How to get a big bonus in a bank without working stupid hours

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Bonus banking

You’ve reached the end of the year, and the numbers are in. Like most people in banking, you probably had grander ambitions for your bonus than your boss did, and now you’re furious, or worse, disappointed with yourself. For those who fall into the self-flagellating category, I know exactly what you’re thinking. - This year I will do better. Work harder, take on more projects, wake up earlier, show more face, stay up later and scrap Christmas holidays. Except, just like last year, this won’t work.

So if shouting at your boss, face red and expletives flying is a major faux pas (remember the glass walls!), and if working yourself to the bone in the hope that someone, somewhere, notices and decides to remunerate you with cold hard cash - do not offer the solution, what is to be done?

I tell you what. Put on your shiny strategy hat, analyse the cogs that drive the system, and work smarter, not harder.

Strategy 1: Follow the dollar

This is an strategy taught to me by an early mentor way back when I was applying for internships. Follow the money, and by that I mean, the people making it. As a first step, this means that if you’re in a bank that has declining profits, revenues and headcount, get out now if you want a shot in hell at a good bonus, or even a job by the end of the year. No amount of work would save you if you’re at Lehman c. 2007. Make your plan to get off the sinking ship before it takes you down and half your professional network with it. A similar concept should be applied to your division and even team. If you’re not profitable, sooner or later, your bank account will suffer as much as your bank does, and there is nothing you can do to fix it, least of all by working away your will to live.

Strategy 2: Put your fingers in multiple pies

The most common mistake junior bankers make (as described by senior MD’s) is to sit in front of the screen all day, so that the best their colleagues can say about them is they have a nice head of hair and seem to spell well in their emails. Rather than taking on that additional project so you can work an all-nighter weekend, invest your time in your network. Especially the one outside your bank. Nothing pays like desperation (your future employers’ that is) so if you know everyone in every bank, sooner or later, someone will quit mid-project, and they will be desperate to hire someone, ANYONE, who has ever touched a spreadsheet before. It takes a large and well-connected network, but when you find such an opportunity, negotiate to your heart's content. I have seen bankers jump entire ranks because they had a skill/client/experience that someone else desperately needed along with the social backing from an existing employee. Unfortunately, this does require you to spend some time talking to people about topics other than how swamped /tired/ [insert your favourite job complaint here] and actually ask them about their day, what they are up to, what is new and if their team is coping well. Done correctly, this could cut your climbing years from Analyst to MD in half. All for the price of some chit chat over coffee.

Strategy 3: Find your mentors

This is my most powerful piece of advice. Mentors enhance your fundamental value as a person regardless of where you are or where the world is heading. Find yourself one (or two, or five) people you like, trust and respect, and cultivate a mentoring relationship with them. Ask them for advice, support and guidance, and then follow it. These people will become your biggest supporters. They will bring opportunities your way which match your aspirations and make you a genuinely better, smarter, more effective leader, strategic thinker and overall higher value employee. Space them out so that you have one in your team, one on the remuneration committee, and one at another company that you respect and might one day want to join. Bring them opportunities when you find them and thank them for their contributions. Stay in touch and show them your progress.

Believe me, it's not about working hard: it's about working smart. 

Sacha Nitsetska is a former investment banking associate at J.P. Morgan founder and CEO of an app that uses machine learning, big data analytics and gamification to connect mentors and mentees in the workplace in order to facilitate knowledge transfer between the younger and older generations. 

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