1-On-1 With Civil Engineer Rebecca Cink
It is with great honor and excitement that today's first-ever guest blog is an interview with one of my best friends, my Maid of Honor, and fellow ND alum Rebecca Cink. Becca and I first met during ND's Spain study abroad program the summer after our sophomore year. We immediately hit it off and have been best friends ever since. Becca is incredibly driven, hard-working, creative, and adventurous. Once she has a goal in mind, she relentlessly pursues it. There are many qualities and attributes I admire about Becca, but if I had to pick only one, it would be her willingness to try new things and live in the moment.
Since this is our first guest-blog, let me take a minute (just sit right there for all you Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fans) and explain how the interviews are structured. There are three phases to each interview:
1. Steel Toes: Guests will share their area of expertise and experience working as an engineer
2. Stilettos: Advice on putting your best foot forward for a job interview, office conduct, and professional development
3. Running Shoes: Tips, tricks, and advice for how to balance work and life
Enjoy the read!
Civil Engineering, University of Notre Dame 2012
Current Employer: Turner Construction
Current Title: Cost Engineer
Steel Toes: My experience working as an engineer
Tell us about a day in your shoes?
Most days I work downtown Chicago at Turner’s main office. As a cost engineer, I’m part of our finance department, and my job is to review the financials of different projects we’re constructing, which vary from healthcare, to education, to data centers. In total, I’m auditing nearly half-a-billion dollars in revenue. On each project, I analyze what the financials risks are (for example, overrunning the project schedule and incurring too much staff cost) and conversely, I try to find opportunities where we could be making more money. Although my current role is a departure from the technical side of engineering, I have enjoyed learning more about the business-side of the construction industry.
What attracted you to engineering?
I was initially interested in engineering because my favorite subject throughout school was math. Civil engineering in particular interested me because I’ve always loved architecture, buildings, and bridges. I toyed with the idea of becoming an architect when I was in high school, but I chose engineering because I wanted something more technical and math-focused (and with less drawing).
What other jobs and roles have you had and what did those jobs entail?
Before I was a cost engineer, I worked as a field engineer on a hospital project for 3 years. The hospital is a new cancer care facility that has operating and procedure rooms and is part of a larger hospital campus for Advocate Healthcare. As a field engineer, I worked on the jobsite everyday, and my main responsibility was to manage a subset of subcontractors on the project (including curtainwall, masonry, drywall, millwork, and interior finish trades). My daily activities included getting submittals from subs to ensure materials were ordered on schedule and per the project specifications and pricing change orders. Most importantly, for those trades that I managed, I was the point-person for any issues that came up. When an issue arose, I would work with the subs, architect, engineer, and/or owner to figure out the best solution to the problem. Basically my job boiled down to coordinating parties (subs, design team, owner) and solving problems.
What was your biggest engineering struggle from either college or your professional life and how did you overcome it?
My biggest struggle was in college when I had a very challenging course load my freshman year. While I had a strong background in math, my high school education in science was not great. To give you some context for my high school education, I grew up in a very small town of 8,000 people with just one public high school. There were no private school options. Many students at Notre Dame came from highly acclaimed college prep schools and they had a definite leg up academically speaking, from their high school education. All the science material at Notre Dame was new to me, while for many of my classmates, it was a refresher of their high school AP classes. I felt like I spent twice as much time working on class assignments and homework. There were times I felt so overwhelmed that I considered dropping out of engineering. Ultimately, I sought advice from my college counselor, and we decided that taking a course during the summer was the best option for me. This ended up being a great decision because my workload during the school year became more manageable, and I LOVED the class I took at Berkeley. The best thing though was that I developed great study habits during my freshman year that helped me throughout the rest of college, and I figured out how to conquer challenging, new material. In comparison, some of my classmates who had benefited from attending better high schools, relied on their prior academic knowledge and rested on their laurels (more or less) freshmen year, while I worked my butt off studying. When sophomore year came around, all the engineering material was new, regardless of your high school education. The playing field was level now, and I really came into my own sophomore year from having developed good study habits the year before. The keys to overcoming my struggle were reaching out for help when I felt overwhelmed and not giving up on engineering just because it was difficult at first.
