5 things I would tell my younger self as I set foot in the corporate world

Aug 3, 2017

When we were young and in school, we are told to study well so that we pass with good grades. That will help us get into a prestigious college where the cut offs are ruthless. Once we went to college and dreamt of enjoying our college days like SRK showed us the wonderful college life in so many of his movies- cold water was thrown on our mushy dreams. You can’t afford to waste time, study hard and get good marks so that you can get into a professional course. Once we did manage to slog and get there, the same story continued. The ultimate purpose being getting a good job – one of those MNC’s which was in the Forbes 500, a swanky office with a glossy name plate, a salary which our parents who worked in banks would never have seen their entire life and a good name among friends and relatives.

But is that the end? Bagging that coveted job is just the starting point in a long and arduous journey which spans across years of your life and takes you on a roller coaster ride with up and downs that you could never have fathomed.

When I started out as a fresher, dreams in my eyes and high hopes, a resume which screamed rank holder, merit list and gold medalist- I was sure I would be an instant hit here as well. I knew myself too well and what it needs to succeed – is what I thought. I was right in some aspects but failed miserably in others. I look back at the set of unpleasant experiences as a learning ground. If I could turn the wheel of time and be that 24 year old once again, here is what I would like to tell myself:

My work won’t speak up, I need to do the talking

Someone I greatly admire in the corporate world once said “Make sure you are damn good at your stuff, do the best job of what’s given to you and don’t forget to talk about it. Isn’t that contrary to what we were always taught from childhood? Boasting was considered bad, do good and it will surely be rewarded, God is watching we were told. We studied well and the grades reflected it. But it’s not the same ballgame at the workplace.

In my initial days I blindly applied the same mantra of doing my best and them keeping mum unless asked about something. I was surprised to see a few people who had done not half a good job as me being acknowledged and worst I was given their example. Gradually I realized I was missing a very important part of the puzzle. Humblebragging which found a place in the Oxford Dictionary is very much a part of our lives. Personally I don’t see anything wrong in making my stakeholders aware of the work I am doing. I need to do the talking, my work can’t talk for itself. Time to put those stories of being humble in the closet and throw away the key.

Take up that messy job no one wants to volunteer for

One of the senior MD’s once spoke about the best career advice she believes worked for her and is responsible for her meteoric rise “Take up that transition, process, audit laced with issues or the new thing which is ridden with uncertainty and no one wants to touch. You may curse yourself momentarily for executing that and delivering won’t be easy but in the long run you will thank yourself for taking this up” She went on to quote a few example of challenging assignments that she signed up for and how the paved the way to her success.

While its easier to be content in doing our daily job, moving ahead in our career necessitates taking risks. Landing in troubled waters involuntarily and then learning to beat the tide and swim is what I have learnt over several occasions and it has always turned out to be a boon in my career.

There’s more to work than a desk job

Just like we had extracurricular activities in school and college, there are various networks and people streams at the workplace. From sports clubs to toastmasters, groups focusing on minorities like LGBT, women empowerment, book clubs, social clubs and a host of them. From arranging brown bag sessions with senior leaders to events and training programs by external agencies, there is a plethora of opportunities.

I have seen many people shy away from participation, they would rather do their desk job and go home. Those who are involved in such events are sometimes labelled as “people who don’t have work”. Over time I have realized that if you just want to get your job done, then this short sighted approach of doing my work and packing off may work for you but from a long term career perspective, you get nowhere. Networking which is a very essential part of your career success cannot always be done arbitrarily. We often complain about the lack of networking opportunities with senior people and those from different functions, but fail to seize the opportunity when presented to us in a platter in the form of such events.

Going to office and spending close to 10 hours on an average is really boring unless you have a diversion- something that you are really interested in which gives you a sense of happiness and serves the dual purpose of networking.

For me being a passionate writer, I choose to dabble with words and what better than become the editor of the Finance Newsletter at work. Those who read my blogs also know me to be passionate about having more women in the workplace- I was overjoyed to have found the Diversity and Inclusion work stream at my office which caters to this very need. Working on these, apart from my day job gives me a sense of fulfilment and has helped me connect with a diverse set of people across the globe.

Its ok to ask that question in a room full of people

A meeting room full of people including some senior MD. While he/she talks for some time and then opens up for questions/ views, there is often an uncomfortable pin drop silence and awkward smiles. Then someone breaks the ice and you look on grudgingly. How often has it happened that a question running through your mind which you wanted to ask but stopped yourself thinking it’s too trivial and a few minutes later someone else pops the same question and you hear ”Very good question”. You almost want to beat yourself up. You may not always hear “excellent question” but the fear of being ridiculed for a stupid question and choosing to remain mute and a nameless face is what puts many on a back burner.

In my early days I was usually very quiet at team meetings. I only spoke when I was asked to and about my area. I never questioned, challenged, enquired or expressed my point of view when others spoke. My VP once told me that its ok to express your opinion, people may agree or disagree, and there is no right or wrong. It’s just a POV. Let people know you exist, you have a view, be vocal. That made me think and I realized how important it is to speak up. This does not mean one takes undue liberty and monopolizes the meeting or asks completely senseless questions, but it’s important to shed those inhibitions and speak up.

Care about your juniors

Most of us spend all our time and energy in pleasing the boss and trying to fight a silent battle with our subordinates. We mostly chose to be indifferent towards our juniors. A fresher has just joined the organization and is struggling with the culture shift, raising access or having a hard time deciphering the accent of someone on call- do we bother to give a second glance. An ex boss I truly admire once told me that his most memorable moment in his stint was not his promotion but his interactions with people, the trainings he conducted for them which empowered them. That gave him a greater sense of fulfillment. It’s hard to practice but I made an effort since I heard my boss and I could truly feel the difference not just in them but in myself.

At the end people won’t remember you for what you wore or your designation but they would always remember you for how you made them feel.

I know of a friend who was desperate to move overseas, somehow nothing was working out. Out of the blue, an opportunity landed up. It was to his dream destination USA. Later he got to know that he had almost been struck out and the role was to be offered to someone with relevant experience but the hiring manager realized a junior person on his team had worked with my friend in his earlier days as an intern in India. His opinion was sought and he had great things to say about the team lead who was instrumental in helping him build his career. The manager decided to offer the role to my friend. What goes around, comes all the way back around, couldn’t think of a better example.

Working in a corporate is like walking the tightrope, the rope gets thinner as you move ahead but with the right set of values and being agile you can get to the finish without falling. And if you do trip, get up, shake that dust off and start again. It was a lesson learnt which only makes you wiser.

Apart from your mother there is only person who thinks of your career: YOU

This is one of my favorite quotes which I heard from a terrific corporate speaker and I decided to take charge of my career.

Akshata Ram

Akshata Ram

Associate Director at UBS

Akshata Ram is a gold medalist from Mangalore University and a Chartered Accountant who secured a rank in CA Inter.  She has been working with the world’ top Investment banks and has a rich experience of 10 years in the field of finance. She is passionate about her work and diversity at the workplace is something she is actively involved in.  Apart from her work, she is an avid blogger who writes on varied subjects ranging from women at the workplace, parenting, relationships, short stories and self-improvement.  She had won many accolades and awards for her writing.

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