It arrived via interoffice mail in a plain cardboard box. My Microsoft 10 year service award. A 6-pound shard of solid glass. It somewhat resembled the obelisk on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Presence.
Its weight was metaphorical as well: had I really been creating content for the same company for a decade? What about the death of worker loyalty? What about the end of the full time job? Yet all around me, obelisks sprouted from windowsills and bookshelves, all suggesting a more stable working reality for me and many of my colleagues.
A misconception exists that working for a large employer like Microsoft for many years is an easy deal. I can only speak for my profession – technical communication – but remaining competitive and ambitious within a large tech corporation is a prerequisite for survival. Here’s 4 more things I learned from my 10 (OK, 11) years at Microsoft:
1. Love the product more than your title. Large corporations offer an unmatched opportunity to impact products that are used by millions of people worldwide. Don’t accept a role working with technology, products, or services that don’t inspire you, even if the position you hold matches your preferred job title or skills. A corporate re-org can put you in this situation without your consent– don’t be afraid to begin your job search when that happens, either inside or outside the company you’re at.
2. Stay current with skills your company isn’t using at the moment. Large companies often use proprietary internal software tools. This is largely due to their own wealth of technical development resources and the prohibitive cost of licensing large scale mainstream products. Knowledge of those mainstream products, however, keeps you competitive. If your company is using home grown tools for content publishing, metrics, design, or other tasks, make sure to train yourself on the big name equivalents.
3. Embrace the performance review. Microsoft’s review system is notoriously tough, but many big-name corporations are just as competitive. The annual review is largely composed of managing others’ perceptions: Seattle management consultant Walter Oelwein writes brilliantly on this topic. Early in your career, find a mentor who can teach you how to communicate your accomplishments to management skillfully during your annual review. Don’t skip this step. It’s more important than much of the busywork that will fill up your year.
4. Don’t overstay your welcome. Here are some signs that its time to make a change:
- You can’t picture your next move within the company.
- You’re more interested in other work.
- You’re afraid to leave, because you love the prestige, benefits, and stability, or maybe you just think that you won’t fit in somewhere else.
I’ve seen many careers derailed because of the third bullet in this list. Always break the golden handcuffs when you’re no longer doing something you love, even (and especially if) you have a family to support. Your career depends on it. In the words of Steve Jobs, “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”