It took me years to comprehend why people functioned so differently in the corporate world from the way I functioned – or expected them to function. On the one hand, my clarity of thought, determination, ambitiousness, and creativity helped me excel in my career because these traits were highly valued in the competitive business culture; on the other hand, I found that when it came to people skills – particularly networking, leveraging influence, and positioning – my value system was very different from the one I met in the business world.
Turns out my parents didn’t raise a kid who was ready to face the cutthroat corporate environment, which is typically the case for many fresh grads who come from similarly protective and safe backgrounds.
Whether we like it or not, the corporate world is the real world, and we have to learn how to navigate it successfully. To help you get up to speed much more quickly than I did, I’m sharing some of the unwritten rules of the game. Nobody will tell you these things. Most of us have to figure them out on our own – but reading this guide can give you a head start on the competition.
1. Your Worth to the Company Is Tied to Your Last Performance Evaluation
I’m not kidding. Even if you were a top performer for five years in a row, you’re doomed if you didn’t manage to get a top rating this year, too, for whatever reason.
I know, not all companies are the same. You may think that in your amazing company, managers really sit down and evaluate all your results, compare them to your peers, iron out the differences in workloads and responsibilities, and give you a fair assessment.
That may be true for some, but many of you are in for a rude awakening.
2. Some People Are Only Nice to You When You Are Influential or They Need You
Once your level of influence changes or they no longer need you, so does their behavior.
Sadly, it is often the case that someone who became your best friend won’t even say so much as “Hi” once your role changes. As if that weren’t enough to shock the living heck out of you, that same person may soon be back on your team and have the audacity to treat you like a friend again.
I’ve experienced this twice, and I am still baffled as to how people can manage such extreme levels of duplicity. Maybe they think I suffer from amnesia?
3. Promotions Are Not Linked to Performance – They Are Linked to the Perception of Your Performance
We all view things through our own lenses. My map of the world could be drastically different from your map because of our differing values, beliefs, experiences, and cultures. When you are working in a diverse, multiethnic organization staffed by people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, differences in perception can matter a great deal.
Perception is reality. If you want to advance, it is imperative that you portray the right picture of your work and results to the decision-makers who matter.
4. Being in the Right Place at the Right Time Can Matter More Than Results
We all know that fortunate know-it-all who got promoted before everyone else despite their mediocre results. How did they manage to do that?
Building your image, networking, and exposure can get you places you never even dreamed of. Don’t rely on your boss to do it for you. Create a network of influential leaders, sponsors, and mentors who know you and your achievements. Then, as soon as an opportunity opens up, you’ll be top of mind with all the right decision-makers.
5. When You’re a Star, Most of Your Mistakes Will Be Forgiven
I have had the privilege of making some potentially career-lethal mistakes that went overlooked because I was delivering results and management perceived me as a star.
At the same time, I’ve seen cases where management was just fishing for mistakes so they could kiss an employee goodbye. The key is to be diligent and cautious at all times, especially when you are not completely meeting expectations. Even the slightest issue can get you into trouble.
6. High-Paid Opinions Hold More Weight than Low-Paid Facts
There are the actual data and facts, and then there are opinions and positioning. The opinions of higher-paid (and higher-ranking) people matter more in most organizations. Even when lower-paid (and lower-ranking) people have data and facts on their sides, top management has the right and authority to do as they please. The earlier you learn this, the better.
7. Sometimes It’s Okay to Dissent – and Sometimes It Isn’t
Most companies encourage straight talk and want you to speak your mind. What they don’t tell you is that, if you speak your mind too often, you might be labeled as negative, cynical, or narcissistic. There will be times when you have to choose between being in the right and being employed.
Before you blurt out your opinion, ask yourself what is at stake. How could your opinion be perceived? Is there a conflict between what you are saying and what the company wants?
Be strategic if you’re going to disagree. Back up your message with data, and deliver it in a non-confrontational tone. As you may know, it’s not the words that get people off their chairs; it’s the tone.
8.There’s a Fine Line Between Gaining Experience and Growing Rusty
You think that because you have 10 years of experience in your category of business, you are not only highly valuable to your company but also a great catch for your competitors? Well, think again!
In those 10 years, you have been pretty much doing the same thing over and over again, working with almost the same exact people the whole time. Have you ever delivered truly slam-dunk results?
Why would anyone be interested in you over the other guy who has worked in three different organizations, rolled up his sleeves to deliver in every role he’s held, and led his teams to stellar results?
The lesson here: Don’t get rusty.
9. Never Associate Your Self-Worth With Your Position or Performance
It feels great when you are the champ – but what what happens when you aren’t? And there will be times when you aren’t. Even if you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, you are bound to fail along the way.
How do you react when you fail? Do you tie your self-worth and self-esteem to your job? You will be absolutely miserable if you do. You have to keep in mind that there are many factors outside of your direct influence that determine your success. If you were to beat yourself up for failing in those ares, it wouldn’t be fair. Take pride in all the other roles you have in life when the going gets tough at work.
10. It Is Easy to Thrive on Mediocrity; Don’t Fall for it
Don’t be a victim of your own success. After you’ve spent years learning all the rules of the game, you’ll know how to play it with precision. At that point, it will become easy to fall into the trap of mediocrity.
So what if you don’t have stellar results? You can frame it otherwise. So what if you got passed over for a promotion? You have the right sponsors, and they will look out for you next year. So what if you’ve been on a dud assignment for the last three years? At least you have a stable, high-paying job.
This mindset is a kiss of death. It’s detrimental to your learning and growth; it is the path that ensures you get rusty.
You don’t have to. Institute a zero-tolerance policy for mediocrity, no matter how good you’ve gotten at playing the game. Push your boundaries and break the monotony.
Don’t struggle like I did. Give yourself a leg up in the business world. Learn these rules today, and really take them to heart.
You may feel overwhelmed and even a little despondent right now, but you’ll thank me later.
A version of this article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.
Samia Hasan is the founder of Direction Dose.