You’ll turn your boss off with slavish devotion and turn him on by doing his bidding. It’s a hard life says ex-banker and author David Charters.
Life at the bottom of any corporate food chain is tough. In investment banking it’s particularly so. Brownie points are hard to come by; excellence, timeliness and hard work are taken for granted.
Beneath the gloss of high pay and high living, investment banking has a high failure rate: at many firms the new entrants starting out in the associates’ pool know that only half of them will make it past the two year mark. They may arrive as bright young things, full of hope and ambition, but to the jaded cynics further up the line they are a fungible resource, identikit slave labourers to be put to work night and day, seven days a week.
In this environment, distinguishing yourself from the rest of the crowd is a challenge. Getting bad marks is easy – just try missing a deadline or mis-spelling the chairman’s name in a presentation.
We’ve all attended corporate briefings or ‘town hall’ meetings, where the usual sycophants sit in the front row and are guaranteed to ask an oily, ingratiating question. They usually look the part, aping the managing directors’ dress style, never letting down their guard when it comes to expressing views on senior management or the direction the firm is going down, and always first to sing the corporate song.
Reassuringly, it doesn’t always work. The point about bosses is they didn’t get there by being stupid. When they indulge in grandstanding or victory laps after a successful deal, they adopt a fig leaf of subtlety. They invite the chairman to celebratory drinks with the team, because the junior people on the deal have worked hard and it would be great to see that top management appreciate their efforts – for which read, I’ve done really well, these guys assisted me and I’m smart enough to go through the motions to give them a warm glow.
To get into this position, however, you will need to take few knocks without complaining that you’re being beaten about the head by an industry that expects total commitment 24/7 – this, after all, is what you signed up to.
So when your boss asks you to do another all-nighter – let’s say it’s your third this week – to produce a presentation for a meeting tomorrow morning that he’s known about for days, you grit your teeth and smile.
When he says he’s going out to dinner with his wife, but you should bike the draft round to his house later, you keep on smiling and think what excuse you’ll give your soon to be ex-girlfriend for standing her up again. And when he screams down the phone at you later that the draft he’s looking at doesn’t cover all the additional points he thought of over dinner, you make a Note to Self to improve your powers of telepathy.
Play this game and even if your boss doesn’t come to the conclusion that you are his soul mate, he will at least accord you respect. And when it comes to pitching to the management committee for bonus money, you may just be on his mind.
David Charters’ latest book, Trust me, I’m a banker, is published by Elliott and Thompson, price 9.99.