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Things About Corporate Life No One Tells You

by | Apr 15, 2024 | Startups

He worked 80-hour weeks for a law firm.

That earned him $900k a year as a 32 year old. Then his wife got pregnant. When she was 4 weeks away from giving birth, he asked the partners for a day off to be there to meet his child.

They said no.

They gave him a lecture about work ethic and giving up everything for your career dream. All the partners missed their children’s births.

So he had to miss out too.

It was too much. He told his boss to F off in front of everyone. And he quit law right away. He spent his life chasing that career dream. He got into huge debt to get the degree. He gave up his 20s. Now, all for nothing.

To make things worse, he grew up poor in Chicago. He was the first one in his family to “make it.” They resented his decision.

But he learned the biggest career lesson of all:

No job title, amount of money, or fame is worth more than seeing your child enter this world.

One thing no one tells you about corporate life is most bosses expect you to prioritize your job over your family.

Here are a few more things no one tells you about corporate life that I learned from 10+ years in banking.

Don’t have rumpy pumpy in the closet with your colleagues

I shouldn’t admit this.

But I’ve dated a few of my former colleagues while working with them. It ended in disaster.

It got me a bad name and people thought I was a Hugh Hefner playboy when I’m more like the guy from the movie the “40 Year Old Virgin.”

No one warned me. Warren Buffett didn’t write a career advice book that included tips such as, “Never do doggy in the closet during lunch.”

The problem with dating colleagues is if the relationship ends, the toxicity stinks out your career for as long as you work at the same company. If it ends real bad, then they’ll use your work environment to get back at you.

One thing I’ve never done — that can screw up your career even more — is date people who directly report to you. This is a formula for a nuclear apocalypse. If they tell HR you took advantage of them, it can end in tears and a black mark against your name.

Date outside of work, always.

If someone is outperforming you, they’re not a threat. They’re a mentor.

Envy destroys careers.

Business isn’t a sport. We win in business when we play as a team and learn from people doing better than us. If someone has to lose for you to win, you’re doing it all wrong. Turn your competitors into mentors.

How well you network at work matters more than skills

Degrees don’t matter. Your colleagues have those too.

Who you know in business gets you further than hard skills. Your network is where new opportunities come from. Even if you’re average at, say, finance, like I was, if you know the right people, they’ll hire you.

Why?

Leaders prefer to hire friendlies instead of strangers. Strangers might try and steal their job or talk badly about them to their boss’s boss.

The most transformative career event ever for me was when I met a farmer in an elevator. I struck up a random conversation with them. They looked like a nobody because everyone else wore suits.

I later learned he was a high roller. He was the guy our bank sent to meet all the U.S. tech giants. He could name his salary. He could have huge bonuses and work fewer hours than everyone else. He also could work from any country he wanted and have all expenses paid.

This chance encounter turned into a huge opportunity. This farmer hired me to work with him and it got me out of my dead-end call center job.

Job ads are the stupidest way to get a job. You’ll be screened out by a bunch of racist AI-powered resume checkers.

Form new relationships through curiosity.

If you don’t create boundaries you’ll be skinned alive

Most corporate workers do whatever they’re told.

They never push back. They have no boundaries. They’ll take on an infinite load of work until they burn out and end up on prescription medication. What they don’t know is you can set boundaries.

In my last job, I made it clear that I work in sales. I forwarded support requests to customer service and was ruthless about it. This meant I had time to do my real job and not get distracted. I was also upfront about my work hours.

I had a partner (now wife) and she didn’t tolerate me coming home at 9 PM, like the good old days when I was 26. So I told my boss. I got their approval and understanding upfront. This got me out of a lot of meetings.

The key here is I hit my KPIs so I wasn’t asking for special treatment while giving nothing in return — an important principle the average worker has no clue about.

You get what you give.

You’re required to do stuff outside your job description

This is a paradox of the last point.

Too many people are rigid about what they’ll do at work. They have rules and a fixed mindset. They don’t go outside of their job description because they believe there’s nothing in it for them.

