They didn’t warn you about this at your Corporate 101 Class?
Of course that’s a joke. There’s no Corporate 101. There is no basic training about mistakes you must avoid if you want to succeed at your job.
There is no place to come clean with your corporate career mistakes and start over.
There is learning by experience and learning by being an insider. Or not learning until it’s too late!
In the early years of my 12 year career, I went down a lot of dark alleys; I came up to a lot of dead-ends and I turned to a lot of wrong people; I believed a lot of rubbish and I made a lot of corporate career mistakes and what I learned is this:
You can accept your mistakes; you can learn from them; you can move on from them but you never want to make them in vain.
You must learn from your mistakes once you have made them.
Now what would be even better is to avoid your mistakes in the first place!
Your situation is not that unique.
While no two companies are identical and no two employees are the same, an uncanny similarity runs across a large portion of corporations and cultures.
So these 8 corporate career facts I daresay apply across the board. No matter how unique you think you may be, you will likely find relevance here to your job situation.
Warning: You may find my tone harsh and negative here. My intent is to be clear. Plus reality bites, direct experience speaks volumes and the experiences you will read about here are not singular as I watched many of my colleagues and clients share a similar path in their own journey of corporate career mistakes. So pay attention and don’t be next!
Career Fact #1: Top-notch industry certifications do not necessarily get you a promotion, more money, or even credibility.
The myth goes like this: If you get certified in your industry or your niche, you are suddenly rewarded by your company.
While it does “depend” on company policy, even that is not enforceable and can change.
After earning two electrical engineering degrees, I went for a hard-core certification called the CCIE that only 7000 people in the world held it at the time – yeah, I thought it was special. It virtually guaranteed paths to recognition and compensation adjustment from my grossly-underpaid state at my job.
As soon as I got certified, the powers that be changed the rules and I had to shamefully beg for the promotion and raise for two years.
Years later, I went for another certification called the PMP because, as you see, I never lost faith in the myth. This one hardly brought me any more recognition than the first.
Bottom line is this: Ask yourself why you want to get certified and if it is really imperative to you doing a good job at work and advancing? What do those acronyms mean anyway and whom are you trying to impress, and is it even worthy to spend your time doing something impressive rather than something useful?
Don’t go with the hype on this one. Focus on what really matters.
Career Fact #2: You will have to ask for a raise and a promotion. Loud and clear. More than once.
I was terrified of asking for a raise and promotion but that was before I understood the secret corporate code on how to do it right. And that’s when the raises and promotions started coming – when I asked for them the right way.
I used to subscribe to the false theory that if you work hard enough, you will indeed be rewarded.
This, my dear reader, is naiveté talking, not reality.
It does not matter how hard you work, how many nights and weekends you put in, and how many hours on top of your average peers you contribute to a project, this does not necessarily promise you a higher pay, advancement, or larger bonus.
You need to clearly identify the important tasks to your management and leadership and understand the impact and the visibility of those, and focus your energy there, not everywhere.
You must ask for what you are worth. It does not land on your lap out of the goodness of anyone’s heart.
Career Fact #3: Executive leadership makes decisions to please shareholder interest, not yours.
People forget that the corporation is not there for them; it is there to answer to its shareholders.
Let this one sink in because it bites but it’s true. True leadership is – as it should be – the magnet that holds a mission and a vision together, and without it, things begin to disintegrate from within.
Companies learn this lesson the hard way but you don’t have to. Don’t expect the executive leadership to do right by you. They may consider what is in the best interest of the employees but they have shareholders to answer to first.
If they don’t make decisions that resonate with your core values, think twice before working at this company.
At least, you now know where the motive resides next time you hear a lousy decision from the top.
Career Fact #4: The Human Resources (HR) is not there to protect you, dear one. Their only job is to protect the company.
First of all, if you can, avoid HR – Human Resources – altogether, not because you want to keep the mishaps to yourself but because they are of no help in general. They will not act in your interest and they will not solve your problem because they do not care about you. HR is there to protect the company.
