The corporate world is a parallel universe, a surreal world where everything and everyone is different. People think, speak and behave differently to those outside of corporate life. With the benefit of hindsight, here are a few ‘truths’ about corporate life for any of you about to step into this world.
1. Your personality will chang
This is because you’ll learn quickly that to get ahead in your career, you’ll need to look like everyone else, speak like them, share their interests and speak the same language – a bizarre dialect called jargon. You’ll become unrecognisable to your friends; some may even find excuses not to meet up with you after you’ve had a few months’ indoctrination into the corporate world. I recently telephoned a former colleague to invite her to lunch. Her response was this: “I’ll get back to you with the details by the end of play. I’m bang in the middle of recruiting for Hannah’s backfill.” We’re still friends – although we’re yet to ‘knife and fork’ what could possibly have happened to her?
2. It’s more boring than you ever thought possible
There will be many times when you struggle to stay awake. I recall one particular occasion, after a particularly mind-numbing, stultifying business review with my boss, when I allowed myself a sneaky few minutes of ‘shut eye’ (napping) to recover from the ordeal. I woke up to the alarming vista of a live hedgehog in the corner of the room. Even more fantastically, the creature spoke my name. Thankfully, nothing of the kind has since happened to me. But I’ve been informed that such hallucinations are the brain’s weird way of letting you know that the corporate world is not the real world.
3. A few characters will annoy you beyond measure
Here they are, in no particular order:
- The drama queen with a slightly twisted view of reality. Everything is a crisis. They like nothing more than whipping up propaganda, for no apparent reason.
- The over-sharer. You’ll know every detail about the lives of these loquacious characters’: the piano grade exam their child is taking; the number of goals their son scored last weekend; what they argued with their spouse over at the weekend.
- The bombast. These are people who think they know everything (they don’t) and will act as if they do, in very loud and pompous tones. They bestride the company corridors like colossi, and are entirely untainted by self-awareness.
- The glory stealer. These co-workers will find a way to steal your thunder; they seem to want to take the credit for every success – regardless of their input in that success.
4. You’ll put on weight
There’ll be an endless supply of carbohydrate foods: croissants, pastries, chocolate, and cookies – you name it. Resistance is futile. If you decline the cookie when it’s passed around you’ll probably be met with contemptuous stares. And if you always accept, your waistline will pay – and you’ll be met with disapproving looks from skinnier colleagues. You can’t win.
5. You’ll either be too hot or too cold
This truth comes with a cast-iron guarantee. If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a supply of the thickest blankets you can find.
6. You’ll come to rely on a group of friends to get you through the day
There’s no other way to survive the humdrum routine of the office. A small group of like-minded colleagues will make your working life much more fun.
7. You’ll develop an irrational fear of your boss
An email that seems innocuous, such as, “Alex, please pop into my office at 5pm tomorrow for a quick chat”, is enough to send your blood pressure racing.
Office life is survivable if you understand the culture. This requires a period of watching and learning. The important thing is to keep your personality intact and resist any attempt to turn you into something you’re not; this, unfortunately, is more difficult than you’d think.