Success in finance, as in most careers, is a lot about two things: what you know and whom you know.
The “what” is often a factor of self-directed learning, perseverance and experience. The more you read, the more situations you are exposed to that push you to the edge of your comfort zone, the better you’ll get at your job.
As to the whom, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of success. The upper echelons of finance often have the notion of being associated with an elite “tough to break in” niche network which you’re either a part of or not. Believe me, this is not the truth! The best individuals in the industry are those who really nail three elements in their interpersonal communication: they are polite, they are proactive and most of all they are persistent.
I’m an associate in M&A and I’ve been fortunate to have access to various individuals who have been gracious with their experiences and advice. These people helped me choose my course (accounting and finance) and my university (Warwick). They helped me start my career in M&A (I did three spring internships and one summer internship and was chairman of the finance society) and they’ve helped starting two companies. I’ve been polite, proactive and persistent, but I’ve also put a lot of energy into finding the right people to learn from.
So, how did I find my mentors? Firstly, I tried to be helpful to others. Whenever I was meeting someone new, I looked for ways I could help them. – Could I give them insights into what my generation wants from work? Could I introduce them to talented peers?
Secondly, I didn’t go out looking for mentors. When I was out meeting new people, the first thing in my mind wasn’t finding new job opportunities and advancing my career. I was out there to enjoy myself! I’ve “networked” at parties and bars, and I have also made valuable connections some of whom have become close friends.
Thirdly, I didn’t push it. If I didn’t “click” with someone, regardless of the possible “benefit” to my career, I didn’t stay in touch. In this way, people who may not have appeared to be particularly “career relevant” became friends often turned out to be incredibly helpful in other aspects of my life.
When I am out, my first goal is to enjoy myself and to meet interesting new people, think of ways to be helpful to them, and then decide to stay in touch with them because I want to, not because I need to. Good things tend to follow sooner or later. Trust me.
Surojit is co-founder of Guidelighter, a peer-to-peer networking and mentoring marketplace which aims to link university students with career guides who have the experience an applicant needs.