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How to Swim, Not Sink, When You’re Thrown in at the Deep End

In an era of cost-cutting, juniors have one key thing going for them – they’re cheap. While increasing numbers of director and managing directors are being shown the door, junior level staff are suddenly being handed a lot more responsibility.

More investment banks are planning an “MD cull” or targeting those earning more than $250,000 base salaries and are quietly assigning relatively junior staff to replace them, according to Financial News.

On the one hand, this is a great opportunity – obviously money and job title will come further down the line, but taking on greater responsibility can only be good for your career in the long term. However, it’s equally as likely that you’ll bite off more than you can chew, which could ultimately be detrimental. How can you ensure you survive?

1. Know what you’re getting into

Undoubtedly, whenever your boss has a quiet word in your ear about the possible "promotion," he’s going to sell it to you in a favorable way, but do you really know what it entails? You may grasp the opportunity with both hands, but this could be a mistake.

“Make sure you are completely aware of what the new role will entail, including workloads, amount of overtime required, team dynamics, additional meetings or less flexibility in your daily tasks,” says Neil Owen, global practice director at Robert Half. “Just because a role has a more senior title doesn’t mean that you are going to enjoy all that accompanies it.”

2. Know what the longer-term priorities are

Assuming you throw yourself into the new role, work every hour that God sends and succeed in completing every new task, will you be given the recognition you deserve? Maybe not, says Dr. Rob Yeung, director of business psychologists Talentspace and author of E is for Exceptional.

“You could bust a gut getting a project or assignment completed, but it may not have much of an impact when it comes around to assessing your performance,” he says. “Prioritize; find out what the long-term goals are for that month, quarter and year and ensure you’re working toward them.”

3. Find out what you’re lacking

In an ideal world, any sudden increase in responsibilities or promotions shouldn’t come as a shock to any self-respecting investment banker. Linda Jackson, co-founder and managing director of outplacement firm 10 Eighty, says they encourage people to “continually manage their career” so they’re prepared for any promotional opportunities.

“When the role presents itself, they should be well-positioned to identify what skills they are lacking and take action to address this,” she says. “In investment banking, because it’s so competitive, most people should have thought of this.”

4. Find out what new skills you might need

This is connected to the point above, but moving up the ranks in investment banking can mean evolving your skills to include client-facing aptitude as well as the more quantitative demands of your early career. Being rapidly handed more responsibility necessitates speeding this process up, says Logan Naidu, CEO of recruiters Dartmouth Partners.

“You could be a very diligent and thorough analyst or associate, but suddenly adapting your skill-set to include the ‘flair’ sales and marketing element needed further up the ladder can be more challenging,” he says.

5. Try and secure a mentor

Obviously, senior bankers within your department fearing the axe are unlikely to extend the olive branch and make themselves available as a mentor, but the value of having one shouldn’t be underestimated. You may have to look further afield.

“You need an open dialogue to make the most of a mentor, so we’d recommend targeting someone out of your department, if not outside of the organization entirely,” says Jackson. “A mentor can help you quickly acquire any missing skills.”

6. Become a corporate monster

You should, says Owen, make sure that your personal goals are aligned with that of your company. This means, ahem, living the brand and showing that you understand the corporate vision.

“It is important to know the priorities for the department and organization as a whole. Tailoring your contributions to that of the larger organization will demonstrate that you are a team player who shares in the corporate vision and strategy,” he says.

AUTHORPaul Clarke

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