Being smart, even being good at your job, is no guarantee of success. So what’s the key ingredient?
In my experience—primarily working with and training finance professionals—attitude is more important than aptitude.
Don’t get me wrong. Intelligence is important. Financial institutions often target recruiting efforts for new professionals at “core schools” where they feel assured of the quality of the education and student body. Most job candidates from these schools will have the skills to perform on the job, especially at entry-level positions. (Full disclosure: Having Princeton on my resume has definitely helped open doors.) Another way of standing out on the aptitude scale is by being the top candidate from any school.
But what do you do when the door is opened? One senior banker addressing a new hire analyst class said, “We know you’re all smart. We wouldn’t interview you if we didn’t think you had the brains to succeed. But what do you do with this job opportunity? Do you have the attitude and the stamina to impress your bosses? This isn’t rocket science. Do you have the will and determination to succeed? Do people like working with you? Do they respect you? Do you have leadership potential?”
Attitude is about executing reliably and taking responsibility for seeing a project all the way through, even if there are bumps in the road, all while meeting the needs of coworkers and clients. A positive, “can do” work style often translates into better mentoring by your bosses (they give you more advice because you actually take it), better projects to work on (everyone knows they can count on you), and more recognition of your successes (you made everyone look good, so they return the favor).
Another senior executive shared his early experiences in finance with a new-hire group: “While I’m a bright guy, I wasn’t the smartest in my training class, but I was the hungriest and always went the extra mile. The guy who was ranked No. 1 out of training quit after a year; here I am nearly 15 years later, the head of a business group.”
This holds true through many other industries, as well, where getting things done and getting along do much more to increase a company’s bottom line than being the smartest. That’s why aptitude will always get you in the door but attitude is what will get you to the corner office.