Top 8 Mistakes of My Corporate Career and How to Avoid Them

Guest Post by Farnoosh Brock of Prolific Living LLC 


Where do you go for corporate career advice when you need it? Whom do you trust to tell you the truth about how things run behind the corporate walls?

What Career Is Right For Me?

Oh yes, the wonder years where I wanted to know what career is right for me and how can I land it and just be done already!

In the early years of my 12 year corporate 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 mistakes and the thing about mistakes is this: You can accept them; you can learn from them; you can move on from them but you never want to make them in vain.

Mistakes are plenty in abundance but to make them in vain is just plain stupid. To learn from them is the first step to growth and at the time that you make them, you hardly think this way. The bittersweet irony of life, I suppose. Alas, in my corporate tenure, I learned so much about myself that I had to walk away and find a new me in a new life – yes, that was supposed to make you smile – but even that much “growth” hasn’t quenched my appetite; I felt compelled to do more about these mistakes. I have to share them with you. I do that in hopes of helping you to avoid them and empower you to take your career by your strong hands and lead the way yourself, rather than wait to be led.

You have my utter compassion if you work in the corporate world, and while no two companies are identical, there are some uncanny common themes that run across a large portion of them. Therefore, you will likely find relevance here to your situation.

My motivation to share my mistakes then is quite simple: That you, my dear reader, act smarter and sharper in your career than I did when I stumbled upon tough roads and that you make far better decisions than me as a result. One kind warning: I put myself in the shoes of a reader who is frustrated and unhappy but still loyal to the corporation. You may find me harsh and negative here. I am being neither but 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 people that I later mentored and coached share a similar path.

So if you don’t have tough skin for this, I have lots of happy articles here (none about the corporate world though ;) ). Now on with the show.

Career Fact #1: Top-notch industry certifications do not necessarily earn you more money, respect, promotion or credibility.

So the myth is that 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. Trust me on this one, after two electrical engineering degrees, I went for a hard-core certification; 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.

I could have started an online business for all those certifications and rewards that did nothing but take up time and money. I could have done meaningful work. I could have redefined my life’s purpose and removed my identity from under the corporate veil and exposed it to real light of day.

As soon as I got certified, they changed the rules and I had to shamefully beg for the promotion and raise for two years. Years later, I went for another certification – because, as you see, I never lost faith – and it hardly brought me any more recognition. The 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.

Not directly asking for raises and promotions persistently enough was one of my other huge blunders.

I subscribed to the sad theory that if you work hard enough, you will indeed be rewarded. This is total rubbish. Stop believing it now if you do. 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. As for the compensation, I did a podcast here where I gave you my top secrets on how to ask – and get – a raise from your boss and how to have those conversations, because you must have them.

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: HR is not there to protect you, dear one. The only job of HR 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 me 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.

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 in the future of your career. Your problems may very well be valid, but think twice before going to HR and did I mention: they always act to protect the company first and foremost.

Career_Direction-Farnoosh photo

Career Fact #5: You do not need to do everything they ask you to do to be a top performer and a super star.

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, don’t do everything that is asked of you or all that comes across your desk.

Ask yourself if this 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 the top performers do very little of that and focus on the really important work. Learn to distinguish between busy work that takes away precious time and still leaves you as an average employee.

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 the 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. But I confused something very early on: I thought that simply because I loved my team and my company, that they too loved me in return and I defined 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 so ask yourself what is the meaning of all of your work.

This is for those of you who want to do meaningful work with your time and your life. Don’t be like me and go through a roller coaster period. For a while, I was miserable and frustrated and trying so hard to succeed and for then another while, I couldn’t care less so long as I got my sweet paycheck and then last and certainly best, I woke up and realized how much I do indeed crave meaningful work.

And meaningful work, I had not at my old job. I looked at what I was doing and how utterly meaningless it all was. Do not confuse results with impact. Are you having an impact in your company, in your customers, in your community or in the world? Or are you working on some dead-end corporate initiative that will be on the shelf before the end of the quarter, but one that will suck the living soul out of you in the process?

Career Fact #8: No one cares if you quit or leave or even die so don’t kill yourself for the corporation.

Sorry to be so dramatic but I wish someone were that dramatic with me. The sense of urgency about everything at the corporation is 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 central to the company. Well, I’m sorry to say that 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 so stressed?

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 Career Is Right For You?

Hope these facts and mistakes around a corporate career resonated with you. Remember to not fool yourself into believing that (a false sense of) security is a fair price to pay for misery. Or this great story on whether timing is all that is cracked up to be. You liveonce. You don’t get second chances if you wait too long. And you don’t want to miss out on fulfillment in your work and reaching your highest potential in this lifetime.

What do you think? What career is right for you? Are you in a corporate position and do you experience any of these signs? What are your thoughts on my advice here? Feel free to disagree. I love a good argument. And do leave your brilliant thoughts as I love to engage with you here.

back to top