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Eight phrases you should never say to your investment banking boss

Investment banks are all about ‘juniorisation’ – giving more power to analysts and associates, firing senior bankers and promoting fewer people to managing director.

Making your way up the ladder now is not just about being a top performer, it’s about networking your way around the organisation and knowing how to schmooze the right people. Key to long-term promotion prospects, rather obviously, is your relationship with those above you. The demands and concerns of senior bankers are changing.

In the new world, this is what they definitely don’t want to hear...

1. This is the way we’ve always done it

In the current period of regulatory and cultural change, one of the biggest frustrations of senior bankers is employees who have yet to move on from the glory days, says Nell Montgomery, a former Goldman Sachs sales trader who now runs executive coaching firm Preston Associates.

“The rules of the game have changed. Senior bankers don’t want to keep reprimanding employees who continue to behave as though nothing has changed since 2008,” she says.

2. I’m leaving, unless you give me more money

If you speak to recruiters, the whole idea of securing a counter-offer – getting a job offer and then going back to your current employer to barter for a pay rise – is a bad idea and inevitably leads to a departure in the medium term. Career coaches who work with bankers tend to agree.

“Counter-offers don’t go down well with headhunters or the boss. They don’t like to be blackmailed,” says Jeremy I’Anson, a careers coach who works with bankers.

3. I am an expert

Being a Master of the Universe is no good if suddenly your universe implodes. Whether it’s traders learning code, or a sideways move into another business area, you need to be adaptable, says Andrew Pullman, a former head of HR at Dresdner Bank and head of careers consultants People Risk Solutions.

“It’s all very well being seen as a key contributor, but you need to be adaptable as the skills needed are changing in banking all the time,” he says.

4. I have a problem

Managers aren’t agony aunts, they don’t want you simply to drop problems on their laps and expect a solution. “Senior bankers are time poor. If you’re complaining without providing some sort of constructive way of solving it, you’re just giving your boss a headache,” says Montgomery.

5. I’m bringing the numbers in, I want to be rewarded

Bonuses are under increased scrutiny in investment banking. It’s not just about your personal performance any more – softer factors like behaviour and ethical standards are being used as part of the calculation. Being views as a bonus-hungry banker is not the way to impress any more.

“You can’t go into banking and retire after ten years any more,” says Montgomery. “Banks want employees who are in it for the long-haul, not after a quick buck.”

6. I totally disagree with you

A good manager will expect push-back from their juniors, but open criticism without pondering the facts is unlikely to do you many favours.

“The open your mouth and blab approach can be ruinous. You need to take some time, ideally sleep on it, and come up with a considered approach,” says Pullman. “I know one trader who got in a heated argument with his boss and walked out just before bonus time. It escalated quickly.”

7. Everything is fine

As cheesy as it sounds, investment banks want visionaries. For all the bullish statements from CEOs on cyclical fluctuations rather than secular decline in the industry, senior bankers are still panicking, says Montgomery.

“Banks want strategic thinkers. They’re at a cross-roads where they can’t make money they old way, but no one is really sure how the industry will develop in the future. You need to ask tough questions,” she says.

8. I absolutely subscribe to our new values, but what’s really changed?

Investment banks are serious about changing their culture, making some tough decisions on clients and stamping out bad behaviour. If a corporate code of ethics seems like the sort of fluff you should pay lip service to, know this – your boss has really bought into it.

“Banks want to separate the sheep from the goats. Senior bankers are looking for integrity and adherence to their values. It’s not something you can take lightly,” says Montgomery.

AUTHORPaul Clarke
  • gg
    5 March 2016

    recruiters don't like counter-offers because they don' get the hiring fees if the candidate stays put.

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