5 things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Corporate America

Melanie Spencer

5 things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Corporate America

Corporate America—you love it, you hate it or you tolerate it. Am I right? After graduating with a business degree and an MBA, I felt prepared to excel in a corporate environment. I figured if I knew the basics, then on-the-job training would teach me the rest. However, there are a few principles that I learned along the way. These are the 5 things I wish I knew before starting Corporate America.

Results matter
In the corporate world, everything comes down to results, performance, and rank. Being average in Corporate America means that you can maintain your current role, but your opportunities for upward mobility are limited. As a frontline supervisor in a blue collar environment, many of my peers and direct reports lacked a college education—let alone a graduate degree. Nevertheless, they grew sales, surpassed targets and achieved bonuses consistently. I quickly realized that my two degrees pale in comparison to decades of experience. Excellent sales results don’t happen by accident, and so I leveraged best practices and skill sets from top performers. This allowed me to gain valuable insight, foster relationships and ultimately, improve my team’s results.

Invest in relationships
To be credible and marketable in Corporate America, it takes both great results and good relationships because people do business with people that they know, like and trust. And sometimes, relationships can provide opportunities that results cannot. For instance, while interviewing for a promotion, I utilized my mentor for background information and advice. She told me to mention her name during the interview, and afterward, she even endorsed my leadership skills and business acumen in a follow-up email to the interviewer. I secured the promotion over peers with more experience because of the combination of results and relationships. Remember: it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s WHO KNOWS YOU and who can vouch for you.

Speak up
The worst thing you can do in a room full of executives is stay silent. Voicing your opinion exudes confidence—especially as a millennial in Corporate America. Whether a new idea, a suggestion for improvement or even a safety concern, being vocal shows that you are engaged and proactive. Conservative corporate environments expect younger employees to conform by being more observant than vocal. Prove that you are a valuable asset by letting your voice be heard. And when it comes to your annual performance review, brag a little! Be sure to mention every accolade that contributed to your personal and professional development. If you don’t take the credit for your hard work, then someone else will.

Stay grounded
Are you working to live or living to work? I pondered this question while struggling to find time for myself during an 80+ hour work week. My life consisted of three things: working, sleeping and eating. I would get as much sleep as possible during my two days off leaving no room for enjoying my life. I allowed the stresses of my job to dictate my health, my social life and my relationships with family members and friends. Two words of advice: stay grounded. I continued life outside of work by focusing on my faith, my health, my family and my friends. From planning tropical vacations to finding a church home and joining a Crossfit gym, I tipped the scale in favor of work-life balance.

Know your limits and your worth
The most precious gift in the world is time, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Make sure that the time and the energy that you invest in your corporate job is worth it. If you aren’t careful, then Corporate America could eat you up and spit you out. Consider the following: work hours, stress levels, travel, salary and missed holidays. Are you getting back as much as you’re putting in? Is your job negatively affecting your health? Do you deserve more money/benefits/vacation time? Know your limits and your worth. If there is room for negotiation, then don’t hesitate to address your desires with management. If not, then it may be time to find another role or another company. I knew it was time for a new role when I no longer felt productive and mentally stimulated. I had reached a plateau and I desired more flexibility, a larger city, and a higher salary. At the end of the day, each of us is here on earth for a reason and we each have a purpose to fulfill. Don’t waste precious time being unappreciated and underpaid because the perfect job (in Corporate America or not) is out there for you.

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5 things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Corporate America