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"Why I made VP aged 28 and you might not"

It was 1999 when I started out as an analyst in an investment bank. It was 2007 when I became a VP. My path to the mid-ranks of finance was smooth, but not everyone is as lucky. If you want to make VP in banking before you're 30, you need to hope that the following things go right for you.

Don’t get fired:

The number one reason you might not make VP at 28, 29 or even 30 is that you aren’t in the game anymore. As you rise through the ranks you are going to cost more.

For this reason, people are going to wonder whether you're worth it. These days, desks increasingly consist of an analyst, an associate and an MD. If you want to progress, you need to prove that you can make the leap to MD one day, or you’ll stay an associate. If you want to stay, you'll need to be good - so good that they don't dare get rid of you.

Be flexible and proactive:

You'll also need to be flexible. Banking careers today increasingly involve working across divisions within the same firm. After I made VP in one bank at 28, I moved to another bank to survive the credit crisis in 2006. I then moved internally in 2009 so I could go make MD in that new division in 2011. If you want to progress, you'll need to be prepared to jump to where the action is.

Look around you, what part of the bank or firm is doing well? Do you know anyone there? What sorts of firms are doing well in this environment? What are the success stories? Get close to new opportunities. Find new people to help in the divisions you want to move into and treat every day, every meeting, every interaction with them like an interview. Remember the old Wall Street saying: ABC - Always Be Closing. You need to let go of the past and be open to new opportunities.

Think for yourself:

As an analyst or associate you'll often be told what to do.  As a VP, you'll need to arrive in the morning and know what needs to happen each day. You need to be able to make your own priorities and to know what’s needed for you and the business to succeed. Why should they promote you when you are still acting like an associate?

This is a big psychological leap because it’s so different from what you are used to in the first 25 years of your life. Until then, you'll probably have been rewarded for doing exactly what you were told to do by parents, professors or managers. You need to move away from this.

Treat every day like an interview:

A lot of people make this mistake. They think that once you are hired, the interview is over. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You are interviewing for your job every single day. It can be your current job or your next job. Every day people are watching you, and forming judgments about you. You don’t know who is watching, and who is going to say good or bad things about you. Impress everyone. Always be at your best all times.

This is why, after being made a VP at 28, I got headhunted at 29. I moved to a top bank for double my previous year's comp.

We used to have a saying: “you got to do the job, before you get the job”. Make sure you are doing the job, before they give you the job.

The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learnt on Wall Street.


Photo credit: erhui1979/Getty

AUTHORWiLowWallStreet Insider Comment

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