How to succeed on Wall Street

How to succeed on Wall Street

I have spent almost eighteen years on Wall Street.

I worked at bulge bracket banks and hedge funds. I started out as an investment banker in NY putting deals together, then became a quant, then a sales guy and now a portfolio manager in London.

During that time I saw countless successful people.

This post distills the key characteristics of the best people I saw, so you know what you need to do to be more successful.


Be Resilient:
Investment banking, sales and trading, research are all hard jobs.

The people who succeed are the ones that can persevere in the game.

When I first started in 1999, I had a bunch of friends quit right after 9/11. They didn’t like what New York was like.

Then in 2002 I had some more friends leave at the bottom of the recession.

And again in 2008, and in 2011, and in 2016.

Many times over the 18 years, I doubted myself, my abilities, my profession.

I came close to quitting many times. Each time I talked myself off the edge.

You will be punched in the face and stabbed in the back by your colleagues, your clients will slam the phone down on you and pull an order, and your boss will either make you doubt yourself or throw you under the bus.

Don’t sweat it. Don’t be disheartened. This is the nature of the game. There is nothing wrong with you. Learn how to persevere and not break down.

The things that made it better for me were: friends, family, exercise, and meditation. Share your problems with other people.

Everyone goes through self-doubt, but it’s important you recover. Don’t worry about winning, just be in the game, and enjoy its ups and downs.


Be Adaptable:
The industry changes quickly. No one that started with me in 1999 is still doing the job that they had then. In fact most people aren’t even doing the job they were doing in 2010.

This industry moves quickly.

Markets change, trends change, and opportunities come up.

You have to be adaptable and nimble.

Remain flexible.

If you can keep growing and re-training your self you will rise faster, and you will catch more waves.

The trick to do this is: ask lots of questions of your self and others, read a lot, don’t psychologically get too attached to anything. Keep your eyes open for opportunities.


If you see something interesting going on in another area, go take a look, meet some new people.

If it seems interesting and you like it, switch.

I saw countless people that couldn’t change with the market as they became obsolete, while there were others that kept adapting to the new realities they found themselves in.

Adaption means switching from buy side to sell side, from IB to S&T, from sales to trading, from research to technology.

Finance is a fairly fungible skill and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can learn and adapt.

I changed jobs six times in fifteen years, all while still staying inside the banks.


Be Passionate:
If you don’t care about this game you may survive it, but you will never be the best at it. Over eighteen years I saw hundreds of analysts / associates join the rank and quickly realize in two years that this wasn’t for them.

There is nothing wrong with that.

You should do what you care about, something you would do even if they weren’t paying you.

Some days you will be working from 7am to 11pm, maybe longer. If you aren’t passionate about the game, you will be unhappy.

There is no point spending your time on something that makes you unhappy.

The most successful people I saw on Wall St were those that were passionate about what they did. They couldn’t wait to get into work and they were always the last ones there.


I remember running into work every day, I still do !

More important than anything in life, do what you are passionate about, you will make more money doing that, and even if that’s not true, you will definitely be happier.


Be Curious
Investment banks are filled with very smart people, you will have to compete and win versus these people.

You don’t have to be born this way.

Most of us aren’t.

The key is that you become intelligent. The way to become intelligent is to be curious. Keep learning.

Warren Buffett says he reads 500 pages worth of annual reports every day – and he’s a very smart guy. The trick to excelling is to be humble and admit you don’t know everything. This way you won’t get complacent and you will recognize that there is a sea of things you don’t know.

If you ever find yourself sitting at your desk with nothing to do, or thinking that you have done your job – you have a problem !


My recommendation to you, regardless what you do in life, every day:

a) Ask 10 questions

b) Find 5 new things to read

c) Call up subject matter experts and ask questions

d) Approach random people at the bank and figure out what they do.

Remember you are the young kid, they expect little from you, except that you are curious and interested. Sitting at your desk being shy or concerned people will think you are dumb will only not help.

If you can keep learning every single day, you can keep growing and getting better. I found finance to be so much fun, because every day I was learning something new.

What could be a better job than that?


What to read weekly:
Newspapers: WSJ & FT
Magazines: Forbes, Fortune, Wired
Blogs: too many to mention, but definitely Farnam Street


Books that made it easier for me:
How to Win Friends & Influence People
You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Never Eat Alone
Throwing the Elephant: The Art of Managing Up
The Chimp Paradox: Mind Management Program

Note: we participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising commissions by linking to Amazon. Simply put, if you click on my links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small commission, yet you don’t pay any extra. 

Join thousands like you and receive our weekly email with Wall Street wisdom on how to be smarter, richer, happier.
Become a What I Learnt on Wall Street VIP

* indicates required