Lessons Learned from Corporate America

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corporateBefore giving into the steady and impossible-to-resist entrepreneurial pull, I worked a typical 9-to-5 job in the “real world,” a few different 9-to-5 jobs, actually. I didn’t love any of those jobs, but without a doubt, each one taught me a valuable lesson that I still apply today in my business.

Here are some of the lessons I’m thankful to have learned during those first years of my career.

Consistency Pays Off

In the corporate environment, everyone is trying to get ahead, vying for the boss’s attention so they move to the front of the line for the next promotion, raise, or bonus. If you work in a large organization, it can be hard to get noticed and have your value show. Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities by asking for new work, suggesting improvements, and taking the initiative to do more than what is asked of you…and then doing an excellent job every time. And sometimes getting ahead is simply a matter of showing your steady dedication, even when you’re feeling bored and unchallenged.

In my experience, the more consistent the quality of your work, the more reliable you will appear to your manager, and the more responsibility you will gain.  This also holds true in business. You need to produce consistent results, be reliable, and have a regular communication process you follow in order to become a valuable resource that is depended on by your clients.

Respect is a Two-Way Street

A common challenge for those moving up the ranks in the corporate world is earning the respect of the people you work with. When you’re new at a job, especially right out of school, you’re low man on the totem pole, and sometimes you have a long way to go to get respect and feel like a valued member of the team.

My experience in the corporate world taught me that the most effective way to earn respect is to give it out when appropriate. If you’re not being respectful, listening well and honoring the contributions of everyone else, you have a lot of work to do to earn respect.

This is mirrored in all kinds of business relationships. You can’t be successful if you have a lack of respect for your clients, colleagues and, especially your competition. Not only does showing respect help you earn it, but it can open doors to new alliances and collaboration.

There’s No “I” In Teamwork

I think at every job I was ever interviewed for, the interviewer asked me how I would fit into a team environment. Even if the desired position wasn’t really part of a team, the position always involved working with others in some capacity, so it made sense that every potential employer would want to know how well I played with others.

In the world of self-employment, you also need to function effectively as part of a team, even if you’re a one-person shop. Whether you’re collaborating with clients, partnering with other service providers, or part of an industry organization, you will need to be able to work effectively with others in a team environment.

Professionalism Counts

So many organizations have gone the way of casual work environments, from relaxed attire, to less structured work hours, to informal methods of communication. In my past life, I saw many situations where this casualness went all wrong. Of course, I am all for wearing jeans, chatting via IM, and having no strict work hours, but there should be an overriding professionalism gauge you measure yourself against. A relaxed work environment shouldn’t translate into lack of professionalism. For example, coming into work for a meeting with management after a stint at the beach, wearing what you wore while sunbathing is probably not the best thing you can do for your career (true story).

Professionalism is equally important when you’re self-employed. If you work from home, alone, it’s easy to fall into the all-relaxed-all-the-time trap, and become lackadaisical when it comes to presenting yourself as a professional. I’ve learned how important it is to keep everything about my business professional, from email communication, to business management processes, to my client policies, even when I don’t “have to.”

What have you learned? Are you a former employee who learned an invaluable lesson from your job?

Image credit: flaivoloka

Alyssa GregoryAlyssa Gregory
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Alyssa Gregory is a digital and content marketer, small business consultant, and the founder of the Small Business Bonfire — a social, educational and collaborative community for entrepreneurs.

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