Swimming with Sharks: 3 Steps to Getting Promoted for Investment Bankers

Most new associates and nearly all new analysts arrive at the bank completely unprepared to pursue this objective effectively. This article is about getting promoted for investment bankers.

Ambition probably isn’t a strong enough word to describe new investment banking recruits. With top grades and a great resume, they can have any job they want and their decision to choose a position that entails 120 hour workweeks, insane deadlines and redlining stress levels says a lot about them. These people are looking to change their station in the world. Get rich, become CEO, solve world hunger – whatever the end goal, the point is they are reaching for the top, and they are looking to get there fast. It’s no wonder, then, that from day one on the job, the first priority of most new analysts and associates is to get promoted.

Unfortunately, most new associates and nearly all new analysts arrive at the bank completely unprepared to pursue this objective effectively. The problem has to do with the differences required for success in the workplace vs. the classroom and at the end of the day it really boils down to just one thing… politics.

This Isn’t Business School Anymore

In commerce programs and MBAs, students are ranked objectively and the validity of the ranking process is usually considered to be rigorous by all parties. You may think that your assignment should have gotten a higher mark, but once a final decision is made, most will accept the impact on their final grade and overall ranking within the class as fair. As are better than Bs and A students will get more awards, scholarships and job offers than B students.

When it comes to promotions, however, nothing is that straightforward and fairness takes a back seat to power struggles, bureaucracy and sometimes just carelessness. Failure to fully grasp this is the reason that a lot of talented people don’t get the promotions they deserve and often end up leaving the industry entirely. To get a promotion, you need to do more than just be in the top quartile of your cohort; you need to prove that you are in the top quartile and you need to convince the senior members of your team to fight for you.

Getting Promoted for Investment Bankers

The classroom isn’t a great place to learn how to do this, so here are a few pointers to get you started.

• Build your Brand: You probably spend most of your days interacting with people below the director level, but it’s the directors and managing directors that are going to decide who gets promoted. That means they need to know who you are! Ask them a question, grab a coffee with them and if there’s mid-level person that likes you, tell them to tell the senior people how great you are. While being a strong performer is always important, ensuring that the rest of your team knows you’re a strong performer is even more important.

• Start Early: If promotions are announced in December, the decision is made months earlier and the groundwork needs to be laid months or even years before that. Put “get promoted” as one of your goals in every self-assessment, mention it at every performance review and remind the people that work directly above you of your expectations on a regular basis. I started negotiating my promotion from analyst to associate before signing my summer internship job offer and I wholeheartedly believe it to be the single most important factor that enabled me to be the first graduate of my program in history to get an early promotion.

• Never Forget a Promise: Did the VP you work with promise to give you a glowing review to the MD? Did the staffer tell you that all you needed to get promoted was get a performance rating above a certain level? Never forget and never assume that the other party remembers. Ask your VP if he/she followed through and once you get your review show it to the staffer and remind him/her of the promise made. People don’t like to go back on their words, but they are also forgetful. Make sure promises made stay fresh in their minds.

This should be enough to get you started! Now it’s up to you take action an make that first promotion a reality.

This article was contributed by Jay Crone, the Co-Founder and CEO of BreakingBayStreet.com, a hub that supports the community of Canadians interested in careers in the capital markets and financial services. Visitors to the site get extensive access to free career insights through a daily blog and weekly podcasts, a product line that covers all aspects of interview preparation & career development and a jobs page highlighting relevant job openings across Canada in an easy to navigate format.

Photo from urbantoronto.ca

Jay Crone

Jay is the Co-Founder and CEO of BreakingBayStreet.com, a career coach, occasional blogger and extreme skier. With an extensive professional background spanning investment banking, M&A and ECM, he is passionate about helping people break into and excel in careers in the capital markets.