Devastated. That's the only word I can use to describe it. I was totally devastated.
I had just gotten off the phone with my VP. It was the summer of 2008, the shit was hitting the fan in the world of finance, and I had just been told I wasn't going to receive a return offer for. This was one of the most prestigious boutique banks on Wall Street - the fast lane to wealth and success - and it wasn't going to happen for me. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
I called one of the Analysts I was close to. He was furious. It was a small firm, only 10 or so people, and he was their golden boy. He'd told me the offer was in the bag...clearly he was mistaken. Now he promised to find out what went wrong.
Here's the short version: I spent the summer working exclusively with VP 1 and Partner A. I worked hard and managed to avoid making any major mistakes. They liked me and treated me well. Well, turns out Partner B and C are the ones that make the hiring decisions.
I could sit here and blame office politics. Working with the wrong people. Bad luck. Injustice. But here's the truth:
It was my fault.
The truth is, Partner B and C made me a little nervous. They were the bigshots. I knew they were the bigshots. They talked like bigshots, moved like bigshots, and laughed like bigshots.
Amongst the other Analysts I felt right at home. I could crack jokes, talk sports, and connect on deeper things. It was like being around my friends. I felt like myself.
Around Partner B and C, I felt off. I was worried about saying something stupid so I opted not to say much. And in trying to avoid making a bad impression, I made no impression.
At a firm where the supply of eager Analyst applicants outweighs the demand by 100x (literally), no impression = a bad impression.
It was a hard pill to swallow, but I learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day. Maybe the most important lesson of my entire career in finance.
Relationships are everything.
Unless you have obvious ownership over a P&L or investment returns, your relationships matter as much as anything else in the corporate world.
You can work your ass off and deliver A+ work product. You will still be out-liked and out-paid compared to the person with the most charisma.
I have seen firsthand an Analyst recruiting formake it all the way through the gauntlet of interviews, case studies, and investment presentations, only to get torpedoed when a Partner picks up the phone and rips on him to the portfolio manager at his would-be employer.
I also know Partners that have single-handedly gotten Analysts placed on the buyside with one phone call.
Now don't get me wrong, baseline technical skills matter. You MUST be able to do the job. You have to work hard. But the person who makes Partner isn't going to be the person with theskills.
No matter how smart you are or how hard you work, what matters most are your relationships with other people.
So with that said, here are five quick things you can do to greatly improve your odds of landing that promotion, raise, or new job.
1.) Make the bigshots look forward to seeing you
Smile. Keep your head up. You can look tired (or pretend to look tired) around mid-level bosses, but around the Partners, be a positive presence. Partners hate people who complain about hours, lifestyle, or working too hard.
2.) Create relationships that aren't entirely about work
Meetings, investment committees, office sitdowns, those are the times to dazzle the bigshots with your unparalleled intellect and financial brilliance.
But when you bump into them in the kitchen or the hallway, just make them smile. Figure out what they like, casually ask about it when you see them, and let them do most of the talking.
Every person you work with has something they love in their life besides work. They probably wish they spent more time doing it. The next best thing for them is talking about it!
Be their outlet for that. They'll enjoy talking about it, and they'll associate that positive feeling with you.
3.) Ask questions that create higher quality conversations
When you hear someone spent the weekend playing golf, don't respond "that's awesome, how'd you play?". Replace that with "that's awesome, are you working on anything in particular with your game?". Now instead of getting a one-word answer, you're hearing about the hitch they're breaking down in their swing. Higher quality conversations create stronger relationships.
(Caveat here: don't be a "try hard". If someone is racing around in the middle of a firedrill, don't stop them to talk about their weekend. Wait for the right opportunity.)
4.) Find people with hobbies that interest you and get involved
Boss likes a certain sport? Start a fantasy league in the office. Join a Chelsea Piers intramural team together.
Office full of runners? Organize an office Tough Mudder.
Someone does Crossfit in the morning? Start working out together.
Partner is a foodie? Take 30 minutes to find new restaurants that are opening up. Ask them for their favorite restaurant recommendation, go to it, and talk about it with them afterwards.
These are all real-life examples. And the time you spend doing these things together is worth more than any amount of small talk.
5.) Work for influencers
You have more sway over who you work with than you may realize, and you will be associated with whomever you work with. Take the time to find out who the most liked and respected VPs and Partners are. Any 2nd year Analyst or Associate will know who they are. Make sure you work with those people. Talk to your staffer or just ask the person directly.
Be nice to everyone. Be liked by everyone. But spend at least 50% of your time working for the right people. If they like you and support you, you are set.
Bring out your charisma, nail your relationships, and you'll be well on your way to that promotion or recommendation that you deserve.
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