Stilettos: My advice for putting your best foot forward
How did you prepare yourself for job interviews?
At Notre Dame I was fortunate to have access to the career center which was a great resource throughout the job search process. I met with my career advisor multiple times and even did a mock interview with her before doing any real job interviews. I also sought out advice on how to write a cover letter and had my advisor review my resume. I think the most beneficial thing to do before interviewing with a company is to be prepared with questions and do your research on the company beforehand! I’ve been on the other side of the interview process for 5 years now as part of Turner’s recruiting team - and it is a pet peeve to interview someone who has no knowledge of what Turner does as a company. A little prior research on the company goes a long way during the interview.
What qualities make someone a good candidate for hire?
Two qualities that I look for in a candidate are 1) a good attitude and 2) a strong work ethic. In my line of work, I deal with all sorts of people, from laborers who are twice my age, to architects and owners, and then there are the people I work directly with at Turner. That’s a lot of different personalities, and each interaction requires a unique approach. Secondly, a strong work ethic is very important and will take you far in your career. I would rather hire someone with less book smarts and a better work ethic, than the other way around.
What factors did you consider when you were job searching?
1) What kinds of projects would I be working on
2) What are the opportunities for career growth and advancement
3) What are the employees like who I would be working with
4) What does the company do to promote continuous education (staff training, tuition reimbursement for graduate programs, etc.)
What resources, tools, and strategies do you use for professional development?
Outside of the training I receive through work, I like to read books on leadership and professional development. Some books which have impacted my career development include Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, It’s Our Ship by Michael Abrashoff, and The 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell.
What is the best piece of advice you have received or what piece of advice would you give to other women in the engineering field?
Don’t struggle alone. Realize that there are other engineers out there who have gone through similar experiences or would have great advice on how to handle a situation, both men and women. I think there is a stigma that asking for advice or help is admitting defeat. This couldn’t be more far from the truth, and the importance of teamwork can’t be overemphasized, especially in engineering. In the words of Brian Tracy, “Teamwork is so important that it is virtually impossible for you to reach the heights of your capabilities or make the money that you want without becoming very good at it.”
Who is the woman you most admire and why?
My mom. Besides the fact that she’s the most supportive and loving mom I could ask for, I admire her work ethic and strong character. My mom has a MBA and has worked as a bookkeeper at my dad’s medical practice for 25 years. She worked part-time when my sister and I were young and transitioned to being full-time when we started middle school. She demonstrated that having a good career and family life are not mutually exclusive.
Running Shoes: My advice on balancing work and life
What does work/life balance mean to you?
I think of work/life balance as a pendulum. At one extreme you have work and at the other, life (or all the fun stuff). The equilibrium point is when perfect balance between the two is achieved. If you visualize the arc of a pendulum’s swing, having perfect equilibrium i.e. balance, is rare. I think it’s important that you strive to stay balanced, but you need to acknowledge that it’s not always possible and realize that’s ok! For me there are some days (or truthfully weeks) which demand a lot of hours at work, while at other times, my priority is focusing on having fun with friends and family. I try my best to be aware of how I’m spending my time, and I feel most satisfied when I put my full effort into whatever I’m doing.
What type of relaxation or stress relief techniques do you use?
I have a close group of friends and we like to have “girls’ nights” together. It’s a great way to unwind from work and I think it’s essential to have a strong support system among friends.
What are some tips you have or strategies you use to achieve work/life balance?
My tip is to be self-aware of how you’re spending your time and realize that it is up to YOU to establish work/life balance. No one is going to make your life balanced for you. You will never have a boss that says, "Go home at 5pm’ or ‘You’re working too much, go have fun." I have coworkers who complain about not having a good work/life balance, but when I ask them why they are working so much, the answer is not that someone is forcing them to, rather it’s their own choice to do so. It’s up to you to choose the life you want to live.
Special thanks to today's guest, Rebecca Cink!
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