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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 ?

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Comments (20)

  • Going Concern's picture

    Mostly spot on, good stuff. Though I tend to view getting people lunch as less kick ass and more kiss ass...coffee is okay though.

    "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."

  • kidflash's picture

    RE the part about 'make concessions without whining,' could you expand a bit on this? I'm still a senior so I'm obviously naive about how the real world works, but it seems like it can do a lot more damage than benefit...

    From internships, I've had a mentor tell me that senior guys don't care about the why; they just want to know if you can get it done or not.

  • In reply to kidflash
    Charlie_KickassAcademy's picture

    I'm referring to those times when you are asked to go "above and beyond." I was in the consulting world so my idea of "above and beyond" is probably much less than the finance guys' idea. But it might mean getting hit with a lot of work over the weekend or asked to pull an extremely late night.

    I'm still suggesting you agree to put in the extra work during those times. But what often happens is some guys say, "Yeah, no problem! I'll have it by Monday morning!" That's great. Those guys win points for being helpful, dedicated, non-complainers. Unfortunately, I've also seen those guys get huge workloads dumped them on more often while their effort is less appreciated.

    A simple way to be more appreciated is to let people know what you're giving up to fulfill their request. So Friday night, when they ask, "Can you finish this by Monday?" say, "I had plans to go out with friends on Saturday, but I know this is important and I don't want to leave you hanging, so I can reschedule with them and work instead. I'll have it done by Monday."

    This accomplishes a few things:

    1) You've tied it back to caring about the requester in saying, "I don't want to leave you hanging." This let's them know you're looking out for them. They are likely to do the same for you
    2) You let them know ONCE what you're giving up to make it happen. When they know you're rescheduling plans, they're likely to have softer deadlines the next time.
    3) You're being helpful and not complaining. It is really easy to go overboard by bitching about how you're getting too much work thrown at you. That doesn't help. That's why I suggest mentioning what you're giving up only once.

  • j-phone's picture

    I think you need a bit of luck to be promoted or do well - sometimes a lot of luck.

    To do well, you need good bosses. Normally, as a junior, you don't get to choose your boss. You might have multiple offers and can choose which group to join, but you can't choose your boss.

    I firmly believe that one should be rewarded for the amount of work one does. You should not work more than you are paid to do. I think the concept of learning in Wall Street is a bit of weird concept and senior guys use it as an excuse to treat junior people like a piece of ****. You need to learn the job, but after 5 - 6 months, you are pretty much there. You have learned 95% of the skills you need to do well in corporate finance. Compensation structure is the key in attracting the best talents. Any firms that don't pay their employees enough won't do well - employee moral does affect the performance.

    You sometimes have bosses that don't understand that. In my life, I have been supervised by ****heads who wanted me to learn, learn and learn (and I was borrowing money from my parents to make ends meet in the most expensive city in the world). I eventually told him to **** off.

    I also had a boss that checked up on me everyday without pressuring me to do more work. There was this boss who knew exactly how to encourage people to get things done.

    I also had a boss who had no ****king idea what goes on in the office. I was doing most of work, but an analyst that spent most of his time on Facebook (and vk.com) and knew how to suck up got promoted.

    Yeah, to succeed as a junior, you need a good boss.

  • Lana.'s picture

    Good read. Eventhough I feel, that being the guy that brings everyone meal and the guy everyone dumps work on are not too different.

    Sure, you do not lose much ordering a bit more and delivering it, but it feels kind of "end of the food chain" to me. Did you make sure that would not happen?

  • In reply to Lana.
    smpat04's picture

    He said he picked up their lunch... not bought it for him. They order from Chipotle, he orders from Chipotle... not picking it up when you're already there imo is a seriously dick move.

  • In reply to j-phone
    smpat04's picture

    After working for just shy of a decade in several industries, I can tell you one thing: business is people skills. Promotions are people skills. The only job that you can advance in without having your bosses love you is sales... which is entirely people skills.

