How Can You Thrive at Your First Corporate Job?
Congratulations on landing your first corporate job! Whether this is your first "real" job, or you are transitioning from a career in the service industry or at a startup, corporate life can be a culture shock. And while every company has its own quirks, many commonalities emerge once organizations reach a certain size. Here is how to dive in and succeed when you enter the corporate world.
Know and respect the hierarchy
A company can be considered "corporate" if it has multiple departments and a well-defined chain of command. That might look like a CEO who supervises a team of vice presidents who supervise division directors who supervise department managers—you get the picture. And while it's always smart to network with executives, if you're joining the company at an entry level or as middle management, you need to respect the hierarchy. In other words, do not leapfrog your boss to go to their boss or their boss' boss.
Understand how HR works
You'll interact a lot with the human resources department when you first start your position, then (if all goes well), you won't spend too much time dealing with HR. Be advised that 1) HR is bound by myriad laws and regulations, so it's best to follow the rules to a T; 2) HR creates objective systems to manage inherently subjective issues, such as employee performance and compensation; and 3) HR is first and foremost loyal to the corporation.
Learn how to talk the talk
Corporate higher-ups are notorious for using buzzwords and cliched phrases—what's known as "corporate speak." "Let's circle back on this offline" means "it's not appropriate to talk about this right now." "I'm not sure we have bandwidth for this" equals "Yeah, there's no way I can add anything to my to-do list." After enough time in the corporate world, you will understand and even find yourself using these hackneyed phrases—and you will realize these euphemisms help everyone stay detached and maintain a level of professionalism in stressful times.
Treat everyone with respect
You may feel a lot of competition when you start a corporate job. But do not let your drive to get ahead keep you from making important future connections and allies. Treat everyone with the same level of respect, no matter what role they play in the company. Aside from this being the cool, decent, good person thing to do, you will quickly catch on to the power of the administrative staff. They control calendars and often serve as eyes and ears for execs.
Be a team player
Again, it is the decent way to behave. Work hard to be a team player. Being a part of the team is a key value in corporate America. You are working toward the company's mission, and you need to demonstrate that not only will you complete your original responsibilities on time and with care, but also, you are ready to jump in and lend a hand when needed.
Practice professionalism day and night
Professionalism and prestige are two of the biggest draws for corporate jobs. Once you've landed one, be sure to behave like a professional. Wear appropriate attire, arrive early so you are ready to start working when business hours begin, and avoid bringing personal drama into the workplace. And be sure not to post anything on social media you would not want your new boss to see.
Professionalism also needs to carry over to after-hours activities. It does not matter if you are at happy hour after 5 o'clock with coworkers or on a beach vacation in Mexico. Letting yourself overindulge could result in embarrassing or even dangerous situations that could also put your new job at risk.
Whether you spend your entire career in the corporate world or gain some valuable experience before moving to startups or becoming an entrepreneur, your experience will teach you valuable lessons about making connections and working within a system.