Ben, my co-founder at Charisma on Command, previously wrote about the importance of relationships for getting promoted and surviving in the finance world. I wanted to go into the details of the specific things you can do to get ahead.
I never worked in finance. But I did spend two years in consulting. Over the course of those two years my salary more than doubled (no other analyst at my firm came anywhere close) AND I received a remote work arrangement when I asked for it.
Here’s how I earned my bosses trust and got those sweet, sweet perks:
Be perfect and incomplete rather than complete and imperfect
In school and college, completion is valued over perfection. You’re better off guessing at every multiple-choice question and botching a few. Better off hitting your page minimum by filling it with crappy content.
This dynamic shifts dramatically in finance and consulting. When you make spelling errors, you’re seen as lazy. When you make math errors, you’re seen as downright dangerous. If someone else catches those errors, you destroy their trust in your work.
So when presenting a half-completed piece of work to a higher up, you’re better off showing half of the scope done perfectly, than the whole scope with a few errors. Leave some slides saying, “to be completed” rather than rush through without double-checking your math.
Own up to mistakes - open up to criticism
One Monday morning at 9am I got a call from my direct superior that started like this:
“I leave for two days and you shit the bed.”
I expected that call. I knew I had messed up. But I could still feel myself tensing up. Reflexively, I wanted to defend myself.
Instead I relaxed my clenched muscles, let the criticism sink in, and apologized sincerely. I wasn’t trying to get off the hook. I told him I was going to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Within 5 minutes the same guy was saying, “Sorry for coming on so aggressively. You know I have your back.”
That’s the power of owning your mistakes.
When you screw up, fight the instinct to defend yourself. Instead, open up your body language. Look your boss in the eye and listen to his grievances. Apologize specifically, in slow measured breaths, and mean it. If your boss feels like you haven’t learned your lesson, he may keep chewing you out. But when you own your mistakes and commit to changing, most people tend to get right back on your team.
Do small, unsolicited favors
For lunch, I used to order Chipotle online every day. I’d pick up orders for my co-workers when I went to get mine. On days when they were swamped, I’d make sure to find them in person to ask if they wanted me to pick up their lunch.
This had nothing to do with my job. But every review I ever got jokingly referenced Chipotle. When I left for my remote work arrangement, my bosses lamented that Chipotle would not be making deliveries on those days where they couldn’t make it out to lunch. Grabbing lunch for people cost me nothing and brought me closer to everyone in the firm.
Knock the high leverage situations out of the park
You’re going to have a handful of high leverage situations with your bosses over the course of a year. Spend the effort to go all out on these.
A few examples:
Holiday parties at the boss’s house: You’ve got to show up with a bottle of something. Make it a bottle of the hosts favorite drink. And then spend the extra $40 to get Macallan 18 instead of Macallan 15.
Fire drills: Step in, unasked, when your boss or co-worker is really drowning. The extra work you take on will pay you back in spades.
Company outings: Don’t just make an appearance. Clear your calendar and plan on not sleeping if necessary. You want to be there when a 7pm ball game turns into 1am cigars and whiskey (and depending on your firm, a 3am strip club).
Extracurriculars: Lift with your bosses. Drink with them. Bowl with them. Just find a common interest and get out of the office so you can interact like human beings instead of their subordinate.
Make your concessions clear without being a whiner
You’re going to get pushed around a lot as low man on the totem pole. Often times these mandates will come in the form of “requests,” like, “Can you get that for me by Monday morning?” asked on Friday at 8pm.
There is a temptation to be Johnny Agreeable. To say “Yeah, no problem!” That simplistic response can actually hurt you in long term. It makes you seem like you have nothing better to do than work on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll get dumped on.
Don’t be the guy who has no weekend. You can still be cheerful, but make it clear what you’re giving up:
“I had plans to do [x] Saturday, but I know this is important and I don’t want to leave you hanging. I can work instead and get it to you by Monday.”
Don’t make a big production of your loss. Don’t be a whiner. Just state it once.
That no-drama concession will not go unnoticed. It’ll stick out in people’s minds when they think who is putting in the most work. Plus when you need something, like a weekend off, your boss is more likely to grant it.
Give personal feedback a month before formal feedback
My friend Dave did this and it changed his life in finance.
There was a direct superior who was riding him hard. And when he did, it was generally in a thoughtless way. He’d send off emails condemning Dave to 10 hours of work over the weekend without so much as thanking him. Dave knew it was coming, but the lack of appreciation got to him.
With reviews a month away, Dave calendared time to give the guy personal feedback. When they sat down, Dave explained how he thought the guy was a great boss to work for (compliment sandwich) but how he could improve if he was more thoughtful in his requests.
Dave didn’t threaten. He told his boss that he wanted to be able to give him a review that would guarantee the promotion he was gunning for. Dave told him this was one area that he could think of for improvement and he wanted to let him know before review time came.
Dave’s life immediately improved. Every assignment was more thoughtfully given and his workload dropped. When it was time for reviews, Dave could give his boss a stellar, enthusiastic, and honest review. His boss got the promotion and everyone was happy.
Remember: Your job description is not just what’s written on the contract. Give these tips a shot and Paypal me when you get your next big raise