You guys, I am SO excited to hit “publish” on our first interview for my new What I Wore to Work column! I cannot tell you how many incredible submissions I’ve received over the past couple of weeks–I’ve honestly barely made a dent in them! Thank you, thank you to all who submitted!
Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you guys to GG reader (and my new friend!) Paisleigh Telford from Oshkosh Wisconsin!
Not only is she sharing her awesome tips for curating a professional, polished, and budget-friendly work wardrobe, but you will be truly inspired by her story as well! I wish I could say I had a head like Paisleigh’s on my shoulders when I was 23!
Here’s a little sneak peak of what Paisleigh Telford shares in her interview:
- What business casual staples can work in an office setting AND with steel toed boots in a factory setting. ?
- How she made the decision to forgo a four year University so she could pursue her degree while working full time.
- The best versatile/comfy blazer every woman needs in her wardrobe. (It’s from Target!)
- How she worked her way up from testing washing machines to becoming an integral part of her company’s HR team.
- How she maintains a healthy relationship while juggling opposite schedules with her boyfriend of five years.
- Advice for those looking to excel in the field of Human Resources, and more!
I guarantee you will leave this post with a smile on your face and inspired by her infectious positivity!
Ready!? Let’s jump in!
J: Tell us about yourself, Paisleigh!
P: I am a 23 year old full-time student and full-time professional. I take online classes for my bachelors degree in Leadership & Organizational studies because my company pays for my school if I work full time. A no-brainer in my opinion!
I’m legally single but have been with my boyfriend for 5 years; he works in law enforcement! When I’m not at work, I do my best to stay involved in the community through big brothers big sisters, book club, community classes (currently taking a community sign language class!), and my local young professionals’ group.
I also love investing my time into my friends. Especially my gal pal group and make it a priority to strike the balance between work warrior and friendship extraordinaire.
J: What do you do for a living? What’s your typical day look like?
P: I work for a large commercial laundry equipment manufacturing company in rural Wisconsin as an Associate HR Generalist. Emphasis on the “General” part of that, because I have a LOT of different job duties.
I conduct up to 3 interviews a day for our hourly plant candidates and oversee the on-boarding and training process for new hires. In addition to that, I work with the leadership team to build leadership capabilities within the plant supervision roles. It is chaos at times, but I love it!
J: Tell us a little bit about your workplace style:
P: As a young professional just getting momentum in her career, finding my work style has been crucial. I need to be approachable to my employees on the shop floor, but still be professional when I meet with executives and customers. I also need be making smart financial decisions and don’t typically have $100 per item budget for work pieces so I’ve pretty much perfected finding staple items at affordable prices that can transition from “9-5” to “5-9” on a Friday night if ya know what I mean.
My work dress code was recently changed to VERY business casual. AKA we can wear jeans, but need to have work appropriate tops and shoes. If I had to describe my personal style outside of work it would be “smart casual” and I’ve always leaned toward the “dressier” side of any style.
This new dress code has totally been MY JAM. I would wear a power suit daily if I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb to my peers, so having jeans be acceptable has allowed me to dress down my more “business-y” items.
Because I spend a lot of time in the plant with production team members, I am also required to wear steel toed shoes when I’m on the shop floor. AKA I never wear dresses to work because steel toes + dresses = NOT CUTE.
J: What are your favorite wear to work staples?
If you love the look of a blazer but are nervous to look too dressed up in your office setting, Target’s cotton blazers are for you. They’re like a hybrid of a cardigan and a blazer and they’re amazing for a confidence boost too 😉 True to size! I’m a 4/Small with anything above the waist.
I swear I rotate through the same 4 blouses over and over again. 2 of them are more structured and linen and 2 of them a bit more flowy and polyester. If you don’t have the discretionary income to purchase higher end items right now in your life, search your TJ Maxx and Marshalls racks! That being said, a cautionary tale from a girl who’s been there- just because that blouse is $6.99 does not mean you need it. You will wear it once and then it will sit in your closet for 6 months until you get that “Marie Kondo” inspiration and end up donating it.
