How I Got into Learning and Development as a Career
When I graduated college 5 years ago, like many of my peers, I had close to no idea what I wanted to do with my life and my career. I knew I had some broad passions and I knew what I thought sounded fun, but I didn’t have the language or experience I needed to be able to voice my passions, or to turn the things I liked to do into an actual paid role at a company. The only thing I could come up with was that I wanted to spend my day “working with people.” What does that even really mean?
I had studied marketing in college in San Francisco, and I knew I had a passion for getting people to do things. But all of the entry level jobs I could find in marketing required far more years of experience than I had, and everything you could do with less experience was an internship and I couldn’t afford to not be paid. I truly had no idea where I wanted to start my career, and I found myself in NYC after moving across the country with little to no idea of how I was going to pay the rent for the Brooklyn apartment for which I had just signed a year lease.
On the phone with my dad one night, I told him this-- I told him I didn’t know what I wanted to do. He had just been on the phone with his cable company and he suggested that I try to get a job in some kind of call center, where I could help customers fix their problems. I actually thought that did sound like a great match, so that night, I applied for 5 jobs in customer service. This is crazy that it happened this way, but before I knew it, one of the companies hired me a week later and I began my career.
I joined ClassPass as a Customer Experience Associate in March of 2015, at 22 years old. I was pumped-- but I still didn’t know what I wanted to be doing in 5 or 10 years. I made the conscious decision to learn as much as I could about other jobs at the company with the goal of figuring out what it was I wanted to do.
The job was fairly simple-- help customers with their questions through the day, and work to report issues in the product and help to solve them. I liked the part where I got to help customers fix their issues, and I liked the fact that I was working with people all day-- even if it was over email and not in person. I did fall in love with the company and I liked the people I was working with. It was kind of like the perfect first job. The best part was that because a customer service person needs to know answers to all kinds of questions, there were occasional trainings on what was happening outside our team.
Marketing people would come in and tell us about the latest ad campaigns so we would be aware, product people would come to our meetings to tell us about what the latest app updates were. I got the chance to see all kinds of things that were happening at the company-- it was awesome!
One day, about 4 months into my time at ClassPass, we had a team meeting with the whole company, and various leaders from the company gave updates to the employees. I specifically remember thinking this was a good opportunity for me to feel out what I felt most passionate about at the company. After the marketing team gave their presentation, our head of HR got up to talk about the “employee engagement” survey that she had just gotten the results for, and she walked through what the challenges, highlights, and pain points were for employees at the company. I had a total flash bulb realization moment- it was in that moment that it all clicked-- I figured out that I wanted to be on the HR team.
It was… crazy. Because until that moment, I always thought HR was the absolute most lame thing ever. I never gave it one thought that I would ever want to BE in HR! But the way she talked about how she analyzed the results of how happy and engaged our employees were, and what she and was going do to fill the gaps, it truly just started to make sense to me. I don’t think I even knew what I wanted to do within HR, but at that moment, I knew that what I wanted to do was make employees at a company happy.
And it started to make sense to me. Because that kind of work is exactly what I had been doing my whole life, since high school. In high school, I was involved in the leadership program, and I was the student body president. I wasn’t necessarily the best student, and I don’t even think I cared that much about the academics in high school, but I loved doing things that made high school a more fun place to be-- planning dances, playing music at lunch, and building floats for homecoming.
In college, my big dream was to be an RA-- and I did that! I spent 3 years working to make sure people were having fun and had what they needed to have a great time in college. So when I had this realization at work, it all started to make sense-- but I didn’t know what I wanted to do about it, or how I could make that transition happen.
That night, I emailed my boss at the time, and I told her I wanted to be involved in any way I could in that world of making sure employees felt happy and supported.