    I can't tell you how many times I've seen people passed over for promotions purely because their boss didn't like them, regardless of the fact that they were excellent at what they did. I myself was in the middle of being promoted a few years ago (entry level) and the paperwork hadn't all gone through. My boss got transferred to another unit and the new one didn't like me... pulled my paperwork out and gave the promotion to one of HIS favorite subordinates.

    It's all politics. You can learn to play, or you can decide not to play (which paradoxically is a way to play in itself). In my experience the people that refuse to play are overworked, underpaid, and exceptionally unhappy, and the people that choose to learn are promoted way ahead of them, with less experience in the job but more experience where it really counts-- with people. After all- managing people is people skills. You can't be the next CEO of GS if you can't get the people to follow you.

  • redrocksky's picture

    One glaring point that sticks out to me is the part about apologizing. I've been told by family and friends that the only time you should say sorry in the business setting is in the context of expressing condolences because it can make you look weak otherwise. I think you can take responsibility for your shortcomings without saying sorry. For example, if you made a mistake and your boss chews you out for it you could say, "I understand my error and will do my best to not repeat it. A corrected [x] will be on your desk as soon as I'm finished."

    Overall though, I thought your piece expressed an informative view.

  • IlliniProgrammer's picture

    This is a good article. I agree with Charlie on getting people lunch. If you are going anyway and other people are working, it costs you nothing. If you do it for everyone, starting with the people you work most with, it's not ass-kissing, it's maximizing utility for the entire team.

    This will not help you get your second promotion. But it will help you get your first, so long as you take care of the people closest to you before you grab your boss's lunch. And it works just as well for your first promotion as a 27-year old at a PE firm or hedge fund as it does as a 23 year old at a bank.

    At the end of the day, people want to work with nice people. They also root for nice people to get promotions. Smiling, grabbing people's lunches, and helping folks on projects are a few of many ways to signal that you are a nice person.

    Even for quants, even for programmers, people skills matter. But it's much more simple here- it really just comes down to being a nice person in the context of your team. It may be more complicated in banking (and to be fair trading really is about PNL), but the rules are so fricking simple in quant research. Double and triple check your work, be a nice person, treat people with respect (in the context of a geeky culture), don't raise your voice at people.

  • rufiolove's picture

    @"Charlie_KickassAcademy" and @"Ben_KickassAcademy" I like the name change! Excellent post and keep the good work coming!

  • In reply to rufiolove
    Going Concern's picture


    @Charlie_KickassAcademy and @Ben_KickassAcademy I like the name change! Excellent post and keep the good work coming!

    Name change? There are two guys broski.

    "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."

  • In reply to AndyLouis
    Going Concern's picture


    he means the name change from kickass academy to charisma on command

    Oh...I think the new name implies that charisma isn't meant to be a permanent part of your personality but something artificial since it needs to be turned on/off when needed/not needed

    "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."

  • In reply to Lana.
    Charlie_KickassAcademy's picture

    Yeah, it could certainly have gone that way. If people were thanklessly forcing me to pick up their meals I would have been bottom of the food chain for sure. But I was well-liked and it was something I offered freely. Far from lowering my status, it made me tighter with my bosses so they looked out for me more

  • In reply to Charlie_KickassAcademy
    Going Concern's picture

    I see what you did there

    "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

    "Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent."

  • AcctNerd's picture

    Really great tips here. I'm not sure how well the concession/whine email works as a standard. That might need to be done on a case by case basis.

    Based on my personal experience some of my superiors responded well to things like that, while others said in no uncertain terms that they "don't give a shit if it is your birthday or not, you signed up to work here and we didn't make it a secret that you were going to have work weekends."

    "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." - Mickey Bergman - Heist (2001)

  • alphaSledge's picture

    Great post, agree 100% on owning up to mistakes. It happens to everyone, sometime more often than we'd like. I've seen lot of people come through who can't quite understand this, and then wonder why people hate/dislike/frown upon them.

  • Monkey in Acquisitions's picture

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