When shopping for work, I look in the $20-40 range for tops. Look for blouses with linen or polyester fabrics and that feel sturdy for everyday. This blouse from Banana Republic Factory is a great example!
That wide bottom half issue I keep talking about? These jeans are my fix! The dark wash is more work appropriate and the fit makes them comfortable for all day wear. They make me feel put together while staying comfortable and are an easy work-to-play transition piece.
If you can’t wear jeans to the office, I love these affordable work pants. I tell all of my friends that if they need flattering work pants, these are the holy grail. (FYI on sizing: I always size down here. In “big name” brands I’m usually a 6, here I’m a 4!) I will say they don’t last as long as more expensive alternatives- this is my 2nd pair in 2 years but I have yet to find another pair of dress pants that are as flattering as these!
The one I’m wearing in all these photos actually from ALDI!?It was $7 and I had spilled a coffee in my previous bag the same day that I stopped there for groceries and found it in the random section of the Aldi aisle that has miscellaneous non food items with the intention of using it only temporarily. I ended up actually loving it and now it’s my day to day tote! This similar one is from Target though, and it’s reversible and only $29! Also comes in pink/taupe. (Jess’ note–it’s a great budget-friendly alternative to my fave Everlane or Madewell totes!)
Sadly, the ones I’m wearing in all of these pictures aren’t sold anymore but block heels are so popular right now I highly recommend shopping around for your perfect fit. As mentioned before, I recently ordered these which are very similar! (Jess’ note: DSW also carries this adorable pair–they have 5 star reviews and this brand is known to be stupid comfy!)
I wore this for an office day that consisted of a new hire orientation and a couple of interviews for hourly candidates but mostly desk work! Top: Old Navy (similar) Jeans: Old Navy Rockstar (TTS, wearing 6) Pumps: Vince Camuto (similar here and here) Bag: Aldi! ?See story above! (Similar here, here)
J: Tell us a little about how you got to where you are:
P: I started working for the company 3 1/2 years ago in a entry level software evaluation job which is fancy talk for “follow this washing machine manual word for word and tell us if it works right” ? I knew the company would pay for education so it gave me the opportunity to not go into debt for school.
Because HR knew I was going for Human Resources, when an HR assistant job opened up, they gave me an interview and I landed the job. After one year in my assistant role I was promoted to Associate HR Generalist.
Currently, I’m on track to graduate with my bachelors in Leadership & Organizational Studies in Spring of 2020 and continue my career with my company.
Above: at a career fair to go to at the local high school and had to wear company branded gear- hence the super cute “blouse” ? Not everyday can be a winner, right??
J: I think a lot of young women feel the pressure to go off to a four year university right after high school, even if it means acquiring an incredible amount of debt–because “that’s what everyone does.” I really admire the decision that you made to work full time with a company that would help pay for your education, while gaining experience in the field you’re pursuing a degree in. Can you share a little bit more about how you decided that was the right path for you? And any advice you’d give to those who are looking to do the same?
P: It wasn’t an easy decision to go the technical school path. There was a lot of FOMO involved, and sometimes I still feel like I missed out on “traditional” college . I left high school having an idea of a lot of things I was kinda-sorta interested in, but none that I was passionate about and going into debt for a degree in “Ummm idk?” struck more fear in me than missing out on traditional experiences did.
I went to technical school because I knew that the gen-ed classes could transfer to my local university if I did choose to go that route one day and they were almost half the cost. Really most of my decision was rooted in making choices that were best for my future, not just ones that would benefit me in the short term.
Yes, I could have taken on that debt and gone the traditional route and probably been perfectly fine! Many of my friends did that exact thing and they are perfectly happy. But I also knew that with a little more work and a little more time I could be gaining professional skills while attending school and do it all debt free.
