By Stephanie Brand
For students entering the professional world, there are a great number of things that are unfamiliar, and the prospect of acclimating to such a novel environment can be daunting. To avoid the risk of being exposed as an outsider, some may opt to make a quiet entrance into this new arena. To walk through the career fair as a quiet observer, to shield their resume from a critiquing eye, or suppress their urge to ask a probing question until they know the lay of the land. In her workshops “Focus on the Brand Called You” and “Leadership Tips for Today and Tomorrow,” Patricia Cook challenged us all to enter any new professional environment with confidence, curiosity, and cognizance of our capacity to excel.
In her workshop “Focus on the Brand Called You,” Cook artfully outlined the many ways in which we are able to communicate who we are, both to ourselves and to others. Oftentimes, we focus solely on how we portray ourselves to the people around us. Cook shared that creating the aura of confidence, charisma, and competence that we all seek to exude cannot be faked, it must start with an authentic embodiment of those attributes. Professional settings can often be intimidating, but there are proactive steps that can be taken to overcome this. Cook explained the importance of sufficient preparation. Before any professional event, know the logistics. Leading up to and during any professional event, practice positive body language and good communication: exhibit good posture, seek out intentional eye contact, practice level breathing and steady speaking. These things organically generate a sense of calm and confidence within ourselves that is then communicated to those around us. It is an all too familiar sensation to have the concern of how we are being judged gnawing at the back of our minds. Throughout her workshop, Cook explained how we can be liberated from this feeling by knowing that each of us has the agency to determine how we are perceived.
Circumstances of COVID-19 have left many with shortened or canceled internships, without jobs or access to certain resources, due to reasons beyond any individual’s control. In her workshop “Leadership Tips for Today and Tomorrow,” Cook encouragingly discusses the many ways we can continue to demonstrate leadership and differentiate ourselves in the face of these challenges. If provided the opportunity to participate in a virtual internship, find ways to challenge yourself. Offer more of your time to other company projects, offer pertinent suggestions on online adaptations. When appropriate, challenge yourself to speak up during Zoom meetings and conference calls. Cook discussed that one of the best ways to accelerate your career is to build meaningful relationships, to find advisors, mentors, and sponsors that will support and invest in you. In the absence of in-person interactions, Cook stressed the importance of taking the initiative to reach out to people you are working with that you admire. If you are in the unfortunate position of having lost an internship for the summer, utilize the T&M network, learn a new skill, or even start a company. Cook emphasized that time can be used as a unique opportunity to invest in yourself and do something that will further your career in the future.
During both of her workshops, Cook rejected the notion that we should accept the traditional roles of “student”, or “intern”, or “employee”, and challenged all of us to take proactive roles in crafting our career paths. This is done through acts of humble leadership, quiet confidence, consistent competence, and a desire for continuous betterment.
As humans, we are hardwired to seek out structure. We look for patterns and well-tested paths because there is comfort and security in knowing our next step. In many cases, this instinct is of no harm; we suffer no detriment finding solace in the acceptance that every Tuesday is followed by a Wednesday, or that June never ceases to precede July. However, in other instances, it can serve us greatly to diverge from a predetermined path. Cook’s insights provide a clear guide of actions we can take to differentiate ourselves now and craft a professional journey open to boundless opportunity.
Stephanie is currently in T&M Class XXVI and is a sophomore in Systems Engineering & Design