I joined the military when I was an undergrad at Penn State. During my time there, I discovered that I loved volunteering, and I spent a lot of time doing that. So, when a recruiter ended up coming to my campus and telling me a little bit more about the Air Force, it was really a very natural decision for me to go ahead and pursue that route. I decided to test for a military intelligence position, cryptologic language analyst, which was super exciting. I studied at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California for a few years.
After that I learned the intelligence component of my position, and I got to spend a lot of time developing leadership skills and skills with working as a team. I ended up working at the NSA for a few years where I had the opportunity to manage international teams. It was a really amazing experience overall, and I felt like it really gave me a very well-rounded skill set to get back into the workforce.
I had known for a long time that I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. It was just always something that I was interested in. I decided that as I was transitioning out of the military, it would be a great time to make that move because when you're researching opening a business, you read a lot of statistics that say that so many businesses fail within their first years.
And I knew that if I was going to take that risk, I wanted to fail fast. I wanted to do it when I was in my twenties, so that if I wanted to transition into something else or pursue something else I would still have a lot of time to be able to do so. I ended up taking all the savings that I accrued when I was in the military and throughout my life, and I opened this business in cash completely, no investors. And I got a lot of really different experiences from those I had when I was in the military. This time it was a lot more management, a lot more onboarding and recruiting and HR functions, as well as training and development developing a team, and leading a team in all of their endeavors.
It was a unique experience. I opened a retail bakery and learned a few unique skills that I didn't anticipate, including cake decorating and cake design - because when you're a business owner, you wear all of the hats. But primarily, I would say my greatest takeaway from that experience was that it showed me that it's great to have hands-on experience, real-time experience and operational experience. But there's also an incredible importance when it comes to education and training.
During that time, I decided that I wanted to pursue an MBA and allow myself the opportunity to get that educational background to combine with my operational experience. I ended up closing the bakery (in Savannah, Georgia) and moving to LA to pursue an accelerated MBA. I didn't know it at the time, and it wasn't intentional, but that was the beginning of my career break.
There were times at which I pursued work opportunities while I was in the program, but I recognized early on that if I wanted to perform at my highest ability in the program, I would just need to give it my entire focus. And that's what I ended up doing. But the great thing about the program was, during my time in it, I was still able to take on some opportunities to gain work experience.
The program gave us opportunities to consult for different companies. I got to work for the California Council on Economic Education and help them with virtual fundraising events and things like that. It was a unique experience, and it gave me that educational background that I was looking for to match my operational skill set.
I heard about the Wells Fargo Glide-Relaunch event while in my final semester. I decided to relocate to Charlotte, and I started looking for employment in the area. I discovered the iRelaunch program on LinkedIn through the Glide-Relaunch Program with Wells Fargo.
[iRelaunch partnered with Wells Fargo on an event to announce and explain Glide-Relaunch, their return to work program, which was being launched in the middle of the Pandemic in July 2020. Ashley-Bria was one of over 300 people at the virtual event that evening.]
I used LinkedIn to do a ton of research. The first thing I did when I discovered the Glide Relaunch program, was to look for the types of roles that I would be working in if I were selected for the program. And that led me to start reaching out to Wells Fargo employees on LinkedIn.
I did a lot of cold outreach, which is not something that's very typical for me. I will say that I'm outgoing. It takes me out of my comfort zone to reach out to people that I don't know at all, with no mutual connections, but I really wanted to learn more about the program. I wanted to learn more about Wells Fargo. So, I used LinkedIn as an opportunity to do a lot of investigative research.
I was able to set up a few calls with different Wells Fargo leaders and team members, where I could really get the answers to the questions I had about the Wells Fargo culture, what it's like to work there, and more information about the role. LinkedIn was an essential tool during my research process. I would just connect with them, and I would add a little note, or I would send a message shortly thereafter, like ‘Hi, my name is Ashley Leo. I am currently applying to this position with Wells Fargo, and I was just wondering if I could set up a fifteen-minute call to gain a little bit of insight on your experience at Wells Fargo."
And people were very receptive. I was able to have calls with some people, I've gone out to dinner with some others, to get that background information. And it was so helpful to me when it came to being informed during my interviewing process.
I would definitely recommend this to people. And to be honest, I would always recommend connecting with people who you have things in common with. So, for instance, I'm an Air Force veteran. I found that there were a few Air Force veterans who worked in roles that were like the lines of businesses that I was interested in.
They were super receptive about talking and telling me how they've transitioned from being in the military back into the private sector, and what it's been like at Wells Fargo, and how the company is super receptive to the military community and veterans. That part of the process was really important for me.
I also did a lot of company research on Google. I would go through all of the company’s website pages, familiarizing myself with the lines of business. And of course, you're going to do whatever research is relevant to the company that you're applying to. But I would say to start with the website and really familiarize yourself with it.
And the second thing I would recommend is start connecting with people who are already working there, possibly people who are in departments that you're interested in being in, or who are working in a role that you're interested in taking on, to get that background knowledge. And I also looked up a ton of news articles. I basically just put Wells Fargo into a Google search, and I would look at what Wells Fargo was doing in the news, any recent and relevant articles that could tell me about what's happening in the company currently that I can pull from when I'm trying to really gain an understanding about the organization.
During the application process, I did something that I always do: run the numbers. And I realized early on that about four to five percent of the applicants for the Glide-Relaunch program would be selected. It's very competitive. As a realist, I wanted to keep my options open.
Although I was optimistic and hopeful that I would get accepted as an applicant and candidate for this program, I wanted to make sure that I continued researching other opportunities and putting myself out there. I decided to purchase tickets for the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference, and I participated in iRelaunch’s first online Conference in October 2020. I found that the value I received from it was astounding. It was an amazing experience - from how seamless it was communicating and networking on the platform, to how engaged the recruiters were.
Recruiters connected with me on LinkedIn and asked me personally to send them my resume and set up a profile on their hiring portal. As someone who's taken a career break, the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference made me feel very confident when it came to going back into the workforce. There were so many gems of advice tailored for people who have been out of work for a while. I definitely think that was a huge part of what contributed to me being prepared to interview for Glide.
We hear a lot as relaunchers and just as regular interviewers, ‘Hey, you need to be really confident. Confidence is key to acing an interview.’ That's easy to say when you haven't been out of work for X amount of time. So, I find that what leads me to feel my most confident is getting in a ton of practice and doing a lot of research.
I've already shared what plays into my research before interviewing for any role, but also a lot of my time prior to interviewing was spent practicing. What people don't know is that the morning of my interview, I woke up at 4:00 AM, and by 5:00 AM I was in my office, and I had a whiteboard up with all of my stories from my past work experiences that I wanted to share, about times that I led teams and times that I overcame challenges. Not paragraphs, but little sentences to give me a little reminder.
That's the benefit of being able to interview over the phone during COVID, but I spent a lot of time practicing those stories out loud. Knowing my story inside and out gave the interviewer a clear understanding of why I took my career break, what I'm looking for, where I'm going, and what I'm capable of.
I am super excited that I was chosen (Ashley started in the Consumer and Small Business Banking Operations line of business) because it's always nerve wracking when you have your interview and you think that you've made a connection, and you really are interested in a role. Knowing that my new manager felt the same way is super exciting. I know that I'm going to have to brush up on some technical skills. And I'm definitely nervous about this new experience as a whole, but overall it's completely surreal and I am thrilled to be taking part.
From the “3,2,1 iRelaunch” podcast with Ashley-Bria Leo
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