If you are a graduating high school student in the same boat of not knowing what you want to go to school for, I would highly encourage you to check out your local technical schools. It just doesn’t make financial sense to pay double the cost for the same gen-ed classes that you’d be taking your first year at University.
Forty Eight Percent of first time, full-time 4-year students never end up earning their degree and now sit with loans upon loans to pay off. I just know that would have been me if I had taken that route.
And honestly, it’s totally ok if college isn’t for you! A college degree does not make or break you as a human being. Rest in the knowledge that your worth is not defined by your academic path.
J: When you first started out at your company, you mentioned you were essentially testing out washing machines. I’d venture to guess that probably isn’t the dream job you envisioned yourself ending up in when you graduated high school.
I think a lot of us get caught up in the comparison game and want instant results–we want the perfect XYZ job *right now* without having to work our way from the bottom up. I think there are a lot of benefits to getting in at the ground level and putting in the grunt work––what are some valuable lessons that experience taught you?
P: This is an amazing question! Honestly, I have always been a big picture person. No, testing washing machines was not my dream job but the pay was pretty great for entry level, the hours were flexible and it allowed me to have flexibility to complete school work.
I think that there is a lot of value in developing eyes for finding the silver lining in any season of life. This job really helped me understand the ins and outs of the company at the ground level – something I never would have learned had I gotten a “career” position right away. It also taught me the value of maintaining your reputation even in a job that may seem “dead end” for now.
You never know what opportunities will arise and tainting your reputation now can hurt you in the long run. So while often times I felt like banging my head against a wall when testing my 50th spin cycle of the day, I also knew that I was fortunate to have a well paying job at all and that little tiny foot in the door opened up a whole career for me.
After getting home from Madison muchh later due to hanging out too long with a local friend, Wednesday was a rough morning! So I pulled on one of my fallback go-to outfits: Blouse: Old (Nearly identical here, similar here) Moto jacket: Old Navy (runs big, size down! I own it in three colors I love it so much!) Jeans: Old Navy Rockstar (TTS, wearing 6) Shoes: old (similar on Amazon for $40!) Bag: Aldi! ?See story above! (Similar here, here)
J: You mentioned you look for affordable 9-5/5-9 pieces. How do you typically like to transition these from day to night? I know you mentioned your top 5 above, but any other staples that you gravitate toward when you know you’ll be going out straight from the office? Would love any good hacks/tips you have!
P: My favorite transition piece is the J Crew scalloped tank top. I actually found it through Kelly and now I own it 3 colors, I love it so much! If I know I have after work plans, I can pair the tank with jeans, pumps and a blazer to work, and drop the blazer when it’s happy hour. If it’s too chilly to go without a jacket, I’ll put on one of my moto jackets instead. If I’m over wearing heels for the day, I stash these loafers in my bag and ditch my heels after work.
I also usually keep a fun pair of earrings in my bag to throw on as well. Easy peasy transition!
J: What are your biggest struggles when it comes to shopping for a workwear wardrobe (or personal wardrobe, for that matter!)
P: I sit solidly in the “average woman” body type at a size 6, 5 foot 6 inches and it’s been a struggle in the Instagram world to find fashion inspiration from women who have the same bottom heavy, top light body as me. I have a much wider bottom than top so finding pants that actually fit is a constant battle.
J: What tips can you share with others who find themselves having the same struggles? Any particular items of clothing, cuts, shapes, materials, etc that you would recommend?
P: Over the years, I’ve found that pairing a block heel with a slim and/or skinny pant leg to elongate my figure works wonders for mending my insecurities related to my body from the hips down.
As for hips up, I love finding lightweight blouses that can be worn alone in summer and be worn with a cardigan in the colder months.
My go to fabrics are linen and polyester- which sounds odd but Polyester tops are SO lightweight and flattering! I think the fabric gets a bad rep. I shy away from any tops that are even borderline too low cut or too tight.
