Valuable Lessons Learned in the “Rat Race”: Corporate America Revealed

I’ve been blessed to work for a few multi-national Fortune 100 companies including Apple Inc., Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs & Co. During my nearly ten years at some of the nation’s most elite firms, I learned great lessons and insights about life, business, and everything in between. In my pursuit of success in corporate America, I found that the game-changers were well versed in a different code: one that was unwritten. I made it my business to glean the lessons along the way and found these invaluable few to be most essential in the proverbial rat race. Here are my first five corporate confessions revealed:

1. Strategically target companies/roles based on a personal ROI

I can’t lie to you. After college, my goal was to land a job at a reputable company with the most competitive salary. Gaining needed skills and experiences to help me achieve my long-term career goals was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t operate with a destination mindset. Yes, total compensation is definitely a factor when selecting the right employer, but challenge yourself to think beyond the now.  Ask yourself, ‘Will this position or the next role help me develop a vital skill set and/or network?’ ‘How will my time investment in this industry yield a return that benefits my bigger personal plan?’  

2. Project P.I.E. (Performance, Image, and Exposure)

Immediately following my first promotion at my first full time job, I quickly realized that though results were important, your personal brand equity and exposure could carry more weight in determining career trajectory.  Delivering exceptional business results is a baseline expectation after a certain point in your career. Physical appearance or image can also be a distinguishing factor for managers in differentiating equally talented high potential candidates. Senior executives can ‘hold your weight’ in the Big Boy club. For example, at one company, it would be a feat to find anyone overweight past the Director level. Additionally, I learned that exposure to key decision makers and influencers across the organization were imperative in the ‘natural selection’ process. Without the right exposure, you could easily be overlooked for crucible roles, promotions, expatriate assignments, etc.

3. A Toast to the Sky: Take Flight

The extent of my travel prior to joining Corporate America was restricted to family trips to Haiti and a few US domestic excursions. I’ve been able to travel to Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, and Colombia, just to name a few, all sponsored by my employers. Take advantage of every chance to experience something new. Balance the business with personal cultural experiences. You have a unique opportunity to see the global community up close and personal. Why miss out on a sponsored culturally enriching experience?  To be clear, a business need must exist to support your international travel. However, if international travel is important to you, be strategic in seeking out roles and opportunities that help scratch that itch.

4. Be a TALENT Scout

I’ve had several mentors and sponsors throughout my career but never considered leveraging those relationships for outside counsel on non-work related projects. I was in the process of starting a business and wanted to create a board of advisors. My initial list of prospective advisors excluded my corporate America relationships. Seek out mentors & sponsors that not only help advance your professional career, but also have valuable insight and networks to help advance your personal mission. Be sure to target only those you can trust. A gentleman’s handshake will not suffice. Everyone with whom I engage on a personal project must sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. This sets the tone for future discussions, clearly articulates that all information shared is confidential, and expresses the legal repercussions for breach.

5. Single ladies/Single men: Get a work husband or wife

I was single (no serious relationships) the majority of my professional career. I consider myself an extrovert and can pretty much connect with all people regardless of sex, age, background, or ethnic group. Now, imagine my surprise when Suzie at the water cooler gave me the cold truth: I wasn’t getting invited to the non-work/personal dinners with the tastemakers from the company. The truth hurts. I learned the unspoken rule over dinner with one of my sponsors. Few are successful at shattering the corporate America glass ceiling while flying solo. In her words, “No wife will ever invite a single, full figured BLACK woman with tons of personality to spend time with her and her husband—EVER. However, since marriage was one area of my life that I couldn’t control, I secured a work husband. A work husband or wife is someone who attends professional gatherings with you. There is no personal attraction between the two of you, and most importantly, he or she makes you look good. I was never dishonest about my relationship with my work husband and never introduced him as a boyfriend. However, the wives were more comfortable and no longer viewed me as a ‘threat’ and the invitations began rolling in for non-work related social gatherings.

I hope the advice shared above helps you through your Corporate America journey.

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3 thoughts on “Valuable Lessons Learned in the “Rat Race”: Corporate America Revealed”

  1. Love the advice! While all of the points are valid and extremely important, I must specifically point out #3. Making sure the relationship isn’t one side is very important in corporate. You MUST get as much from the experience (skills/knowledge/relationships/travel/exposure) as you’re putting into it. What you gain should extend far beyond a paycheck.

  2. I think you are on to something that could become a best seller–it’s honest, it’s funny and it lays bare the real deal in the corporate world not just for people of color…Don’t give away anymore on FB–publish.

    Jenny Laster

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