3 Pros at American Express Share How to Embrace Your Authentic Self at Work and Propel Your Career Growth

Sponsored: This content was created in partnership with American Express.  The opinions here are of the featured employees and do not reflect those of the Company or FindSpark. 

At American Express, the company’s job is to help you excel at yours. When you join American Express, you’ll have access to world-class leadership and learning experiences, an opportunity to create a unique career journey shaped by your talent and curiosity, and the ability to engage with leaders and coworkers who will help you excel in all you do. All this, combined with comprehensive benefits and a culture of inclusion, makes American Express a unique place to join, stay and grow your career.

To learn more about life at American Express visit their careers site, and check out their job board for current openings. 

One of the biggest motivators for job-seekers is finding a company that provides the opportunity to grow and advance in their career. The hardest part, though, is when the company you love doesn’t seem to encourage its employees to be themselves and bring their individual experiences to the workplace. If you can’t be yourself, how can you grow?

With this in mind, we partnered with American Express to feature three of their employees, Marcus, Client Manager; Anna, Engineer; and Matthew, Senior Analyst, who have cracked the code on being their authentic selves in the workplace, and how that can help accelerate career growth. Anna began her career journey as a musician, then entrepreneur, then tech engineer and coder at American Express. Marcus joined American Express after years in the military, and Matthew landed in the U.S. after starting out with the company in Australia, then the UK.

Through all these career changes, American Express has enabled its employees to grow and learn the value of community and being authentic in the workplace. This leads to employees staying with the company for the growth-mindset environment and inclusive culture the company fosters.

We sat down with these American Express employees to learn more about how to bring your authentic self to the workplace and how community and authenticity can help propel your career growth.

At what point in the hiring process with American Express did you think, “this is the place for me?”

Marcus, Client Manager: Day one! I know that sounds cliché, but I did my research prior to applying and talked to a few friends and former colleagues that all talked about the culture and the welcoming environment that the company creates. As I moved further and further in the interview process, I saw the company values personified.

Anna, Engineer: I had a cool opportunity to attend an immersive coding boot camp for women. Technology representatives from American Express attended our hiring day to view our capstone projects. During the hiring process, I noticed a number of alumni from the coding camp working at the company. I appreciated seeing women leaders. I was interviewed by a woman engineering manager and, at the time, the head of engineering was also a woman.

Matthew, Senior Analyst: I have to say it was even before the hiring process that I knew American Express was the place for me. Before the interview, I did my research and started getting butterflies in my stomach because I was excited about the possibilities. Going through the rounds of interviews just solidified my decision. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly smart and had been at the company for a while, which signified that there was a good culture to keep people there for that long.

What is one of the most unique opportunities you’ve been given at American Express and how has that shaped your future with the company?

Anna: The most unique opportunity I’ve been given to further my professional development is the ability to rotate into a new team as an iOS developer. I was hired as a Fullstack web developer but was able to shape my future as a mobile developer and learn a new programming language.

Matthew: I said to my manager at the Australian office, “I think I want to move to the UK and get a bigger market experience.” That’s all I said, and my manager said, “ok, let me get back to you”. A few hours later that day, I was being introduced by my VP at the time to the UK Acquisitions team lead. There just so happened to be a role open that would suit me very well in the UK market and they were interested in interviewing me. This move has shaped my career to date and I can’t thank my manager at the time or VP enough for that because it completely re-shaped my future at the company.

Your diverse background allows you to bring specific skills to the table. How has working at American Express empowered you to embrace your personality and unique self and skill-set?

Marcus: American Express is very team-focused and collaborative. In the military, working together as a team is essential to accomplishing a mission. I’m as comfortable being a team member as I am being a team leader, so I was able to enter meetings on day one engaged and willing to ask questions, even if they may have seemed elementary. Here at American Express, I start and finish the day with a smile.

Community is a large part of the American Express employee experience, and you all have found your own. How have these communities enhanced your experiences at the company?

Anna: I’ve found a community in the iOS team. I’m surrounded by smart and friendly people who really care about the quality of code and the customer experience. They constantly push me to code my best.

Matthew: For me, sports are a huge part of my life – both playing and watching. I have been able to join intramural soccer teams and several fantasy sports leagues, which have allowed me to build relationships and meet new colleagues within the company. This has been driven by a culture of inclusiveness and acceptance, which has helped me settle in and feel more comfortable within the workplace.

Marcus: Moving to New York, I was interested in picking up Improv and, through discussing this with my team, realized that one of my colleagues was very involved in Improv at a local theater. She suggested I give it a shot! I just completed an 8-week course and it was such fun. I enjoyed reporting back to her all the things I learned. Though she has relocated to another state, we keep in touch to discuss all things Improv. These connections are valuable; and that’s what makes the company so great.