There is a lot of information to know (prices, plans, locations, etc) on a customer experience team, so I started to make fun cheat sheets that people could print out and have on their desks so they wouldn’t have to look things up all the time. I asked if I could be in charge of planning birthday celebrations and team outings, and I got to be involved in that. I was doing whatever I could in order to help my team feel happy and like they had what they needed to love working at ClassPass-- and I was having a great time with it.
Startups are like that sometimes. You really just can get yourself into something and fill a need, because nobody else is doing it. After a few months of planning birthdays and making cheat sheets, I was told that we had a group of four new team members starting, and I was asked to spend a week training them. I was super excited to take this on, but I had no experience doing it.
I spent a week putting together a program that would make someone’s first week at ClassPass awesome. Ultimately, those people started, I trained them, and it was at that moment that I fell in love with it all. I loved talking all day to them about all things customer service, I loved taking them around to different training sessions, I loved celebrating their successes with them-- I really was on cloud 9. And from there, I told my managers that this is what I wanted to do, and this is how I felt I could be most impactful.
At times, I had to work extremely hard to show the value in my program, and I had to work to find the balance to make sure that everything that I did was an efficient use of time-- but overall, I absolutely loved doing it, and I finally realized that this is what I wanted to do. However, at the time, I didn’t know the term “learning and development.” I literally didn’t know that training people was a job, or even a transferrable skill.
At the time, our HR team had some cool learning and development efforts, but it wasn’t a full time job for someone. About a year into my time training people on the CX team, I started to think about what was next for me, and what I wanted to do. At the time, even knowing that I knew I liked doing training, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I asked a friend and mentor of mine to get drinks one night to talk about it, and when I said I didn’t know what I wanted to do, she said, “Are you serious? Learning and development!”
My mind was blown. She said it with such simplicity. I realized in that moment that L+D is something I actually could do, if I just work toward it. Around the same time I had another friend and mentor who was helping me through this same struggle, and she recognized that for whatever reason, I was afraid to talk about what I wanted. She told me that if I don’t talk about what I want out of my career, nobody will be able to help me.
From there, I made it my goal to tell everyone and anyone about my thoughts on my own future and career. I told my family, I told my friends, and I told people at my company. I would talk about it all the time. Over time, I told enough people, and I had been working to set myself up, and I was ultimately asked to come onto the HR team as the company’s first Training and Onboarding Coordinator. I was so pumped up!
The main purpose of my new role was to help sort out all of the logistics behind our learning and development efforts. I got to work on all of the trainings that were happening across the company-- and it was awesome. I felt like I was only working on things I loved doing, and I was getting to work on very rewarding things. I couldn’t believe I had made it onto the HR team, and that I basically had the dream job that one year ago I didn’t know existed.
I was in the coordinator role for just under a year before I was promoted to a specialist role within L+D to take on the full responsibility of learning and development at ClassPass. Since securing the specialist role, I’ve gotten to put on really awesome learning programs across the company. Just today, I launched a five month “Business Fundamentals Program” that teaches employees all about the ClassPass business model and helps them accelerate their careers. I have a lot of freedom to create programs that people can be passionate about, and I spend my days helping people love working at ClassPass- and that is the good stuff.
I was 22 when I joined ClassPass as a Customer Experience Associate. 5 years later, I’m 27 and I have a pretty sweet job doing what I love and making other people happy. Over the time, I’ve really learned the value in taking that first job with the simple goal of learning what you want to do, and then focusing and playing the long game to make it happen. I’ve learned the value in talking out loud about your goals. I’ve learned that if you want to make that kind of transition, it’s a great idea to make your entry level job sort of a hybrid role between what you do now, and what you want to do in the future. If you can get experience and move roles within the same company, that is a great way to set yourself up for success.
Thank you for reading! I’m really happy that in the first 5 years of my career, I was able to find something I love. I feel really lucky to have been able to make my path this way- and I want to do what I can to help other people who are in similar positions find their way. If you have any questions, always feel free to contact me on twitter or instagram @therealbenhawes, on LinkedIn, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.