Advice From an Advisor to Senior Wall Streeters

Mod Note (Andy) - We're reposting the top discussions from 2015, this one ranks #22 and was originally posted 9/20/2015.

I'm so impressed by the thoughtfulness of the WSO community and I wanted to start contributing ideas that I think will be of great value to the community.I've worked on Wall Street for 17 years. I started as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and worked in four different groups and offices over eights years before resigning as a Vice President and joining the Carlyle Group as a distressed debt investor.

While those were my day jobs, for the bulk of my WS career my night job was researching the question—How do you get what you want in your career and life?

Spending a decade researching these topics I left WS to teach what I learned and today I'm an advisor to CEOs and senior Wall Street pros helping them to create the businesses, careers, and lives they truly want. In my first post I want to share with you some ideas related to navigating your choices at this early stage in your career.

1. MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE

Reading the comments in an excellent post Advice from a Seasoned equity analyst, I saw many of you are asking great questions on how to make the right choices at this early stage in your careers.
From the outside many of the firms and jobs look similar but as you know they are all very different. The work, lifestyle, people, and career track in say Sales & Trading are about as different to Investment Banking as working for Uber. So, how do you make the choice that is right for you?

2. MANY OF US DON'T KNOW WHAT WE WANT (EVER!)

Making good career choices is particularly hard because many of us don't know what we want. Even many people in their fifties still question their career choices (some ot them are my clients).
When I began exploring these topics I was an associate in Goldman's Menlo Park office. Before the Internet bubble burst and half my colleagues were laid-off I thought I was a lifer, but then I found myself stepping back and asking—"What Do I Want?"
After close to a decade of research I came to discover the question is in fact false. And rather than seeking one all encompassing answer, see it as a question that you answer differently at each point in time. So rather than seeking the "right" answer, you want a process to keep figuring out the right answers over time.

3. THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD IS "OPTIONALITY."

Getting your career started, nothing matters more than optionality. Even if you think you know what you want, you can never be sure until you are doing it. And you want to get your career started in a way that enhances your optionality.
Worst-case scenario is an MD I know who has been an analyst, associate, VP, and now an MD in FIG banking. He wants to make a move, but not surprisingly his options are limited.

Some ways you can improve your optionality are: 1. Working for a firm where you can make internal moves. 2. Work for a top-tier firm (e.g. For me transitioning to the buyside as a VP was greatly aided by coming from GS). 3. Work with people who are well networked and will help you make moves into PE, HF, and business schools. (indeed a number of firms sell candidates on their willingness to help you make moves) 4. Work in high optionality positions (e.g. I left technology banking and moved to leveraged finance because it opened up my options for the buyside). 5. Exceptional performance once you are in the door.

4. START WITH THE BIG PICTURE VISION

More important than making the one right choice today is making the choices that keep you moving in the right direction towards your long-term vision.
If you know what you want, great. But if you don't, it's all good! Really, if you don't know what you want, the harder you try to find an answer the more lost and confused you become. So simply start with a big picture vision.
Close your eyes and imagine the life you truly want. Even if you have no idea how you will create it, for now just get excited imagining what this life is. Really imagine it. What is your life like? Where are you? What sort of people are you surrounded by? What are you doing in your career? Specifically, what types of things are you doing every day?
Really enjoy doing this. Look all the way out to the end of your life. Look twenty, ten, five, one year out, and really dream up the career and life you truly want. I can't emphasize enough how powerful this process is and remember all you need for now is a vision of how you want your career and life to be.

5. COME BACK TO REALITY

Whether you are dreaming 50, 20, 10, or one year ahead, the only thing that matters right now are the choices that are right in front of you.
Whether you are an MD looking ahead to making partner or in college looking ahead to getting your first job, your reality is the same. Whatever your vision, wherever you think you might be headed, the only way you are getting there is the step that is right in front of you. So move from thinking about the big picture and get focused on the one choice/decision/track that is right in front of you.
Ask yourself, what more can I be doing to optimize my choice? Think carefully about, what is the right step for you?

