Even in the current age of crisis, the financial industry remains an attractive proposition for many graduates. Whether it’s the investment banker lifestyle, the thrill of taking on the markets with someone else’s money or even just the opportunity to work in a dynamic and prestigious sector, the choices you make throughout your career will help determine whether you are successful.
Given that your career could span about 20 to 30 years, you should have a plan to keep you moving in the right direction. Your career could be impacted by market downturns and upturns, internal promotions and moves to new organizations. It’s important that from time to time you take stock to ensure that you are maximizing your potential and putting yourself in the best possible position to attain your goals.
Entry point: Your early choices
Ideally, no matter what your first job in banking entails on a day-to-day basis, it should offer you two key things:
1) A great firm upon which to launch your career. This will help put you on a good path. Great companies can be global organizations that are household names, or boutique firms that only specific market participants may be aware of. Either way, great companies have a way of influencing their employees’ careers in a positive way.
2) A good mentor. Someone whom you respect, who has had a successful career and possesses the attributes that you would like to also possess one day. Your mentor may be your direct boss or simply the mentor you were assigned to on your first day. Either way, this person will have a strong influence on you and will ideally pass on a lot of knowledge.
Your first two to three years
During your first few years, you will be learning about the culture of your organization and industry, and the technical aspects of your role. There may be some repetition in your day-to-day job, but it’s important to illustrate a propensity to learn and improve because in most cases your employer is looking for exactly these traits at this point in your career. You should be the first to volunteer for extra work and the last one to complain (if ever) about pretty much anything. Keep your head down and keep learning.
Your next three years: Your first promotion or a change in direction
This is typically the first time that you will be put into a position that carries more responsibility. Whether you are a sales person who now has a larger budget or an internal auditor who now covers a larger portfolio, if you have put the work in so far, your employer will recognize this and will take action.
If, however, you now feel that you would like to move in a different direction within the industry, this is a great time to start putting a plan into action. Two years in one role may sound like a long time before making a move (trust me, Generation Y: it used to take a lot longer!), however, employers recognize commitment in their employees and most will stay well away from the candidate who has changed roles three times in two years.
If you are looking to move in a new direction, get some sound advice. Talk to friends or colleagues who know people in your role of choice, or spend time with those already in the job. It might be a 10-minute chat with an institutional sales person or even a talk with your boss at appraisal time. It’s important to find out what you need to do to be qualified or even considered for your dream job.
Getting the perfect role will definitely take some more work, so before you rush into a qualification that won’t make a difference, or leave your employer to join another, do your best to find out exactly what you need to accomplish to get where you are trying to go. It’s also important to understand the risk associated with moving into a new function. Front-office roles, for example, will always carry more risk than support positions. If you are not a risk taker by nature, this may not be the best career direction for you.
Five to eight years in
You will typically be in your role of choice by now, or at least well on your way to getting there. Whether you have changed directions in your banking career or have continued down your original path, it’s important to keep improving and adding to your skills to remain one step in front of your competition. This may include completing some further study or even thinking about continuing your career overseas for a number of years. Either way, you need to be thinking about what you can do to make yourself more valuable and employable in the longer term.
When you look back at a successful person’s career, it will normally have a number of turning points that led them to a significant promotion or a move forward. They will usually talk about these times as being quite challenging because they were forced outside of their comfort zone and were continually pushed to perform at a high level.
You may typically only be offered these types of advancement opportunities a few times in your career and you will need to be able to recognize them. If you miss out on a promotion that you thought was coming your way, one of the best things to do is to speak with your boss and find out what you need to do to make the grade the next time round.