Welcome back to another blog post of mine in which I am sharing some of my experiences in the corporate world. In the first part, I wrote a little bit about personalities and how my preferences have changed over the years. In this second part I will got right back to my beginnings in corporate life and how I started out.
I have decided that I will write longer posts like this one in more of an autobiographical, storytelling style to cover the past and once I have caught up to the present maybe share what the future could hold and my opinions on things.
In the interim, I am planning to write shorter posts to get a few real time stories out. I say stories but they will be all real…
Part 2 –
The year 2000 was quite a significant one. Not only for the whole world as we would all be witness of a new millennium being born but also for me personally as I would start life in the workforce in the office of a major bank.
I am from a mid sized town in Germany and typical for the country you would finish school and then have the choice to either go to university or you would do an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeships are very common in Germany and you would generally do one if you wanted to learn a job and not do something academically. This means, if you wanted to become a nurse, you would do an apprenticeship for that. The same applies to bankers who work in a branch (once a very reputable apprenticeship to have done, nowadays, not so much), builders, electricians, secretaries, shop attendants, sales people, chefs… the list goes on.
In the year of 1999 when I finished school and had to make that choice, I chose to do a rather silly, school based apprenticeship. I always had a talent for languages so I did that: On the beheft of my parents (“Son, you need to figure out what you’re going to do! You need a solid job!”) I signed up for an apprenticeship that focussed on languages. I am not sure what it’s called in English but I would call it a secretary with language skills (in German: Kaufmannischer Assistent fur Fremdsprachen und Korrespondenz). I chose English and French as my languages as I spoke English fluently and used to be proficient in French too so thought I could do this as a refresher which, in hindsight was a big mistake.
The course was two years long and frankly quite gruelling. They taught us all sorts of things that were never really in the realm of my interest: Short hand writing, economics, business maths and touch typing (!). Of course the main subjects were the languages which were business English and business French. The English bit was okay and you learned a lot of interesting things on how to communicate in a business setting. French was horrible. Really horrible. I think no one understood anything at all and the teacher got very frustrated with us. He was a bit of an arse as well, expecting nothing but high performance from us. He rubbed all of us up the wrong way and we were all annoyed with him and he with us.
In the second year we talked about pretty much nothing but French wines. That’s how resigned he was.
During the two year apprenticeship we would have to a four week placement in an office so we could see what the real deal was.
The biggest employer in town was an obvious target so I applied and managed to get my foot in the door. The first time in a big office, the first time having real colleagues and the first time experiencing the awkwardness of employed life of a large bank.
It was fun actually. At the time it all felt quite innocent and you felt like you could not do a lot wrong as you were only an intern. These four weeks flew past like they were not really happening. The people in the team were nice and very welcoming.
I made a decision: I wanted to work there once I got through the apprenticeship.
Luck was on my side. Towards, the end of the apprenticeship the bank was hosting an open day and I got to meet my colleagues from the internship again. The HR department gave an introduction too. I came prepared and gave them my CV with a cover letter.
I finally finished my apprenticeship and was hired by the bank as a temp.
I was now part of the corporate world.
I can’t exactly remember how long my temp job was… Maybe 1 or 2 months. However, they ended up hiring me full time and my first proper job commenced.
As I mentioned earlier the bank was the largest employer in town this specific branch was part of the back office for their credit card operations. My job was as part of the Card Acceptance division working in the authorizations team. The main part of the role involved taking calls from merchants to authorize their transactions either in bulk for mail order transactions This kind of job is extinct nowadays as the authorizations process has completely changed since the early 00s and it is all automated now.
As a beginner in the life of banks and credit cards in particular, the job was immensely exciting. I got to meet new people in my new team (they were all really nice by the way!) and life was pretty good. The first year was just good. I haven’t got anything bad to say and I had a fun time.
The team had been together for a while and I was the new guy. You could tell. Part of the job was to do shift work during the week and at weekends which meant you sometimes had to work either on Saturday or Sunday morning or evening. The morning shift started at 7.15 am and the evening shift started at noon. So, if you are the new guy on an early morning shift you would have to do the McDonald’s run.
By around 8am the first of the guys would say “Who’s doing the McDonald’s run?”. Of course I was one who had to do the run… I was the new guy after all.
Now, I wasn’t that hardcore at the time and the thought of eating a BigMac or a Quarter Pounder with cheese (or Hamburger Royal as we call them in Germany… cue the Pulp Fiction, Amsterdam analogy.) so I negotiated them down to 11am. I know… not hardcore enough.
The weekends were actually quite fun: On a Sunday not many calls would come in and we could do a lot of fun stuff.
Open plan offices are just made for frisbee. Sadly, management got wind of it and they banned the frisbee.
You could witness all sorts of things on a weekend though. With the early morning shift starting at 7am it would not be unheard of, of a couple of team members coming to shift on a Sunday morning straight out of the nightclub across the road.
Once, one of the guys had a nap under the senior managers desk, using said managers’ spare jacket as a blanket. What nobody knew was that the manager was actually coming in that day to check on us as a courtesy visit.
If he did notice our team member lying under his desk with his spare jacket as a blanket, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t go to his desk.
Later in the year, when it was appraisal time he did pick up on it though and the told the napper that if he wanted to take a nap that’s fine but he should ask first if he wanted to use his spare jacket. Class.
That senior manager had the respect of most of us as we was good, protective, knew his stuff and was overall likable. He had been with the company for ages and has done a lot for it. I like him and when it all went to pot as I will explain later, he did well. Got a nice redundancy package and changed careers entirely going into retail. I think his shop selling printer cartridges is still going. Nothing I would like to do but good on him.
As for me, I was quite enthusiastic about my job. I liked it and I learned a lot although, sometimes, I found it quite difficult to get used to intricacies of office life. Who can blame me? I just came out of school and having a properly paid job is miles away from going to school having to listen to teachers. When you start a job, you actually have to show some common sense and be a bit more grown up which takes some time adjusting to. It was quite an advantage that I didn’t have to listen to a teacher anymore and could pretty much make my own decisions. I was still living at home at the time but on the brink of moving out. Everything was going well… or so I thought.
End of part II
In the next part I will share my first experience with bad office politics and corporate malfunction. Stay tuned.