6. WHAT IS THE RIGHT NEXT STEP FOR YOU?

As you know the most important word is "optionality" and you maximize your optionality by putting yourself in a seat in which you are most likely to succeed. To keep it simple, think about two topics.
First, ask yourself, where are you most likely to win? What are you good at? What is your comparative advantage? In what seat will you really shine? For instance, if you have fantastic Excel skills, put yourself in a seat where you can model. If you are much better at writing, think about where you can best leverage your skills.
Second, think carefully about what you love to do. You will work harder and be more successful doing what you enjoy. If you love watching the ticker of the markets, then IB is going to be less interesting to you. Similarly, if you love technology, you are far more likely to excel in technology investment banking (even better if you are a computer science major).

7. COLLECT INTEL

Sitting on the outside it's impossible to know how suited you are to the job, which is why internships are incredibly valuable. Every person you meet is selling you on what they do (even if on the inside they are really thinking about what they would rather be doing!). Almost all jobs and firms sound cool when delivered by one of these salespeople, and it's essential that you develop as much first-hand intel as you can.
Be diligent and go the extra mile. You're here on WSO, buying resume and interview guides, participating in these discussions you are taking your career incredibly seriously. Take this step offline into the real world, and see just how many people you can spend time with who will help educate you.
You might be surprised how many WS pros are willing to take the time and meet with you if you approach them in the right way, and you prove to them that you are respectful of their time. Invite people to coffees. Go to lunches. Do everything you can to get in front of people who can help educate you on this important decision.

8. THE GAME IS JUST BEGINNING.

Once you have the job, get incredibly focused on getting started right. Take your time off, get relaxed and into the right mindset, yet also think and plan ahead to how you expect to hit the ground running.
Nobody cares what your background is or how hard it is to get up to speed. They care about how fast you hit the ground running, how much value you are bringing, and what you are willing to do to be excellent at the job.
Check out the great post—15 Things I Wish I Knew As a First Year Banking Analyst and think carefully about how you start with a bang. Ask yourself—what does it take to be good at the job? How can I be training myself now to get a step ahead? (e.g. become great at Excel before you show up). How can I train my health and mindset to cope with the stress and long hours? How can I train my skills to win? (e.g. Sharpen your communications skills with How To Win Friends and Influence People and nail time management with Eat That Frog)

Good luck! I'm excited for you. Joining Goldman Sachs out of university fundamentally changed my life, and I'm hoping Wall Street will do the same for you.

Full disclosure: I have a book coming out next month titled Do What You Want on Wall Street. But I'm not here to sell you a book and you won't find these ideas in my book. I created this post specifically for the WSO forum because I want to share with you the ideas I wish someone had shared with me when I was getting started in my career. If I get sufficient interest from the WSO community I'll keep coming back over time and sharing with you more of my best ideas.

 

Good advice- although I did have a good chuckle at this line: "2. Work for a top-tier firm ".

It's hard to get into a good firm, a combination of perseverance and sheer luck.

********"Babies don't cost money, they MAKE money." - Jerri Blank********
 
Best Response
BrokerJoker:

Working at a top tier firm is a great move to start or even enhance your career but, it should not be looked at as a requirement or a stepping stone to achieving your goals. There's always more than one path to your goals.

This. In my situation, things are looking pretty good for me to grab a BB Summer Associate position next year.......coming from a background and stats that probably 90% of people on here would say is impossible to pull off.

Play the hand you're dealt well and you can grab the pot away from those with a strong hand.

 

That's the attitude. Completely agree with both of you. It's not a requirement, and there are many paths to your goal. You are all on here because you are looking for the absolute best ways to play the cards you are dealt.

In my career I've seen kids hired at Goldman from colleges that typically weren't even looked at. It happened either through networking, where that person got in front of the right person and impressed them enough to give them a shot, or through sheer tenacity, such as a guy I remember who flew to another city to meet Goldman recruiters at a different college.

If you want it enough and you're willing to do what it takes, you will make your own luck!!

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com
 

We need more people at this level of seniority on here. Whatever's caused the spike in "I'm here to give back after a 15-year career" posts this month, I'm happy.

+1

I am permanently behind on PMs, it's not personal.
 

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