I have spent the last decade working in NYC in one of the most competitive and demanding career paths on the planet. My experience, the people, and my mentors have taught me a few invaluable lessons that I want the present and future generations of boys and men to learn earlier rather than later. Each of these lessons will apply first in its context (my/your job) and second as a corollary to personal life. These are the 101, and a good starting point.
- Your reputation is defined primarily by the quantity of people who can say "Yes, I know him" neutrally or better when asked
A common mistake first year analysts make is over-investing in their "desk" leadership i.e. their immediate bosses and group heads. While having a core support group (at least 3 mid-senior leaders and 1-2 senior leaders) is important, optionality in your career is derived from broad awareness of you.
Build this presence indirectly as a young employee by creating miniature personal connections as opportunities are thrust upon you. This means when your boss assigns you to a one-off task with an unfamiliar team, do not complete the task without a warm connection to a senior person on that team. As a junior there is no expectation to source your own work, only to source your own brand; as you are able assess the "quality" of the people you're introduced to, invest accordingly. People strongly bias recency - be recent, even if the recency is mundane.
Corollary: Don't over-invest in your immediate circle of friends, and especially not your romantic partners (present or potential). You will draw power and charisma from the quantity of those who tolerate or appreciate your presence. Do not prioritize "quality" until you are able to define it for yourself, and recognize it in others.
Be different - but only enough to differentiate
- In order to beat the pack vying for advancement, you must have (in addition to whatever merits competence in your actual work) an indescribable edge.
This is a dangerous but necessary step if you have ambition that exceeds a basic career track in your field. A harsh reality is that the majority of the people I have worked with are objectively smarter, more pragmatic, and better planners than 97.5% of the population. A harsher reality is that superficial traits are as valuable to this 2.5% as the rest. However, your differentiation must be mostly positive. We can all recall more than one classmate or co-worker who was unabashedly different, and unashamed of that difference. We can also separate them into two classes - abrasive and interesting. Be the latter.
For me, it was my style of dress. I made a habit of wearing pink windowpane suits and other fashion that was otherwise entirely anathema to the so called Wall Street Dress Code. Why did this work for me? First, it sent a subconscious message that I was bold in my choices; second, I never apologized or equivocated in the face of criticism. I distinctly recall a senior VP who later became a close contact tell that when he first saw that particular suit, he though, "Who the fuck is that?" Despite his internal negative reaction, it made him curious. Find your difference and inspire curiosity.
Corollary: While I can't prescribe you the method, this playground trick works everywhere, on everyone. My dress style works in both social and professional circles. I have seen affable positivity work for some, carefully measured comedy work for others. Find one that does the same for you.
The political cycle - hitch your wagon to the correct person
- As an entry-level employee, you are shielded from office politics. As a mid-level employee who does not yet make decisions, you must be aware of the politics. A decision maker must be involved in the politics.
A junior analyst, first year law associate, or young engineer must put his head down and produce good work. Mastery of the things you perceive to be bitch work are the foundation of respect from your superiors. Nobody on Wall Street became CEO because of their Excel financial modeling skills, but none would understand what it actually means to be an M&A banker without those skills. On the other hand, people know the analyst who is always a little too curious about what's going on in that meeting he wasn't invited to (because nobody below VP was anyway...).
An IB associate, however, should be keeping score. Is your direct manager's view winning out when your group comes to the table? Does your desk have a strong or weak voice when there is contention among internal parties? Again, this associate has no involvement in the charade, but must be aware of the momentum. The purpose of this is to pick your own winner.
There is no value in loyalty to a profession or product. Mortgage trading was a great game from 1997-2007, but only a foolish 22-28 year old would have stuck around after. By paying attention to who is winning and losing, a non-decision maker maximizes the chance that his early decision making days are already with the winners. Remember, until you're calling the shots, you are just along for the ride. Exit gracefully if you perceive that wagon is headed off a cliff. Hold on tightly if it is moving onward and upward.
Corollary: In any social hierarchy, there is an obvious superior group in each setting. Only denial can lead to a different conclusion. In school, the superior group is more plainly visible and easy to define - this group is hitting the milestones of early life sooner (relationships, sex, academic/sports victories, prestigious summer internships). After school, superior groups are judged on a relative basis, but nonetheless exist. An aspirant man's goal should be to find his place in this group.
Fortunately, a man can determine for himself how to reach his goal. This provides freedom to choose, but not freedom from social politics. A man can only "shield" himself from social politics by not participating at all. While there are ideologies that can support such a lifestyle, TRP is not one of them. A man's choice socially is to lead (be involved) or to follow (be aware). Neither of these are a better or a worse thing - they are each simply a thing. Decide if you are suited to lead - if not, be aware and follow those who you deem fit.
Be present so that you may be relevant; prioritize quantity over quality in your relationships until you are able to define quality for yourself.
Be different without apology, but that difference must not be disruptive.
After your social or professional infancy, your shield from the politics is gone; be aware of the game and keep score of winners and losers. When the time comes, choose to lead and become involved in the politics, or choose to follow and hone your awareness.