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Eight things bankers need to do in their 20s to succeed in their 30s

If you’re a junior investment banker in your 20s, you need a career plan. That may be switching to private equity. It may be kicking off a fintech firm or starting a baby app. But if do you want to stick in investment banking, now is the time to do the groundwork.

Juniorisation is all the rage in investment banking, particularly on the trading floor, but only a select few make it into the senior ranks before they hit 30. You must carefully manage your career in the meantime. This, according to former senior bankers at J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs is what you must (and must not) do if you want to make it.

1. Learn how to influence

If you’re a junior banker, you don’t have any authority. The increased focus on the junior ranks has empowered analysts and associates more in the past couple of years, but realistically you’re nowhere near in a leadership role.

“Understanding what it means to influence without authority is a great first step in acquiring leadership capability,” says Graham Ward, the former head of equities at Goldman Sachs and now adjunct professor of leadership at INSEAD. “Often the first leadership role that you will be given will come out of the blue. Mine certainly did. You need to be prepared for unforeseen opportunities.”

2. Don’t sharpen your shoulders

Or, more specifically, says Kevin Rodgers, the former global head of FX at Deutsche Bank, who is now an author and market commentator, “don’t be a cock”. You should be looking to make friends, not burn bridges because it will come back to haunt you.

“You can just about get away with it if you are a genius, but, even so, if you ever screw up the knives will be out,” he says. “Be a human being and you'll get more slack when the inevitable failures hit you. Plus, it's easier to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning.”

3. Develop a track record

Yes, millennials in investment banking want vindication early on. That might come from a highly-competitive move to the buy-side, or it perhaps moving to another firm can ensure a promotion, but jumping around doesn’t look good.

“I think it's not a great idea (unless your employer is really bad or you get the king-hell offer you can't refuse) to move jobs repeatedly in your first 4-6 years. Get a track record,” says Rodgers.

4. Focus on relationships, not just skills

Obviously, you must be technically capable to make it in investment banking. In the early years, this is more important than ever and being among the top-rated analysts will undoubtedly help you move up. But “building a network, managing up, looking beyond one’s narrow business silo” are things that you need to do to get noticed, says Ward.

“We tend to overlook the importance and power that those things ultimately bring,” he says. “Being connected to decision-makers often gets you far more traction than simply being capable. Like it or not, politics is a fact of life. To pretend that it doesn't matter is naive.”

5. Seize opportunities when they present themselves

Being a specialist is good, but if you really want to move up the ranks, you need a broad range of experience.

“I never really wanted to go into banking, so when I arrived I was flexible about where I ended up,” says a senior DCM banker speaking off the record. “Part of this is seizing opportunities across sectors or geographies when they appear. But it’s also a mind-set – don’t pigeon-hole yourself and realise that any experience will help you in the long-term. The time to do this is early on in your career.”

6. Always have one eye on the long-game

Ups and downs will happen throughout your career. Don’t dwell on either, says Mark Franczyk, a former vice president in equity capital markets at J.P. Morgan who is now a pastry chef and blogger.

“Don’t give up because of short-term setbacks, and don’t become overly confident from short-term success,” he says. “Remember that the career really pays off once you’ve reached the senior levels.”

7. Understand your motivations

If you want longevity in investment banking, understand early on why you’re here. Commitment will only come if you’re in it for the right reasons.

“If you are genuinely interested in finance, you can get through the frustrations of the working day, week, month and year,” says Rodgers. “If you aren't and your only incentive is the cash, or because all your friends want to be in finance and you're scared of missing out, it will be a long, long slog.”

“Knowing yourself, your motivations, your value system and your goals, will help you to orientate yourself to leadership,” adds Ward.

8. Seize on any leadership training

Investment banks used to promote on performance. This meant that managers, or leaders, were merely those who brought in more business than their peers. In such circumstances, management training seems like a distraction. It’s really not, suggests Ward.

“Any opportunities to attend managerial or leadership training should be accepted,” he says. “Junior people sometimes believe that the leadership is what happens at the top. In fact the leadership happens at all levels in organisations.”

Have a tip, story or comment? Contact: Photo: Getty Images
AUTHORPaul Clarke

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