What I Wish I Knew: a series of conversations around first jobs
Each year, valedictorians around the world give speeches to inspire their classmates as they embark on the next chapter of their lives. In a similar vein, we asked MetLife employees with unique post-graduate experiences to offer some advice on what it takes to build and maintain a successful career in our second annual What I Wish I Knew series.
Up next is Cassidy Self, a Director of global strategy who has been at MetLife for over four years.
What do you wish you knew when you started your first job out of college?
Cassidy Self: I wish I appreciated the importance of being flexible – having a plan is great but being open to opportunities that you’d never considered can be rewarding. Life’s curveballs can sometimes take you down a path that lands you in a great place for your growth and your career. If you are open minded and approach everything as a learning opportunity you’ll gain so much more throughout your career than if you limit yourself to your ‘plan’.
What are some critical dos and don’ts for starting a career on the right track?
- DO take the time to outline your core values. This will serve as a filter for you to make decisions throughout your career.
- DO focus on the things that are within your control, not the constantly changing environment around you. This will ground you in times of uncertainty.
- DON’T be afraid of your “weaknesses”. Ask for feedback and be appreciative when you receive it. This gives you an opportunity to work on the things you need to achieve greater success.
- DON’T pursue a path because you think it’s what someone else expects of you. You are in charge of your career.
- DON’T be afraid to ask questions. Nobody expects you to know everything. This will help you build trust in your working relationships and it will allow you to learn from the experts.
What is your current role?
I recently started a new role as Director, Product in Global Strategy. My team is focused on bringing MetLife’s strategy to life and identifying new products and services that improve the lives of our customers.
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Virginia and I went to Clemson University in South Carolina, where I graduated with a dual Bachelor’s degree in International Management and Marketing. I also competed on the Varsity Swimming & Diving team during my four years at Clemson, which taught me the importance of accountability and working toward shared goals. It was also my first opportunity to mentor my teammates.
What did you picture yourself doing after college?
I wanted to work in marketing for a global consumer brand like Apple, Nike, Google, etc. I liked the idea of building brand strategies that help companies connect with consumers that had a need for their products. Specifically, I wanted to do this not just in the US, but in markets around the world. Though my first “professional” job seemed to be taking me down a very different path, I don’t feel so far off track anymore.
What was your first job?
My very first job was as the dive coach at my neighborhood pool. Though I didn’t really realize it at the time, I learned a lot of important lessons about leadership and work ethic – working with and managing stakeholders (parents), gaining respect and trust of a team (8-18 year old divers), motivating people and creating a fun culture.
My first “real” job was in marketing for an IT consulting firm in Northern Virginia. We provided services and solutions to the federal government. I worked on a very small team, so I got a crash course in everything from marketing and sales, to product development.
What qualities do you most admire in leadership?
The quality I value and admire most is a commitment to transparency and communication. I believe this builds trust within a team and creates a strong culture of collaboration. Whether celebrating successes, announcing a change, or giving people a platform to ask questions during times of uncertainty, communication is the foundation for a group to really function as a team and believe “we’re in this together”.
How do you approach networking and career growth?
Your network or your circle is an extension of your personal brand. Focusing on expanding your circle not only affords you opportunities to learn and gain new perspectives, but these are the people that will advocate for you when you’re not at the table. Many of the opportunities you get throughout your career, whether it’s a skills development experience or the chance to take on a new role, come from your network. Having a strong network will open many doors for you.
How do you manage up?
I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. Understand the factors that may be influencing them – leadership, business priorities, partners, team dynamics – and then frame your message or your question in a way that relates to these factors. This will help you build a stronger partnership with your manager.
How do you ensure you continue to learn and grow professionally?
I try to learn from leaders who come from a mix of disciplines. I read and listen to podcasts from top athletes, entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, etc. I strive to stay curious, to expose myself to a variety of perspectives, experiment with new approaches and get comfortable being uncomfortable. I think real growth happens when you are challenged.
What do you find here at MetLife that embodies the culture you have looked for?
Because of our size and global scale, there is an opportunity to have many careers within MetLife. I think this really gives us the chance to create the career path we want, whether it looks like a ladder or a roller coaster. Do you want to spend your career working in our legal department? We have opportunities for that. How about a career that takes you from the operations team in Asia to the marketing department in the U.S.? There are career opportunities there too.
What styles of leadership do you see at MetLife?
A style I see and have been lucky to experience with each of my managers is a focus on coaching and talent development. There are many platforms for people to share their goals and take on new opportunities.
Do you have a mentor or a champion? If so, how has this relationship helped you progress in your career?
I have several mentors from different departments at MetLife who’ve given me advice that is as diverse as their career paths. Each relationship is unique, but all have helped me navigate my career at the company. I think it’s important for everyone to have some sort of mentor relationship, someone you trust and feel comfortable asking for feedback. My mentors have been gracious with their time and have supported me in everything from dealing with challenges in my role, thinking through and negotiating new roles, and crafting my personal leadership style.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Hungry for more career advice? Click here for more from our What I Wish I knew series.