As a young woman, I like many of you, dreamed of working in the corporate world for quite some time well before I landed my first corporate position in 2016. Whilst the current corporate environment is ever-changing, forcibly by the storm we call ‘COVID-19’; with the introduction of flexible working conditions, and a rapid increase in the adoption of technological advancements in our workflow, many young individuals still aspire to work in such environments.
Even though I felt ‘ready’ and confident to take-on the corporate world in my initial role as a paralegal/law clerk in a law firm, the reality was the antithesis. Being brought up by Greek migrant grandparents and parents who didn’t have corporate experience; I had little understanding and was ill-equipped for what I would face. I was simply eager to begin my dream of becoming a lawyer.
Over the past four years I have been blessed with the opportunity to work within [two] law firms, a digital marketing start-up and one of the biggest global corporations, among other volunteer ventures. During this time, I engaged in a deep journey of self-awareness; listening to those well ahead of me, learning, researching, reading and adopting many strategies through trial and error that enabled me to refine myself and create my personal brand. Admittedly I was wrong most of the time, which meant my ego took a hit reducing my defensiveness and listening more.
This journey through understanding the complexities and harsh realities of the corporate world was a juxtaposition, as I too navigated through my own personal inner demons. The more self-awareness I had and the more I endeavoured to change and be the best version of myself for the corporate world, the more my personal life and relationships prospered. I matured rapidly.
I wholeheartedly believe that when we are presented with difficulties, they are opportunities to grow and learn more about ourselves. I also believe that these situations encourage us to learn outside of our comfort zones and enable us to ‘up-skill’ in multiple areas; which in turn develops a stronger and more intelligent emotional core.
Below I’ve listed my top 7 tips to help you master the art of the corporate world as a young professional that will also most definitely assist your personal reality. These are in no particular order and have helped me gain respect from my peers which enabled me to be promoted as a Team Leader, the role that I am currently in today.
Take only what resonates.
- It’s Not Personal
This is one of the most important things to understand and master in life — it’s not personal! In the corporate environment, often you will work with and be led by people who have different opinions than you. You will make mistakes and be criticised; and it is necessary to develop a ‘thick skin’ as per se, ensuring that you view the criticism as constructive and an opportunity for you to grow and become better in your work and as a person. Provided the criticism is warranted, accept it, and ask how to change so you don’t repeat the same things again. This will ensure you are learning practically as you go and the quicker you accept and move on, the stronger you become mentally.
- Find Yourself A Skilled and Patient Mentor
I didn’t have a true ‘mentor’ until 2018 when I started working for the global corporation that I am currently employed at now. It was my direct manager who was the sound board for my concerns and the person that would help guide me through the difficulties I faced in the workplace, and even in life. It is important to find someone who you connect with well and whom you trust that is of a higher position than you, so that you’re able to freely seek guidance from them regardless of your vulnerability and possible unease. This person should be able to share their insights, be brutally honest, offer perspectives and possible solutions to your issues; however, they should not make your decisions for you. My advice is to choose someone whom you highly respect and look up to as their work ethic and corporate values will likely have a predominate effect on you and how you interact.
- Understand and Connect with Your Key Stakeholders
Strong connections and relationships in life are the foundations of success. No successful person has attained their prosperity without partnerships and co-creation with other individuals. Firstly, understand the dynamic of the corporation you are working in, whether it be large or small. This means being aware of all departments and the key stakeholders within each department. Secondly, it is your job to connect with and introduce yourself to each of these players and offer your value by extending your services to them. You may not be able to assist them now or in the future however, going out of your way to introduce yourself sets you a part and in turn they will remember who you are. Thirdly, observe these stakeholders as usually they have been in their positions for quite some time and they have a lot to offer including teaching you new skills, even from afar. This way you will learn the intricacies of the company quicker as you leverage their skills and successes — this will propel you forward and show you what to do and what not to do.
- Emotional Intelligence: Know When to Speak and How
Emotional Intelligence: ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you.
