Author: Once Upon A Career Blog

Women Overcoming Interviewing Bias

Women Overcoming Interviewing Bias

According to a study on gender bias for entrepreneurs, women receive only 2% of venture funding. What about during job interviews? Could women help direct the questions to show their potential for advancement instead of focusing on how we won’t fail? When we get asked questions we can choose the answer the question in a way that redirects the train of thought to be more promotion oriented rather than prevention to highlight the opportunity for greatness. We can frame the response to be about the personal professional goals and vision. We can ask about milestones towards success.

During a recent casual conversation with a leader in my company, I was asked – How are you going to complete the project by the go live date? Similarly, how are you going to finish on time?  I wasn’t showing signs of risk of missing the deadline, but the way the question was framed at the prevention instead of focus on success is interesting.

How are you going to finish on time?

Biases can come at us during interviewing, networking, and even performance reviews.

As I prepare for growth opportunities as a project manager, I consider what I want people to remember. I want to make a positive impact. I want to lead others to success. I want to organize information to make sense of all the aspects and establish a plan of execution for a project that will have concrete physical results that will be celebrated by many people. I want to grow in responsibilities and size of the projects to establish something inspiring at the center of the happiest place on earth and say, I did that!  We can do better and I have a few ideas on moving this organization forward. If I get asked how will I prevent failure, I will frame my response with how I will achieve success!


Investigating Executive Presence

Investigating Executive Presence

The director of my department is amazing. He asks inspiring questions to enhance my work and ensure I have a robust story before advancing the progress, he occasionally walks around the building to engage with the various team members, he supports multiple recognition and youth educational outreach events, and he has a solid understanding of the multitude of projects in the department. My director does all this and still has an easy going positive attitude and great charisma. He is not the only one in my chain of leadership with such admirable qualities. Many of these leaders excel in executive presence.

I first learned about this term last fall and found it embodies the magically captivating quality in successful leaders. They inspire and accomplish many goals with exceptional confidence. Business insider ( condenses the traits of executive presence into 7 C’s of the C-Suite:

  • Composure
  • Connection
  • Charisma
  • Confidence
  • Credibility
  • Clarity
  • Conciseness

These traits are all learnable and can be practiced at all levels to help advance your career. It’s kind of like the old saying, “dress for the job you want” instead it is “present yourself like you have the job you want.”

Opportunities for this kind of success lie with presentation skills. When presenting to any level, deliver the messages with these 7 C’s. Preparation and asking for feedback will give you an advantage.  Forbes also encourages feedback to find your executive voice (

Improving your executive presence is like developing any personal improvement strategy that I recommend:

  1. Pick someone whose executive presence you admire
  2. Analyze what you admire about that person
  3. What skills can you practice?
Stepping back from “How to Lead” to ask “Why Lead”

Stepping back from “How to Lead” to ask “Why Lead”

I was starting some research on executive presence to gain ideas on how I can increase my influence and inspire respect. I found a beautiful definition of influence:

Influence is the art and science of aligning your objectives with another’s

Diving into where this quote came from, different forms of motivation including influence are persuasion, manipulation, and coercion. As the types of motivation ranged from positive to negative the overall goal was to align a person’s objectives with yours. I started to reflect on the many different leaders I have worked for including those that helped to develop my career and others that seemed to strive for pure dictatorship control and empire building. Stepping back from how to be a great leader and influence others I started to think about why be a leader.

Like myself my daughter wants to be a leader. She jumps at opportunities to help organize other people, which comes in handy when I need assistance with getting a dozen young cub scouts in line. She wants to be president someday. Regardless of whether or not she leads our country one day, I want her to be a great leader. But why should she lead, why should I lead?

One reason I want to lead is because it feels great to me and I know I am great at it. My style of preference is to empower others to find the best way to help our team meet the vision. In my past leadership roles I have inspired my team to use their own unique ideas on how to accomplish projects that will meet our goals. I have received great feedback that team members have been more engaged due to my leadership. I have finally reached one of my goals of working for a company that has a goal I can proudly stand behind, to create happiness. I want to inspire action to help create amazing experiences. I want to improve the offerings of my organization to increase the opportunities for the magical moments that can dearly reside in a guests heart forever. Why should you lead?

