the reason why I kept up with the show.

Peggy’s character is what made me stick around. Her spunky yet naive personality reminded me of myself, back when I was just entering the New York corporate realm. Peggy surprised everyone by becoming the only female copywriter in the office and eventually rising to the position of Chief Copywriter.

Career Tips from the Women of Mad Men

Peggy demands a raise

Peggy and Joan are mesmerizing characters that everyone can learn from. We’re not just talking about the advertising industry, but how to conduct yourself in general around the workplace. Not sure what I mean? It’s okay! Here are some lessons that we can learn from the leading ladies of Mad Men about success in the office.

1. Seize leadership opportunities.

Joan is always the go-to girl for any kind of office problem, yet she always finds herself on the sidelines. This season, Joan is stepping up. As a partner at Sterling Cooper & Partners ad agency, Joan challenges herself even further by taking ownership of the Avon account.

Dare yourself to say yes to any leadership opportunity that opens up for you. Don’t sit and wait for jobs to come to you. Ask for any additional work that  you can help out with. You want to be the person in the office who can volunteer for new assignments. You’ll prove to your boss that you can take on important projects and complete them quickly and efficiently.

2. Speak up.

It’s no secret that during the 1960’s few women held high-ranking positions. Let’s change that by taking the lead, like Peggy. Once a young and naive secretary, Peggy rose to become the Chief Copywriter at Sterling Cooper & Partners before the age of 30. How’d she do it? She spoke her mind – she impressed the men in her office with her fresh approach to Belle Jolie lipsticks.

Career Tips from the Women of Mad Men

Regardless of what anyone says, remember this fact: your opinion matters! Offer a new, interesting perspective and take a chance with your unconventional ideas. If nothing else, you’ll show your superiors that you’re thinking seriously about the project and are willing to try innovative methods.

3. Do what you love.

I know you’ve heard it before, but it just can’t be said enough. Make sure you’re doing what makes you happy. If your dream job is to work at an advertising agency, and you’re currently spending your days as a bank teller, you’ve got to change something! Although she was successful as a copywriter, Megan realized that copywriting wasn’t how she wanted to spend the rest of her working life. She dropped it and pursued an acting career, something she’d wanted to do since she left for New York.

Don’s ex-wife, Betty, was deeply depressed when she couldn’t achieve her dream of being a model. Don’t waste your time at a job you hate. Sure, starting a second career is always hard, but if it’s your passion you’ll never regret it. Trust me, you’ll be a much healthier person in general if you chase your dreams, rather than staying at your bleak job.

4. Know your worth.

According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women are less likely than men to negotiate a starting salary. Basically, this means that women are less comfortable asking for more money in a new job.

Well, now is the time to change that. Step up and finally ask for that raise or promotion! It’s not as scary as you think. Peggy was only a junior copywriter when she demanded her own office from a high-exec – he didn’t even know who she was. She explained she needed a place to do business and couldn’t work next to the copy machine. And, just like that, she got her office. Yes… it was that easy. Keep in mind that you’re still speaking to your boss, though. Be persistent, but not a pest.

“You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.” – Joan Harris

Career Tips from the Women of Mad Men

5. Dress to impress.

“You want to be taken seriously? Stop dressing like a little girl.” These are the words of the great Joan Harris. They sting, but they’re true. Nobody will take you seriously if you’re wearing a Justin Bieber t-shirt and short shorts. Remember Peggy from season one? She dressed like a little schoolgirl. Her fashion metamorphosis from secretary to Chief Copywriter is astounding.

Follow her cue and start dressing for success. A simple change in style can transform you from an amateur into a seasoned professional. Pay close attention to what the women in management are wearing. Look at their shoes, hair, makeup, and nails. In the corporate environment, image does matter.

6. Don’t try to be a man – be a better woman.

While talking to Peggy about her frustrations in a male-dominated workplace, Dr. Faye Miller told her how she achieved success. She stopped trying to be a man in a man’s world and instead became a better woman. You don’t have to start acting like the men in your workplace to be successful.

Find female role models that you can follow like Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, or Rachel Sklar, author of Change the Ratio blog. Better yet, find a mentor in your company that will give you advice on how to excel. Although they had a few tussles in the beginning, Joan and Peggy helped each other become the most successful women in a male-dominated industry.

Do you have any career tips you want to share? 

Frances is an upcoming multimedia journalist that spends her time between New York City and Philadelphia. On the weekends, she experiments with new recipes and uncovers cool destinations to write about.

Reader Discussion: 4 Comments

  1. Mad Men is a great show to watch, because it shows how powerful women are in the workplace. I love the tips you included about dressing professionally and taking management risks. When you pursue what you love and have confidence, you get the most out of your career 🙂

  2. Joanne Samonte

    “You are a woman and you are great!” I truly agree that we should just be better women in the workplace and never ever pretend (or change yourself) to be a man 🙂

  3. Jen Spillane

    I'm obsessed with Mad Men, and I totally agree that Peggy and Joan's journeys have a lot of insight to offer! I especially like the idea of dressing appropriately. I feel like as an independent-minded lady you want to shy away from this kind of thinking in general–focusing on appearance–and so sometimes the idea of just dressing well gets forgotten (at least for me, haha!). It's definitely good to be aware that how you dress does say something about who you are and how you feel about yourself, even if you don't want your worth to be based on appearance.

  4. This is a great article! I'll definitely remember this advice (and maybe I'll start watching Mad Men…)

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