This is the most important of all 7 steps. It is imperative that you master the art of emotional intelligence. Understanding social cues at an early age will set you apart from your peers. You will notice that the most intelligent people speak less and speak only to provide value when asked. They intuitively and intricately observe those around them, then address the room once they’ve understood not only the people who they are speaking to, but also what they need to offer their opinion on. Having this understanding of the room allows you to respond rather than abrasively reacting.
This leads to my next point; be mindful of how you’re perceived in the workplace — especially in meetings. Recognise your emotions and the triggers that have led you to feeling that way; this allows you to observe yourself well before you need to speak. If for any reason you feel overwhelmed or if you feel you need a break, it is always best you take time to gather your thoughts and centre yourself. If you’re in a meeting and you feel this way, it is best not to participate until you’re quickly grounded.
Emotional intelligence does not mean to develop a tough interior and exterior, but rather asks you to be acutely self-aware and recognise the different emotions that you and others have. It asks you to understand and somewhat empathise and/or sympathise with the other person — from this point you can see the other perspective clearly. In the beginning I failed at this miserably — wearing my heart on my sleeve multiple times and taking things too personally, this led me to harshly react rather than respond and it took a long time to regain trust and respect from my colleagues. Occasionally, I still need to be reminded of this and I’m lucky I have a strong team to tell me this directly.
Think twice before communicating. Ask yourself:
- Is what I am saying adding value to myself, my team or the company?
- Is what I am saying necessary or merely to get attention (not all attention is good attention)?
- How am I going to be perceived by my peers?
There are fantastic books on emotional intelligence like Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Jean Greaves and Travis Bradberry. I tend to prefer to watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts on successful leaders of billion-dollar companies as well as leaders from a humanitarian perspective.
- Develop Your Personal Brand
Personal Brand: how you promote yourself. It is the unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that you want the world to see you as.
How you present yourself not only in the corporate world and to your colleagues (use some of the points from Tip 4) but also on social platforms is increasingly important as this builds your integrity, credibility and the value you provide to your current and future company, colleagues and clients. Developing a personal brand is beneficial for many reasons as over time this creates your personal standard that you can consistently measure yourself against. To do this; list 3–5 points that you’d like yourself to be defined/viewed as, for example ‘passionate and authentic’, which will create the foundations of your personal brand. Essentially these are the elements which you will live by. Your actions and spoken word reflect these elements which includes observing how you dress. Furthermore, we are in the digital era, so be mindful of the pictures/videos you post and how/what you comment on; including on Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook, and of course LinkedIn — just to mention a few.
I’m not suggesting being a robot, always remain true to you — just as I have, though if you’re looking to secure a position of longevity and create meaningful relationships within the workplace and beyond the way you present yourself is key.
- Be Patient
‘There is no such thing as an overnight success.’
This is something I have been working on for years and I can still say this is something I am still working towards. In a world of the need for ‘instant gratification’ it is important to slow down and realise that you will not get anywhere in life without hard work, resilience and patience. Any successful person will tell you that you must have patience when it comes to reaping the rewards of all your hard work.
As soon as I began at my company I wanted more, and *cue mentor* (this is why having a mentor is significant) would tell me that I would reap the benefits in due time if I had patience and proved my abilities and skills consistently over time. She wasn’t wrong and after eighteen months I was promoted as Team Leader and this role is continuing to expand over time.
- Be Professional Yet Personable
One of my biggest flaws was my inability to separate my personal demeanour to my professional demeanour. It is conducive to your success if you learn to separate the two, which includes having a balance between being friendly to your work colleagues and clients and being professional when needed. Ensure that you are not over-sharing information regarding your personal life, and that you are not speaking to your colleagues and clients like you would your friends in most cases. Refrain from calling them ‘pet’ names or using terms of endearment if you haven’t already developed a strong relationship with them. There is a fine line between being personal and too personal so use your emotional intelligence skills to know when the right time is to insert your personal touch in a conversation. However, professionalism will always prevail in a corporate setting.
I hope this assists and remember never stop learning and listening no matter what age you are!
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