Is the Corporate Career Track Right for You?


A corporate career was once the dream for middle class America. It provided financial security, social respect, and a shot at reaching the upper class.

Today, the corporate career track is profoundly different than in the past. Billion dollar startups and average-joe media sensations have robbed the corporate life of its glamour. Ever growing classes of college graduates have undermined its promise of accessibility. Generations of disgruntled middle-management employees have undone the hope of upper class mobility. And finally, massive layoffs over the last decade have completely disassociated the concept of financial security from the corporate ideal.

The corporate career track will never be what it once was in the minds of young professionals, but in many ways, it still offers similar opportunities for those seeking to climb its ladder.

Is the corporate career track the right choice? Let's look at a few pros and cons.

Pro: Fantastic Career Entry Point

The corporate career track is one of the few places graduates can make real money in an entry level role. If you've done a job search recently, you'll notice that "entry-level" positions at small to mid-size businesses often demand 2-3 years of experience. It's very hard to find a competitively salaried first year position anywhere other than a corporation, and your other options are pretty much unpaid internships and hourly positions at small companies.

As an entry-level corporate employee, your networking opportunities are fantastic, and the pay is great for that stage of your life. Excluding liberal arts degree holders, first year employees at larger established firms can expect to make upwards of $90k. Including liberal arts types, the averages is a more modest $44k, still a luxurious sum for your typical 23-year-old. Hang around a few years, and suddenly, you start to qualify for those hiring ads. At around the five year mark, you will have turned yourself into a marketable hire, and you begin to approach your career with options.

Con: Lack of Long-Term Career Stability

The easiest way for top employees to move up the ladder is by transitioning between companies. Those that stay typically do so for a reason, and a lack of upward mobility is effectively the stamp of employment expiration. There will always be new graduates to do what you do for less money. (See also: How to Finally Get That Promotion)

The corporate track is no longer a lifelong guarantee of middle class money for mediocre employees. If you want stability, you have to be irreplaceable. For many, this looks like carving out a niche for themselves rather than climbing the corporate ladder. The rungs shrink as you move up, and everyone who doesn't fit falls off.

Pro: You'll Nearly Always Be Paid Well

There are two types of corporate employees: those whose impact can be measured directly and those whose impact cannot be measured directly. If you fall into column A, your home runs will be noticed, and the firm will do everything in its power to keep you happy and moving up the ladder, which typically means a salary weighted for your potential.

If you fall into column B, there is a fantastic chance you are entirely replaceable, and due to the nature of corporate salaries, this means (in a strict market sense) you're being overpaid. There are, of course, numerous exceptions, but the general principle is that large firms shell out a lot of money to their employees when compared to non-corporate employers. There is simply a lot more cash being thrown around in this world.

Con: You'll Probably Live for the Weekend

The corporate grind is real, and there are a plethora of other career options that offer the liberty we crave. I've never met someone whose dream was to work in a cubicle. Even the high-flyers spend much of their life within the white walls of formality and strict professionalism. Most of my corporate-track friends tolerate what they do but are ultimately living for the weekend. Personally, I'd rather live seven days a week.

It Comes Down to You

No two firms are alike, and I would be lying to say there aren't opportunities out there which combine the great pay and networking opportunities of corporate life with the freedom and excitement of a freelance career. By and large, however, you'll find these pros and cons hold true.

What do you want? The very thing that drags your friend down might make you come alive. If you're at the beginning of your career and don't know where to start, I'd recommend using the corporate track as a temporary entry point. You will make far more money and build far more profitable connections in your first five years at major firm than you will anywhere else. Just remember to get out when you still can!

Did you follow a more traditional corporate career path? Are you still following it? Please share in comments!

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