Compensation is a tricky topic in banking these days. It is unpopular (and many have argued even unjust) for bankers to be paid large sums given all that has gone on. On the other hand, people doing an honest day’s work cannot be expected to do so for free. Whatever the outcome of the broader debate, it is still reasonable and important to make sure that you get what you deserve at the end of the year.
Simply keeping your head down and working hard is not the route to pay recognition: while hard work is expected, it is necessary but insufficient. In real life, unlike at school, there is no such thing as an effort grade. Here are some points to keep in mind.
What results have you produced?
The most important thing is to make sure your boss knows what you have done, and what you are capable of. Since none of us is born with a neon sign and bosses are not mind readers, it may literally pay to find a way to express your achievements and to do so in a way that puts them into context. When you produce results, make sure your boss is aware of it – and the more concrete you can be, the better. If you have brought in a deal, tell them what was special about it: Was it first time business? Did it take ingenuity to win it out of turn? Did you negotiate a disproportionate role relative to the competition? Did you gain market share?
If there is a story that sheds further light on the apparent result, you must tell it. In the case of a young capital markets VP who worked for me, our firm had been awarded a $3bn deal with an existing investment banking client; on the face of it, a good result but not heroic. However, the real story was that the client had threatened to rescind the mandate based on an unrelated situation with another area of the firm. The VP had saved the day by travelling to the client’s European headquarters the night before to greet the senior executives the next morning with an impromptu meeting as they came in from the car park. The VP’s personal appeal based on our merits succeeded even when other colleagues had given up.
Not only did she deliver a near-term result, the events demonstrated that she had additional valuable traits of fearlessness, creativity and willingness to go the extra mile. Having the full picture was important to making the right compensation decision.
What other contributions do you bring to the table?
Unless you are a trader evaluated purely on your P&L, the qualitative aspects matter and can be important to getting into the higher end of the compensation range, or at least eliminating reasons for getting pushed into the lower end.
An important trait is to show resourcefulness and initiative in getting things done. Like the VP described above, find a way to achieve the objective. If the front door is locked, then try the back door or the window. Every boss appreciates those who can get things done without having to direct every step.
Unless you are in a highly specialised area that relies almost solely on technical expertise, demonstrating teamwork and the ability to persuade other people can be differentiating factors. While it may be tempting to resort to competing with the person sitting next to you, this is a short-sighted strategy.
Longer term, those who succeed in their careers and get paid and promoted are those who can build, manage and lead teams. Conversely, it could be a real liability to be labelled as hard to work with or, worse yet, a management headache for your boss.
Figure out the most important qualitative traits for the part of the business you are in, and make sure you embody them.
Can they see you progressing?
Trajectory matters. While this year’s compensation generally relates to this year’s results, bosses are usually on the lookout for people who they can envision progressing to the next level and beyond. Good senior managers want to build the next generation of leaders, and if you can be seen in that light, then you will be more likely to be in the top compensated group. Naturally, you still have to perform year in and year out, but high potential people will tend to get paid more than those who plateau.
At the end of the day, there is always demand for high quality people who consistently produce top-notch results, and employers are likely to pay these people well. Cynics may say it is who you know that counts, but the reality is that it is who knows you that makes the difference.
So, in addition to working hard, make sure that you showcase your whole package: all that you have done and what you are capable of doing. That way, you are more likely to get what you deserve.