Jessica M. Marhefke
Director of Customer Operations
Miller Electric Mfg. Co.,
an ITW Company
She could have accepted the fact when she was overlooked for a position she wanted, but instead Jessica Marhefke decided to do something about it. First, she needed to understand why they hadn’t thought of her when she believed she was such a great fit. She knew she did good work, and lots of it. Didn’t they see this? Apparently they were missing something.
A simple personal branding exercise previously introduced at a businesswomen’s group came to mind. The assignment was to ask colleagues what three words they would use to describe you. Consistent themes that arose revealed your reputation. Wanting to understand how she was viewed by others, Jessica decided to give it a try.
She sought input from multiple constituencies inside and outside the company. She quizzed a dozen people. When they focused on positive descriptors, she pushed for the tougher constructive feedback she needed. She pored through old reviews to pull out key words. Knowing the company president was involved in all key hiring decisions, she scheduled time with him to explain her disappointment in being overlooked and to hear his three words. She cringed when he mentioned “SOFT”. Jessica knew being an empathetic manager was important, but “soft” went beyond that.
She reviewed the data and discovered many people had her pegged as “the quiet finance woman”. As a self-described introvert, Jessica sometimes faded into the woodwork at meetings as she quietly processed information in her head while others brainstormed and thought out loud. Even when she wanted to talk, she remained silent at times rather than interrupt to get air time. She realized she was getting in her own way and had to make it easier for people to see and appreciate her capabilities and goals.
Jessica developed a plan that pushed her out of her quiet comfort zone.
- She became conscious of the perceptions she created in meetings. She set goals to share her thoughts earlier and more frequently.
- She declared to management that she wanted to move up.
- She engaged her boss in her efforts, seeking more visible projects and opportunities to showcase her diverse capabilities.
- She created an accomplishment sheet and reviewed it with the company president, surprising him with the breadth of her experience.
Within a couple of months, the president asked her to take on a new job – a huge stretch position that the hiring manager hadn’t even considered her for. She jumped at the chance and worked hard to exceed expectations, paving the way for even more challenging and satisfying roles in the future. She learned that being consciously self-aware of others’ perceptions of her is an ongoing need – not a one-time exercise. When the president recently announced his retirement, Jessica asked him for three updated words. She happily assures us “SOFT” is no longer on the list!
Jessica’s experience is consistent with our research that points to the importance of deeply understanding your reputation. This is especially important for women as they are more likely to believe their work will speak for itself. There are many ways to assess your reputation, and we’ve found the direct approach is often the most effective. Challenge yourself to give Jessica’s practice a try. Armed with this knowledge, you can develop a targeted action plan that will deliver concrete results.
Jessica Marhefke is Director of Customer Operations at Miller Electric Mfg. Co., wholly owned by Illinois Tool Works. Miller Electric is a leading worldwide manufacturer of arc welding and cutting equipment. Previously, Jessica was the Business Unit Manager in the Components Group, beginning her career as an accountant. She continues to work to understand and manage her reputation and to seek ever more challenging roles.