How to Climb the Ladder: Financial Companies

Ever wonder why the idiots seem to always get ahead in the game? Ok, maybe not idiots, but it’s definitely not always the hardest workers, the most rational managers, or the friendliest employees. So I’m letting you in on a secret – there’s a reason why they end up there.

Each day this week, I will be highlighting a different industry and sharing the keys to successfully climbing that industry’s ladder of success. This is from my own first-hand experience as a Human Resources employee in each sector. Follow these tips to ease your climb to the job you want.

Getting Ahead in a Financial Institution

The financial industry is difficult to break into – after all, the rewards can be handsome. But the rewards come from those who are constantly driving to reach them, stressful and busy days, and very thick skin. The easiest way to break in is by going to a top-tier university, having an internship at a financial institution, know a key player (aka – old family friend of your parents), or take a contract job – there are tons out there.

You must out-perform. What you deliver and the level of skill, efficiency and value is critical for success. Mediocrity is not an option for continued success and growth in this industry.

Your ability to take on new assignments, deliver things before the deadline, committing as much time as possible to ensure things get done, is the fee for entrance. Working 15-hour days happens, especially when you are the new person. Your output is THAT critical – you need to show up every day ready, willing and able to give your best. You must outperform others, daily.

 

Who you know, matters. Every person you come into contact with, within the industry… matters. Networking is the key to the climb.

You may be the hardest worker in the place, but if you are not connected, you will not have the opportunity to move up. You will know right away who the “right people to know” are – and go get in front of them, make yourself known to them, and find out who they spend time with.

Your biggest ally or enemy is the executive assistant. Those in power typically trust their assistant more than almost anyone else at the company – befriend the assistants (genuinely), and you will ensure a positive word and more connections.

 

Appearances count. It makes me roll my eyes to even say that, but appearances count more than they should. Even if those around you seem to dress down, I would advise not doing so until you reach the top level you want to be at.

The old adage dress for the job you want – do it, and do it well. Always show up well groomed, fashion-appropriate, and even slightly above par in the business wardrobe. You want to be ready for any opportunity that may come your way including last minute lunch invites, meeting inclusion, or even someone special roaming the hall. Keep your work area tidy and neat – tame your inner mess.

The way you present yourself and your work area is a representation of who you are – you do not want to stand out negatively, in this category. I’ve seen this be discussed in promotion decisions as being a reason to hold people back (messy desk = not able to manage multiple projects); do not let this be the case for you.

 

Be on the radar. You want everyone to know who you are. If you are quiet, meek, not willing to schmooze or put on a confident exterior, it will be more difficult for you to move ahead. Cockiness counts.

While it does not ring as true today as it once did, the financial industry is known for being an “old boys club” of sorts. If you are not within the sphere of the club, you don’t exist. You need to make every effort for people to know who you are by name and function.

You must set yourself apart and be sure that you continually put yourself in situations where your brilliance shines. You want to be remembered behind closed doors when the senior leaders are discussing the future of the department, and you want to be known as someone who can tackle anything and deliver.

 

Personality politics. Being well-liked is important, but it’s also critical that you have the company’s best interests at heart all the time. Being able to push back when needed, present a new perspective (while respecting the other perspective), and being trustworthy (aka – a non-gossip), help you climb a bit faster.

Politics is a huge part of this game – so be sure you work it into your strategy. Everything that comes out of your mouth when you start, should be thought through before (and most would say you should always think before you speak!) – you never know which political ears are listening.

 

Overall, success within the financial industry comes to the person who truly puts their best foot forward, all of the time. It is a meritocracy driven industry which rewards the values they seek – hard work, relationships, keeping your mouth shut, putting your head down and getting it done at (almost) all costs, and representing the company in the best light. Human Resources does not play a huge role in the promotion process – this is left mostly to the managing directors and the hiring managers. So be sure to emphasize your relationships appropriately.