Motivation through Misery

Motivation through Misery

I sat through a safety training class a few weeks ago with several guest speakers. These speakers talked about what makes them passionate about safety related work and many of the stories were based on incidents that they were exposed to. Witnessing someone dying during their construction job or dealing with medical limitations due to exposure. There is also the recreation side of things: The runners that painfully train for a marathon that alone is a difficult journey, the gymnasts that tirelessly build their strength and flexibility, and the other sports we push ourselves through to get a sense of accomplishment.  Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, has many more examples of motivation through his research in behavioral economics.

When I tell my story as to what motivated me to enter into the field of engineering, I do talk about the exciting parts of wanting to use my creativity and be on a track of continuous learning. Although there is another aspect of my motivation, it is that I want to be able to be financially independent. I grew up babysitting for many women who were financially dependent on their husbands due to them being in a military field. These women had a difficult time sustaining their own career due to the demands of military life and regular relocations. Engineering is one of the most difficult things I could think of doing that would maximize my starting income in the shortest amount of time. I also thought through the potential of ease of transition into other areas as my career develops, which has worked well for me.

There are countless stories of people becoming doctors or researchers after witnessing hardship with their families or friends. This misery builds a fire and is a very interesting tool that is difficult to argue against due to it being so personal for building motivation. Harnessing and sharing that passion and motivation can bring out the stories in others and drive up their motivation.

Wrapping up the Year with Performance Reviews

Wrapping up the Year with Performance Reviews

It’s the end of another calendar year which could mean performance reviews for many people.  Throughout my career, I have had many different performance reviews, some good and some not so good.  I have even facilitated many performance reviews, also some good and some not so good.  One of my leaders that I greatly admired once told me that people should not be surprised at their performance review.  We need to continuously provide feedback.  But now it is the time where we are getting our annual feedback, so whether or not you have been getting feedback on a more regular basis prepare for this one!

You have written your goals and have been measured against them.  While some companies are discontinuing with these crazy complex things (, they are still around in many businesses.  So how can you prepare?

  • First, go in to the meeting with a positive attitude.
  • Be prepared to ask about how you can demonstrate better performance for the upcoming year.
  • Ask for details for any generalities provided.
  • Be gracious for the opportunity to have your position and work in your company.
  • Finally, talk about your strategy for your career development.

Once you get to the performance review stage, your score, status, and rank have been vetted and determined by multiple layers of management, including HR.  You may have an opportunity to modify your overall review, which can be permanently stored in your employee profile, but having drastic changes are unlikely.  I have had my rating improved by hundredths of a point, that didn’t really change much.  Employees of mine have also successfully modified terminology in their review write ups.

The best way to set yourself up for success is the strategize right now for the upcoming year.  Have you established yourself as a respectable expert in your field?  Does your leadership and your leadership’s leaders know who you are?  Have you scheduled quarterly meetings with different leaders for mentoring (and networking) opportunities?  Do you take on the higher profile projects and finish them on time and within budget?  Are you making it easy to transition off the smaller jobs that can handed off to help develop newer employees so you can take the better projects?

Give yourself the gift of setting yourself up for success for this upcoming year.  Create a strategy and follow through to grow your professional network and expand your reputation as an expert in your field.

Spreading Pixie Dust

Spreading Pixie Dust

Oh, how I love my job! It’s not without its quirks, but I look forward to going to work every day.  I have had the most amazing experiences so far.  Some of my favorite moments has included catching moments of magic being created, such as testing of the lights on Cinderella’s castle, walking through snowfall in the middle of the night at Hollywood Studios, and witnessing the Magic Kingdom switch over from fall to the winter holidays overnight!  The one thing that really stands out and makes the biggest impact to me is the passion of the cast members and the commitment to excellence.  It’s the Disney level of service that creates a level of awe, even internally, many refer to as Pixie Dust.  There are high expectations for this company.  The CEO Bob Iger has the vision for Disney to be the Most Admired Company in the World.

