Nice guys finish first
Type A. Competitive. High achiever. At least one of these terms has probably been used to describe you at some point.
On the whole, investment bankers tend to be a competitive bunch, likely to have graduated at the top of their class with a GPA somewhere north of 3.8. If sports were on the agenda, they were probably for varsity teams, and if you look through the applications for analyst positions you’ll find a high density of college paper editors, class presidents, and mathletes, each with their own trophy cabinet, creaking under the weight of awards, ribbons, and statues. When signing on for their first analyst position, they’re impatient to begin applying their ambitious energy to getting ahead, to proving their competence across a vast array of technical skills that will get that first promotion in the bag.
Ok, maybe it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I bet you recognized yourself in this at least a little bit.
To survive the long hours, constant pressure, and demand for detail in investment banking, you have to be driven. And for many, this is the appeal of Wall Street—the chance to work in a global, fast-paced industry where you have to be smart to get ahead.
But just focusing on practical skill development is not enough; it will get you far, but won’t get you the corner office (or whatever the open office translation of this is). People skills also need to evolve with financial and analytical ability.
We know the importance of a good first impression. But it’s more than wearing the right outfit and not saying the wrong thing. According to the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) developed by social psychologists Amy Cuddy, Susan Fiske, and Peter Glick, there are two core traits that inform our initial assessment of new people we meet: If you are perceived as warm and if you are perceived as competent. This matrix is often used as a representation:
And it matters in which order each is communicated. Cuddy says, “We don’t value the two traits equally. First, we judge the warmth or trustworthiness, which we consider to be the more important of the two dimensions.” So you need to be likable, then you can show competency.
Why is this notable? Remember that likable colleague who got promoted ahead of the math whizz associate? This is why. She was perceived as warmer (and it’s worth noting here that gender bias impacts how warmth and competence is perceived).
Over my two decades of banking, I’ve witnessed young bankers shoot themselves in the foot time and time again because they leaped straight into proving competence and forgot to be likable. They talked about how well they know the business and the industry, gave intense focus to financial details and analysis, but just wasn’t someone you wanted to spend time with.
Competency may get you a seat at the table, but that isn’t enough. You also need to be the one clients want to go to dinner with, bounce ideas off, turn to in times of crisis, and build that relationship toward “trusted advisor”. Before you can execute their deals, you need to get them to like you.
I’d love to know your experiences with the warmth/competency matrix and tips for bonding with clients. One approach I’ve heard—and liked—is that the first time you meet someone, you should pretend you’re seated at the same table at a wedding. It puts you on your best behavior and also brings out natural friendliness. Email me with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.