We recently interviewed Alessia Crescenzi, a Toronto, Canada-based lawyer and founder of Today’s Professionelle, a website and Instagram that focuses on helping young professionals—women in particular—grasp the soft skills that can make or break your career, from how to dress to how to negotiate your salary. She holds a Bilingual BA (French and English) in Philosophy and Juris Doctor from Osgoode Hall Law School. 

Enjoy her story and insights!

What led you to law school?

As the child of a first-generation Canadians, there was pressure from a very young age that I realize the ultimate immigrant-goal: landing a career and job security in a white-collar industry. People always told me that I’d make a great lawyer because I had a loud personality and strong opinions. When it came time to decide ‘what to be when I grew up’, becoming a lawyer felt like the obvious choice.

In hindsight, none of these are great reasons to go to law school. Law school is expensive and being a lawyer is HARD WORK. If you pursue this path for any reason other than the fact that you actually love to work with the law, I think you’ll have a difficult time staying motivated.

Luckily, the skills that are essential for lawyers are things that I’ve always been good at: public speaking, critical thinking, writing skills, and being able to push myself to the limit have all served me well as a lawyer.

How did you decide what to study in college?

I loved the philosophy classes I took in high school and when I was applying to universities, I read somewhere that philosophy majors score 5%-10% higher on their LSATs.

I loved every second of my philosophy classes, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend that degree to anyone who isn’t also planning on going to law school or grad school because employment options are pretty limited in that field.

How did you go from that first role to your current position—what was that journey like for you? Anything you would have done differently looking back?

When I first became a lawyer, I had worked toward that for so long that it became my entire identity. I’m also a perfectionist. Because of this, I took every piece of criticism very personally. I was worried that needing improvement in some areas meant that I wasn’t cut out for this career.

With experience, that has all changed. I’ve learned to reclaim my space outside of being a lawyer and outside of being perfect. I made a ton of mistakes in my first role, but honestly, I wouldn’t take any of it back. Mistakes are how we learn. It is also way too easy to burn out if you’re focused on perfection.

I no longer freak out about my value as a lawyer if someone points out a grammatical error I missed. Instead, I focus on all the things I do right all day every day that make me an invaluable addition to my team.

What advice do you have for young women who have an interest in pursuing a JD/career in the legal field?

Do some soul-searching before you apply. Like I said above, a lot of people who make the decision to attend law school are (to quote The Bachelor) “not there for the right reasons.” Ask yourself if you’re willing to dedicate the next 40 years of your life to +12 hour workdays and a career that challenges you every single day. If the answer is yes, go for it!

I also recommend that every person applying to law school should intern at a firm for at least one month, even if not for pay. There is so much misinformation about what it’s like to be a lawyer and you don’t want to invest upward of $100,000 in a legal education only to realize that it’s not for you.

All that said, as a young woman you’re going to face unique challenges in the legal field. Lack of mentorship and latent misogyny are rampant in even the most reputable of firms. You’ll need to actively seek out mentors and develop a strong support system to get you through the tough times.

You also run @todaysprofessionelle, where you dish career inspiration as well as lots of inspo/advice on workwear. Why did you decide to start connecting with young professionals in this way?

‘Soft skills’ are what actually make or break your career: how to dress in a way that conveys confidence, learning how to negotiate your salary, how to deal with different manager personalities, how to delegate effectively, how to own up to a mistake professionally.

It doesn’t matter how good your work is; if you can’t master these skills, you won’t ever rise to the upper-level of high-powered industries. Unfortunately, these aren’t the kinds of skills you learn in school.

When I first started working as a lawyer, I realized that no resources to teach these skills just don’t for young professionals who weren’t raised in business families and maybe don’t have these skills naturally.

That’s why I started my blog and my IGTV channel, where I post videos with concrete, actionable steps to build these skills. My goal is to empower young professionals, particularly young women, to start owning their career, instead of their career owning them.

What are your thoughts on how what you wear to work reflects on who you are as a professional?

I think this answer is different for everyone. I love wearing a power suit when I need to channel confidence, or a statement pant if I want to feel creative or different. But I have tons of friends who prefer to take a minimal approach to workwear because they find that too many options can be stressful for them.

My advice: when you wear something to work, spend two minutes looking in the mirror and really think about how it makes you feel. If it’s a good feeling, keep wearing that outfit! If it’s a bad or lazy or sloppy feeling, ditch that ensemble or save it for the weekends.

Most important piece of workwear fashion advice for young women today?

Stop taking workwear rules so seriously!

There are so many rules women think they have to follow at work. I’ve heard things like “no high ponytails”, “never skip pantyhose”, “colorful suits are tacky”, “no dark nail polish”, “no heels over three inches”, “always wear a collared blouse under your blazer at an interview”, and so many more.

Guess what? I’ve broken every single one of these rules so many times I’ve lost count. I’m still at the top of my game. As long as you do great work and keep your work wardrobe office-appropriate (‘avoiding too much skin’ is pretty much my only real rule), your work will speak louder for you than any wardrobe faux-pas.

Do you have a mentor? Who do you look to for inspiration and support?

I have many mentors and they’re all involved in my career development in different ways. Some are temporary and some have become long-term mentors who I can ask for advice even when I’ve moved on to a new role.

As for how to find mentors, that’s such a long and layered response that I think you’ve just inspired my next IGTV video!

Final words of wisdom to young women who are strategizing to reach their education, career, and wellness goals?

So many people talk about ‘following your gut’. Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg, I think that advice is pretty useless.

When you’re really junior in your career, your gut is not reliable; sometimes your gut is scared of a challenge when that’s really what you need to take you to the next level.

Instead, trust your brain. Make pros and cons lists when you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask a mentor or a peer when you need advice. Make the best decision you can with the information you have. Don’t be scared of challenges—embrace them.

And lastly, tune into my IGTV to turn all those crucial soft skills that can help you navigate all of the messy parts of your career and life!

If you are open to connecting with our readers, how can they reach you?

Readers can find me on my IG profile (@todaysprofessionelle) or my website todaysprofessionelle.com. Please, please, please feel empowered to send me any questions you may have about career or professional life advice – connecting with other young professionals is the reason I spend all of my (very limited) free time working on Today’s Professionelle content, so I am always thrilled when people reach out!

Thank you, Alessia!!!

 

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