I’ve been in finance for 18 years. I worked my way up to become managing director at a leading U.S. investment bank and I now work in funds. If you play your finance career correctly, your pay can increase exponentially. After 18 years, I'm now earning 25 times more than when I started.
Not everyone achieves this kind of parabolic lift though. If you want to do it, you need to play the game correctly. This is how I did it.
I saw the bigger picture
When you’re working in finance, it can be easy to become greedy. I’ve seen many young guys make the mistake of becoming overly zealous about the next big sale. They focus on quick wins and in doing so they lose perspective.
When you’re in this industry, success isn’t just about the “next thing”. Sure, reaching a short-term goal is going to make you feel good. But what’s more important is to focus on the goals of the firm and the goals of the industry as a whole.
Only long-term goals are going to bring you lasting success. If you think ahead and start laying the ground for the next task before your boss even assigns it and if you start finishing projects before you are asked to, you will go far. When I realized this, my career started taking off and I made VP at 28.
We had a saying that proved to be true time and time again: “You have to do the job for a year before they give you the title.”
The key to promotions is to show your bosses you can excel at that next role, before you even get there. You must learn to think independently, to prioritise the company’s needs, and most important of all, be confident in your abilities.
I asked for criticism
Everyone makes mistakes. You’re not going to be perfect. If you make a mistake, don't take it to heart and beat yourself up over it. This isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Learn from it.
Constructive criticism is not something to be ashamed of. Receiving some not-so-great feedback on a project does not mean you’re awful at your job. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get fired and it doesn’t mean your co-workers are laughing at you. Be resilient.
Believe me, nothing can ruin a career faster than taking criticism personally. So, don’t be afraid to ask others for their opinion before they offer it. This shows true desire to improve, and that will get you far.
I welcomed change
Finance is a fast-moving industry. Change is continual and ubiquitous. Being adaptable will set you apart from others. Remember that nothing is permanent. You need to be on the lookout for new opportunities within the company.
When you work on Wall Street you are always learning. It's one of the things you'll learn to love about the industry. You are constantly expanding your horizons, constantly growing, constantly challenging yourself. If you’re not the kind of person who’s adaptive to change, this probably isn’t the career for you.
If you’re not searching for new opportunities, you’re probably never going to move up within your company. This means your income’s not going see much of a change as well. You’re going to remain stagnant. Without change, it’s impossible to increase your earnings.
I went for it
In closing, don’t be afraid to ask your bosses for what you want. There’s no shame in asking for a raise or a promotion. I’ve found that for the most part, you need to vocalize what you want.
You can’t assume that people know what’s important to you. So go communicate your needs and wants and what you’re prepared to achieve them. No one can guess what you want. It’s your responsibility to own your career.
Put together a business plan for your life and career. Relentlessly execute it. Then watch the money roll in.
The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learnt on Wall Street.