It’s summer: your workload has slackened off slightly, giving you more time to ponder your career progression objectives. You soon conclude that your finance career is at a stand-still and you want to moan to your manager about not being promoted, or start looking for a new banking job.
You are not alone. The desire for better career prospects is the main reason why financial professionals change companies, according to an eFinancialCareers survey. Compensation came a distant second.
Before you quit your banking job or make any similarly drastic steps to enhance your career prospects, try talking (not whinging) to your boss first. Sounds like obvious advice, but almost 40% of employees who have concerns about their career progression actually haven’t done this, according to last month’s Market Trends Report by recruitment firm Ambition.
Talking to your manager about career progression isn’t as easy as it seems – the potential pitfalls are plentiful. Here are 12 tips from career experts that will help you get it right.
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1) Stop now if you’re not in a position of strength!
“If you still have a number of development areas to fulfil in your current position, this isn’t the time to discuss taking on more responsibility,” says William Russell, a director at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “However, if you’re performing to expectations or surpassing them, it’s a good time to meet your manager.”
2) Don’t wait for your annual review
A review meeting can be too backward-looking and too constrained by the company’s internal HR procedures to be an effective forum for discussing career progression. Set up a discussion with your manager that is independent of any other meeting, says Russell.
3) Invite your manager to a meeting in this way
Mary Rosenbaum, a New York-based career coach and former financial-sector recruiter, recommends the following invitation: “I’d like to sit down with you and have a conversation about what I’m doing in my role and – more importantly – how I can create more value for the bank.”
4) The company comes first
Make good on the above meeting invitation by focusing the conversation around how you can add value to the bank, rather than how you can become personally successful. The meeting should essentially be a “brainstorming” about how the company is expanding and how you can contribute to that growth, says Rosenbaum. “Always take a top-down approach – consider the company’s plans before your own,” she adds.
5) Mind the gaps
During the brainstorming highlight business or talent “gaps” within your bank that your skills could help to fill, says Rosenbaum. “For example, if there’s a new project going on elsewhere in the group where you could add value, ask how you could get to participate in it. Or if you have experience in Japanese equities and you hear your firm is looking at that market, tell your manager how you could help.”
6) Find the facts
Make sure you have examples to support your case for career progression, whether that’s performance/salary benchmarks or a list of recent achievements which underline your career potential. “Make it research-based and state facts,” says Robert Hellmann a career coach at Hellmann Career Consulting and a former capital markets analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who’s also worked for JPMorgan and American Express. “Research, observation and dispassionate facts – these are your best friends in this discussion.”
7) Begin by being positive
Nobody enjoys a meeting that starts with a complaint, least of all a manager. “So say something positive; begin by framing the discussion as a win-win – you and your manager are both on the same side of the table,” says Hellmann.
8) Say we
Continue in this communal vein throughout the meeting. For example, use “we” instead of “I” when stating your case. “Phrase it like you’re both trying to solve the problem together,” advises Hellmann. “What can we do to address this gap?”
9) Avoid the slightest suggestion of blackmail
Even if you know your skills are sought after by other banks, it’s best to avoid using your potential departure as a negotiation tactic. As we noted last month, holding your employer to ransom will probably be detrimental to your long-term career progression. Instead, do the opposite. “Emphasise your commitment to the bank and how you would like to progress your career within it,” says Russell from Ambition.
10) Link clients to your career
If you’re in front-office banking, your success largely depends on your clients – so link your career-progression plan to strengthening these relationships. “Make your case by saying you could be more effective with clients if you have different responsibilities,” says career coach Hellmann. “Or perhaps a different title would enable you to get the attention of key clients and thus be more effective on the job.”
11) Don’t push for immediate promotion
Avoid giving the impression that you are naturally entitled to a promotion; instead discuss the steps you can take to achieve a better job in the longer term. Hellmann says four key factors will determine whether you progress: 1) being ‘ready’ (demonstrating leadership); 2) ‘included’ (asked to the table for important projects); 3) ‘acceptable to others’ (key decision makers like you); and 4) in the right place at the right time (luck). “Part of the discussion with your manager could be around these areas—how can you become more included etc.”
12) Follow up
Don’t leave the discussion in the lurch – follow up with your boss one or two months later, says career coach Rosenbaum. “Don’t overdo it, but checking in with them makes them part of your career-progression success.”