Four Tips for Employees Who Want to Own Their Careers

Sponsored by The Hartford

Cora Jones and Fela Abioye

Photos courtesy of The Hartford.

The Hartford
The Hartford
June 15, 2024 at 12:35AM UTC

Here’s How Employees Can Grow Their Careers at The Hartford

At The Hartford, employees have opportunities to move between roles, continue learning new skills, explore different career paths and take on new challenges. With support and coaching from company leaders, employees are empowered to own their careers and take on new work that excites and challenges them. The Hartford encourages employees to learn and grow, making the firm a destination for top talent. 

“The Hartford has always provided opportunities for me to grow in either my current role, a stretch assignment or a new role,” says Fela Abioye, an underwriting executive team lead based in Houston, who has held six positions in three different cities during the 11 years he’s worked at The Hartford. “I never want to be stagnant. I need to always be learning and if I didn’t feel like The Hartford offered those opportunities, l would have left a long time ago.”

Cora Jones, an inside sales executive team lead, says she has shared a similar experience in her last five years working for The Hartford.

“The Hartford provides so many opportunities to enhance your skills, get you exposure to other areas of the business and help you make the necessary connections with the right people,” she says. “When I feel like I’ve mastered a role, I start looking for my next challenge.”

By taking advantage of a variety of experiences, roles and connections that The Hartford offered, Fela and Cora have advanced their careers within the company. Fela started as a workers’ compensation claim representative in Houston and held a variety of team lead roles, switching gears to go through an underwriting training program. Cora started as a customer relationship specialist (CRS) and worked as an interim manager for the CRS team and as an underwriter before stepping into her role as an inside sales team manager. 

Fela and Cora offer four tips that helped them grow their careers at The Hartford.

1. Join an Employee Resource Group

Both Fela and Cora say they owe some of their success to joining Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) when they were first hired. The Hartford’s nine ERGs encourage people to connect, engage, develop, grow, and give back. For instance, Fela says that joining the Black Insurance Professionals Network (BIPN) ERG helped him to build connections across the company. It also helped him to test out his leadership skills. 

“If you aspire to be a leader and you’re not in a leadership role yet, ERGs are a great way to lead,” he says.

Over the years, Fela has held many different ERG leadership positions, which gave him the opportunity to demonstrate management skills and develop a broader network of mentors and sponsors.

Through her involvement with the ERGs, Cora learned about other departments as well as The Hartford’s leadership development programs.

“I didn’t know anything about underwriting and then I went to an ERG coffee chat and met with so many people from other groups - underwriters, managers and business analysts, who talked about their roles and the things they did,” Cora says. “Underwriting was intriguing to me, especially the research portion, and I thought it would help me become more specialized and have more transferable skills.”

2. Participate in Learning Programs

Both Cora and Fela describe themselves as “life-long learners.” Their curiosity and drive led them to jump at opportunities to take advantage of programs that would help them to advance their careers. 

Fela’s participation in Job Quest, a job shadow program, led him to pursue a role as an underwriter. As part of that program, Fela went to a meeting with an underwriter and quickly discovered that he didn’t always understand what they were talking about. Fela’s natural curiosity fueled his desire to learn more about the position, so he asked his mentor to introduce him to an underwriter whom he could speak with regularly.

“Over the course of a year, we got to know each other, and I understood what underwriting was about. I knew this was something I wanted to do,” he says.

Cora has taken advantage of the many online courses and workshops offered by The Hartford to increase her technical expertise. She is also participating in a mentor program, providing an extra push to network with colleagues. During this yearlong program, Cora has been meeting with a mentor every month to discuss management practices, financials and various leadership styles. The end goal of the program is for Cora to gain more insight and exposure to leadership at The Hartford. 

Cora was also invited to participate in an external leadership program for Black professionals.

“I felt very valued by the company that they thought to reach outside for a more formal leadership program,” Jones says. “This lets me know the company is just as invested in my career as I am.

3. Find a Mentor

At The Hartford, managers support their direct employees’ career growth, and other leaders are willing to mentor and advocate for those with whom they connect. All managers at The Hartford receive training on how to effectively coach and mentor employees.

“From day one, I had folks take me under their wing,” Fela says.

In fact, even before he was hired at The Hartford, Fela began to understand the company’s supportive culture. After Fela didn’t get the first job he applied for at The Hartford as a claims representative, he reached out to the manager he interviewed with and asked for advice. That manager answered Fela’s questions, gave him resources to help him learn more about the insurance industry and helped him prepare for his next interview.

Some employees find mentors organically rather than being assigned a mentor through a formal program. For instance, Cora found her mentor during a resume writing session with the Professional Women’s Network ERG. Cora specifically attended the event with hopes of meeting the underwriting leader who she had admired.

“I knew my resume was in good shape, but I wanted to get exposure to talk with her,” she says, adding that the 30-minute conversation resulted in a long-lasting friendship. “She is one of my biggest advocates. I wasn’t going to apply for my latest role as an inbound sales team manager and when I told her that, she told me I’m more than qualified. I look at her as more of a sponsor than a mentor. When the opportunity comes up, she brings my name up in the appropriate places.”

4. Own Your Career

Although Fela and Cora have received much support and mentoring from company leaders, they both recognize the importance of owning their careers. They are both active in a variety of professional organizations, including  The Hartford’s Black Insurance Professional Network ERG and two external partnerships: the National African American Insurance Association and the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. 

Cora is committed to helping other Black professionals get the same exposure to management that she had the opportunity to experience. And as a result, she has become an active BIPN ERG member and co-leads the local chapter in Charlotte to help create those opportunities for others. 

Fela’s advice for others looking to advance their careers is to never be afraid to ask someone at The Hartford for help.

“Folks like to share their knowledge, but you have to be willing to step outside yourself to do that,” he says. 

Fela also believes it’s important to follow up on feedback from a mentor and to show that you are taking action on that advice.

“If you don’t do anything with the feedback, it doesn’t mean anything,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t pursue your own leadership style.” Over the last few years, the management team has provided Fela feedback, but allowed him the autonomy to put his own spin on it.

There are multiple resources available to employees who want to own their own careers including a tuition reimbursement program, a robust learning catalog with over 1,000 leadership & professional topics, more than 2,000 different job roles and internal talent consultants who can coach and support talent mobility.

“I think it is important that folks recognize your career is what you make of it,” Fela says. “It’s not your manager’s job to advance your career, it’s yours. You’re in the driver’s seat, and whatever the destination, it’s up to you.” 


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