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Seven golden rules for an epic investment banking career at one firm

Navigate the web, don't get stuck

Navigate the web, don't get stuck

There’s a popular perception in investment banking that to keep earning and keep learning you need to move jobs every five years or so. Staying put is stagnating, suggest career consultants and recruiters, so expand your skill-set and network by switching companies.

Logic dictates that loyalty for the sake of it isn’t worth it – after all, with the restructuring in the industry over the past six years, the chances are that the axe would have been liberally swung at your organisation at some point. And yet, according to investment bankers who have made it to the senior ranks by staying within one firm, there are many reasons for sticking around and clever methods for carving out a successful career without switching companies.

1. Get plugged into the decision-makers

It may seem a small thing to get to know the who’s-who in your bank, but given that most are sprawling global firms with thousands of employees, it’s beneficial to be plugged into the internal network for a long period of time, says Graham Ward, adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD who spent 16 years at Goldman Sachs, eventually co-leading its European equities business.

“Getting to know and being trusted by the people who lead all the different product areas and geographical divisions is a long-term process, and not something that can be easily transferred across,” he says. “Understanding and influencing this network is the number one reason for sticking around.”

2. Take baby steps around different divisions, so career progression becomes organic

It is decidedly more difficult to move from the back office to a revenue-generating position these days, but more natural moves into related areas are still possible. Reinventing yourself within the same firm may seem difficult, but you need to make any moves gradual, says Ziad Awad, who spend 13 years at Goldman Sachs and now runs boutique Awad Advisory in Dubai.

“The most common thread of people who have had a successful career is reinventing yourself in the same organisation, but this doesn’t have to be a big leap,” he says. “It’s not a huge step to move from trading to syndication, then moving from syndicate to capital markets is a more natural move. Once there, it’s possible to move into M&A, but done over a number of years with the support of your organisation, it comes more naturally.”

3. Develop a reputation for being willing to seize new opportunities

Geographical moves, particularly to emerging markets, may seem daunting, but they can also be a way to accelerate your career. Drumming up new business is a good way to develop a reputation, which could in turn lead to opportunities elsewhere, says May Nasrallah, who spent 15 years at Morgan Stanley, eventually as managing director, head of investment banking for MENA, and is now CEO of deNovo Corporate Advisers.

“You need to be open to taking on new roles and responsibilities that you are asked to do by your senior management, and accept the challenges and adventures that come with it. This will allow you to develop a diverse range of experiences that can ultimately open doors for you later in your career,” she says. “Being a well-known entity to the bank with a strong track record in performing makes it more likely that they will trust you to take on new managerial roles, which will help you further grow your career within the organisation.”

4. Get an advocate

This is absolutely key for progressing within the same organisation – if no one is supporting you, it is difficult to progress and may be worth moving on. “Large organisations like investment banks have become more political, so you need friends and advocates to progress,” says Awad. “Even those who are strong performers may find it difficult to progress and in that scenario would need to move somewhere more appreciative of their skills.”

5. Loyalty (literally) pays

Jumping to a new position after a dissatisfactory bonus is a common thread in investment banking, even now when regulators are cracking down on pay. This is changing – loyalty is becoming the new currency in investment banking, believes Ward.

“The days of moving for incremental pay increases are gone,” he says. “Traditionally in investment banking longevity was rewarded. We may be moving back to a model where banks value committed employees, and will pay them for their loyalty.”

6. Time on the sidelines is time wasted

There’s a chance that switching jobs too regularly could ultimately end up impacting your career progression, believes Awad. “You’re often on gardening leave for six months, and then it takes another year to really get your feet under the table in a new organisation and that’s a big dent in your career if you switch jobs too often.”

7. You become more credible

Imagine that you’re not in a senior management position but want to be considered an authority on a particular subject or upcoming project. Being a long-serving and trusted employee is the best way to achieve that, believes Ward.

“In order to develop as a leader you need to have credibility, and the best way to generate this is to work somewhere for a long time and become a trusted source,” he says. “You’re an unknown entity at a new employer. This has the advantage of being given a chance to prove your strengths, but your faults are also exposed fairly quickly.”

Related articles:

Six signs you will be rejected when you apply for a job at Goldman Sachs (and how to overcome them)

Reasons why recruiters reject you, and how to stop this

Six signs you have to quit your banking job in the next six months

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