Why tech staff in banks don't get promoted. What to do about it

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If you're a technologist in an investment bank, you're probably interested in getting promoted. Who doesn't want to make it to the top? But you may also be aware that whenever managing director lists are issued, technologist staff seem to be underrepresented. Getting to the top in technology is not always easy. As someone who has spent their career in finance technology, I've seen a lot of disappointment.

The good news is that many of the reasons you're not promoted are within your control. If you can solve them, there's always next year.

How are your soft skills?

When technologists approach me to make a case for getting a promotion, I always ask the same question: Why? - Why should I put you forward for a promotion instead of someone else?

Most of the time, they will tell me: "I am a great technologist, I work hard, get results and I feel I deserve it."

This is often true: their technical skills are usually great, as is their work and results. But promotion requires something more: you need good interpersonal skills too.

Look at the people above you in the organisation. How do your interpersonal skills compare to theirs? What are they doing differently to you? How would you compare to them in a performance review? And - most importantly - would you really want to do what they're doing each day?

If the answer to the final question is yes and there are gaps in your skillset, you'll need to build your softer skills with stretched tasks and project. Banks have promotion committees and promotion committees like evidence: if you want to get head, you'll need to participate in projects that will enable your manager to provide this.

Have you really had an impact?

If you want to get promoted, you'll also need a long hard look at what you've really been up to. You might be exceptional in your role day to day, but what have you done outside of it?

For example, what impact have you had on the team, the department, the business and the wider organisation? Have you brought the team closer to the strategy? Have you mentored junior members of your team? Can people talk about your impact? - Is it something your recognized for? What have you actually improved?

Is your manager blocking you?

This is a bit more sensitive, but I've seen technologists who don't get promoted due to a lack of support, planning or preparation by their manager. It might, for example, that their manager has put them into the promotion process before they're ready - they may be perceived critically by the team. Alternatively, the manager may present them too late so that there's insufficient time to prepare for the interview that leads to promotion, or the manager may not present a top technologist well to the promotion committee.

If this is the case, you need to recognize this in your manager. You either need to help them prepare, or you need to find a new manager in the organisation or elsewhere.

The numbers are against you 

Lastly, don't take it to heart if you don't get promoted. It's never easy to make it to the highest levels in an investment bank - by their nature there are only a limited number of roles. It can be even harder in tech.

The promotion committees are usually given a target number of candidates for promotion each year. Candidates have to be ranked: if you fall below the line, you'll have to wait until the next opportunity.

The target for tech promotions is often small. With the continued focus on downsizing in high cost locations, with vendor onboarding and offshoring, it's never been harder to get promoted to MD as a technologist in London or New York City. If it doesn't happen to you, don't take it personally. - But if you can work on your soft skills, impact, and "story", it will become more likely.

Nick has over 15 years of leadership experience in financial technology and is now a leadership and career coach specialising in helping leaders achieve successful, rewarding and fulfilling careers - nicholas-foster.com

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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