My rule of thumb for any piece of workplace clothing: if you are questioning whether or not it is appropriate for work, you should probably pick something different!
J: Comfiest pair of cute work shoes?
P: Honestly, the old block heel pumps I’m wearing in all these photos–close second though are my favorite Loafers – they’re currently on sale and run true to size!
This is my office where I spend 75% of my time when at work. Nothing Pinterest worthy but at least I have a window! This is a pretty standard everyday look of mine. I’m a BIG fan of a classic button down (I love the Ralph Lauren ones, but I also have a few Jcrew ones that are VERY similar and much more affordable. My RL ones I’ve always gotten second hand off of Ebay) And on days that my feet need a break from pumps, I go for my leopard print flats.
J: You mentioned your boyfriend works in law enforcement–which I know isn’t always the most traditional schedule! Do you have opposite schedules or does he work pretty regular hours? Any tips for making a relationship work when you have limited time to spend with one another?
P: Andrew and I basically have the most opposite shifts possible. I work from 7am – 4pm and he works from 8pm to 6:30 am ? He also works a 4 days on, 4 days off schedule meaning he often is working on what is my weekend and I’m often working on what is his weekend. To add to that inconvenience, we live about 30 minutes away from one another as well. I get this question a lot from friends and my answer is always simple- when you want it to work it doesn’t feel like work. I’m definitely a glass-half-full-lining-is-silver kind of person so I often see our forced time apart as a blessing because it allows me to dedicate time to friends, responsibilities, and organizations without feeling too guilty that I’m not spending it with him.
J: Tell us more about what you do outside of work! How long have you been doing Big Brothers Big Sisters? Any insight for those also interested in getting involved?
A: I actually just got placed with my Little last week and met her on Monday! One of my biggest goals this year was to get more involved in the community and BBBS seemed like a great way to make an actual impact. My biggest piece of advice would be to make sure you have the time and emotional capacity to dedicate to pouring into your little’s life. Last year was full of a lot of growth for me and this year I was ready to start investing some of that growth into outside activities.
J: Love that you started a book club! Fellow book nerd here. (Actually, we have a lot of book nerds part of this internet fam!) what is one of your favorite books you’ve read recently?
P: My favorite read this last year was A Man Called Ove. I am not the crying type at all but this one made me tear up several times! (Jess’ note: I LOVED this book too!)
J: What’s your most proud career accomplishment?
P: Having team members thank me for the impact I had as HR in offering them a job. It is the most humbling thing to have someone thank me for giving them a shot at a job and I never forget that my decision to give someone a job or not has a significant impact on their lives.
I’ve been burned many times by candidates that I had high hopes for who flopped, but I’ve also been able to watch team members build a career. Again- I am not a crier, but I swear I tear up sometimes thinking about how proud I am of the team members that we have working for us!
I had a seminar in Madison on re-assimilating convicts into the workforce (exciting stuff), so I dressed more to the business professional side than business casual. Blazer: Target (mentioned above!) Pants: Van Heusen–the holy grail budget-friendly work pant! Run big! Top: TJ Maxx (similar here, here) Pumps: Vince Camuto (similar here and here)
J: Best piece of advice you received that has shaped your life (personally or professionally):
P: Professionally, the best advice I’ve received that’s stuck with me is that our weaknesses are often simultaneously our strengths. It is a funny concept to grasp but the more that I thought about it the more it made sense. For example, I am absolutely a last minute, fly by the seat of my pants type of person. I always saw this as a weakness since I definitely don’t fit the “Type-A corporate warrior” persona that we think of when we think of professional women. (Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, anyone?)
As I’ve grown in my role, I’ve found that my flexibility, ability to take on challenges and embracing my creative side is what’s helped me stand out. So while I can sometimes get myself into hot water with my lack of vision for the details, my big picture brain is also what drives me to success. (I’m a type 7 on the Enneagram for anyone who pays attention to those!)
