Corporate Careers Offer More Than You Think – Part 1

Corporate careers can provide much more than just good pay and benefits. Let’s start with a look at how corporate work can help you unlock your potential!

If you’re one of the lucky ones who always knew what you wanted to be when you grew up, by all means follow your passion—be an artist, musician, firefighter, scientist, teacher, nurse or whatever else calls to you. It’s never too late to chase your dreams!

But if you’re like me and never had a career calling, or your passion won’t pay the bills, corporate America can be a great place to start and grow your career.

Sales, marketing, finance, engineering, it doesn’t matter. Any professional business field can provide a path to much more than you may think—financially, professionally, and personally.

Let’s start with a look at how corporate careers encourage and enable lifelong learning.

Corporate Careers: A Path for Lifelong Learning

After graduating college, I thought my schooling was over. Little did I realize my education was only just beginning. That my career in corporate America would provide a “degree” in self-discovery.

While I expected to receive on-the-job training so I could become a better marketer, I didn’t realize my corporate experience would provide an abundance of opportunities to become a better leader and human.

As someone who believes it’s essential to realize your full potential, I tapped into my fair share of professional development programs, resources, and experiences during my 26-year corporate career.

Some were helpful, some not so much. But taken collectively, I learned a lot. I gained new skills, knowledge, perspectives, and experiences that proved essential to my success in work.

And some even applied in my personal life too—turns out SMART goals can work wonders with your finances!

Professional Development is Good For Business

If you love to learn, and professional development and personal growth are important to you (and I hope they are!), then corporate careers have much to offer. Companies know that advancing their employees’ education is good for business!

The sheer volume of programs, trainings, resources, and experiences available to employees in corporate America is enormous. There really is no excuse not to continue your education after joining the workplace.

While some development opportunities are only offered to high-potential employees,  or those higher up in leadership roles, the majority of corporate programs, resources and experiences are yours for the taking.

So, let’s walk through what’s out there… stick with me, there’s a lot to cover!

1. Training & Development

Ready to become better at your job, and gain more skills specific to your chosen vocation—marketing, sales, finance, etc.? Here’s a rundown on some of the more common, company-funded resources available to you in corporate careers:

Industry Research & Resources – if reading is your preferred mode of learning, you’re in luck. I guarantee your company subscribes to services from at least one of the big-name business research and consulting firms, like Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, Gartner, or Forrester. Which means as a corporate professional, there is volumes of industry and vocation-specific information readily available to you—best practices, industry insights, market trends, benchmarking data, and much more.

Professional Associations – membership has its perks and joining professional associations can be a great way to keep current on trends in your field, attend events and grow your network, and maybe even earn an accreditation or certification. And of course, it’s commonplace for companies to cover membership dues and associated expenses for their employees. Yet another free resource for your ongoing development!

Mentoring – if you like to seek advice and learn from others higher up in the organization, mentoring may be for you. Many companies offer formal mentoring programs, matching up a high potential, or more junior employee, with a senior leader for the purpose of a professional development and career advancement. My experience with mentorship was more informal, but still helpful in gaining fresh perspectives on how to manage various workplace challenges.

Skill-based Training – there’s no shortage of skill-based training available to corporate professionals, both via in-house corporate trainers and external training companies. Do you want to be a better writer, speaker, negotiator, facilitator, mediator, project manager? Or maybe you want to level-up your proficiency with data analysis and pivot tables, or learn a new programming language? Highlight the skill as a gap in your professional development plan and ask your manager to send you to a training course. Again, learning on the company’s time and dime.

Professional Certifications – similar to skill-based training, certifications are another way to advance your abilities and knowledge. But you also gain a new designation verifying you’re highly skilled and knowledgeable—increasing your market value inside and outside your company. It’s likely your company will pay for these programs as well, as long as it relates back to your role.  

Degree Programs – I debated whether to include this benefit in the prior post as a financial perk, but opted to highlight it here. Regardless, it’s a huge benefit! Many large companies will reimburse most, if not all, of your tuition costs for a degree—both undergraduate and graduate. Cha-ching!

While I didn’t take advantage of this fantastic benefit myself (missed opportunity!), several of my coworkers did, including a single mom who earned both her undergraduate and J.D. degrees with tuition paid entirely by our company. Now that’s what I call making the most out of what your company offers.

No doubt it’s not easy to go to school while working full-time, and even harder if you’re balancing family demands too—but if you can swing it, I say do it!

2. Leadership Training

Companies love to develop leaders. The more you advance in business, the more opportunities for training and development come your way.

If you manage people, you’ll likely have some required training (not a bad thing). And if you’re recognized as a promising, emerging leader, or reach the upper ranks of senior management, there are even more development opportunities available to you, like…

Management Training – these programs are typically required for first-time managers, delivering training around essential managerial skills like how to set attainable goals, empower and motivate teams, deliver performance feedback and coach for results. They also cover important topics like emotional intelligence, inclusive leadership, and unconscious bias. Unlike most other corporate development programs, management training isn’t optional. If you manage people, you can expect to go through some type of management training.

