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Career Tips from a Goldman Sachs Investment Banker

Alison J. Mass has clearly had a long and successful career in investment banking. And as co-head of the Financial Sponsors Group of the Goldman Sachs Investment Banking Division, it’s safe to say that this high-flyer has enough authority to be giving out career advice to the eager next generation.  Here are some reflections on her thoughts on how to stay interested and fulfilled at work, as well as what she wishes she would’ve known in her 20s.

1. “Find a career that you love.”

According to Mass, those who are the most successful are often the most passionate about their careers. Of course those who feel more strongly about their work are more likely to pour everything they have into it and thus reap great rewards as a reflection of this. It may not be as simple a process as she insinuates, and you may find that you have many interests and these may change over time. But finding a job which you enjoy and which brings about everyday happiness in your life should certainly be pursued.

2. “Invest in relationships.”

Every opportunity which Mass has had has been a direct result of this way of approaching the people she encounters. On the one hand, it certainly makes sense in a sort of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ way, if that’s how you’d like to interpret it. And on the other hand, this also supports collaborative efforts at work which can lead to greater achievement or the idea that you never know when new doors could be opened for you.

3. “Remember that you can’t be an A+ at everything, every day.”

Mass believes that you should rather be working towards finding an average level of performance so that you can work at an ‘A’ all week. This is really about not punishing yourself if you have an off-day which is really good advice. Sometimes you’re just not on your game, but it won’t be the only opportunity to prove yourself.

4. “Define your own fulfilment.”

This is my favourite piece of advice from the investment banker. Only you know what will make you the happiest. At the risk of sounding very cheesy, you should follow your heart, by not defining yourself as what others want you to be nor measuring your own success against the perceived success of others.

5. “Be prepared for anything.”

In Mass’s view, life isn’t simply a straight path and we shouldn’t let the problems that we encounter hold us back. In other words, don’t let the b*stards grind you down. Plus, if you are the kind of person who easily stays flexible, then the issues shouldn’t present to great a problem in the first place.

6. “Find someone who gives you honest advice.”

On a personal level I disagree with this statement. I understand the concept that feedback and criticism will lead to improvement. Yet, people just work differently; some respond to tough love and some are defeated by it. You may instead need someone who gives you greater encouragement, or really whatever works for you personally.

7. “How you present yourself matters.”

I find Mass’s idea that only confident, articulate, good public speakers with presence can be successful really quite wrong. This may be the case at Goldman Sachs but is not something which can be applied universally. It is a controversial issue which has been debated over the past few years, for example in Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which argues that introversion isn’t an abnormal trait to be looked down upon and can quite often lead to success.

8. “Be confident yet humble, modest yet proud.”

This advice is certainly much more positive, and it is indeed true that we can learn something from everybody and that no matter how much you may think you are, you are not always right. Arrogance is a very ugly quality and I don’t know about you, but I would respect someone much more if they were confident in their achievements or abilities without being pretentious.

On the whole, Alison J. Mass provides some fantastic pearls of wisdom which are applicable to almost any person and any career. Her discussion at the beginning of the video also refers to maintaining a good work-life balance and sense of one’s wider interests and passions outside of the workplace. Do you agree with all of Mass’s statements? Is her advice universal?

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