Three career-building principles for future leaders

Reflection, branding and networking are key for professional development, says managing director Gail McManus from recruitment firm PER.

Gail McManus

Early career private equity professionals are an ambitious bunch; as recruiters we know how hard they have worked to land their first role in the industry. Once that landmark job offer has been accepted, it’s time to start planning for a long and successful career in this exciting industry.

We can’t always predict where our working lives will take us or foresee shifts in the market, so setting plans in stone isn’t the best way forward. Instead, I recommend early career professionals pay close attention to three career-building principles: reflection, personal branding and networking.

Reflect to perfect

When you are finding your feet, it’s likely people making decisions about your next steps won’t see your successes first-hand, so it’s up to you to keep track of your achievements. Keep a list of five things you have done, over and above your job description, to add value each week.

Be proactive in requesting feedback so you can work on strengths and weaknesses well ahead of the annual performance review. It’s crucial that you are specific about the feedback you need in order to save your line manager time and ensure you focus on the skills that matter to you. Self-analyse your performance and then say something like: “I enjoyed dealing with the banking matters on this transaction. I think I picked up the main points pretty quickly. However, I would love to have built a stronger relationship so that they came to me first with their queries. How did my performance look from your perspective and what could I do better next time?”

Stay on brand

While reflecting, take time to consider what you enjoy about your work. Is there a certain aspect of investment you excel in or a sector where you have a special interest? It’s easier to be memorable if you’re known for something, so try being the go-to person for the work you love doing. Speak up in meetings and provide insight into your specialist area or offer help when your expertise could be useful to someone else.

Working hard and getting your job done isn’t the way to get ahead; it’s the way to stay right where you are. Demonstrating that what you’re passionate about can bring additional value to the business makes you valuable.

Work your network

The old adage ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ oversimplifies the art of networking. Company events or external networking events take careful research and planning. Make sure you know who you need to speak to, what’s important to them and what you can tell them on that subject.

It isn’t just the top of the hierarchy that matters in building a career; make sure you take notice of the efforts that other people around you make on your behalf and give them credit. For example, the finance or administration team. Their attitude towards you can make a massive difference to your upward career trajectory.

Finally, remember to keep your friends close. Your peers in the industry will become helpful as you all develop your careers. That person you trained with in your first banking internship could become your best market ally in finding and delivering the deal that makes your career.