How have Colleague Networks enhanced your experiences at American Express?

Marcus: They have been pivotal in my personal and professional growth. Prior to joining the company, I checked out their website and looked at the various Colleague Networks they had available. On day one of my onboarding, I immediately sent my request to join four Colleague Networks: PRIDE+, the Black Engagement Network, Veterans Network, and Millennial Network. I knew that I would be able to connect with these members on a personal level and would receive some sort of support. This has been true across all the networks I’m a part of. Joining networks has allowed me to learn more about the various business units and how my colleagues work alongside me in the Blue Box. These networks have also provided me opportunities to meet colleagues outside of my business unit.

Matthew: I have been a part of the company’s Colleague Networks both in Australia and in the UK, where I was able to see how the company values its employees and is committed to their development first-hand. In the UK, I worked within the Colleague Development team where we were tasked with getting people to think about their development. We found that because people are so busy with work, personal development was something a lot of people didn’t have time for, so we developed sessions, created a book review blog, and offered advice and learning materials from other colleagues to help others think about their development and talk about it with their leaders.

How have the connections you’ve made at work impacted your personal and/or professional life? Can you share any specific relationships that have really made a difference?

Matthew: I have been fortunate enough to work with some great people. I have been able to make friends with some amazing people both in Australia, the UK and the U.S. to the point where I still have text group chats with them. Having the opportunity to work across different markets has also been great as it has set me up for the position I am in today. The biggest connection would be with my current manager who originally hired me into the company back in 2015 and then re-hired me in 2019 for the role I am in now.

One of the company’s focuses is leadership development for its employees. How have you developed as leaders and what major factors have contributed to that?

Anna: I’ve developed as a Tech leader by taking ownership of projects, mentoring new developers, and creating and maintaining inner source projects. I really enjoy that we have staff engineers who interact with the team daily. They are easily accessible and always have a good way of approaching any situation. I constantly watch leaders and apply what I’ve learned to the opportunities I have to lead.

Matthew: Back in the UK, American Express has a Summer Intern Program where students in university can apply and interview for a 10-week internship during their summer and, depending on their performance, can be offered a job once they finish school. In 2018, I was able to manage an intern, which was the first time I had managed someone throughout my experience here. This was a great challenge for me and something I learned a lot from, not only about how to manage another person, but about myself.

Marcus, you’ve only been at American Express for almost 5 months. What have been your biggest support systems in transitioning from D.C. to New York and transitioning into a new role?

Marcus: Friends, friends, and friends. I had a great support system before I moved to New York, so the transition to the city was super easy. They gave me my first transit card, and told me which food trucks to watch out for, among other things. If you’re moving here and don’t have connections or any idea how to navigate the city, then I strongly encourage you to get involved with a Colleague Network at work. These Networks provide a safe space to open up and get recommendations and advice from like-minded people.

Anna, you went from musician to entrepreneur to tech programmer. Although these positions seem very different, how has each experience contributed to where you are today?

Anna: People often like to think of musicians, entrepreneurs, and programmers as very different; but once you start to think about it, you realize they are very similar. Music is a language used to express our emotions; and we speak this language following a set of rules and patterns. Programming also uses a language that follows a set of patterns to create an app. When you look at it this way, both are artistic. A musician and programmer are often entrepreneurs, because we have ideas we want to see come to life. Each experience has helped shape who I am today.

What is a favorite part of your job that people may be surprised to hear? What is a specific part of your job you absolutely love?

Matthew: A part of my job I absolutely love is being able to work with 15 different markets where I can drive my own projects. At the same time, I can deep dive into market data to identify opportunities to grow each market’s channel via different capabilities, strategies or products. Once implemented, I am able to see tangible changes in each market and know that was because of the work I did, which is an extremely satisfying thing.

Anna: I like that in my current role I get to solve interesting problems. As programmers, we need to not only think about what we are solving right now, but also about other trade-offs such as flexibility and performance and how the solution might impact those trade-offs. I like that American Express values balancing quality code with speed. As a team, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we solve problems and prevent buggy states. Much like diligently practicing an instrument returns faster results in the end, quality code also returns better results for the users and maintainers.

Marcus: What I enjoy most are my colleagues. A couple of my team members are total foodies, so I look forward to getting their recommendations on what restaurants to check out during the weekend. Another one of my colleagues is really into the British Monarchy, so I always enjoy going to her after I watch an episode of a historical drama I like to get the rest of the story. So, I guess my favorite part of my job is coming to work. I just enjoy the people very much.

What has been one of the most challenging parts in your current roles and how did you get through it?

Anna: The most challenging part of joining the iOS team with no previous experience has been jumping into a new and large codebase with a new programming language and domain. To get through this, I first picked up small tasks. I did research to see how the team works together and what coding standards we use. I also took the time to dig into a small task to see how the other pieces work together.

