What I Learned From My “Boring” Corporate Work Experience
June is graduation season. As new graduates toss their caps in the air, they are also dreaming of their future, creating new paths, and dipping their toes in fields that may or may not turn out to be their life-long careers. To many, starting out their career with a big name — getting the shiny Fortune 500 company mark on their resume — seems like the correct entry point. We all know the allure and the vanity reasons why these names are good for those shorter-than-you’d-like-resumes. Sure, bigger companies tend to pay better and provide better benefits and boost your resume with more credibility. But what about the fact that you get to “wear more hats” in a small company environment, where you have more opportunities to apply yourself?
As the title conveys, a new graduate has a ton to gain from a working in Corporate America. Aside from the prestige and credit that the name of a big company carries, it’s the perfect place to build a solid foundation when it comes to interpersonal skills, networking ability, and even work ethics, among others. As for wearing more hats and being able to do more in a small company setting? I say worry about that when you have 5+ years under your belt. You have plenty of opportunities to wear different hats for the rest of your career. Think about building a house – the depth of your foundation matters more than the width. After you’ve got a solid foundation, you can start to get fancy with applications or showcasing of your skills.
Before we dive into what makes corporate America the prime place to start a young professional’s career, let’s define what I mean by “corporate America.” It doesn’t have to be a publicly traded or conventionally “large” company. But to be considered the right environment, the company should:
- have at least 50-100 employees
- have somewhat defined functional groups & established processes
- have a steady revenue stream (you’re not worried about the company going out of business next month)
- have clearly stated and shared & business goals
The defining features that constitute “corporate America” are critical, because they have everything to do with the exact benefits a new graduate would gain from working at such a company. If you are one of the graduates of 2018 and are considering beginning your career in the corporate world, here’s what you’re in for:
In the beginning, your employer has a lot more to offer than you do
In the first few years of your career, what you give to your employer will pale in comparison to what they can provide to you. Everything that you are going to learn in the first year of work is what will propel you and your career forward. Whether be it learning the technical details on how to master your job, getting people to listen & pay attention to you when you have a great idea, resolving interpersonal conflicts when you work with difficult personalities, or simple time management tactics…the list goes on. This is what I call real-world education. In corporate America, as opposed to small businesses or start-ups, you’re more likely to find professionals who you can model your behavior after, learn specific lessons from, and ample opportunities to hone in on the skills you’ve acquired. Yes, you will work hard and contribute as much as you can. But in those formative years of your career, soak up as much as you can in your work environment. That’s what will count in the long run.
Low-risk learning in a sheltered environment
When you are a single person on a big rowboat with a big crew, if your oar breaks or if your arm cramps up for a few minutes, the boat will continue to move forward. It may slow down or lose efficiency for little, but it won’t come to a complete stop. This is what I mean by low-risk learning — in the corporate world, results always come from a team. This environment makes an individual’s learning particularly low-risk and safe from creating actual, lasting, and irreversible damage. Additionally, you are hopefully being mentored and developed by someone, i.e. your boss, who will benefit from your progress and improvement. This was never the case when you were in school.
A readily available and rich network for you to tap into
One of the reasons why I emphasize that this has to be at least a 50-100 employee company is because this determines the size of the network that your employment brings you. Outside of your coworkers and managers in the department you are in, there are many more professionals that you could reach out to. If you are the passive type of are unsure of your networking skills, there are always company events and activities that put you in the vicinity of other coworkers in the same company. Talk to people. Get to know folks outside of your own functional group. When you are young, this is how you learn about what other paths there are in the business world and what people do in different fields. Heck, this is where you develop your networking skills by talking to people that work at the same company with whom you don’t regularly interact with.
Understanding of how a cog helps the wheel turn
“A cog in a wheel” is often used to describe the insignificance or lack of a single person’s impact in a larger environment. But when you first start out with not a whole lot under your belt, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be revolutionizing the company anyway. So, this is the perfect timing to be learning how, a little and new cog you may be, you can fit into this new and complex ecosystem. Take the time to learn the complexity of the organization, the expectation of each functional group, what the check and balance levers are at, and where dependencies and co-dependencies exist. This way when you are more skilled and equipped, you will more effectively and efficiently create impact.
An existing roadmap when you are directionless or lost
In the beginning of your career, where you end up finding employment isn’t always the result of clear-cut decision making, and definitely not an end-all-be-all. If you are ambitious like I was when I started out, you spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to be five or 10 years into your career. When you work in a corporate setting, there are many people that have been in your shoes when they started out. So when you “don’t know what you want to do when you grow up”, there are existing roadmaps for you to follow. Junior to senior. Specialist to Manager. Manager to Director. These are defined paths that make up the corporate ladder. When you don’t have a specific direction yet, it’s simple to just follow a defined path.
Jessica is the writer behind personal style blog Cubicle Chic. In her early twenties, she has contemplated many career paths, such as a novelist, a physician assistant, a research scientist, a court translator (English to Mandarin Chinese), and a clinical research specialist. Eventually, she found her passion in marketing communications for life science companies. She continues to cultivate her interest and skills in many other fields, such as writing, career development, and self-improvement, and hopes to help others do the same.
Image via Unsplash