10 Working Life Truths You Don’t Learn From Business School

We got quite a few emails on how important being political is within an office environment, reading between the lines it seems that many people believe simply being friendly with the “right” people will get you promoted and moved up. Believe it or not this is false. One or two of you may be right next to the CEO’s son (yes you’re screwed) but at the end of the day performance will get you to revenue generation much faster than politics as you can quickly use your performance to give you the correct political footing. With that said here are ten items no one tells you about the work force.

1) Performance Is First: Nowadays, many people come into the Street and likely other professions as well, with the belief that if they do not have the right “politics” they will never get promoted. This is simply false. Most companies will have a handful of political elites, people hired solely because of their connections, but the vast majority get jobs by having the right credentials. Since this is a website dedicated to Wall Street the best way to break down performance on the Street (entry level) is as follows: 1) error free work, 2) punctual, 3) thinking 1-2 turns ahead and 4) sanity checking numbers. Once you jump to revenue generation, your performance is practically entirely tied to your revenue numbers.

Unfortunately more and more candidates come into the Street and believe if they simply “suck up” to the right revenue generators they will be promoted. Instead they are shown the door. If you want to have a long career on Wall Street you cannot simply do an average job, you need to do work ahead of time that you believe will be handed to you during the next turn. In short as an entry level hire your job is to save the team time.

2) 80/20 Politics: Once you’ve established yourself as one of the high performers in your class now you can position yourself amongst those that matter. Some firms require that every single higher up pulls for your promotion, but at most banks, there are likely 1 or 2 out of every 10 higher ups that do not matter. These people should simply be pushed to the side in terms of your work load and your goal is to consistently be teamed up with the correct groups.

3) Responsibility Over Prestige: Another major issue that comes up is the balance between responsibility and prestige. Always choose responsibility. At the end of the day if you’re generating revenue for Jefferies, you’ll be making more money than an Associate at Morgan Stanley. Your responsibility level and actual tasks at work will determine the speed at which you get promoted and the speed at which your bank account will grow.

4) Generate Revenue, No One Cares About Education: Another major trick to Wall Street is that as soon as you start making the firm money, no one cares about your background anymore. Every business in the world has the same rule: find a way to make me money. If you have a MBA from Harvard or a BA from Williams College, at the end of the day if the person with a BA from Williams College brings in more deals, trading volume or has a better P&L… The person with the BA will always be paid more. To reiterate, as soon as you begin making the firm money, no one cares about your credentials.

5) Attitude Only Matters for Entry Level: It is terrible to type out, but it is the truth, as soon as you begin bringing in revenue no one cares if you are a tyrant to work with. Naturally this causes an intense environment as entry level employees are expected to be happy regardless of the workload/mundane task and the revenue generators do not care about the happiness of their underlings. Knowing this dynamic the best move to make for an entry level employee is to turn in perfect work for the first year and position yourself away from the tyrants. Secondly, when you begin generating revenue, attempt to de-load the quality entry level workers so you will have the best resources when you need them.

6) Personal Email is Only Personal: Another goal you should have is to never use your personal email for work purposes ever again. In an ideal situation all job applications should be sent in from an alternative email address, a connection to the opportunity. Putting yourself in the hiring managers shoes, you will always choose a resume in front of you that has been recommended to you from a close contact than an obscure but strong resume that was handed to you by HR. Always. With this in mind, do everything in your power to avoid 1) online resume submissions, 2) Linked-in applications, 3) cold networking and 4) headhunters. By the time you’ve established yourself on the Street the higher paying jobs, more likely than not, will come to you via word of mouth.

7) Headhunters Don’t Care: Now that we have mentioned them above, headhunters do not care one bit about you. Repeat that once or twice if you need to, headhunters do not care one bit about you. Instead they are simply there to generate revenue as they get a commission when you sign the dotted line. Tread carefully.

If you decide to use a headhunter you need to treat each interaction intensely: 1) pre-sell them on your experience, 2) push them for guidelines on all in compensation and 3) up sell your current position. Lastly, one dirty trick they attempt to play is the “prestige jumping role” where they simply try to slot you into a more prestigious bank for the same or worse pay. Don’t take the bait. If you must go down the headhunter route, keep the rules above in mind and a few opportunities may come down the pipe.

8) Careers Are About Momentum: Another thing you don’t learn in school is the importance of momentum. Many times you see analysts or associates on the fast track to a promotion and they decide to jump ship to a new segment of Wall Street (typical examples Analyst to PE shops, Associate to Buyside long-only etc.). Unfortunately, this may cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before you jump ship from any platform, assuming you are liked, sit down and ask if you can obtain more responsibility at your firm. If the answer is yes 9 times out of 10 you should stay.

Why? If your group is interested in keeping you for the next jump, regardless of what that jump is they are interested in keeping you around for a longer period of time. You have built forward momentum at your firm.

9) Financial Independence Improves Your Work: You would think it would be the reverse and you would be wrong. As you accumulate assets and eventually pass the point where you can live off of your savings forever, you have less stress in your life. With less stress in your life you can actually perform better on the job as a large weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. You no longer enter a state of mind fog, looking into every intricate detail and begin operating smoothly.  Notably, the bias in this example is if you reach financial independence quickly, the job itself is likely quite easy for you.

10) Never Burn a Bridge: Finally, the last thing you want to do is burn a contact at your old firm. More likely than not you will work with people that will dislike you and you’ll have a few people looking to put a knife in your back at a moment’s notice, but do not purposely burn a bridge.

That wraps it up, all of the above should be taught in college but unfortunately there is no class on career management.


  1. Andrew says

    #2 is the most important. There is always that one guy or that one girl in the office who no one likes. No point in winning everyone over!

  2. brosbhos says

    “1) error free work, 2) punctual, 3) thinking 1-2 turns ahead and 4) sanity checking numbers”

    I wish i had realized a few years earlier how important this is. Don’t settle for mediocrity.

  3. Paul says

    Does it also apply out of wallstreet?
    For example, in the marketing department of a random company, the revenue you generate is far less quantifiable, so doesn’t office politics play a larger role in getting promoted?

    • Wall Street Playboys says

      Two comments:

      Yes it applies to every industry, if you can prove (emphasis on prove) that you are making the firm money then you will not have to worry about politics as much as before. This doesn’t mean you can attack your higher ups within the firm (CEO/Head of group etc) but your job security will be driven by dollars and cents.

      We don’t work in advertising and it sounds like you’re closer to the entry level position so yes politics would be more important as you want to position yourself to work for the best producers. With that said find numerical ways to prove your marketing campaigns are better. Do you have a higher percentage of purchases through your ads? Cost per acquisition lower? Do the customers you attract continue with the service (no charge-backs/drop offs) etc.? There are ways to prove performance. But again, since we don’t know what exactly your position entails we’ll avoid further comment.

      The point of #4 is that every business cares about making money, so find a way to make money for the firm and you’ll have an office in no time.

      • Paul says

        I don’t have a position yet, I’m just a student wondering about the future, your answer was great thank you.

  4. ConnorBryant says

    Exactly. Don’t settle for mediocrity.
    Nice list of rules here for success in real life.
    Discipline is HUGE in working life, as well as actually succeeding beyiond the simple information.
    For success in anything you need discipline, build it up for diet, training and finances

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