A Morgan Stanley Exec Explains The Five Big Career Mistakes Young Wall Streeters Make

Want to know what’s slowing down your Wall Street career?

A 28-year veteran at Morgan Stanley is out with a book on the unique challenges young professionals face when trying to navigate the workplace.

After publishing her first career advice book, Expect To Win, Carla Harris said she encountered questions from young professionals that weren’t answered, such as how to advance or change careers completely. Although Strategize To Win, her new book, targets all industries, many of Harris’ examples comes from her own experience in the financial sector.

Harris is the vice chairman of wealth management at Morgan Stanley. She joined the firm in 1987 in mergers and acquisitions. In 2013, Harris was named chairperson of the National Women’s Business Council.

In an interview with BI, Harris talked specifically about what young Wall Streeters are doing wrong. According to Harris, here are five ways to avoid the common mistakes:

Know when to use what skills

Harris said the biggest mistake young professionals make is not understanding the necessary skill set and how it changes. She said young professionals must know when to transition from analytical skills to interpersonal skills as their careers move forward.

“When you’re first starting out in your career on Wall Street, your analytic skills, your quantitative skills and your attention to detail are the things that are most valued,” she said. “Three to four years into your career as associate, you’re about to be promoted to vice president. And at that point people are valuing your commercially, your ability to build relationships, especially at the junior levels at the client organisations.”

Be authentic

Harris’ advice for finding an advantage within a very competitive industry is to be your authentic self. Figure out what the recruiter is buying, and match up your skills and abilities based on the position. Authenticity is the best way to differentiate between yourself and the rest of your peers, she said.

“People make a mistake when they try to behave or act like other people, and then they lose the power of their individuality,” she said. “Each of us has something that makes us uniquely who we are. And that is your competitive advantage.”

Manage your time aggressively

After graduating from Harvard, Harris has moved up the ranks at Morgan Stanley, has written two books and sings gospel music in her spare time. She said that many people have a misconception about Wall Street as very demanding and time-consuming, but in reality, time management is doable.

“I made a commitment to myself when I came into this business that if I was going to have to work hard, I would play hard. And I wanted to make sure I had a well-rounded life,” Harris said.

To do this, Harris said she aggressively utilizes any spare time on evenings, weekends and lunch hours.

“I think it’s really important to maintaining long-term success, particularly in financial services, that you have balance in your life. Because work is not always going to go well,” she said. “And if you don’t have balance, it’s easy to become distracted, disoriented, disillusioned with this business.”

Distinguish between relationships and performance

To set yourself up for success, Harris talks about the importance in using both ‘performance currency’ and ‘relationship currency.’

“Performance currency is the currency that you gain from doing a great job, and it can do three things for you,” Harris said. “Number one, it will attract a sponsor, it can get you paid and promoted, and it also gets you a reputation in the workplace as someone who delivers.”

Harris said performance currency is key when starting out in a new position. As you move into the third or fourth year, that emphasis should shift over to relationship currency, in which you invest in people that respect and support you.

“That relationship currency is the most valuable when it comes to ascending in an organisation,” Harris said. “It’s going to be somebody’s judgment about whether or not you’ll be successful in this new assignment, and judgments are directly influenced by relationships.”

Neither performance nor relationships should be neglected at either stage, Harris said. But the investment into each type of currency should have a notable shift as you progress.

Understand the company structure and mobility

When entering a new position, Harris said it’s important to understand how the company promotes and utilizes its employees. Without knowing how a firm operates, you can’t just join operations and expect to move into mergers and acquisitions or corporate finance, she said.

“If the company has no precedence for moving people from operations into investment banking, it does not have anything to do with your ability, but it has everything to do with their precedence,” she said. “So if they haven’t done that, you’re not going to be the exception to the rule.”

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