Writing about my working life one day at a time is great fun, but today is Thursday and we’re nearly at the end of the week already! So today I want to pan out a little. For me work isn’t just about the actual work that I do sitting at my desk or in a meeting. There’s also the whole experience of ‘going to work’ for a corporate which I share with hundreds of other people I see every day – commuters on the train, people walking to their offices in Bristol, and with my co-workers at the bank. We’ve all made the choice to work for a larger company (or do so out of sheer necessity), rather than work for ourselves, or for a small business, or in the public sector or for a charity.
So is corporate life for you? It depends on what you want. Like academia, corporate life has its own rhythms, symbols, language and conditions which set it apart. Once you’re inside it, these things become natural and familiar to you. Part of the challenge for the PhD who wants to transition into the corporate world is mastering enough of the language and style of business to be convincing at interview. This is what I call presenting yourself as a ‘fellow professional’. It’s about emphasising the continuities between your work in higher education and your desire to switch careers into business. You just need a great story that explains this transition for the interview panel. You can read more about how I told my story, along with some hints and tips for telling your own, on my blog.
Deeper than the dilemmas of what to say and what to wear is the whole question of why you’d want to work for a corporate in the first place. Is it really like people say, that companies are only interested in profit, couldn’t care less about customers or the planet, and you have to sell your soul to work there? Well, not in the companies I’ve worked for. Personally I’ll only ever work for a company which I believe is making a sustainable difference in the world. Triodos Bank does that by lending money for projects which have a positive social and environmental impact. So when looking at corporate job opportunities, make sure you take a good hard look at a company’s record on sustainability, diversity and social responsibility, as well as the pay and conditions offered. If you don’t think you can afford to be that choosy, just take a look the papers and see how the tide is turning against corporate tax avoidance, pollution, unsafe working practices and excessive profiteering.
Which brings me to my last point – corporate life has its up and downs. It’s easy to get the impression that corporations are durable megaliths who’ve been around forever. That’s the feeling of stability they like to portray. The reality is that big companies come and go, workforces shrink and grow, and there are no ‘jobs for life’ like in the good old days. The reality is that sometimes you have to face redundancy or deal with restructuring when other people around you are laid off. The reality is that sometimes you’ll have to be prepared to up sticks and move on to another company to fulfil your ambitions. Triodos Bank is the fifth company that I’ve worked for since leaving higher education in 2000. That’s two redundancies and two career progressions. So ambition, resilience and a willingness to embrace change are important qualities in corporate life – qualities which I think one learns through doing a PhD.
So if you decide to go corporate after your PhD, my advice is to pick a good one. Use the next 40 years to do some serious good for people and the planet. Corporates are big, they have influence, and if you can steer that muscle, influence and ingenuity in the right direction, you have a machine that can change the world for the better. That’s an exciting feeling to have when you’re going to work.