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Ever wonder why the idiots seem to always get ahead in the game? Ok, maybe not idiots, but it’s definitely not always the hardest workers, the most rational managers, or the friendliest employees. So I’m letting you in on a secret – there’s a reason why they end up there.

Each day this week, I will be highlighting a different industry and sharing the keys to successfully climbing that industry’s ladder of success. This is from my own first-hand experience as a Human Resources employee in each sector. Follow these tips to ease your climb to the job you want.

Getting Ahead in a Corporate Environment

The corporate world is the one of the easiest sectors to enter, simply because there are so many companies in need of employees. If you are willing to start at the very bottom, your barrier to entrance is quite low – and the pay and benefits are usually decent, if not stellar. To break in, this is a numbers game – the more positions you apply for, the better your chances.

Also, attending specific career fairs and networking groups, could help you get in front of the right person. A college degree is usually required, if not strongly preferred, for most salaried positions – although there tends to be several hourly opportunities for those to get their foot in the door without a degree, so hunt far and wide.


Be likable. Ugg, I know! But in the corporate world, being a “nice guy” is almost as important as the work you deliver – and in some companies, it’s even more important. You want to be the person that everyone likes working with, that is reliable, friendly, rational and level-headed, and is approachable. In other words, prepare your mask and make sure it doesn’t drop – ever. You want to be perceived as everyone’s friend – non-confrontational, outgoing and a team player.


Withhold your brilliance. Sorry to say, but you don’t want to be a superstar within the corporate world. In fact, your brilliance may deter you from succeeding. You intellectual property and ideas are one of the critical elements that sets you apart from your cubicle mate. Do not unleash your brilliance without understanding the impact: your boss may take credit for the idea; it may be seen as antagonistic; too forward-thinking; rash; not in the best interests of the company; and so on.

My point is, when you are low on the ladder, your ideas may not resonate as well as they would when you’re in a position of power. So work on your great ideas, but keep them to yourself until you’re sure influencers are in the room or you’re at the level of influence. Withhold your brilliance, but be sure to continually add value.


Your manager drives the bus. Your manager is your most important advantage/disadvantage in the corporate world. They literally hold the keys to your career in their hands. So for goodness sakes get along with them.

Bite your tongue off every hour if you need to, but they literally have veto power over your next move, so always keep that in mind. At every opportunity, make your manager look good – and make sure that they hear you doing that.

Never, ever badmouth your manager (unless they do something that breaks a policy or is abusive, etc.) – they got to where they are through their connections, so be very careful. You reflect directly upon them and they hold the “purse strings” – remember that at all times.


Build your own crossfunctional network of allies. While you manager drives the bus, you need to set yourself up for success. No one else is looking out for you or your career progression – I promise. You need to create a cross-functional group of key people and supporters.

You should have a good relationship with a high-level person (vice president or above) – if you need an entrance connection with them, seek them out as a mentor. In addition, you should have several allies at the level directly above yours so you are looked at as a peer while learning all about that role. And then be sure to capture other departments and support groups – executive assistants, IT analyst/help desk, marketing/PR, Human Resources, and so on. Your network will help build positive buzz around you when needed – and can also provide you inside information that can help you on your way.


Make Human Resources (HR) your friend. HR’s level of importance varies within each corporate environment – but one thing is for sure, knowing your Business HR person well, will always play to your favor. HR knows things, has more relationships than you do, typically has a strong say/opinion in promotional activities, and can be a resource of information, tools, resources, and so on – when you’re looking to climb. Have their support, and it’s much easier. Particularly when it comes to talent management discussions – they lead these and have a significant role in succession planning and determining your career path.


Overall, success within the corporate environment is somewhat easy to obtain. You want to be sure to not rock the boat, perform and deliver results, and be patient. Unfortunately, promotions within the corporate environment are still based heavily on time in position and are done at predictable intervals (reviewed once a year, promotions take place every two years, and so on).

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Emily Smith says:

    Great advice, Melissa! I’m still thinking about entering the corporate world (HR) after my teaching gig next spring and this is great advice to keep in mind as I begin to look for opportunities in the sector! Love it.

    • melissalywc says:

      Absolutely Emily – and let me know if you have any specific questions along the way in your hunt next spring.