Lessons learned – you need to go where the power is

Lessons learned – you need to go where the power is

Career mismanagement – another example

During the course of my many jobs interviews, I contacted a bank called the First Interstate Bank of California. This was either in the late 1980s or early 1990s. It was a bank that for some reason established a subsidiary in Toronto to access the Canadian market. I’m not sure what their overall objective here was, but they were establishing a swap desk to leverage off their capabilities in the United States. Their head office was in Los Angeles. They had no client base in Canada so working there would mean starting with a blank sheet of paper. I loved the origination side of the business so these new entities were always of interest to me. As I mentioned before, getting the job was way more interesting than having the job, so this bank was an ideal candidate.

The treasurer

Somehow I managed to get in touch with the Bank’s treasurer, and started to push for a position. He was interested in having someone help him with the development of the swap business and at the time I was the ideal candidate. So the dance began. Things moved very slowly. Weeks and months passed. I learned the hard way that generally speaking if an opportunity presents itself things either move quickly or never happen. I should have been sensitive to that in this situation. Things dragged on forever.

Finally, I was invited to an interview in Los Angeles, where the Bank’s head office was located. Off I went on another trip. Staying in a hotel in downtown LA at someone else’s expense is great fun. It was a fun trip and I was an expert at being interviewed, never nervous or shy about answering questions. I had things down pat. It was seldom that interviews went badly and this one went pretty well.

If you have ever been on these kinds of interviews, you meet a lot of people. They always tell you it’s because you’ll become part of a team. So they are looking at your interactions and compatibility with other teams members. The truth is that you’ll be competing with these people for the boss’s attention, promotions, bonuses and other opportunities. But during the course of your interviews, well it’s got to be demonstrated without a doubt that you’re a team player. Once you join, forget it. It’s each person for themselves. It’s a Darwinian environment when you work in financial institutions or public accounting firms.  I assume that law firms are the same. Survival of the fittest (or fleetest) as the case may be.

Returned back to Toronto

After coming back to Toronto and having a fun time in LA, things dragged on again. I kept pushing, but nothing was happening.

Finally, I heard from the Treasurer. Guess what, there would be no job offer. Why? The local guy wasn’t able to get approval for the position. I was “pissed’! He failed to get approval for it before interviewing me. He was hoping that he could pull it off in the reverse order. Get someone, and push for the position approval. It didn’t work.

The moral of the story was that he was not the decision maker. I should have asked. If he didn’t have the power to hire me, the whole process would likely be a huge waste of time. And it was.

You need to find out who makes the decisions that impact you, either for a new position or your existing one. There were many, many instances where I thought that my boss had the power to make these kinds of decisions – bonus, promotion, whatever. They didn’t. You have to know who has the decision-making authority whether it’s inside your firm or outside of your firm. If they don’t have the authority, you’re wasting your time with them. Often, they’ll act like they do but don’t. You need to make sure that you understand who has the power to make decisions. It’s one of the most important and effective things that you can do in advancing your career and in getting business done. Don’t avoid it! If you do, you’ll waste a lot of time.

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