In the old days many people perceived joining Wall Street was a golden ticket. They figured if you put your head down and work hard your career can be whatever you want it to be.
Some thought they would make their money and be done in their thirties or forties. Others imagined they would keep ascending to masters of the universe. Some figured they'd do a couple of years in banking, then the buy-side, then start their own fund. Today, many Wall Streeters are beaten down. Slaving away every day, they no longer see how their careers are working for them.
Here's five ways your Wall Street career has changed and what you can do about it.
1. A job on Wall Street used to be well-respected
You used to be able to say with pride that you worked on Wall Street. Sure, people still viewed you with the "is greed really good?" type of look, but they didn't look at you like your job was to burn down the economy and kick people out of their homes.
Today people on Wall Street sheepishly say, "I work in finance," rather than proudly announcing that they have worked their tail off to land a top job and work around the clock striving for success. Screw that. Take pride in what you do. Work hard. Do good work. Be proud of being ambitious.
2. Comp is not what it used to be
When I was an analyst you could reasonably expect to be a senior associate or junior VP making seven figures. More than fifteen years later many MDs are lucky to make that. Even on the buy-side, including the big PE shops, comp is hardly what it used to be.
Now, to main street this is ridiculous money, but consider what you have to do to earn it, and what it buys you. A forty-something MD whose been at it for nearly two decades, working around the clock under constant stress, earning six-to-seven figures paying 50% taxes, jammed into an apartment in NYC, London, HK, or otherwise, with a wife and 2.2 kids is hardly living the rich life.
3. Exit opportunities are not what they used to be
Bankers used to believe that leaving Wall Street the world of opportunities was open to them. Many corporate gigs are legitimately taking a step back. Most start-up jobs are buying an option, with volatility rarely priced in.
The buy-side used to be the panacea for bankers, but not anymore. The glory days of PE andare behind us. The mega funds and opportunities are a fraction of what they were a decade ago. The opportunities to strike out on your own and start your own fund are limited to non existent.
4. Accelerated path diminished
My timing was lucky. Joining Goldman in 1998, I was one of few classes in history that on a mass scale promoted second year analysts straight through to associate. Skipping a year and business school was a boon for me. Some might want to go to BS, I didn't.
Today it is much harder to be an analyst promote, business schools have gotten more expensive, and associate (banking and buy-side) comp has come down pushing out your "path to freedom" by a number of years.
5. Less appealing long-term track
At Goldman a normal path to MD was to spend four years as a VP. Today that is five. After that, making partner might take 2-4 years. Today that is more like 6+ (if ever). The same is generally true across firms and across the street on the buy-side.
The track has slowed down and the comp at every level is lower. Do the math. The long-term track has become less appealing.
Reading this you might say, crap, none of that makes me feel great about a career on Wall Street, and I would suggest that is the right observation. Because when you start from a realistic world-view you can then ask yourself, What Can You Do About It?
First, I would suggest that even if WS isn't what it used to be, it is still an incredible place to get your career started. What's a better alternative?
Where do you go to get the type of experience you get on WS? Where do you quickly build incredible business skills and a strong resume? Where else are you surrounded by some of the hardest working and smartest minds in business? You can go to a tech startup and hope to hit a home run. Or go corporate and get on the snail trail. WS may not be what it used to be but it is still an incredible place to get started.
Second, here's what really matters.
Once you are there, what do you do with it? How do you get your career working for you? It may be an incredible place to get your career started, but the long-term path is only lucrative for a fewer number of people.
As one of my partner clients puts it, there is still an incredible opportunity in banking, but only for those who absolutely crush it. So, how do you crush it? How do you step back from your career, figure out what it takes to win, and build yourself into someone who crushes it? And how do you keep your career working for you over time? How do you keep setting your sights on what you want and keep moving in the right direction?
The simple answer is: Focus. You must stay ludicrously focused on what you want and what it takes to get it, and keep building yourself into the person who can do it.
About Geoff: A former investment banker atand investor at the , Geoff Blades is an advisor to senior Wall Street executives, CEOs, and CFOs, on corporate and strategic matters as well as topics of personal and professional development.