Mod Note (Andy): Check out Wilowallstreet's AMA here. The AMA is still open and he is actively answering any question that you may have.
See my other recent posts: "Advice from an ex-IB MD on how to make it to Wall Street", and "Advice from an ex-IB MD - why aren't you getting those interviews?".
You have now been at a bank for 2-4 years, life is good. You are making $200-400k per annum. But you want that promotion, you want to make VP/ED. Here's my advice:
See the big picture:
The best analysts or associates I worked with, understood the bigger picture better than their peers. What this means is that you dont just update the model or the pitch book, thats not the point. The point is to win the business and make the client happy. So I want you to focus on the bigger goals, the bigger needs- and do it without being told to do it. The best analysts I ever had, would understand what the real goal is, and would do whatever it took to accomplish that, rather than just update a pitch book and pretend their job was done. That kind of thinking leads to an early retirement !
Predict the future:
The people who make VP are the ones that can anticipate business needs, the ones that know what the client or their boss is going to ask for before they ask for it. Better yet, they provide it before it is needed. Banking is a service based industry; think about how you can serve your clients better. This is probably the most critical skill, and applies at a deal level and at a career level. Most people inside banks work on a number of desks and do a number of different roles. Sometimes you want to be the TMT banker in Europe, sometime you want to be in ECM in Asia. If you can anticipate the environment you can keep the momentum in your career.
Understand and serve the client:
This is key. Your job is to serve and keep your client happy, and the bigger you define the word 'client' the better. The client is everyone from your immediate boss, to the team head, to the division head, to the eventual corporate client. The client is anyone who has a say in getting you paid. At the end of the year you want the guy/girl paying you to hear positive things from as many people as possible. The more you people you serve, the higher your value.
Treat every day as an interview:
A lot of people make the mistake in thinking that once they are hired that the interview is over. This couldn't be further from the truth. Your whole life you are interviewing for your next job. Especially in the current economy the opportunities are everywhere. You dont know who is watching, who is going to say good or bad things about you. Always be at your best all times. I have had people reach out to me internally to offer me new roles that I had never met, no joke this is how I moved from NY to London in 2009.
Get a life:
This means its no longer just about grinding it out. When you are starting out its important to put in the hours, but now you need to work smarter, you need to be more social, you need to build a network, you need to get to know people. You need people to like you. You are going to start to be paid for the relationships you have. In all honesty I was pretty bad at this, I was pretty anti-social till I got divorced the 1st time at age 29, so changed the game starting at 30.
Learn to think for yourself:
Analysts and associates are generally told what to do. They are told what's needed and when. A VP comes in the morning and knows what needs to happen today. You need to be able to make your own priorities and know what's needed for you and the business to succeed. Why should they promote you when you are still acting like an associate ? This is a big psychological leap because its so different from what you are used to in the first 25 years of your life. Until age 25 you have been rewarded for doing exactly what you were told to do by your parents, professors or managers. Most people don't know how to get this skill going and are always looking for input from others.
Read and listen:
This is about thinking for yourself. For the last four years you have been paid to learn. That's great, but now you will be judged on what you know. You better figure out a way to differentiate yourself. Figure out how to learn more than the competition. Just like every day is an interview, every day is also a test. Make sure you have studied for it. What do you know that others don't ? What's your edge ? Read 3-4 books a month, read a bunch of bank research, get color from your friends on whats happening in their markets.
Ask for help:
Hopefully you have been doing this for a few years already, but especially now you will need help. The biggest mistake associates make is that they don't train their analysts properly. They don't build the leverage below them to propel themselves higher. Remember if you keep doing associate level work, no one is going to make you a VP. We had a saying at the bank, 'you have to do the job for a year, before they give you the title'. How you treat and work with your analysts is critical to your future, a lot of people think it means you have to order them around. This won't be helpful over the long term. Read Drive by Daniel Pink if this is your problem.
Come up with some big ideas:
Think about how you can make the business better on a daily basis. Big or small it doesn't matter. There are countless things that can be done to improve things. Have a new idea every day. Make sure you share those ideas with others. A way to improve the process, a way to make clients happier, a way to make more money. James Altucher has helped me with this.
Ask those around you every three months about how you are doing. This means taking 5-6 people who you work with in a room and ask them to review you. This can be formal or informal, but nothing leads to faster improvement than regular feed back. Its priceless to know how others perceive you. IB's are political places and you need to know how you are perceived before its too late. Make sure you ask people who will feel open enough to tell you truth, and make sure you ask your boss and your analysts.
I'll leave it at that. If you want to learn more, there are a few books worth your time.
How to win friends and influence people
Throwing the Elephant (Stanley Bing)
What got you here, won't get you there (Marshall Goldsmith)
Most of all, every weekend just take some time to evaluate how your life is going and what you can do to improve it.
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