Matthew: Moving to a global role has been a big change, mainly on my working hours where I now can have early-morning or late-night calls. However, thanks to the flexible culture of American Express, if I do have to take calls late or early everyone is very accepting and understanding. They will encourage me to come into work late if I took a late-night call, or to leave work early if I had an early morning call. This has been so helpful to balance out my schedule, while still allowing me to have a life outside of work.

What’s been your biggest accomplishment at American Express so far, and how has that impacted your experience?

Matthew: Personally, my biggest accomplishment has been moving to the U.S. and starting a brand-new job in the New York Headquarters. I knew just from experience how big the company is in the U.S., but being a part of it is something else. Having the opportunity to work in three different countries with one company isn’t something everyone can say they’ve had. I have been able to create a global network of friends and peers thanks to these opportunities and this has helped me progress in my career while I learn what I like and want to do. This has helped me to work towards my goals.

What is your biggest strength and how have you been empowered to utilize it in projects or assignments at American Express?

Anna: As a musician, I’ve spent eight hours a day practicing my instrument for years. I know that practicing correctly returns faster results. I’ve been able to adapt this type of focus and attention to coding. It’s helped me learn quickly and efficiently. I’ve been able to zone in on a new skill and explore it more deeply.

Marcus: I’m very much a self-starter, willing to go down wrong paths to eventually get to the right answer. Being a self-starter also means asking for assistance or a point in the right direction, but ensuring you’ve done most of the work to get there. We are currently working on a particular strategy within my team and having just a list of leads and some industries to explore, we are figuring out how to go forward. The key is, we talk about it, then write down options and different directions we can go. Once we have a few options, we go to our team leads and get their input, which makes it a strategy discussion versus just a discussion.

When is a time you failed and how did you bounce back? What strengths did you pull on that helped you overcome the failure? How did the failure contribute to your overall growth?

Matthew: There was an occasion where I essentially took on too much work managing multiple campaigns at a time, as well as my day-to-day work. What ended up happening was that what I was working on got delayed, which caused larger issues and impacted other people’s campaign launches. Eventually, my leader told me there was no shame in asking for help. I was so worried about proving myself that I forgot that we are all a team and that if you need help, to never feel ashamed to put your hand up and ask.

What best practice or tip do you have to foster inclusivity?

Anna: It takes effort and attention to foster inclusivity. It’s less of a checklist and more about company culture. Inclusive language is important, but people need to feel it too. It’s critical to not only have diverse leaders but for these leaders to show inclusivity. Everyone should feel like they can speak up and be heard. It’s important to constantly check that inclusivity is reaching deeper layers of the company and not just a big word on the HR website.

Marcus: Your beliefs should not impede empathy and kindness. We are not all going to agree and have the same belief systems, but we create spaces to understand, acknowledge and learn from each other. You can learn so much by just hearing someone’s story and where they’ve come from. You’d be surprised to find out just how similar we are than different.

What have other colleagues/American Express done to ensure you feel a sense of belonging at work? Anything else you would share about driving an inclusive culture at the company?

Marcus: American Express celebrated Pride in such a unique and powerful way. We had guest speakers discuss the significance of The 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. We had the CEO make a personal message about the extraordinary contributions of our LGBT colleagues; and we had a pop star attend a Pride event! My colleagues within my team welcomed me and participated in some of the events around the company and proudly displayed Pride memorabilia. Do you know how that made me feel? It made me feel present. It took years for me to find a company that accepted my whole self, encouraged and supported those like me, and created safe and inclusive spaces to be my very best. I served in the military during a time when it was not acceptable to be out. American Express showed me that I didn’t have to adapt and allowed me to be my authentic self. That’s how you drive an inclusive culture; and that’s why I’m an avid fan of American Express.

What are your parting tips when it comes to being true to yourself and gaining the confidence needed to advocate for yourself and what you want, so you can achieve the growth you’re looking for in your career?

Matthew: Don’t be afraid to speak up! The expression “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” comes to mind when I say that. Your leaders don’t know what you’re thinking and can’t know what you’re interested in or keen to develop, if you don’t tell them.

Marcus: It’s a journey. Some people are their authentic selves right away and make no apologies for it and that’s great. Some, like me, take a while; and others may never truly be their authentic self for whatever reason. For me, I knew that moving to New York would be the catalyst for completing my journey. Next for me was finding an inclusive and diverse company with a strong LGBT Colleague Network, hence American Express. With the support of the Network and strong friend network I had here, I knew that whatever challenges I faced ahead, I would be ok and well supported. Find a support system. Stand strong in knowing that who you are and what you embody is not “wrong.” Above all else, believe in yourself and others will follow.

To learn more about life at American Express visit their careers site, and check out their job board for current openings. 

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