But the biggest career breaks I’ve ever got came from doing things outside of my department. I remember taking a misdirected call from a big U.S. tech giant. I owned it and got them in touch with the right leader.

They became a customer and I was hailed a hero. This same customer tried to talk with two others in my team who both told them “Not my department.”

When a customer is “not your department” it’s an opportunity to join a new department. Crazy, right?!

If you don’t move jobs enough, you become stale

Staying at a job too long is the biggest corporate epidemic no one talks about.

Boredom has taken over many jobs. There often feels like there’s no escape. But the way to stay sharp and keep growing in your career is to change jobs.

Why?

Because you get to feel imposter syndrome more regularly, where you start a new job and feel like a fraud who knows nothing. This is one of the greatest feelings in the world. It’s the course of hidden growth.

Change jobs every 1–2 years.

If you have a kids or a mortgage, it’ll be secretly used against you

Bad bosses love to hear you have a mortgage or kids.

It means if you stuff up at work they have leverage on you. It means you need the job and can’t afford to be fired. There’s not much you can do about it other than stay the hell away from slave-driving bad bosses who’ll run you into the ground.

Business is deeply personal

The majority of business people talk like robots. Have you noticed?

They use buzzwords and try to sound 10x smarter than they are to impress a bunch of KPI-checkers who wouldn’t attend their daughter’s funeral if she got hit by a bus.

Every popular career advice book tells you to “be professional.” Wrong. Professional people are as cold as Antarctica icebergs. They don’t engage in small talk or get to know people personally.

They’re petrified to talk about out of work stuff because they fear it’ll be used against them or stop them making the sale. The opposite is true.

When you have a personal relationships with a colleague, customer, supplier, or leader they unconsciously give you an advantage. Personal people are top of mind. Personal relationships are connected with emotion.

No matter how hard you try and fight it, if you have a personal relationship with someone, you’ll favor them in business.

Ethically use personal connections to get ahead.

Fall in love with small talk.

Switching employers offers instant pay rises

People who ask for pay rises don’t get it.

Why would an employer pay you more for the same job? They know that most people are scared of change and probably won’t quit. Business is about making a profit, as much as we pretend it’s not.

For a business to make maximum profit they have to pay you the least amount possible. Rather than fight the universe … embrace this fact. Switch employers like you switch underpants.

A new employer has an incentive to pay you more to convince you to leave your job and join them.

Incentives drive business behavior. Use them to your advantage.

Photo by Avery Arwood via Pexels

LinkedIn gives you a Plan B for a new job whenever you need it

LinkedIn can be cringe as f*ck.

So many workers ignore it. What I learned is if you show up on LinkedIn daily and share your thoughts about the industry you work in, it helps you proactively attract new opportunities.

These opportunities act as a Plan B in case things go sour with your current employer. When you have multiple career opportunities, it helps you not give a damn so much and be more ruthless about setting boundaries.

High-performers always have backup jobs on call.

Hard workers often get the worst results

Hard work is the religion of the corporate world.

It’s the easiest thing to do. Burn the midnight oil. Stay back. Do more tasks than everyone else. Put in more effort than anyone else.

The problem is the people who work hardest are often not the smartest. They use brute force rather than working smarter.

Instead of learning better ways to work, or understanding incentives and the benefits of networking, they hope the number of hours they clock in will be enough. But you can’t work harder than code or AI. So in this new world hard work isn’t enough.

Hard workers are often just stubborn a-holes who refuse to change. Read that again.

Hard workers also piss their families off and can even fast-track themselves to getting a divorce and having children who don’t even know them.

Work smart, not hard.

Negotiate everything

This one amazes me.

When I was a recruiter the amount of times I spoke to candidates about a job offer and they never negotiated with me, blew my mind.

“Here’s the salary. Here’s the benefits. Sign here.”

“Okay.”

Don’t do this. Everything from salary, to work, hours, to the leader you work for, to how many days of holiday you get is negotiable.