Through the many efforts across the company we focus on our four key areas: Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency. I am honored that I get to be an integral part of safety.  While I am still learning about standard safety practices, I am applying my project management skills to support the training of Engineering Services Cast Members with safely executing ride motion protection.  It’s driven by a worldwide need to give cast members and employees the comfort that when they come to work at a risky job, they can expect to go home in the same state that they came into work – with all fingers, all toes, and just in general in one healthy solid piece.  Disney has many people working to ensure our cast are taken care of.

My team has recently been looking for ways to make training more engaging to take it to the next level by encouraging critical thinking from cast members using gaming methods. We want to add value to the training.  Recently, the onboarding experience has been significantly improved through gaming strategies that encourage team work and challenges based on information learned during the onboarding process.  It’s the ways that the Disney goes above and beyond even internally to make the cast feel like they are valued that helps make a huge impact.  Through efforts like these, the pixie dust spreads.

I Shouldn’t Be Here

I Shouldn’t Be Here

The imposter complex or feelings of being a fraud in a leadership role apparently occurs in the minds of many female leaders. Studies have shown that women prefer to know their chances of success before making a decision and stepping into a role.  In fact when it comes to applying for a job, most women tend to go for positions in which they meet nearly all of the requirements, while men reach for ones in which they meet about half.  While we may know we are technically competent and have good intentions, sometimes when we look at where we are, we can feel like we don’t belong.

I love my new role working as a project manager at Disney and I want to do great things. I want to understand the culture and how things work so I can make an impact and make it better.  I read about forward thinking leadership and empowering your team to extraordinary performance.  I need to change my mindset from I want to be an inspirational leader to I am an inspirational leader!  I truly am an inspirational leader, I have been told that before.  From the teams that I have led and even my colleagues.  At times I feel as if I am not ready, but other times I feel like I could do so much more.  At Disney, for me, it is more than just climbing the corporate ladder, although I would like to move to a prominent position.  At Disney, my ultimate goal is to be a part of something great, to create amazing experiences, help people make extraordinary memories, and create happiness.

So while the negativity may creep in and make me feel like I shouldn’t be here, I look around and know that through my drive, creativity, and passion I need to be here!



Try Putting Down the Phone and Live in the Moment

A few years ago I came up with my first draft of a presentation that I call, “Etiquette for the Modern Engineer.” It is a professional development presentation that focuses on ways to make a good impression for technical professionals that may be a little socially inept.  It has gone through some changes over time, but recently I have felt that a huge focus of the presentation needs to be on cell phone usage.  While I too feel the pull of my electronic clutch to learn what everybody who is possibly connected to me thinks of the latest cute cat video, it is distracting us from being present with the people we are physically around.  While I was working as a lifeguard at Blizzard Beach, I saw many people figure out how they can electronically capture the moments of floating down the lazy river but not just living in the moment with their families.  Standing in the crowd at Magic Kingdom, when the fireworks shoot up in the air and explode, all these screens are pushed up to the sky to fuzzily record the Wishes experience of the night.  In the workplace, sitting in a meeting I have seen executives pull out their phones and focus their attention on whatever is going on with the little screen, losing touch with the message of the group unintentionally (perhaps) making them feel like that meeting is not important.  As a hiring manager, I have seen incoming team members fidget with their phone rather than make small talk and potentially build a relationship with their potential co-workers at networking events.  Building relationships with the people around you is very important when it comes to building your career.  Make an attempt to keep your phone away and live in the moment.  Facebook can wait.  The text message can wait.

Living in the moment is also called mindfulness. It is an intentional effort to be in the present.  In the evenings I lay down with my kids before they go to bed.  My daughter usually opens with, what do you want to talk about?  It is these moments that we can bond and I experience the joy of learning her thoughts and perspective while letting her know that she is important to me.  I value her time.

There are apps that you can install on your phone to give you an idea on how much time you spend on your phone. One such app is called Moments.  Moments claims that people that install their apps realize the time they spend not focused on the people around them and will reduce their time by 20%.  I challenge you to consider your time spent and strive to live in the moment, to be Mindful.

