MEET Melissa Hutchins                       

     Melissa Hutchins is a Product Manager at Expedia group where she owns and manages various different Expedia products. Prior to joining Expedia, Melissa was actively involved in a program called GenHERation that aims to empower and connect young female leaders with female executives. Through this program, Melissa attended a record-setting 8 GenHERation Discovery Days across multiple cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Austin, Boston, and Philadelphia. In addition to Discovery Days, she won a national simulation competition with Southwest Airlines and was chosen to represent GenHERation as a young female leader at the 2018 Southwest Airlines Rally held in Las Vegas.

     Melissa graduated in 2018 from the State University of New York at Oneonta where she earned a Business Economics and Marketing degree with honors. In her free time, she loves traveling and exploring new places, going skiing, hiking and dancing. Since her recent move to Seattle, Melissa has been involved in a mentorship program at the University of Washington that connects UW students with tech. industry professionals in and around the Seattle area. As a new professional in the tech industry, Melissa shares her advice for younger female leaders.       

 Tell us about a GRITTY MOMENT in your life that has forced you to learn what you are truly made of…
     A gritty moment or better yet, a gritty span of time would have to have been the period between graduating college and getting my first “real” full-time job. It was an incredibly nerve-racking point as this was the first time there was any real unknown for what I was going to do next. Growing up, we’re so used to having the security of going to school. Knowing that once the semester is over, we’ll be going back in the fall, getting out in the summer and then the cycle repeats itself. Once I received my bachelors, I had no idea what the future had in store. I went into full job-hunt mode, taking every opportunity I could to get myself in front of the right people to hopefully get a full-time position!
     Getting my current role at Expedia was a bit unconventional to say the least. I ended up sneaking into a closed company networking event by arriving an hour early, setting my bag down in the front row of chairs and asking if they needed help setting up (as if I was already on the list!). The point is, I took a risk. Thinking ‘What’s the worst they’re going to say? Sorry you’re not on the list and were sold out? Okay then, I’ll stand.’ I acted like I was meant to be there which is why I’m here today. I also want to note (because this is important), I didn’t get hired by impressing a recruiter or a hiring manager. I was brought in because I took a chance (as intimidated as I was) and asked the VP of Product and Technology at Expedia if he’d be willing to meet me for coffee. He saw something in me; that I was hungry, driven to grow and was willing to take a chance on that. He is also one of the most hard-working, inspirational individuals I’ve ever met, so to have been able to make an impact on him was when I realized my true potential.
     From here on, I became a sponge; determined to soak up as much knowledge and experience as possible. The main takeaway from this experience and advice I give to all those looking for their first jobs or internships is to prioritize networking events and company meet-ups over online application (sorry HR!). It’s easy to get lost in the piles of resumes companies receive every day and the best way to stand out among the masses, is to connect with key decision makers.
GUTS: How did you “grow guts” and be brave enough to get through your “gritty moment”? Were you afraid? Where did you find your courage? How did facing that moment affect your confidence? Did you feel more confident afterward?
    So, my first thoughts when I hear “grow guts” is that it’s never that simple. It doesn’t happen overnight, and all comes down to consistency and persistence. Especially when you’re trying to sell yourself or speak publicly in front of a crowd, the only way you can improve those skills is to continuously find ways to practice. Consciously seeking out opportunities that push your boundaries, forcing you to step out of your comfort zone is by far the most effective way of “growing guts”!
     Yes, you will be afraid at first. I know I was! Whenever you’re in a situation that presents an unknown or is somewhat foreign to you, how could you not be even a little nervous? Sometimes just working up the courage to walk up to someone and introduce yourself is the hardest part. My point is that you’ll feel yourself becoming much more comfortable and confident in your abilities to tackle nerve-racking situations. You’ll notice the words will simply begin to flow as opposed to memorizing a scripted version of what you think people want to hear.
 RESILIENCE: What did you learn from pushing through your “gritty moment”? What helped you “not give up” and persevere?
     One of the most invaluable lessons learned early on in my career (also a motto of mine) is the power of both networking and pleasant persistence. The light at the end of the tunnel is always what kept me going and knew that it was going to take much more than an apply online to get me there. I sought out any and every opportunity that I could find to get myself in front of the key decision makers.
      I knew that if I could find a way to show company executives my drive and potential, that the chances of getting hired were much higher than sitting in a pile of other resumes just like mine.
IMPERFECTION: How do you deal with failure and making mistakes? Did your “gritty moment” force you to learn and grow?
     It sounds cliché, but I personally don’t believe in the word failure. Mainly because it implies an end. I do however believe strongly in mistakes. It’s extremely important to not only get comfortable with making mistakes but taking those experiences and harnessing them as a way to grow. For me, previous mistakes have allowed me to take a step back, reflect on where I went wrong and determine how I can improve moving forward. These moments of reflection have been the most effective way to truly learn and grow because it forces you out of your own bubble to recognize what might’ve not been clear before.
TEAM: What role did your support system play in helping you through this challenging time? What role has this “team” had in your life?
     My family and friends have played a huge role in where I am today. I was raised in a very driven environment; both my parents were self-starters that’d built successful businesses of their own. They’ve always been there to support me and my high aspirations. Having a solid support system that want to see you happy and successful is so crucial to getting where you want to be. From both my friends and family, I feel extremely blessed to have that encouragement present in my life.
     Also, a large part of my recent growth has been heavily contributed to feedback I received from my team at Expedia. Their various perspectives have given me the chance to recognize tendencies I could improve upon, inspirational qualities to strive for as well as learning from previous mistakes made in their early career. My manager is such a rockstar and continues to inspire me every day with her passion, drive and confidence. She makes sure that in a room full of people, her voice is heard. This self-assurance is such an admirable quality and something I strive to develop further.
And just for fun… What advice would you give to your younger “GRITTY GIRL” self?
     Advice that I’d give to my younger self would be to take a second and think about whether the people currently in my life are truly there for the right reasons. Asking myself, are these people looking out for my best interest? Would they come to help in a time of need? So much of who we are and who we become is determined by the people we surround ourselves with. If you have people in your life that find ways to bring you down or make you feel less than, those aren’t your real friends.
     Throughout middle and high school, I was insecure and timid because I had been surrounded by people who’d tear me down often to the point where I didn’t believe my voice mattered. I did this all because I wanted to fit in, which in the grand scheme of things, is the most ineffective way towards standing out. Society has often associated being different with being uncool or weird. Once I realized that my differences and unique quirks were in fact my greatest asset, I became obsessed with the idea of standing out. My mindset has since been centered around overall learning and growth. Embracing our uniqueness and building a positive surrounding is by far the best advice I could give to my younger self.

Thank you Melissa for sharing your GRIT!