1. How can a mentor help me get what I want?
Every company is an aggregation of people – each of whom is unique. It is for this very reason that I’m not a fan of generic frameworks or books that claim to show you how to scale the corporate ladder. What works at one firm may not work at another.
Each company has its unique culture and thus has its own landmines and high speed lanes to get promoted. In some companies, the most cutthroat, disagreeable people get to the top. In others, it might be the most cerebral. As such, I’ve always told people that the best guide in your company is a mentor who is ideally the same gender and ethnicity as you. They’ve encountered many of the challenges and opportunities you will face and will have the most relevant advice to give you.
Mentors help in a variety of ways but the best ones are during times of compensation and promotion. If you’ve been astute enough to choose a mentor who is senior in your organization and has political power, they can be your sponsor. They can advocate for why you should get paid or be promoted. If you’ve done your job well, your sponsor will not only show you the tried and true methods in your organization but also advocate for you.
Having a mentor who is familiar with the culture of the firm and the best strategies to get what you want is critical. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel because, ideally, your mentor can show you the path. Otherwise, you will be negotiating in the dark and will likely leave money on the table.
Of course, you don’t need a mentor to help you get what you want but it will sure make your life a whole lot easier.
2. What’s one thing I can do to improve my chances of getting paid?
If you want to improve your chances of getting paid well, you need to figure out the source of your firm’s money machine. The power in all companies stems from this because without the money machine, there is no firm.
Every industry is different. On Wall Street, it’s the biggest revenue producing group. In Silicon Valley, it’s the departments that create the best selling products. In Hollywood, it’s the departments with the creatives who churn out the biggest box office hits.
In your company, figure out where the gold brick road leads because it will definitely be the fastest HOV lane up the corporate ranks.
3. Do nice people really tend to finish last in the compensation game?
Yes! I have found that as you get higher in the organization and the stakes get exponentially greater, nice people tend to finish last. This is because organizations don’t go out of their way to overpay employees unless they feel compelled and rarely do they do so when employees don’t complain. Nice people tend to not rock the boat and they are inadvertently sending a signal to their company that they are fine with what they are given.
Conversely, those people who complain and advocate for themselves show the organization that if they are not treated fairly (in their eyes) then they will leave.
It’s been shown that the personality traits needed to win compensation games change as you age and climb the ladder. In a 2018 research study reported in the Harvard Business Review, researchers looked at the connection between personality traits and lifetime earnings among men (unfortunately they didn’t poll women) at different ages. They found that men’s earnings are not affected by personality at all in the beginning of their careers but that men who are more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less agreeable (not more), reap larger benefits between their 40s and 60s.
Not only does personality matter more as you age but in fact disagreeableness, which we generally view as a negative, was actually beneficial as these men aged and rose the corporate ladder!
The conclusion is your personality might not matter much at the bottom of the corporate ladder but it matters a lot when you rise up and it’s actually not all positive. Being a pain in the butt may actually help you get paid more.
About the Author
Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur who founded several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, and worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years.
He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies, when it had less than 200 employees. Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF). He rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history. As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the Bamboo Ceiling. He not only worked hard but also played the corporate game.
Hundreds of bankers have worked for Dave during his career. He has mentored many of them who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America. He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans and other disadvantaged groups seeking to maximize their potential and achieve their career goals.
If you want some great career tips and insights check out Dave’s book, The Way of the Wall Street Warrior.