Having a corporate career can be a fascinating thing. Starting in a company that is established and well-structured gives you a sense of belonging, provides a foundation for you, and gives you access to various resources to help you grow.
I have been working in the finance sector for ten years now, and it has taken plenty of experiences for me to get to the point where I am comfortable with my work life. There is so much that goes into being ‘successful’ and managing the expectations that we have of ourselves. But it is entirely possible: I now know what sort of company I like to work for; what type of boss I gel best with, how I like to work, and what times of the day am I most productive.
Here are some of the things I have picked up along the way that have helped me get to where I am.
When you just start, corporate can seem very scary. The structure of the business is often in place for a reason, and while a hierarchy works best in some places, it isn’t always the best way to manage things.
That said: entering a company via a graduate programme is probably one of the best experiences that you could have if you want to carve out a corporate career. A grad program allows a shared space for beginners to learn and (most importantly) moan about how hard it is to move into a structured timetable lifestyle. It becomes a friend circle to help you transition to the ‘real world’. You learn a lot about dealing with clients and managers from all levels – it helps you understand people and not only does this benefit you in the workplace, but it helps with interactions in your personal space too. So, if you can find a grad program that interests you, apply for it!
The corporate world can be a daunting place, especially for women, and even more so for women of colour. The pressure can get immense, and you will often be left feeling anxious and wondering if you really belong. I started in one of the Big Four accounting firms myself and would sometimes get nauseous about potentially getting something wrong before I even did it. It would be nerve-wracking knowing a manager was going to visit on site to review mine and my teams work, and I would be struck with fear, anxiously waiting on edge to hear that I’ve missed something. I’ve cried a good few times too from stress. It’s only recently that I realise that this isn’t something that only I went through. Many of us experience this self-doubt, thinking the worst before something has even happened.
I have learned that it is crucial that you manage these feelings. One of the best ways to do this is to reach out to and lean on your friends and colleagues, who are most likely in a similar position to you. Take advantage of your support system – if you are lucky enough to have people around you who love and care for you, communicate with them about how you feel, and lean on them. And also figure out what kind of coping mechanisms work for you – exercise or meditation are some great stress-relievers, and there are apps like Headspace which can help you with the latter. And don’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing the best that you can.
When moving around the workplace, you also change up managers. This exposure to different leadership styles will help you figure out what sort of boss you work best with. It is essential to understand that as an employee, you need to get as much out of your boss as much as they are getting out of you. They can either help you grow to your potential, or keep you stale. At the beginning stages of your career you may not always understand this, so keep an open mind to the managers you are exposed to, but as you progress you will figure out what type of manager you ‘click’ with.
The right type of manager will want to see you grow and will be scheduling regular catch-ups with you, asking you what you want to achieve, both long and short-term. They will push you into the unexpected and put you in uncomfortable positions to expose you to the fact that you can achieve something you did not comprehend. They will provide you with a platform to share connections that they have for you to achieve the goals/ambitions that you’ve shared with them. Your boss should be like your mentor.
When you have senior members and partners around you, it’s vital to try your best and make sure you ask for help if you don’t understand something. This is the best time for you to ask questions! I know it can be intimidating – you’ll probably have thoughts like ‘am I asking a stupid question? Will they think I’m silly and how did I even get the job?’ When starting your career, everyone knows you are still learning, so any question is not a stupid question! If anything, someone else probably wants to ask the same question and is thankful you asked.
Seek knowledge by asking – this is how you learn, and if you don’t ask, you don’t know. Be inquisitive, think about what you believe the answer might be before asking, or do a little research – this will show you have made some effort into trying to understand the issue first. Try to understand things from a client’s/stakeholder’s perspective. It’s a perfect time to develop your ability to see things from various points of views.
Emotional Intelligence is not only ‘in’ right now, but it is also honestly your key to having people back you. It’s not about being a ‘hard ass’ – it’s about getting your job done in a professional manner whilst understanding different viewpoints too. You spend a lot of time at work. Be kind and compassionate to your team. Make an effort to make the workplace a space to come in to and be your best self, not a place to drag yourself to every morning. People/colleagues/managers and your attitude can make or break this.
Some things you can do include grabbing morning tea or coffee with your colleagues and catching up with them about what’s going on in their lives. You can also chat about plans, places to eat, or just turn to them if you’re having a terrible day – it builds relationships and breaks down the ‘serious’ vibes wall. Or better yet work with your team to see how you can create a friendlier atmosphere!
If you don’t feel like being social, don’t underestimate how far a smile and pleasantries go, simple things like manners can work wonders too!
A Kiwi in London, Sharifah Mussa is a bean counter who works in finance with experience working in the professional sector, Media, and Telecommunications. She is passionate about harmonising the workplace and unleashing the potential of emerging leaders - even having New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern present in a previous role. When she isn't crunching numbers during the day, Sharifah enjoys spending time with the elderly of Deaf of Blind UK, being a mentor for Muslim Women Connect (MWC), travelling the world, and drinking her way through London cafes looking for a decent coffee. Can't beat a Kiwi coffee.Can find her on instagram @sharifahmussa