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GUEST COMMENT: How to get and keep a mentor that will make all the difference to your career in investment banking

Possible mentor

Achieving career longevity in investment banking has never been harder. At any point, you may fall foul of foul personalities or a change to your job spec. Your manager may feel inclined to upgrade you. Your new boss might lack the patience to understand you. Your career can crumble prematurely.

Having a mentor can make all the difference. As this Goldman employee explains,  a few sage words can prove pivotal to your career.

The beauty of a mentor, is that he or she will give you objective advice based on their own valuable experience. They can also stick up for you in important conversations. They may even prevent you from being made redundant.

But why would anyone agree to be your mentor? It takes time in a busy finance professional’s day to meet up with some junior grunt, listen to their problems and give advice, with no obvious pay-off.

I had a mentor once. I was their go-to-guy for advice on “young people’s issues”. Sounds incredible, but he felt totally out of touch with his kids whom he never saw, and by explaining to him who (the then equivalent of) Adele was, I helped him to build bridges with them on the rare occasions that he saw them. He knew that if anything ever happened to me, he would lose that link with his children. It was textbook quid pro quo. Machiavelli would have been proud.

Here are a few suggestions based on my experience:

1)     Be likeable – this is good advice in general for the City. I’ve seen plenty of people with longevity in banking based mainly on the fact that everybody thinks they are a nice guy. Not outstanding at their jobs, but appealing to be around. Take an objective look at yourself. Is this really the case?

2)     Bring them something – have something to offer which makes the relationship two-way street.  Perhaps you’re the senior guy’s insider, reporting back on whether the junior rank and file are happy. You might be demystifying social-networking for the chairman of your boutique – he feels he’s missing out by not understanding it but is too scared to ask the IT guy for help, so take him out of the office for a coffee and show him how Twitter or Facebook works using your iPhone.

3)     Set them a solvable challenge, unconsciously. Finance types love fixing problems, especially when they can see a road-map to a good outcome which doesn’t involve too much skin off their nose. It has to be manageable. Explain to them that you’re having a little problem at work and that you’d like their advice. If it doesn’t seem too hard then they will want to help for the same reason that they want to start any new work project – there’s a problem that they can help to fix. They’re drawn unknowingly to these challenges – after the first one, it is in their brain chemistry to seek more.

4)     Remind them of themselves when they were younger. This one comes down to luck more than anything else – maybe you played the same sport as them at university or you come from the same part of the world or share a common mother tongue. Work it, and it will work for you.

The author has worked for several City firms and is looking for a new mentor now

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