Corporate Characters And Where To Find Them
An insight into office life and the people within
When I started working in a global IT consultancy at 23, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew people in ‘office jobs’ but not what this working environment was truly like. Unless you have the luxury of an internship, which I didn’t, the university does not provide an accurate preview of the corporate world.
The overriding image I had, was that of Pixar’s Mr. Incredible; frustrated, depressed and hunched over inside an enclosed cubicle. There may have been a few Mr. Incredibles, but the personalities within were more varied than Toy Story.
Spanish Newspaper Guy
My experience thus far is that office work is either extremely frenetic or extremely sluggish. So there you have the two extremes, pardon the pun. This is especially true with regard to consultancies. As one resides on ‘the bench’ awaiting deployment to an illustrious client site — think of it as being like a soldier in the military waiting to depart for some far-flung war-torn land — time is largely spent training.
In this scenario, it is only human nature that one might develop a proclivity for browsing the World Wide Web, assuming that you are not employed in an Orwellian dictatorship. One corporate character that I happened to be situated behind, would spend many a morning (and evening) browsing news, presumably from his homeland, as the Spanish news websites received a good seeing to. For obvious reasons, I am not inclined to specify how long he spent on this activity, only to say that if ever I was to develop the symptoms of learning a new language, I am now relatively comfortable when conversing with a Catalonian bullfighter.
The Briefcase Guy
Usually a ‘higher up’, this is one that you may well be familiar with when imagining a typical corporate stereotype. However, I found that it really does take on a life of its own in such environments. For some, the briefcase becomes a part of them. Are you really a businessman if you don’t storm through the rat race at 8.45 AM, with the black, leather man-bag swaying in the wind. It makes you look important as if you have somewhere to be.
Such briefcase idolizers, more so in consultancies, will be found floundering between ‘head office’, where the aforementioned ‘bench’ resides, and their esteemed client offices. Nor will you actually see the briefcase open at any point. Don’t you know they are only dropping by and will soon whisk it away again toward the next location they perceive to be lacking a bit of swagger? You see, when on the bench, if not indulging in Spanish newspapers, you will notice such things.
There is no better time to ‘indulge’ than when you are in college or university, perhaps. Yet, when I was starting out as a graduate, I quickly noticed that all or most social events revolved around drink. While it is an acquired taste, one does not have to be a drinker to reap the benefits of such a culture. It was these after-work events that proved the optimal time for me to get to know my colleagues at a more ‘human’ level.
There is, of course, one character inhabiting this sphere, that will take things somewhat too far. And he can’t blame the Oktoberfest alone for his excessive merriment. Yet, to be fair, he was invariably popular throughout the office. Perhaps, it was his penchant for alcohol that developed his fantastic social skills. One day, when asked if he was joining us at a local establishment for a few, he quipped:
Oh, I think I’ll go for one or two or ten.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, new graduates may not have access to such social events. But, when things open up, it may be one aspect of corporate life that they might consider participating in. Take it from me, it will produce the most poignant memories.
The Funny Guy
In all likelihood, this is a character that you will encounter relatively early on. You will hear them before you see them. Keen to demonstrate their dominance and status as the office joker to all new joiners quickly. There may be more than one, I had the pleasure of dealing with two distinct types:
The funny guy who actually isn’t funny — With this guy and being a new graduate, you will initially find him funny and as you don’t really know them, you will laugh at their jokes. You think they are important somehow, but really there is a reason you are the target of their comedy show and not someone wiser and experienced — they have already grown weary of the poor standard.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a genuinely funny guy. As you are new to the role, company, and working life in general, things can get a bit stressful as you try to find your place. The genuine funny guy will be a breath of fresh air. You will find them routinely transforming the quiet, sombre lunchtime atmosphere in the canteen into a whirlwind of excitement as they recall tales of their escapades in a far-flung land. How they dodged bullets and enemy snipers in a Riyadh airport, all in the name of business travel. Their lust for life will rub off on you and may just give you the spark you needed to tackle the rest of the day. They will be prolific storytellers and magnificently extroverted and will enrapture their audience.
The Politically Correct Guy
Given the current politically correct culture, I did consider amending each character type in this article to include ‘guys and gals’. And I would have no problem doing so, sure, I’ve effectively written a paragraph about it now. Yet, I don’t want to succumb to such a toxic form of group-think, so for precisely this reason, I will refrain from doing so. As a new graduate, make sure you remember to think for yourself — at all costs — you will then be able to live with yourself.
It is likely that you will encounter a few politically correct characters. These will oftentimes be very nice, reputable people. While everyone is capable of putting on a proverbial corporate uniform and toeing the line, some will live and die by the rule book. Know these and accept them. They may be your manager, a Human Resources representative, or any senior colleague. And they will be in a position of seniority as companies like people who regularly go ‘above and beyond,’ and put the greater good of the company first. Perhaps, if you seek out their mentorship, it will be your route to the top. I just didn’t want it enough or wasn’t ready. But maybe it was the PC vibe that put me off.
So, for any current students about to embark on their first job in a corporate environment, I hope the above demonstrates, if nothing else, a sense that despite the capitalist system’s best efforts, the types of people you will work with are still very much human; each with their own traits, personalities, and idiosyncrasies.