Disagree with this all you want; I know I did it when I first heard it. Seek a mentor or trusted leader instead for advice, and make sure they are outside your direct chain of command.
Alas, it’s true: HR simply protects the corporation’s interests. Not yours.
No matter what your story may be, the decisions made by the HR will likely not be in your favor and you will be left with larger problems to solve as a result.
Your issues may very well be valid, but think twice before running to HR and did I mention: they protect the company first and foremost.
Career Fact #5: You do not need to do everything they ask you in order to be rewarded, recognized and raised high.
I used to do it all; everything they asked me to do, I would do with my head down and my pride high. Then I realized that I was yet again being an idiot about the way things work.
First of all, most of my work was needless busy work, and second of all, very little of it mattered during performance period. Guess when I had my best, most amazing performance ratings? During the periods when I worked the least hours but only on the most effective projects and activities. (Yes, it did not cease to shock me either!)
So however tempted you may be, do not do everything that is asked of you. Do not respond to all that comes across your desk.
Ask yourself if a task or request is really important and if you really need to attend every meeting and listen to every training and answer every email.
You will find that top performers do very little but they do focus on the important work. Learn to distinguish between busy work that average employees do and important work that the company really wants you to do.
Career Fact #6: Putting your career in your manager’s hands is as safe a bet for success as letting your child run wild in a busy street.
Now I admit I had good managers; I liked them. I was sincere in my appreciation of them too. They were gracious people for the most part, the exceptions notwithstanding.
What hurt me was my confusion: I believed that simply because I loved my team and my company, they too loved me in return and I defined that love as being taken care of.
So in the early years, I simply let my managers “manage” my career and what a colossal mistake that was.
Be in charge of your own career and drive it forward. If they give you opportunities, look at your plan and see if it aligns to where you want to be and what you want to do and if it does not, then decline.
You decide where to go next, how long to stay on this team, and even what projects you are going to work on. Have a voice about your career because no one else will.
Career Fact #7: Impact and results are not the same and you need to speak to your impact or become irrelevant.
Do not confuse results with impact. You may be getting a lot of results, small, medium and large in size, but that’s not the same as having a great impact. Impact means you had something to do with the company’s bottom line in one measurable form or another but anything could be a ‘result’ of your hard work.
So ask yourself: Are you having an impact in your company, in your customers, and in your community? Or are you just busy getting random results to various tasks? Are you working on some dead-end corporate initiative that will be on the shelf before the end of the quarter, and one that will suck the living soul out of you in the process?
Then do the right thing and focus on impact instead.
Career Fact #8: No one cares if you quit or leave or even die so don’t kill yourself for your corporation.
Sorry to be so dramatic but I wish someone were that dramatic with me.
The sense of urgency about everything at corporate is a little ridiculous and the sacrifices expected of you are uncalled for.
Some people cruise by, yes. Others are asked to do horrendous amounts of work and for that period of time, you are made to believe that you matter, and that your work is integral to the company success.
The truth suggests otherwise. Even if you are the VP or the CEO, you are not that important. You are in fact entirely – and quickly – replaceable. So what are you doing giving up on your family time and your health and well-being?
What are you doing getting stressed out?
Make smart choices and draw the line where it needs to be. Ironically, that line brings you respect and you may find balance in your personal life again.
What to do if you really want to get ahead, get promoted and get paid your worth.
Did these little-known corporate career truths resonate with you?
As you navigate the corporate landscape, I hope to help you to avoid your corporate career mistake. Or recover from them fast.
If you want to go even further, if you want to get ahead and get promoted and become the next rising corporate employee at your company, then check out Crack the Code to Get Promoted, an online program that examines all of pieces to the “get promoted” puzzle, and shows you how to best position yourself for massive success.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Oct 10, 2011 on Prolific Living. It has now been revamped, revised, and updated with fresh new content. Enjoy and spread the word!