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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

How This Air Force Veteran Found a New Purpose Working in Customer Support

Stephanie Santiago, a customer support supervisor at Biogen
Stephanie Santiago, a customer support supervisor at Biogen.

During Stephanie Santiago’s last year of high school, a fire destroyed her family’s house, which put her plans for college on hold. After she graduated, Santiago was working three jobs to make ends meet when she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. “That day my life changed forever. I signed numerous documents and a few months later left for basic training,” she says.

During her 22 years in the military, Santiago deployed for Operations Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and won several awards such as 2005 Air Mobility Command Dental NCO of the Year and 2010 Air Education and Training Command NCO of the Year.

After retiring and relocating close to her family in North Carolina, Santiago put a lot of thought into her next career move as a civilian. That’s when she heard about Biogen, a global biotechnology company and pioneer in neuroscience, where she is currently a customer support supervisor. Through this role, she found a new way to make a difference.

Here, Santiago talks about her transition into civilian life, how Biogen has supported her and other veterans, and what she enjoys most about working there.

What attracted you to work at Biogen?

A family friend told me about Biogen and what an amazing company they are, not just to work for, but also because of what they do for patients and the community. This piqued my interest, so I began researching them and knew this is where I wanted to start my next chapter. I learned about Biogen’s philosophy, which encourages employees to be fearless, speak up, step in, and be motivated. It was familiar to me, since the military functions in a similar capacity, and I believed they would value my skills. I knew I had a lot to offer and felt I would be a great fit for the company.

Another important factor is that for the last two decades, I did not just have a job—I had a purpose. When I was deciding what I was going to do next, I knew I needed to have a purpose again. I wasn’t focused on position or earnings, but rather on making a true impact on the community I was serving. Biogen could provide that avenue. They are a company solely focused on neurological diseases and I think everyone has been affected either directly or indirectly by one of these crippling diseases.

What are you responsible for in your role as a customer support supervisor?

The most important function of my job is maintaining customer relations and ensuring our team consistently exceeds customers’ expectations. I manage a team of 12 employees, using real-time coaching to enhance performance and behaviors to meet company objectives. Our customers range from patients to caregivers and healthcare providers.

Some of my key responsibilities include maintaining strategic accountability in the management of incoming call volumes while validating call quality and compliance. We work in a highly regulated environment, so compliance is front and center: We feel it is our duty to answer the questions of every caller, but we also need to ensure we are working within the scope of our skills.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

I joined the team at an exciting time. We are gearing up for a potential product launch, which gives me an opportunity to collaborate in building out our department. It has afforded me a chance to grow with Biogen’s amazing team and support the company to advance its position in the market. I have been involved in creating standards, developing tools to assist with monitoring performance, and working to implement processes and tools for professional development.

I have a passion for mentorship, so have loved collaborating with other departments to streamline access to enhancement tools for personal and professional growth. Hopefully, this will be a wonderful resource for new employees. I have been able to explore these tools in-depth and gain the skills to walk new managers and supervisors through the process.

What do you like best about the company culture at Biogen?

Biogen has an inclusive approach to their community and I had the opportunity to experience this firsthand in a recent meeting hosted by the company’s CEO. We had full exposure to topics and discussions up and down the ladder, and what surprised me most is that they encouraged candor and open discussion at all levels. This meant that if I had something to add to the discussion, I could voice it at that moment. This allowed me to gain a better understanding of how the company thinks and what is important in both the business and its community.

Compared to the military, which tends to have very defined roles and limited visibility to the decisions the upper echelons make, it is enlightening to see that there are companies like Biogen that allow employees to see the decision-making process firsthand. I think this inclusiveness allows Biogen employees to grow and develop into autonomous managers and the leaders.

What was the biggest challenge you faced transitioning from the military to a civilian role, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge I faced during my transition was the uncertainty. Would I be able to provide for my family? Could I be successful in the private sector? The questions could go on and on. I had to consider everything with my kids and husband in mind, from housing to health insurance—everything that had been previously handled by the military. In the military, I knew my job, how to succeed, and where to find answers. Having to relearn these things in my new role was stressful. My husband was my rock and was so supportive. We made a thorough plan for every step of the transition and followed it. The plan kept my fears at bay since I always knew what the next step was.

Another key factor in overcoming my uncertainty was the DoD SkillBridge program, which allows transitioning service members an opportunity to intern with a company to gain valuable skills and hopefully employment while still serving on active duty. I advise anyone transitioning to make use of this amazing program. It gave me the ability to test drive a civilian role and gain valuable connections.

How did Biogen support you during the recruitment and hiring process?

My recruitment story is a little different than most. When I decided I wanted to join Biogen, I used the DoD SkillBridge program as a way to open the door. I drafted a resume and cover letter explaining the program and I reached out to a senior executive via LinkedIn. I really didn’t think I would get a response, but I did! They connected me with an amazing Biogen recruiter, who teamed up with Biogen’s patient services department and built a training platform, which is a requirement for the DoD SkillBridge program. Unfortunately, the timeline to submit was very limited, so I had to complete my internship at another local company. However, the Biogen recruiter and I remained in contact and following the completion of my internship, he was able to get me an interview and ultimately, I received a job offer.

Within a week of joining the team, a fellow employee, who is also a military veteran, reached out and told me about Biogen’s Veteran Network. I am now fortunate to have her as my mentor and I recently got involved with the group. This month, we participated in Run to Homebase, an event where all proceeds were donated to treat the invisible wounds of service members and their families. Our team has raised almost $4,000 to date.

What skills and values did you learn in the military that you were able to carry over into your current role?

There are many invaluable skills and values that I learned in the military, such as leadership, problem-solving, critical thinking, and dedication. Leadership is crucial to my current role because I need to keep a team motivated and on track. The military does not use bonuses or promotions to motivate. Rather, we must inspire our team by building trust and a bond with one another as we take on challenges together.

Problem-solving and critical thinking have been important in my new position because, frankly, I am unfamiliar with the biotechnology space. Having the ability to be objective and analyze the problem while focusing on facts and not assumptions is critical. These skills allow me to work independently and on a team.

Dedication to duty is important because, as I mentioned earlier, I joined the team during a product launch. There are a lot of things that need to get accomplished in a small window of time, and all available time must be dedicated to being productive for the team. I am not focused on the clock, but instead focused on the task that needs to be completed.

What advice do you have for military veterans considering a career at Biogen?

If you are interested in a career at Biogen, I would say the only thing stopping you would be you. If you find an opening, take it! They give you the ability and the tools to grow. When I first started, I attended a lot of training courses and had several interactions with many of the managers and directors. I noticed a common thread: much of the leadership team started out on the phone lines themselves. It further solidified my belief that Biogen is a company that values every employee’s contribution. If an entry-level position is offered, do not let the pride of the rank you used to wear in the military be a deterrent from accepting a position.

What is the best career advice you received as you transitioned from the military to civilian work?

I have a mentor who coined the phrase, “attitude reflects leadership.” Know that everything may not work out as you intended, but it is the way we behave in those situations that determines the outcome. Stay positive and know that, with dedication and determination, you will figure it out. All you can do is develop a plan, do your research, and know that the journey may take a few turns along the way, but you will eventually make it to your final goal.