The first job offer is a starting point. Always politely counteroffer. Keep going until you meet in the middle.

Everyone will get hit by layoffs in their career. Never get comfortable.

It’s easy to work away as if you’re invincible.

I’ve seen high performers get cocky and think they’re untouchable. One idiot I met got so arrogant that he used his corporate card to take a customer to the strippers.

The charge came up on his card. He told his manager he could do anything he wanted with his card. His manager told him it was against company policy and fired his ass.

The hardest part about never thinking about layoffs is when it happens to you one day (and it will), after you get let go, you’ll feel lost. You’ll have the wind knocked out of you. You’ll be out of touch with the hiring world and have forgotten how to do job interviews.

Layoffs aren’t personal.

They’re part of the economic cycle. When a recession hits, your corporate employer will pay a consulting company like McKinsey to place names in a spreadsheet of who should get made redundant so they can save costs and make high profits.

The McKinsey guy doesn’t know your work history and has zero personal relationship with you. They likely won’t speak to your boss either.

This is the cold hard truth of corporate life. Accept you’ll get laid off. Use it to get a big, fat payout and find an even better employer.

Learning is better than what you get paid or a job title

People easily fall for fancy logos or job titles.

How much you get paid is based on how much you learn. A friend of mine just got laid off. She has roughly three months before she’s out the door on her ass.

An opportunity came up to work in Google’s new AI lab. Even though she’s technically fired, she took the 4-week assignment to gain exposure to new insights and add “Google AI Lab” to her resume.

Skills are what get you paid. Choose jobs where there’s enormous learning to earn more in your next role. You can’t outearn an obsessed learner.

“We are family” culture is toxic as hell

Employers that use this language are saying in morse code that “your job is more important than anything else.”

It’s code for burnout, toxicity, and working long hours. Don’t fall for it.

Resumes are exaggerated

Never trust a resume.

They’re full of sh*t. People oversell themselves and take credit for things they never did.

Always verify a person’s work experience by asking them specifics about what they did. If they can’t tell you then they’re probably lying.

Social-proof + evidence … instead of … “years of experience” + trust me.

Don’t complain. Offer solutions.

The typical corporation is drowning in problems.

Technology is making big corporates less relevant & screwing up their monopolies. AI is making it worse. The easy habit is to complain about it all.

  • “We’re moving too slow dontcha know.”
  • “They’ll get disrupted.”
  • “The CEO doesn’t know much.”

None of this matters. Spotting problems requires low IQ and effort.

The subtle difference with high performers is they find problems and offer solutions. Even if the solutions are never taken up, bizarrely, they’re perceived as more valuable. There’s a subtle difference.

Get great at presenting

Those who can master public speaking and give impactful presentations have an unfair advantage.

You can have all the knowledge and experience in the world, but if you can’t communicate it you’ll never capitalize on it. An idea is one thing. Making it simple enough for others to understand is another.

Master simplicity. Join Toastmasters.

Corporate life has many negatives

Power-hungry people. Talking about revenue 24/7. Full of politicians disguised as leaders. Get told what you want to hear. Expect these things so you don’t get surprised by them.

Eventually corporate life will probably take away your will to live.

At that point it’s a good idea to consider becoming a freelancer, contractor, consultant, entrepreneur, or solopreneur.

Corporate people have little control, except they’re deluded into thinking they have real decision-making power. Ultimately, the average corporate runs on death-by-committee and too many meetings.

What you can achieve in 5 years working for a corporate, you can achieve in 5 minutes when you work for yourself or a startup.

The slow corporate life is fun for a bit. But after a while it feels like a nightmare.

Know when to quit.

Everyone is replaceable (including you)

If you died tomorrow none of these corporate folks would be at your funeral. They’d have you replaced in 30 days.

There is no company loyalty or family workplace culture. When hard times hit layoffs happen. That’s all the proof you need. Whereas a family wouldn’t abandon you when times got tough. That’s the difference and too many people forget it.

Don’t overthink it. Look after you.

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