Relationships at Work

Relationships at Work

When I first started at Blizzard Beach, one of my fellow newcomers, a young man recently graduated from high school, asked our trainer about romantic relationships with our co-workers.  While our trainer said that it wasn’t something that would get you in trouble, it was not recommended.  If Disney Cast Members did not have the opportunity to date each other, they would be very limited on who they could date.  I personally was very lucky with online dating and have found an amazing man.  Workplace romance can easily go sour and make working regularly with that individual very unpleasant.  If you must date at work, I do not recommend dating someone you interact with regularly at work.  Many work places breed gossip and in order to grow your career, try to keep your reputation clean and reduce personality conflicts.

As a leader, relationships, even casual friendships with the individuals that work on your team can lead the other team members to believe you are showing favoritism and they may become disengaged.  While I enjoyed chatting with my team members during my previous job as a team lead in the defense industry, I made it a point not to engage with a smaller subset of the team socially.  The entire team can be invited to go out for lunches and after work socials, but to avoid generating feelings of bias do not regularly meet up a select few.  Relationships are important in business, they help lead to greater collaboration.  As a leader, I recommend you practice discipline with your relationships.

Responsible leaders practice discipline to ensure they are not showing favoritism and make an effort to value all team members.  When you want to do something well, you get your experts around you.  Your team needs to be the experts you can rely on.  Show all them that they are valued by inviting them to participate in decisions.  Get to know them and show that you value them as a person and a team member.  While you may be more comfortable with a subset of your team, by making an effort to reach out to every team member that directly reports to you, ideas and opportunities open up.

Beyond Certification, Gaining Respect through Visibility

Beyond Certification, Gaining Respect through Visibility

Over 10 years ago when I graduated college with my shiny new electrical engineering degree, I was certain I was going to be Vice President of a large company someday.  A decade later, I have experienced many things on my career journey, but I have yet to rise beyond a front line manager at work.  I do continued to pursue expanding my leadership skills and gaining exposure to learn from and network with influential people.

When I was a manager overseeing a team of analysis professionals, I had one gentleman that was eager to leap onto the leadership track.  He recently obtained his MBA and wanted to put his hard earned knowledge to work.  He asked me what he could do to break into leadership. I recommended that he consider expanding his network and proving his leadership interests and abilities through work related clubs.  While he argued that he already knew a lot of people in the company.  He may have known many people but they were not in a position that could champion and promote him.  As his leader, I could give him assignments that would provide more exposure and leadership, but he would be limited to our particular team.  While it is important to establish roots and do a good job at your task, making an effort to go beyond your individual program opens up many more opportunities.  Advertise your goals with your team and professional network.  Our company did have many clubs, diversity groups, and a management club that are looking for leaders to work with their executive sponsors to increase engagement and support the business.

I continue to gain leadership experience and exposure that provides valuable experiences through extracurricular type activities.  I remain active in my clubs such as the Society of Women Engineers and Project Management Institute.  I also get involved in leadership roles through my family, supporting my son as a leader in the Cub Scouts and filling in as a stand in assistant coach for my daughter.  It’s amazing the people you can meet through organizations and clubs through your company and external.  With the Society of Women Engineers, I gained professional contacts that helped me get to my current position that I thoroughly enjoy.  Through my daughter’s sport leagues, I have met colleagues that work in similar lines of business within my company that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

Recently, I attended a meeting with the executives in my organization.  This meeting was an opportunity to learn about our leadership and network.  In that meeting, the speaker discussed his journey to rise in one of his first career paths as an electrician.  Eager to earn a better paycheck and knowing he had the textbook knowledge, he voluntarily took and passed certification to make it to the next level, a journeyman electrician.  The only issue was that he was still seen as an apprentice electrician at work.  When he asked to get the journeymen related work due  to his new certification, he was turned down.  He had not proved he can do the job he was assigned to do as an apprentice.  He did not have a champion to support him making the next level.  It takes more than just a certification to grow in a company, rising above your current role also requires networking and proven work.  Through all these examples, it proves that if you want to grow, plant some roots and get involved.