What I wish I knew: a series of conversations around first jobs
It’s that time of year again when students around the globe — under the proud, watchful eyes of their family, friends and faculty – are leaving academia behind and entering the workforce.
And because you can never be too prepared for what life may bring, we tapped MetLife colleagues whose unique post-graduate experience might come in handy to inspire some of these recent grads as they forge their own professional paths.
Starting off our “What I Wish I Knew” series is Adriana Briones, Senior Business Planning & Strategy Consultant, who has been with MetLife for eight years.
What is your current role?
Adriana Briones: I am a Senior Business Planning & Strategy Consultant in Global Employee Benefit’s Product Center of Expertise. Because MetLife serves many customers and partners around the world, I work with different global teams to provide the best customer solutions and services.
Tell us about your background?
I was born native in Ecuador and grew up in Rhode Island. Between high school and university, I briefly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in Parris Island, South Carolina. I went to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI, where I graduated with a B.S. in International Business with a concentration in Operations Management.
What did you picture yourself doing after college?
I was very interested in manufacturing after I visited Hasbro’s gaming division plants in New England and Ireland, thanks to a work abroad program. Manufacturing is more complicated than you think — when you look under the hood, there are all these roles and inputs needed to make a finished product. And while we don’t sell tangible products at MetLife, there are many details that go into selling and servicing insurance — I learn something new every day.
What was your first job?
I consider my first job assembling and completing the invoices for my mom’s Avon order when I was only 9. I was the “back office” and my mom was customer facing. Looking back, it was its own small business with sales, operations and customer service.
My first job with a W4 was at a dollar store — it was miracle I was hired because even though I was 16, I looked ten years old. My high school’s “Finance Academy” program also helped me, though. It gave me the professional development I needed to prepare for the role — I applied for the retail position in my best professional clothes and several copies of my resume on “good” paper.
The manager later told me she wouldn’t normally hire teenagers but was impressed by how professional and prepared I was – all just to be a cashier. That’s when I learned that you can never be too prepared when it comes to your career.
What do you wish you knew about career development when you started out?
I wish I knew that interpersonal and communication skills are critical to being an individual contributor and leader and that you can practice and develop these skills at any time, in any environment. Also, success doesn’t happen in a vacuum, you need other people to help you achieve your goals.
What quality do you most admire in leadership?
The balance of listening to your team and partners while trusting your gut — I think this is a particularly admirable quality when you need to make big bets or decisions.
How do you approach networking and career growth?
Building the right skill sets and having a good work ethic is the foundation for career growth. However, it does take a village to have sustained success. That’s why every introduction is an opportunity to learn something new and form inroads with people who could become your mentors or sponsors, leading to further personal and professional development.
How do you manage up?
When I think of managing up (or across), I think of influencing rather than telling. Creating a genuine connection and then, asking the right question that aligns with a shared mission can spur an action in a more effective way.
How do you ensure you continue to learn and grow professionally?
I look for programs that push me into new roles, projects and teams at MetLife. Also, I take every opportunity when meeting someone new to learn about their job, past roles and interests. In addition to asking questions, I proactively make use of available learning courses offered at work, even if the subject matter isn’t directly tied to my work.
What are some critical dos and don’ts for starting a career on the right track?
The key to starting and maintaining a career is NEVER burning bridges! You never know who will be on your team, be your boss, direct report or stakeholder. It may take a long time to build trust but all it takes is one misstep to lose it.
What do you find here at MetLife that embodies the culture you have looked for?
I’m constantly impressed and proud of the efforts MetLife puts into diversity and inclusion (D&I). I grew up being a minority in my community and thought that conforming was the best way to get ahead. But MetLife’s culture changed all that. Seeing unique backgrounds accepted and valued made me want to stay and grow with the company.
MetLife’s D&I has also provided me with opportunities to practice and grow my leadership skills through the employee development network, “iRise”. I started as a member and quickly took on different leadership roles, from managing communications to ultimately leading the whole organization. At first it was intimidating but together with a senior leader we managed a leadership team of 30 and built programming for our over 2,000 members.
What styles of leadership do you see at MetLife?
While there is no secret formula for the best leadership style, one common trait among the leaders here that I have observed is a commitment to sharing knowledge and best practices across the organization.
Do you have a mentor or a champion? If so, how has this relationship helped you progress in your career?
I’ve had both formal and informal mentors at MetLife but the most fruitful mentorships came from when I had a specific and clear professional goal in mind that I needed help achieving. This helped my mentors determine the right short and long term steps to help me get there.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Hungry for more career advice? Click here for more from our What I Wish I Knew series.