Erica. The Corporate World

posted March 26th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

Ambitions, Planning and Happenstance

Erica claims she never had any career ambitions. She had no idea what it would be like to work and never gave it a second thought. It simply was not done. In her generation, she doesn’t think parents sat around thinking how their children could build better resumes or whatever else might be required to achieve career success.

Erica went to her high school guidance counselor and did some tests which came back saying she should be an actress. In the end, she settled on applying to U of T. She was going to take psychology, however, she didn’t like it so she ended up in political science which she did enjoy. When, she finished her degree she didn’t know what she would do, whether she would go to law or MBA school or whatever. In fact, she didn’t actually think about MBA school because she had never heard of it.

Following graduation, she worked for six months at a dinner theatre where she ended up taking on the responsibilities and duties of an assistant manager without the title or the pay. This was something that had happened to her in most of her previous jobs and she could see it continuing at every job she did in the future. Although, she had been promoted in past jobs, she felt she would never be fairly rewarded if she didn’t stand up for herself and in some ways she thought an MBA would help her do so.

In this regard, Erica’s cousin influenced her decision to go to MBA school because she had an MBA and seemed to Erica to have a pretty good job at a consumer packaging company. Prior to completing her MBA, this cousin had majored in art history, so Erica thought if she can do it I can do it and she enrolled. In the end, she was motivated to obtain an MBA because she didn’t believe she would be properly compensated if she did not.

Erica graduated from MBA school in 1983 and the job market was not good. Regardless, she went through a series of interviews and although she had no idea what a job would look like says she somehow got one with the Province of Ontario.

She interviewed with the Province and got into the budget department of one of the ministries which had just bought some software. Erica had had one assignment using this software at MBA school and so she claimed in the interview that she was an expert and was hired for the job. In fact, Erica thought she was an expert until she started working and was surprised by her lack of knowledge and expertise. She had to read the software manual every day. In her mind, she was lucky because no one else knew what was going on, so she had some time to catch up.

Her next career step was to apply for a job at a Schedule B bank. The bank needed someone who knew how to use this same software and at this point, Erica had the expertise, so she got the job. She worked there for three years to reconstruct the budget application process and was part of creating the first pc based budget application in Canada. She was excited to have her picture in the paper, in connection with her work and found the job was lots of fun. Unfortunately, the bank ran into a liquidity crisis and had to close, so she went to work at a Schedule A bank.

She didn’t get laid off by the Schedule B bank. Her work had been projected oriented and there was simply no work to be done when the bank ran into financial difficulties. In those days, there were no severance packages, so Erica simply left the bank because she needed to find a new job. She didn’t wait around for some type of financial compensation.

Her banking experience meant she was part of a great network, one in which she recalls everyone helping everyone. In fact, she brought others to the same Schedule A bank she joined; some of whom became very successful there.

Her first job at this Schedule A bank was in the office of the chairman, in the department charged with a major organizational restructuring. From her perspective, the department had no real work for the first six months she worked there which she felt was quite boring, however, she thought she had better stick it out for a couple of years because it would look bad on her resume if she start jumping from job to job. However, she ended up in the treasury department at this bank, enjoyed the work and stayed for quite a long time.

She recalls that when she went for her interview at this Schedule A bank, she asked them about career planning and the individual from HR who was interviewing her told her they didn’t have any career planning programs for their employees. And she thought well at least they are honest. In the end, she thought it was great because you could actually make your own career; one could simply move around as much as they wanted.

And that’s how she ended up spending most of her corporate career in banking; it wasn’t really a planned thing. Today, she believes career planning is a waste of time; the best plan being to simply keep your options open.

When asked what milestones or road blocks stand out when she looks back and what she learned from them; Erica tells a couple of stories.

A man at her first job told her to go and ask for a raise after a few months of working which she says ended up being a very good lesson for her. She had taken the job and was doing her usual high quality work and things were working out really well. This man, who was a consultant there, suggested she ask for a raise in the context of the good work product she was producing and Erica said “I can’t do that I have only been here for 6 months”. He pushed her to “just ask for it. As a consequence, she made an appointment to see her boss and asked him for a raise and received a 2% increase in her salary during the wage and price control era; a time when you simply didn’t get raises at all. This was a revelation to Erica… she learned that what you have to do is ask for what you want. This was a huge learning experience for her in the early stages of her career.

When she was approached about being made an executive at the Schedule A bank, she didn’t want the job. At this stage in her career, she had been working three days a week and didn’t want to go back to working five days a week with all it entailed. She happened to meet another female bank executive who told her a man in her position would just negotiate for everything he could get in the same circumstances. So, Erica went back and asked for a four day work week, a big raise, a car etc and got everything she asked for.

Both of these experiences, taught her about negotiating which she found extremely valuable. She tells her executive clients today, whatever you do, if you do a really great job, ask for something; it doesn’t have to be a raise, it could be payment for a course, just be sure to ask for “stuff” and slowly, over time, your compensation will move up to fairly high levels. Superiors can always say no but they will usually give you something, if you ask for it.

When Erica thought about her time in the corporate world a little more, she wasn’t comfortable she was being completely honest with me. In fact, she says “I can’t believe I was so casual about my career … it might not be honest though. I did want to do well and I did want to be in management so I pushed for it. I also got very committed to the projects I worked on — sometimes to the point of obsession! Also, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never really reconciled to not pushing to go further in the corporate environment — even though I really feel my kids and probably my husband and I had a much better quality of life because of it.”

What’s Strikes Me?

Career happenstance versus any formal career planning or decision making. What’s necessary? What works?

Severance packages are a relatively new invention. How everyone helped everyone, when they were without other resources.

How we accept things later in our careers, we would find unacceptable at the beginning. Eg sticking with jobs and work which don’t challenge us for the sake of our resumes.

The importance of standing up for yourself.

Just ask for it.

Key words are fun, recognition, network, rewards, happenstance and planning, ambition and quality of life.

What Strikes You?

Please share your comments.

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