For all the talk the last few years about the large number of people leaving corporate life for the world of entrepreneurship, I know people who have made the opposite move – switching from working by themselves to entering corporate life and working for someone else. When going from working at home or in a small business to a larger, more formal work setting, a number of rules are different.

In response to a question over the phone about someone making the move from the entrepreneurial world to corporate life, I put together these 5 observations for anyone beginning a corporate job after being in small agencies and entrepreneurial ventures.

photo by: suze | source: photocase.com

The 5 observations about entering corporate life are based on my experience moving from a financially-strapped 2-person shop in my first job out of grad school into the Fortune 500 world and staying for a long time. During those years, I saw people do both great and miserable at entering corporate life. Here’s what the successful ones knew and did:

1) It’s not your show – at least not for now.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. once said he had trouble finding women to date because they never realized, as he put it, “It’s my damn show.” When you start your corporate job, it likely won’t be your show anymore. Know which rules you need to play by and which you don’t before you start making your own rules.

2) Listen and observe first.

Don’t neglect the importance of simply paying attention when you start. It’s perhaps the one time where you’ll have a free pass to listen and observe without having to jump in with a perspective right away. Use this very precious window to be lazy on talking and aggressive on listening.

3) Eat lunch in the corporate lunch room

Spend time with a broad group of people learning what they know. Spend time especially with people at the heart of where the organization makes money. Making sure you eat lunch in the corporate lunch room can go a big way toward making these important connections early.

4) Own all the ideas from your past.

Nobody cares where the ideas you share originated. Don’t name drop clients and former employers when you share ideas; it makes it seem like they’re smarter than your new company and co-workers. Go with it and own all the ideas from your past work experiences. Just share your ideas. No credit is necessary, unless one of your former co-workers has joined you in your new corporate life.

5) Watch your finances.

This is especially true if you have had to closely watch your finances up to now. You may be headed to a more lucrative situation. Try living on only part of your new incremental dollars; bank most of the rest. (I know from where I speak on this. I tripled my salary going from the 2-person shop to a corporate job and was playing big-time financial catch up.)

If you’ve made the move to corporate life, what advice would you add? – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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7 Responses to “Entering (Not Leaving) Corporate Life – 5 Observations”

  1. Karen says:

    Hello again…..liked this one. Edit note….check point 5, should be watching versus watch.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks for the early warming on the typo, Karen!

      Note to other people leaving comments: PLEASE let me know about typos when you see them! It’s great to be able to get them corrected. And Karen’s wonderful because she reads the blog really early in the morning and let’s me know, allowing me to fix them before the daily blog email is published!

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  2. AlexanderG says:

    Really great stuff. I’ll save this for the day when the fates declare I “go back.”

  3. nateriggs says:

    Thanks for the great post Mike.  You’re guidance is spot on. It’s been a big adjustment for me, but well worth it. Number 2 is the most challenging for me, but absolutely necessary. There’s a lot of things that are interrelated across departments and programs and getting the lay of the land is essential. Doesn’t mean I still don’t want to move fast though. 🙂 Just “corporate” fast. 🙂

  4. Reverse osmosis says:

    How about the reverse…long time corporate to small shop?