Making a Case for Yourself

March 28, 2022 - Amanda Guinot Talbot, PhD

For many of us, making a case for ourselves in an academic and/or professional capacity can be a challenge: we want to appear authentic, yet polished; knowledgeable, yet teachable; and prepared, yet flexible - and we need to find a way to fit all of these traits and more on a one-page resume! 

Fortunately, this month, the inaugural WLI student cohort had the opportunity to glean advice from Gloria Santona on building a case for themselves when entering the workforce. An established lawyer whose career has spanned decades, Gloria served as the 

Executive Vice President, Chief General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of McDonald's Corporation before retiring and joining Baker Mackenzie law firm. Gloria is also currently an executive board member for the Women's Leadership Institute. 

Gloria's first piece of advice for the young women in attendance was to find a workplace where their authentic selves are welcomed, supported and mentored. "When you're looking for an employer, I think it's really important to feel out the culture, and to feel that it's a place where you can be comfortable and be yourself," said Gloria. "And I think that's probably more common today than it was in 1977, which is why I feel very lucky to have found the job that I did."

Additionally, Gloria - who, despite being a successful and highly-respected lawyer, failed to get into medical school after completing her undergraduate degree - also emphasized the importance of looking ahead, staying flexible, and taking failure in stride. 

"As awful as I felt when I was 21 years old and didn't get into medical school, I had to pick myself up and brush myself off. And I learned a lesson, which was that I wasn't going to succeed at everything I tried. And it wasn't the end of the world," Gloria reflected. "There's no such thing as failure if you pick yourself up, brush yourself off and learn something from it."

Relatedly, Gloria also emphasized that while having an end goal is great, it's okay if you have to take an indirect route to get there: "You don't have to take one set road, and I think that's what many of us fall into the trap of thinking, you know, 'I want to get from A to D, and I need to go through B and C,' but not necessarily; that's not the case."

For student cohort member Megan Smejkal, Gloria's message pertaining to flexibility was extremely poignant. "Gloria hit the nail on the head with this one. People get caught up in the idea that one mistake or missed opportunity will prevent them from getting to where they want to be. That's especially true for students right now," Megan noted. "The pandemic stripped us of experiences we'll never get back, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost; we're just getting rerouted, that's all."

As a way to boost confidence, Gloria advised students not to underestimate the power of being prepared. "I need to have a level of preparation to feel confident. You can't walk into a room and feel confident that you can contribute to a meeting or do a presentation if you're not confident in yourself," said Gloria. 

"When you get into your work life, whatever that may be - it doesn't matter whether it's in the arts, corporate, non-profit or government sector - you need to be able to garner confidence from other people. So, step one is preparation to build that confidence in yourself."

Finally, Gloria gave advice to students about how to make a case for themselves as a leader - and how leading is really about listening. "If you allow yourself to listen to what people want, you can craft creative solutions," she explained.

Adena Norwood, another member of the WLI student cohort, found this message to be especially meaningful. "When professionals describe a leader, they often create an image of an individual with a lot of ideas they're unafraid to share. I liked that Ms. Santona emphasized a need to listen to others to better serve them, rather than a leader who relies solely on their own decisions and methods," Adena said.

The WLI's next student cohort webinar will feature MSU alumna and founder of Worth Workplace Training, Anita Khushalani! Anita will be sharing her advice to students surrounding the topic of "Pay Equity & Negotiation: Knowing Your Worth."

The WLI is now accepting early applications for the 2022-2023 student cohort! If you are a student who is interested in joining next year's cohort, apply here.


About the Author


Amanda Guinot TalbotAmanda Guinot Talbot, PhD

Acting Director, Women’s Leadership Institute
Mason-Soneral Faculty Fellow, Women’s Leadership Institute
Director of Undergraduate Education and Assistant Professor, HDFS

Dr. Amanda Guinot Talbot is the director of undergraduate education and an assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. As the Women’s Leadership Institute acting director and Mason Soneral faculty fellow Dr. Guinot Talbot works on institute programming, curricula, and student engagement. Dr. Guinot Talbot also is a co-administrator of the financial literacy educational campaigns at MSU (Go for the Green). She received her master’s degree in Family Studies and Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Michigan State University.

Learn more about the MSU Women’s Leadership Institute.