What I Wish I Knew: a series of conversations around first jobs

In the fifth installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, Crystal Beach, who has been with MetLife for over four years, shares her unique post-graduate experience in hopes that it will inspire recent grads as they forge their own professional paths.

What is your current role?

Crystal Beach: I’m a Senior Product Consultant for MetLife in our Group Benefits Disability Products organization. I help create new disability products and services and manage existing disability products in our portfolio to make sure they are performing as anticipated after we develop them. For example, the products I support help people pay their bills and maintain their lifestyle while going through the birth of a child or a medical challenge like cancer or a surgery.

What is your background?

I grew up in Durham, North Carolina and went to UNC Charlotte for their Architecture program. It turned out that being an Architecture major wasn’t for me and I ended transferring to Appalachian State University where I studied Finance as well as Risk Management & Insurance. I graduated with a BSBA in Finance and Banking after four and a half years.

What did you picture yourself doing after college?

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after college because I had a variety of interests growing up — some of which were fashion, volunteering and business. Then, a drafting teacher who saw my creative ability encouraged me to study architecture in college but ultimately, my affinity for math and business led me to work in finance.

What was your first job?

I volunteered as a Youth Advocate at an organization called Question Why, which later turned into a paid position. I advocated for the rights of me and my peers and for a cause that was really important to me — tobacco prevention. I got to travel regionally as well as educate and empower other youth advocates to speak out in their communities against Big Tobacco. I also got to speak in front of the school board where I lived, sit on an action committee at my high school and ultimately help make my school system 100% tobacco free, which I’m incredibly proud of.

What do you wish you knew about career development when you started out?

I wish I knew that it’s not just about the tests that you take to get the letters behind your name. Yes, the knowledge that you gain is helpful but ultimately, you never know where your career will take you and what was important then may not be important now.

Career development is also about figuring out which skills you need to be successful in your field. Identify what those are and then revise them with someone who’s had tenure in that field and keep track of your development as you progress.

What qualities do you most admire in leadership?

I admire leaders who are genuine, open and are willing to stand up for their team and, what’s important and take risks when necessary.

How do you approach networking and career growth?

I meet as many people as often as I can in order to learn what they do and how it relates to my job — this gives me a better understanding of my role, my career trajectory and how to increase my success within the organization.

The opportunity for career growth is all around — whether I’m looking for it or not, new experiences present themselves every day and it’s up to me to embrace them. Just know that career progression typically isn’t a straight line and a lot of times, it’s the unexpected opportunity that checks your assumptions about what you thought you wanted and leads you to true career growth.

How do you manage up?

Being accountable goes a long way — develop a reputation for always delivering on or before deadlines.

Another way is communicating according to your manager’s workload. If an issue arises, give them a quick, concise description with your recommendation and be ready to answer any questions. If you approach your meeting or emails with them in this way, you’ll have a better working relationship.

How do you ensure you continue to learn and grow professionally?

I block time out on my calendar for career development activities such as listening to webinars, watching TED talks, using our internal learning site and reading publications like the Harvard Business Review.

I frame new assignments as opportunities — whenever I am presented with something that I haven’t done before, I almost always say YES! I don’t think of it as another thing I have to do, instead I think of it as an opportunity that was given to me and I want to figure out how excel at it.

Lastly, I participate in several Diversity Business Resource Networks at MetLife which allow me to be exposed to and work with people in different parts of our organization on different types of projects. I learn through these projects and relationships and they give me exposure to individuals who can support my professional growth.

What are some critical dos and don’ts for starting a career on the right track?

DO

  • Listen first — when you enter a new environment, take time to understand the dynamics. You might be compelled to challenge the way things are done but you’ll have more impact if you’ve studied your team and culture first.
  • Keep an open mind. You might not love what you do at first or you might be given an assignment that scares you but forge ahead anyway, say thank you and give it your best shot.
  • Recognize that everyone is different, we all have different strengths and there is great value in that. Take time to meet with everyone on your team within the first two weeks on the job — this will help you lay the foundation for strong relationships that can help you be more effective in your role.
  • Stay positive — it’s easy for negativity to spread. Foster positivity and it will go a long way with your colleagues.

DON’T

  • Talk behind your teams’ back. You’ll spend forty or more hours per week with them, you will need to count on them for something in the future and having a positive relationship is critical for success.
  • Be jealous of others and what they have accomplished. When someone is successful, congratulate them — it shows great character and team spirit.

What do you find here at MetLife that embodies the culture you have looked for?

  • MetLife is a large global company with lots of opportunities for career growth — since I’ve been at MetLife, I’ve worked in six different roles. I could spend my whole career here if I wanted!
  • MetLife is also very supportive of Diversity and Inclusion and we have several Diversity Business Resource Networks which allow employees to engage in topics that are important to them.
  • MetLife Foundation encourages employees to engage with and support our local communities.
  • I have flexibility in my schedule and work environment which allows for better work-life blend.

Do you have a mentor or a champion? If so, how has this relationship helped you progress in your career?

I’ve had a mentor for the majority of my career and these types of relationships are very beneficial, particularly during moments of change. They’ve helped me bridge seamlessly between roles, and I get to learn about myself along the way.

Another big word right now is sponsor, which is someone that’s there to speak on your behalf. You may or may not know who they are, but they are important to have at the table. If you work hard and are a team player, people around you will notice.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Posted: June 13, 2018