Career Advice From GfG Staff Member Belinda, who is Celebrating 40 Years at her Employer
Belinda Johnson has been a part of the GfG staff for over three years, and we’re so proud of her recent career achievement of celebrating 40 years at New York Life Insurance Company. Belinda is the epitome of a “visionary woman.” Despite some challenges she openly discusses, Belinda continuously pursued her abilities in mathematics and customer service and worked her way up to take on numerous leadership positions. Along the way, she used her personable and hardworking demeanor to stand out as someone who was always willing to volunteer herself for opportunities to show and grow her skills.
We interviewed Belinda about her work experience and tips she acquired throughout her years of dedication to her company, which she would like to pass along to the girls in GfG.
Tip #1: Present yourself in a way that highlights where you see yourself in the future.
In 1981 I was 20 years old with a three-year-old daughter, attending LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York. In the back of my mind, I always knew that it was important that I didn’t continue the pattern of being on public assistance. I will never forget the morning that my mother woke me up to ask if I was going to school, and I said that I was going out to find a job. A friend from high school told me about New York Life Insurance Company, so I headed to their office to see if there were any positions available. I got a job as a clerk/messenger, but you would have never known that was my role at the company. I described myself to people as a “high-heeled messenger,” because I always dressed very business professional. I was always extremely good at math, so I saw myself moving up to take on a position as an analyst and, eventually, become a supervisor.
Tip #2: Network with people outside of those you regularly associate with.
After maybe over a year in my first position, I went to my manager to tell her that I had good math skills and to ask if there was anything else in the area that I could learn. I became what they called a “manu-calculator,” which meant that I would manually make calculations for policyholders. I always made sure that I conversed with people in other areas. This way, people were familiar with my personality and professionalism when I applied for another position. I also volunteered to help others out with their work, even if it had nothing to do with my job.
Going out of your way to network with people outside of your social circle is something you can start doing while still in school. Normally, you may only talk to the teachers you currently have, so you may want to talk to teachers in grades above you. Talking to teachers you will pass by eventually may make them see you as a leader or someone who is thinking about more than what’s in front of you at the moment.
Tip #3: Identify ways to stand out from the crowd.
You can’t assume whoever you are reporting to will know which position you want next. You have to put yourself out there, especially when there is a lot of competition. I had an excellent attendance record; I’ve called in sick five times in 40 years. That’s why I was definitely in the run for new positions or projects that came up. I made sure that I allowed my work to speak for me, because my main goal at work was getting my work done. I’m known for being someone who is a fast learner and is able to handle a tremendous amount of work. Making friends is an added benefit of the job. I met my current group of friends at my company right after I came back from maternity leave with my son 33 years ago.
Tip #4: Planning for the future can create opportunities for finding a career to be passionate about.
Since I was a young mother, I didn’t get the opportunity to lay out a plan of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wish that I had the opportunity to be part of a program like GfG, so I could get involved in various things other than, I’ll be honest, boys. I think this program can grow your mindset.
After outgrowing the managerial position I was in for 15 years, I took on my current position as an Individual Contributor four years ago. It’s the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. While it’s still the same level as a manager, I get to be solely accountable for the work in which I do. I oversee the service team’s third-party vendors, and I’ve been able to save the company a substantial amount of money. I really enjoy talking to customers, and I have had several customers write in over the years to say that they had a wonderful experience speaking with me. I make sure that the same quality of service I expect when I go to a store is the type of service I expect the vendors to provide for New York Life Insurance Company. When I look at the company’s money, I act like it’s mine. I value my own money, so I make sure I put the same emphasis on the work I do to save the company money.
Tip #5: You get what you put in. In order to want better, you have to do better.
I mentioned that I was raised on public assistance, and one thing I’ve learned from maturity is that it was probably good for me. Sometimes I feel that when we have too much we take a lot for granted. I have two kids who have graduated from college, one of which is pursuing a master’s degree. It was good for me to be in a situation that taught me how to be humble, and I instill the same mentality in my children.
Three years ago New York Life Insurance Company started a program, called the Service star Award. As the 2018 winner, I got to go to San Antonio, Texas. When I got home, I paid it forward by teaching a young lady at the company how to put herself out there. In 2020, she received the same award. A key point I want to share with the girls is to help them understand that they shouldn’t expect anything and that being appreciative is key. Just because you make a mistake does not mean that you have to stay in it. Life for me could have gone another direction. I honestly knew that I could do better.