If you're a student or junior banker who's trying to make it on Wall Street, you need a mentor. Believe me: in my 17 years on Wall Street, I’ve come to truly appreciate what a powerful tool a mentor can be. A less experienced banker stands to gain a lot from absorbing the wisdom of a Wall Street veteran. I should know. I’ve bounced around enough to make anyone’s head spin: holding five different jobs and living on three different continents during my career. There’s no way that I would have been able to make it as far as I have without mentors guiding me.
But what if you don't have a mentor? What if you find one, but can't keep one? When you're struggling to find a senior banker who's on your side, you have to ask yourself why.
Do you struggle in maintaining relationships? Getting and keeping a mentor is much like getting and keeping a friend.
Your mentor needs to feel appreciated. He or she needs to know that you value his or her advice. That way, he'll keep on wanting to help you. I’ve met with and guided many younger bankers, and my favorites have always been the ones who thank me for my investment in them and check in with me regularly. It makes the mentor feel great to hear that the advice you gave them last week really made a difference and why.
If you can't find a mentor, you can't find someone who's willing to put in the effort and care about you. In this case, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself and put yourself in their shoes. Would you invest time and energy into someone with low energy and no motivation? Chances are, the answer is no.
Alternatively, maybe you just haven’t found the right person yet. Maybe you need to spend time on self-improvement. You need to show your potential mentors that you are worth it and you need to sell yourself! I always tried to avoid mentoring the junior bankers who I could not realistically see in the business five years down the road.
Alternatively again, maybe your pride is getting in the way. If you don't have a mentor, it could be that you're too proud to ask for help. This is a cutthroat industry. Trust me: I’ve seen dreams crushed and bankers reduced to tears. I myself used to cry in the bathroom during particularly stressful days. It can be tough to admit that you’re struggling because you don’t want to show weakness. But, asking for help will be the best thing you ever did. Mentors aren’t interested in spending time with stuck-up know-it-alls. Be humble and ask for guidance, and your career (and salary!) will thank you.
Like families, the best mentoring relationships all work for the same reasons. Firstly, the two of you will build a relationship. No matter how you meet, it’s always important to develop a good rapport. When I'm mentoring, I understand when junior bankers are nervous around me, but I always gravitate to the ones I feel like I can have a drink with. Be yourself,
Secondly, functioning mentoring relationships are appreciative. The mentee makes sure the mentor feels valued and understands that he/she is making a difference. Update them on your progress! Tell them that you tried their advice and let them know what happened. Even if their advice didn’t work this time, you’ll show that you respect them enough to follow their instructions, which will strengthen your bond.
Thirdly, functioning mentoring relationships are worthwhile. It's no good mentees asking for advice and not following through. One of the most frustrating things for me as a mentor is when people ignore my guidance. It’s hard watching someone fail and knowing that you tried to help them. If a mentor is dedicating time and energy to you, you should feel obligated to give their advice a chance and actually try it.
And lastly, functioning mentoring relationships are in the diary. If you want a senior banker to be committed to you, you both need to get in the habit of meeting up regularly. It doesn’t have to be a formal meeting - I would meet my first mentor for cigars and scotch after work about once a month. Usually, a setting outside of work is best so you can both relax and talk candidly. Make meeting your mentor a priority - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this relationship. Good luck!
The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learnt on Wall Street.
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