Emerging Leadership / Accelerated Leadership Training – these programs are offered to employees who are recognized as high potentials and emerging leaders, and fall into one of two categories: 1) help employees in non-leadership roles become ready to take on leadership roles, or 2) help current leaders become better, more effective leaders.

While the duration of programs can vary from weeks to months or even a year, they often include some type of “leadership assessment” work (see 360 Reviews below), mentoring with senior management, team building with your cohort of peers, and even working on a special project to improve the business.

It’s a privilege to be selected for these programs. It means you’re in the pool of candidates that senior leadership is considering for next level responsibilities. So, if you’re selected, congratulations! And if you’re not, find out how you can be chosen next time.

Executive Leadership Programs – executive leadership programs help professionals become better, more effective leaders—but taken up a few levels. They often center around self-discovery, coaching and gaining even more skills to lead people, organizations, innovation and change initiatives.

Executive leadership programs are reserved for a company’s more senior executives, or for a select few, high-potential leaders. And they are often delivered through top-ranked universities—Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Northwestern, Columbia—with tuition running anywhere from $20K to $80K (paid by your company of course).

If this type of program interests you, and you’re seen as a high potential leader, try proposing this training to your boss as part of your development plan. I’ve seen this approach work for others.

3. Self-Discovery

Another overlooked benefit of corporate careers is you get exposed to plenty of opportunities to learn about yourself and what makes you tick. All big companies offer their employees resources like:

Work Style Assessments – these are tools used to measure aspects of your personality traits and work style preferences. You answer a bunch of questions and in return you get a report describing your “type”. They’re often used by HR staff to facilitate team building and help coworkers get to know each other and work together better.

I’ve taken several different assessments over the years, like Myer Briggs, Strength Finders, and DISC. I do think they offer value as part self-discovery, especially earlier in one’s career. You can learn about your work style preferences, how you respond to conflict, how you make decisions and more. Insights like these can help to heighten your self-awareness, which is essential for career success and advancement.

Coaching – sure you can expect coaching from your manager, but companies will often hire certified coaches to work with their high potential employees. Coaches can act as a neutral sounding board, helping you identify and change career blocking behavior, or work through career transitions.

I personally had a company-paid coach work with me on my development. It was invaluable in helping me understand ways I was holding myself back and turn them around. If you could benefit from coaching (and I think most professionals can), ask your manager, or go directly to HR, to see what’s available.

360 Reviews – this is how you can gain real insights into how others perceive you at work. It’s a process by which you collect feedback from your manager, peers, and direct reports about your work performance. The feedback gained through 360 Reviews can be helpful in identifying any potential issues or career blockers, as well as learning about key strengths and talents that you may not recognize in yourself.

Sometimes 360 Reviews can be deployed as part of a performance review process, but the other way (better way in my opinion) is to use it for pure self-discovery. The feedback is for your eyes only, or for sharing with a trusted coach for action planning—now that you know this about yourself, what are you going to do about it? It can be an enlightening development tool, helping you to pinpoint and prioritize areas for focus.

4. On-the-Job Experiences

I saved the best for last. Out all the professional development offerings, this category is by far my favorite. On-the-job experiences to live it, do it, and learn from it.

Get-Outside-Your-Comfort-Zone Experiences – this is a must-do category for personal growth and career advancement. And there are plenty of opportunities to get outside your comfort zone and push yourself in corporate America. You just need to take them.

It could be facing your fear of public speaking, networking with colleagues, or gaining the courage to ask your boss for a promotion. Or, maybe it’s time to take a leap and join a new organization that offers more opportunities for advancement. Whatever it is that you fear or avoid is probably a good place to start.

Personally, getting uncomfortable was a game changer for me in my career. Take the first steps, you may fall down a few times, but you’ll be amazed at what you learn and gain when you keep at it.

Stretch Assignments – these are somewhat similar to “get-outside-your-comfort-zone experiences” but are assigned by your manager as projects or tasks to stretch you developmentally. They are designed to challenge you and help you learn and grow. Stretch assignments can also be used to give an employee a high level of responsibility on a temporary basis. And if all goes well, leads to a promotion.

You don’t need to wait for your manager to come to you with a stretch assignment, this is an experience you can (and should) request. Think about a skill or experience you want to gain, and then approach your manager with your ideas.

Overseas Assignments – this is another excellent development opportunity that large global companies offer employees. In addition to being an awesome life experience, overseas assignments help to expand your worldview, gaining exposure to different cultures and diverse ways of working.

International business travel can offer this too, just in smaller doses. I never lived overseas, but I spent a lot of time traveling to new countries. Each time I traveled to a new place and spent time with local teammates, my knowledge and often appreciation for their way of life (and cuisine) grew.

If you work for a global company, be sure to seek out experiences to collaborate with international colleagues.

More Unexpected Perks & Privileges

So that about covers the many different development programs, resources, and experiences I was exposed to during my career.

I’m sure I missed some – are there other ways you’ve seen companies develop their teams and enable lifelong learning? Pls share in the comments below!

And be sure to check out next week’s post to learn how corporate careers can offer even more unexpected perks and privileges. This one is all about the fun-side of corporate work. Yes, there is a fun side!



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