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Inspired By: Kate Stoker

Kate Stoker“Just jump in the deep end and trust yourself to figure it out.”

Skydiving helps too, says Kate Stoker, demand generation and marketing professional, Cisco Systems and advisory council member, Texas Conference for Women. By conquering your fears, you’ll have the confidence to make a professional leap. Read on to see how she’s jumped to new roles herself and her advice to anyone who’s nervous to do so.

Q: How did your professional journey begin and what would you say was your defining professional moment?

A: After spending several years in sales at Dell I was anxious to jump into something that would develop my strengths in other areas. I made a move into the marketing organization, and within a few weeks an opportunity to manage a major product launch presented itself, although it was expected to have some challenges among business users. I knew it would be an uphill struggle to pull off a successful launch and continue to maintain that momentum as a brand manager, but I dove in anyway. That jump from sales to marketing and taking on a challenging opportunity dramatically changed my career path.

Q: What are the characteristics that you believe defines a great company?

A: I recently came across a remark by Peter Drucker that said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The work environment, attitude and shared values all contribute to an organization’s culture. It’s something that is developed over a long period of time but it can be instrumental in terms of building talent and business production. Make a point to understand the human side of business, invest in your people and their growth and the company will benefit in the long term and strive to make each employee feel like they are part of the bigger picture.

Q: What are your top three tips for a woman who is ready to make her next career move?

A: 1. Go skydiving. No seriously, choose something you’re afraid of, recruit a trusted friend to help you along and go conquer that fear. I believe that courage is a muscle that needs to be developed, and by doing something that is so far outside your comfort zone everything else will seem easy. So when that new position opens up that you may not be completely comfortable with, or when meeting a prospective employer that would usually leave your palms sweating, you have the confidence to move forward.

2. Network. Don’t exchange business cards, instead focus on building relationships with potential sponsors or advocates. In advertising it’s the same way; you communicate in a meaningful way and often enough that when a need arises you’re top of mind. Find those that are in your industry or the industry you’d like to move into, do your homework on what matters to them and reach out. There is a great book written by a friend of mine, Steve Harper, called “The Ripple Effect” that talks about going beyond networking to build a mutually beneficial relationship. Those are the people that will put your name forward when an opportunity comes along.

3) Keep learning. Just because that perfect opportunity hasn’t come up yet don’t lose the time you have at the present. Take classes, keep up with industry publications, develop a new skill in your current job. Especially if you’re in an industry that changes quickly, spending time on your professional development is something that can only help you at some point in the future. Don’t let the time go by unused.

Q: What is the top piece of professional advice that you’ve received from a mentor and why do you think that advice still applies in today’s business environment?

A: Jump. Whether it is a promotion you’re not sure you’re ready for, going out and starting comfort zone imageyour own company, or taking on a daunting project, just jump. Most of my professional growth has come as the result of my biggest challenges. Having faith in your abilities isn’t always easy, but in my experience I’ve found most women (including myself) often overthink opportunities and sell ourselves short. Don’t pass up that chance because you think you’re not ready, just jump in the deep end and trust yourself to figure it out. I saw something posted on a beloved friend’s social media account – there’s an arrow pointing to a small circle representing your comfort zone and a second bigger circle set aside from it that said “where the magic happens.” It couldn’t be more true in both my personal and professional life, and it’s a great thing to remember when you approach any challenge.

Q: What is the one thing you make time for in your daily life that helps keeps you refreshed and positive?

A: Surround yourself with positive people. I have a wonderful family, an amazing boyfriend and a group of close friends that are all in my corner. Usually a night out to dinner or a phone call will leave me feeling renewed, and anytime I’m frustrated or overwhelmed the support is there. I also am a big believer in giving back to the community because it keeps me in check with what is really important. Between that and indulging my love of travel, my spirits are usually pretty high.

Q: Can you name a leader for whom you have great respect and tell us why?

A: My mother. She is the strongest woman I know, she’s passionate about creating positive change in the community around her and she does everything with a level of integrity that can be hard to find. Growing up she made sacrifices for me and my sister and always kept an amazing and positive attitude. When her friends meet me I’m often greeted with the “oh you’re so much like you’re mother” and it’s the ultimate compliment. She was and continues to be my role model and is a place I can go to for unconditional support and encouragement. She is by definition a servant leader, and if I grow up to be half the woman she is I’ll consider that a success.