Another day, another #AerieREAL Shop Talk post! In case you haven’t had a chance to catch up on this series, we recently launched a career advice column that kicked off with features of some of our AEO associates in PR (Syma Raza) and recruiting (Jade Garcia). For our next Shop Talk, we’re turning the spotlight on Cheyenne Pettiford, another one of the company’s Black associates as we celebrate alongside Black History Month.
Cheyenne’s journey has led her to become a part of AEO, Inc.’s HR team by day, serving as the Sr. Learning and Development Coordinator. In her spare time, however, the multifaceted creative has even launched her own jewelry shop, Conversations Over Chai! Read on below to find out how she knew HR was the career path for her, what she’s learned over the years, and how she is fostering community through her jewelry venture.
When did you first know you wanted to pursue this career and what attracted you to it? Did your career aspirations change at all over the years?
I took a labor studies and employment relations class my junior year of college, realized then [that] I really wanted to work in human resources, and picked it up as a minor before I graduated. People spend most of their lives working, and I really loved the idea of getting to be a part of the team that helped to make people’s lives better at work.
I also knew company culture was important to me, and I wanted to work somewhere that I felt I could truly be myself. A few weeks after graduation, I started as an intern in the recruiting department at AEO, and here we are almost 5 years later!
How did you get started in your field and really break in?
I started as an intern in the recruiting department in our Pittsburgh office in 2016, about 2 weeks after my college graduation. I was nervous that it might look strange to the team that I was interested in a temporary role after I was already out of college, but it was a good opportunity to get my foot in the door at a company I really admired and could see myself in.
Luckily, the team thought it was a good fit as well; and I interned in that department for 6 months until a full-time role opened as a receptionist that I was hired into, which helped me get exposure to several of our departments within HR and get to know lots of people around the office!
What do you feel like was the turning point for your career?
The turning point for me happened about a year into my role as a receptionist in the Pittsburgh office, when a talent management coordinator role opened in our NY office. The role was dual support for both the recruiting and learning and development teams in New York, two areas I had experience with at our company from my internship and some of the work I was doing as a receptionist with our “Teammate” program.
I had no ties to NYC but knew this job would be a great opportunity for me to explore two areas of our company I really liked, so I took the plunge, asked to interview and got the job! I moved to New York in January of 2018 and learned about both areas of HR and switched to support the learning & development (L&D) team solely in the summer of 2019.
The opportunity to have that exposure and explore both of those departments was serendipitous and I am really grateful to have had that experience. Over my years with the company, I have also become heavily involved in our inclusion and diversity work, which is now a large part of my role and very important to me!
How did you learn the skills it takes to be successful in your job?
Having a variety of experiences and really diving in and taking opportunities that were out there helped me to develop a well-rounded set of skills that I use every day! I’ve learned to communicate and build rapport with people at all levels of the organization, [like] meeting people during their interview process, managing new hire orientation and supporting associate engagement initiatives. I’m constantly learning new things about operating our learning management system, troubleshooting new issues and creating new training to meet the organization’s needs.
My biggest takeaway from what I’ve learned in my career so far is to be open to new tasks and challenges. Taking on new things will push you out of your comfort zone and help you learn new things about yourself and how you work. It also helps other people get to know you as well! I’ve moved around quite a bit since I started here, and being open to new experiences has helped me carve out a path for myself that really suits me.
How would you describe the day to day of your job?
My role is mostly project-based and can look different week to week. However, on our L&D team, my role is largely to ensure the success of our learning management system (which we know as AEO Academy internally), managing our team’s company communications and inclusion and diversity work. On a given day, I may be creating a new training to go out to our corporate associates, having conversations in an inclusion and diversity steering committee meeting, or working on one of our monthly newsletters with the team!
What have been the biggest challenges for you as you’ve navigated your career?
Taking risks and putting myself out there has really had a positive impact on my career. However, I am an introvert (although I do love connecting with people) and trying to find my voice and confidence to really dig in and share my point of view is something I continue to work on! At work, being quiet can sometimes be perceived as not having a point of view. But I’ve learned here we also really value understanding others’ working styles and experiences and people are very understanding. Everyone has different strengths and ways of working, and all bring something unique and important to the table!
How do you stay knowledgeable and on top of the latest news/trends in your field?
This is a bit of a shameless plug, but aside from the occasional video webinar (there are so many now!), I really utilize our content vendor LinkedIn Learning as a resource to learn new software and brush up on soft skills. There is a course for virtually everything under the sun there, and I’ve learned how to build training in Articulate Storyline and how to be a good mentee and mentor all in the same place!
Who are you inspired by in your field?
Honestly, my team! There are four of us in the L&D department, and I think we are certainly a small but mighty group! I’ve learned SO much from my manager (hi, Ali!), even over the last year, and we all work so well together. The other two members of my team (Laura and Kieran) are truly so talented at what they do, and they all are my favorite part of showing up to work every day! Shout out to the talent management team as well!
What advice do you have for others who want to pursue this career?
Learn about yourself! Are you technically oriented and [do you] love learning new software and seeing the final result? Do you love connecting with people and helping them reach their full potential professionally? Most of all — do you love to LEARN?
There are so many different kinds of jobs in the human resources field. Listening to yourself and understanding what you love and what you don’t like as much will help guide you in the right direction. That applies to any field!
What’s your favorite trend right now (fashion or social)?
In addition to my cozy essentials from Aerie and AE, a large portion of my closet is secondhand, vintage or handmade! There have been so many small shops collaborating lately, and I love seeing what they come up with (and treating myself to it too!). Community is so important, and I’ve found tons of small creators I love as I’ve started working on my own jewelry shop, Conversations Over Chai.
In the same vein of community, it is refreshing to see people become more aware and conscious about systems of oppression and how they are involved in them (to ultimately dismantle them!). I hesitate to call this a trend though, because I really would love to see a shift and lasting change.
Can’t you just feel Cheyenne’s passion throughout her story! We are inspired by her experience and take-charge attitude over her career. What stood out to you about her journey and what jobs do you want to learn about next in our #AerieREAL Shop Talk series? Let us know in the comments!
Interested in jobs at AEO?
Check out/apply for one of our upcoming internship or training program positions:
Corporate Internship Program
· Merchandising Internship – Pittsburgh, PA
· Merchandising Internship – New York, NY
· Inventory Planning Internship – Pittsburgh, PA
Full-Time Training Program
· Merchandising Full-Time Training Program – Pittsburgh, PA
· Merchandising Full-Time Training Program – New York, NY
· Inventory Planning Full-Time Training Program – Pittsburgh, PA