When I was 33, I was due to make managing director at Goldman Sachs. I really thought I was going to get it and when found out I wasn’t I had to leave the office. I went home and cried. Not for three or four minutes, but for over an hour with my wife next to me.
I was 33. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had failed myself and my family.
I spent the next few weeks thinking about it. I was tempted to leave, but I didn't. Since then I have seen and counseled friends who missed the promotion, sometimes once and sometimes many times. Many never made it. Personally, I was promoted in the next cycle, which at that time was only a year later.
This is what I tell them.
There's a reason you didn't get promoted:
1. Promotion to managing director isn't a given. The bank doesn't need to promote you – there are only so many slots available, so why should you get it?
2. Maybe you're not good enough, yet. Making MD isn’t an absolute benchmark, it’s all relative. Are you really better than the other candidates? Where are you on the bell curve?
3. Have you made serious enemies? A fairly easy way to not make it is to have people not like you. Who might be saying bad things about you?
4. Have you generated P&L? Finance is all about making money. Do you have the P&L to support your promotion? If you don't, you either need to make more money where you are, or to join a group with better opportunities.
You'll have another chance, but you need a strategy
Making MD isn't a given. Even if you deserve it, it might not happen. You'll need a strategy and you'll need to execute it carefully before the next round of promotions.
1. Make sure everyone understands how important this is to you – and, more importantly, make sure they totally understand what you might do if you don’t make it.
2. Build consensus around your candidacy. – You don’t just need to convince your boss, but all the other MDs in your division. The more senior people who want this to happen for you, the better.
3. Sell yourself. Getting promoted is all about sales. You are selling yourself. You need to make sure everyone likes you and that they understand what you stand for and why you’d make a great MD.
4. You need to be a general and not just a good soldier. You need to find opportunities to showcase your leadership skills.
5. You need to build social capital. It's about strong and deep relationships across the division. The more people who owe you favours, the better.
6. You need to get clients to say good things about you. Finance is a client-focused business. It's critical your clients like you and that they let your firm know that.
7. And lastly, you need to be associated with something big. Big titles need something big to be anchored against. You have 12 months to find, create, or lead an important initiative that will build your profile.
The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director.
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