“Working over Christmas helped me get to the top in investment banking”

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business woman working on desk office concept office christmas and happy new year.

It’s a common enough scenario in investment banking (especially here in Asia): you’re in the office over the Christmas season, but you don’t have nearly as much work on as usual (unless you have a deal to launch immediately after the New Year). Because Christmas in Singapore and Hong Kong isn’t quite as big an occasion as in the West, many bankers in these cities still clock in at work in between the public holidays.

I would often be among them during my 20-plus years as a banker (I worked in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong – most recently as an MD at UBS – and I now teach finance students at HKUST, NUS and Renmin University). I made sure I used the end-year period, especially the really quiet days between Christmas and New Year, to focus on my career and upgrade my skills in order to become a more successful banker. And I’d strongly recommend that you do the same.

In the first half of my career, I mainly used the festive season to improve my technical skills. I think it’s best to boost your knowledge in new areas that might help your career (and your clients) in the future. You can always get better at your day job during the course of the year with each new deal you do.

One December, for example, I read up on financial maths, and during another I got to grips with Bloomberg functions. And most Decembers I tried to pick up an understanding of new products, such as FX options, total return swaps and margin loans.

How did I manage to learn the basics in just a few days in late December? I chatted to my colleagues in other departments who’d worked on deals in the areas I wanted to know more about, and I asked them for in-house material to read. I certainly learned a lot more by reviewing actual pitch books, for example, than by reading generic textbooks or looking online.

Late December is also a great time to approach HR and volunteer to help at campus recruitment drives the following year. You could offer to speak at summer intern events, too. Don’t underestimate how important these small gigs can be when you’re building your profile within the bank, especially when you’re a junior trying to rise up the ranks. And by securing speaking slots now, you can steal a march on the competition.

During the more recent years of my banking career, I used some of the festive period to work on my ‘social selling’. I’d recommend this to all bankers. For example, make sure your LinkedIn profile is thorough and up to date. You would be surprised by how many bankers have short and elusive profiles – some just state their name and current employer, and don’t even have a photo or work history. You should also expand your netwroks (on LinkedIn and other platforms like WeChat) and publish your own thought-provoking articles.

Why? Online networking isn’t just important if you want a new job next year; it’s important if you want to succeed at your current bank. No matter how senior you are, be under no illusions: colleagues, clients, potential clients, bankers from firms you’re collaborating with, and candidates for jobs in your team will all look you up (and may follow you) online, especially on LinkedIn. Clients, for example, will often remember the banker whom they last saw online – perhaps they read a post of yours, because you write an opinion piece every month.

You could also use late December to connect online with colleagues from other departments (say ‘happy Christmas’ on the invites – December provides the perfect excuse to connect). I can tell you from experience that having a wide internal network (from the back office to the front) will help you get deals done more efficiency. Expanding and strengthening your online networks is now key if you want to make MD, bring in clients and manage teams. And now is the best time to do it.

Eric Sim is a former Hong Kong-based UBS investment banking MD, and is currently a guest lecturer at HKUST, NUS and Renmin University.

Image credit: baramee2554, Getty

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