Women Who Lead: Debra Shigley

Debra Shigley is the author of The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide: Get What You Want in Work and Life (and Look Great While You’re at It). As a journalist, speaker and author, she has earned herself a lot of acclaim and respect. But, just like all University Chic readers, college women and recent grads, Debra was once a college gal herself.

She’s actually been a college student twice over, earning an undergraduate degree from Harvard and her JD, cum laude, at Georgia State. Like all college women, Debra had to learn to balance her classes with a myriad of extracurricular activities and find a way to become successful post-graduation as well. And that she did, starting her media career working for CNN and then as an editor at Atlanta magazine, completing her law degree simultaneously.

In addition to working in as a law associate, Debra has been published in numerous national magazines such as Allure, Fast Company, Budget Travel, Daily Candy, Go! the Airtran magazine, Neiman Marcus thebook, and Heart & Soul. In addition, she has been a guest expert for national shows and publications such as ABC’s The View, CNN, TBS Movie & A Makeover, and in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Redbook.

The Go-Getter goddess shared her story, her college experiences and her wisdom with me, for all of the stylish and ambitious go-getter University Chic readers out there. Take a look:

Your book, The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide: Get What You Want in Work and Life (and Look Great While You’re at It) is a great guide for stylish and savvy career women everywhere. What kind of advice can you give college women about how to get started on becoming that Go-Getter?

Start cultivating mentors now-like this minute! Take advantage of every resource available to you, from the professor’s office hours to the career center. Get involved in activities that are meaningful to you. Develop an action plan for how to get that job you want after you graduate-the sooner the better, and be proactive about reaching out to folks that will help you get there. You are really in the cat-bird’s seat when you are in college. People are very willing to help you and mentor you because it’s understood that you’re just starting out and don’t have an established network yet.

Tell us about your college experience. What kind of activities were you involved in while you were in college?

I loved my college! I grew up studying dance, so for the first few years of college I danced with different groups on campus, and also performed in some musical theater productions. But I was really drawn to the newspaper-particularly the “weekend magazine” of the Crimson called FM (Fifteen Minutes). It was kind of cool and a little snarky, and I thought it would be fun to write for them. I still remember my first story was tongue-in-cheek piece about treadmill etiquette at the highly-trafficked gym.

How did you balance your life then?

In terms of balancing, you have to make choices. Harvard, like many schools, is the kind of place where people take extracurriculars really seriously. When I started doing the Crimson, I stopped having as much time for dance. Then, I took on a leadership (associate editor) role my senior year-and you end up spending 30-40 hours at the Crimson, pulling really late nights to get the magazine to press. It was a ton of fun, but I actually stepped down from that role after a semester because I had started working part-time for a local news station, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to go after graduation. It was a hard decision.

Any regrets from college?

Hmm, I probably should have gone to class more (see previous answer).

You landed a coveted entry-level spot at CNN by using your contacts well. What can college women do while they are still in school to lay groundwork for the future?

Informational interview like crazy. Ask professors you’ve bonded with for insight and help with connections. Take a class at the university’s graduate schools if possible-that’s a great way to meet industry leaders and other types of professionals/fellow alumni. Show up to stuff: guest lectures, committee meetings, networking events, study groups-and parties too! Have a social life. Be a good person and cultivate friendships and a good reputation with your fellow classmates. College is more fun that way, and also, these are the people that are going to help you get ahead sooner than you think-and they might even be your boss or business partner one day!

What can college women do to get in touch with alumni successfully?

Get out the alumni directory and contact alumni in your aspiring field while you are still in school! As I mentioned before, they’re more likely to help you when your letter says “I’m about to graduate this spring and would like advice” than when you say “I graduated last January and am looking for a job”.

Your book is not only about career women, but stylish ones too. College, for many women, is a time when the sweats come out and the stylish clothes stay hidden away till the weekend. What words of wisdom do you have about style that will resonate for a girl who’s waking up for an 8 a.m. class, about to throw on a pair of sweats?

Well, I’m not against the sweats. I’m a big believer in ‘dressing for the occasion’, so if it’s just an everyday class in a big lecture hall where no one will see you, sure, wear sweats-as long as they’re semi-cute! But if it’s a more “professional” class, or you have a big presentation, or you’re really trying to impress the professor, make more of an effort. Nice sweaters, dresses and tights, boots are a good easy look. And of course, if there’s a guy you like in the class, step it up a bit-stylish jeans and a cute t-shirt.

To learn more about Debra, check out her website here: http://www.debrashigley.com

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