Moving beyond First Impressions

17 08 2013

Ten years ago, when I started out as a newly minted Electrical Engineer, I had no clue about the concept of first impressions. If anything, I easily slid into the role of the reticent woman engineer who sat passively in the back of the room during meetings. The combination of not actively participating and being one of the few woman engineers in our group, it was not surprising if I got overlooked.

However, I was motivated and diligent and was great at meeting deadlines. Without knowing it, I had established a default brand of being dependable. It was definitely not a bad impression to start with, but I longed for a more impressionable image to project to others. This also coincided at the same time with my desire to not only partake in projects, but also to take a lead role in them. It took some time of introspection, but I realized that to stand out and succeed in today’s work environment, I needed to differentiate myself. And that non-verbal cues played a powerful impact in the impression making process. And I certainly was not creating a groundbreaking professional image by sitting mutely in a room full of other engineers engaged in a passionate technical discussion. If anything, they may have thought I was disengaged or lacked an understanding of the issues. People do say that perception is reality. I knew I had constructive input and ideas and even pertinent questions. But I was fearful that it would sound preposterous if I verbalized it outside the confines of my mind. I knew that to begin differentiating myself and projecting an impressionable image, I needed to be noticed. Therefore, I had to overcome my fear of being judged for what I would say.

I remember the first time I decided to make a change. We were in another meeting and I spoke up and asked a question. Heads turned around and noticed my presence. It was a small step, but it was one step in the right direction.

– Anita Heredia