Before I worked for myself (which is to say, before I became an independent contractor), I worked as an employee. IÂ held a variety of writing positions for a variety of companies.
In some jobs I produced software manuals. In other positions I produced software manuals and newsletters. In other positions, I created online help files. In nearly all of these positions I was exposed to a corporate culture that caused me to learn and grow. Most of what I learned has carried over, in principle, to my own writing business.
Here’s what I learned from corporate America:
1. First impressions are important.
I remember interviewing for a position. When I got to the building that housed the companyÂ I found that the parking lot was under construction. The surface was gravelly and very uneven. Of course I was wearing high heels and hose (the corporate look) so I managed to trip on the way into the building. My fall tore my hose and created a huge cut on my leg. I went to the restroom to try to cleanÂ myself up, but didn’t have any bandages handy. Like a trooper, I went ahead with the interview, but noticed that the manager’s gaze was constantly drawn to the bleeding wound on my calf. I don’t think that she heard a word that I said.Â Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. Lesson learned: Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that are professional, yet not fussy.
2. Dealing with Difficult People.
When I first entered the corporate world I’d sometimes encounter a person that it seemed I would never be able to work with. Either, they were loud and rude or they just didn’t seem competent to me. In order to cope with difficult folks, I resorted to prayer. My prayers gave me the patience to try to see issues from the other person’s perspective. The personÂ who had seemed rude, IÂ now saw as assertive. The person who had seemed slow, I now saw as having specialized knowledge in an area different than my own.Â It didn’t happen immediately, but, in almost every case, I found myself developing a friendship with the person that I had thought I could never work with. Lesson learned: Prayer works. Seeing things from another’s perspective works.
3. Watch Your Tone!
As I begin to use e-mail regularly in the corporate world, I was cautioned time and time again about watching what was said in e-mails. I was doing fine until one day another writer in our group sent out an e-mail to the entire groupÂ criticizing an article that had been published by a friend of mine. Most of what the e-mail contained was untrue, and in my indignation for my friend I responded to his e-mail a little too harshly. The next thing I knew, our manager had both of us in a conference room and told us to “work things out.” Lesson learned: Don’t answer e-mails when you areÂ angry. If you must err in your response to something it’s better to be overly gracious than overly defensive.
4. It’s Okay to Depend on Others
As a technical writer, I learned to work closelyÂ with members of development teams, testing groups,Â and trainers (as well as others). I relied on these people toÂ provide access to theÂ applications that I needed to document, to let me know when changes to the applications were made, and to review the accuracy of my work. Lesson learned:Â Â It’s okay to rely on reliable sources when you are writing.
5. Persistence Pays Off!
The corporate world taught me not to quit if you really want to accomplish something. One time I needed to speak with a software developer so that I could finishÂ the writing portion of the project on time. For some reason,Â the developer didn’t want to meet with me. Both his manager and my manager agreed thatÂ he needed to get with me.Â I e-mailed,Â I phoned, I used interoffice scheduling to set up meetingsÂ with no success. Â Finally, a day before the project was due; IÂ parked myselfÂ in front of his office. When he arrived I explained why I was there. He said that he was really busy and it would be a long time before he would be able to give me access to the application. I politely replied that I would wait even if it took all day. Guess what? Within an hour, I had the information that I needed. Lesson learned: Don’t give up after a single try.
6. Don’t Burn Bridges!
I am happy to say that, to the best of my knowledge, I would be welcomed back as an employee at every company where I’ve ever worked. It’s important to leave a company as professionally as you entered it. You may think that you are leaving a company for good, but what you don’t realize is that you have left a reputation behind you. One of my best clients comes fromÂ aÂ personal referral by a former colleague. I’ve watched many employees decide to “have it out” with the boss once they have decided to leave. Don’t do it. In one instance, a co-workerÂ “had it out” withÂ the boss because he knew that he would be going to work for a competitor company. The very nextÂ day a merger between our company and the competitor company wasÂ announced. GuessÂ who his new boss was?Â Lesson learned: Don’t burn bridges!Â
Contents (c) Copyright 2007, Laura Spencer. All rights reserved