Welcome to MyDomaine Mentor, a career series that gives you a direct line to smart, successful women who are leaders in their field. Each month, we announce a new mentor on social media and ask for your burning career questions. In April, we tapped fashion designer Cynthia Rowley to find out how she ventures outside her comfort zone; this month, we called on Elizabeth Graves, editor in chief of Martha Stewart Living. Don't have a mentor? We've got you covered.
When Elizabeth Graves started her career as a journalist, working at the helm a major women's magazine was just a pipedream. "I always really wanted to work at Martha Stewart Living, which is ironic now," the editor in chief tells us.
Her path to the top job wasn't always clear-cut, though. When Graves decided she wanted to be a journalist, she approached her local newspaper for a job. "I noticed they didn't have anyone writing about food and restaurants at the time, [so] I basically begged them to let me write for them and practically did it for free," she recalls. "It was about seeing an opportunity and starting small. I just asked them to take a chance!"
An advocate of chasing experience over a job title, she then left newspapers for magazines, working at Allure, Self, and Real Simple. "I'm always grateful that I took a meandering path to get to Martha Stewart Living," she says. "I'm glad that I had exposure to all these different topics because it makes you more well-rounded."
Ahead, we called on Graves to answer the career questions you shared on social media. Here's how she starts her day, juggles motherhood with managing a team, and more. Consider this your direct line to one of the best in the business.
How do you juggle being a mom with a young child and having a powerhouse job?
"Motherhood really does make you more efficient! You don't have the luxury of time. It helps me focus on the things that will move the needle and spend less time on the things that will not. My job takes up a lot of time, and in some ways, I'm always on call, but when I'm with [my son], I try to be with him. He's only said 'Mama, get off the phone' once, and it was enough. It just made me sad because it really is our time together, which I adore. You've got to be present where you are and focus on getting the work done, then going home and having another life. He's helped me work better and work smarter. "
What makes a job candidate stand out to you?
"Energy and enthusiasm are important, as well as poise. I certainly appreciate someone who is thoughtful about their answers and willing to know what they don't know. I think it's a good sign of confidence when they can admit they don't know [an answer]. Self-sufficiency is also so important. Even if you don't have experience but that's in your core DNA, you'll do really well with bringing new things to the table. People who are curious bring in the best ideas. "
What is your morning routine to ensure a productive and happy day ahead?
"I love my mornings! They're very different, being a mother. I don't need an alarm clock now that I have my son saying, 'Mommy, get up and play with me!' I don't spend as much time walking around the apartment getting ready at my leisure—that's a lot faster now. He's at an age where he loves routine, so he helps me grind coffee beans, we make coffee and froth milk together, he gets the paper—we have this whole thing! It's really nice. When [his nanny] comes, I either hop on the subway or bike to work. I try not to bike through Times Square, but I ride up the West Side Highway so I can be by the river. Then I park the bike and walk through the city and think. It's kind of my time to plot out my day and what I'm going to do."
What is key to climbing up to bigger and better career opportunities?
"I think the key is to work hard and smart. It's important that you love what you do because then it doesn't feel like work. Look at what's going on [in the industry] and what other people are doing to stay on top of exciting opportunities. If you follow what interests you then you'll grow."
What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job? How do you make the least favorite part more enjoyable?
"My favorite thing is meeting with my team—I always look forward to brainstorming and pitch meetings. I love it because when we are getting excited about a story and talking about how it's going to land on the page and live on digital, that's always fun. My least favorite? Approving expenses—I still don't know how to make that exciting! It's a necessary thing to do, but it's just boring. So when the system prompts me to do it, I just do it. If I could outsource it I would!"
How do we, as working women, align our personal career goals with our desires to do something meaningful for the world and incite change?
"I don't think they need to be mutually exclusive. I think you'll be better at your job if you find meaning in it. You'll be passionate about what you do. The way to go about it is to look at where you work. If something is really important to you, align with a company or a mission that is in-line with yours. If you can find a company with similar values, that's a good start."
How do you recommend candidates explain a gap in employment during a job interview? I had a medical issue and feel like employers might be less willing to select me if they hear about my illness.
"I don't think you even need to go there. I think you can offer that you took the time off to handle a personal or family matter that has since been resolved. You want your employer to rest assured that it's not going to be a problem so the key is emphasizing that it's since been resolved. You can say that and move along because ultimately there's nothing wrong with it. Just keep it short and sweet."
How do you handle unsolicited advice, such as people telling you how to do your job?
"The first thing you have to do is smile and thank them! Just the wording alone, 'unsolicited advice' sounds unwanted, but it can be helpful [because] I think good advice can come from anywhere. Try to remember that the person giving you advice is probably coming from a good place of trying to help. It doesn't mean you have to follow it, of course, but if someone is trying to give me a pointer I would listen to them and say thank you."
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Do you have a burning career question? Keep an eye on MyDomaine's Facebook and Instagram account to share your questions for next month's mentor.