On a personal level the one piece of advice that I always remember is actually from the GG blog. (Jess’ note: Aw this made my whole day to hear!) “You’re on the same team” is always on repeat in my head when it comes to my relationship with my boyfriend and my relationships with my friends. I admittedly have a tendency to develop sharp edges when feeling challenged, and I always have to remember that my loved ones aren’t there to drag me down just as I’m not there to drag them down. We’re all on the same team!
A Casual Friday look! I love these jeans they’re my perfect balance between a trendy mom jean while still keeping it classic. Jeans: Old Navy (TTS. Wearing a 6. If you have been wanting to try a “mom jean” style but aren’t fully committed, these are the ones for you! I have a pretty long torso and shorter legs, so I like to pair mine with a heel to elongate the silhouette.) Top: old (similar) Pumps: Vince Camuto (similar here and here)
J: What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job:
P: I think a big misconception is that Human Resources is boring and only there to enforce rules to employees and pump policies into their brains. While I do educate team members on policies and enforce them when needed, HR is much more about investing time into team members to develop them into experts in their field.
J: How do you see your career continuing to evolve in the future? (If at all–maintaining the current position you love also counts!)
P: Right now, my biggest focus is on developing skills in my current position and finishing school. I really do love my job and if anything I’d love to become a full on generalist eventually rather than “Associate”. I feel immensely grateful on a daily basis to be able to say that I genuinely love my job and the people that I work with.
J: Any advice to those looking to break into your field?
P: Prioritize the “Human” in Human resources. It is a really broad field with a ton of opportunity, but at the end of the day an HR professional is there for the people not for themselves. You don’t have to know what specific area you want to get into (payroll, benefits, wellness etc) you just have to have a desire to develop people.
For people going into HR or any other profession, I would say volunteer for any projects you can get your hands on. From designing materials to developing and presenting content, I’ve said “yes” to most all opportunities presented to me. I know there will come a time when I’ll have to start practicing saying “no” but when we’re young, legally single, and have no real obligations, that is the time to put in the extra hours! Saying “yes” has challenged me in SO many ways, but it’s also opened up doors for me to work with individuals across the entire organization and expand my network which in invaluable to me.
J: How do you define success? What does that look like to you?
P: I love this question because as much as I am a career minded young professional, I also always keep in mind that my career does not define me.
To me, success is being able to continuously improve and find something small to celebrate each and every day.
This isn’t always a natural mindset to have so if you’re somebody that tends to lean toward the “glass half empty” side of the spectrum, start by intentionally taking 3 minutes before bed to be grateful for a win in your day.
Some days my wins come from work related victories and some days my wins look like laughing to the point of tears with friends after a rough day at the office. Other days a win is simply saying “yes” to that extra scoop of frozen custard because…life.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Nobody’s journey is without struggles. It’s hard to wrap up my entire journey into a little feature on a blog, but rest assured I struggled. There were and still are many calls to my mother and many glasses of “bad day” wine with my roommate (Thanks, Emmy!) Please don’t measure your journey to mine!
I often struggle with the comparison game that goes both ways. Sometimes I look at someone and think “Gosh I’m SO far behind” and sometimes I look at someone and think “at least I’m not that far behind” (Terrible I know, but hopefully you guys can relate to that darker side as well!) Again, our worth is not measured by our tangible items, our job or the piece of paper we earned.
My wish for all of my friends and for every reader out there is to find contentment in the now while working toward the goals that we may all have. The grass will always be greener on the other side until we take the time to appreciate the shade that we’re standing on. ❤️
Paisleigh, thank you SO MUCH for being part of What I Wore to Work. I think I speak on behalf of everyone that you are an inspiration, and that we can all benefit from adopting your glass-half-full outlook on life! We are all so thankful to have been able to hear about your story. Stay tuned for more WIWTW profiles on more inspirational women coming soon!