The Insider: Grinding out a tough year

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Junior staff may be cheap, but that doesn't mean they're assured of keeping their jobs when banks are cutting costs.

If the lead-up to Christmas didn't have you scared, then the start to 2008 should be enough to put the fear of the four horsemen into you. The City is off to a horrible start and the bad news just keeps on coming. Bond insurer downgrades, economic recession odds going up, market panics and even more bad news on the housing front. What does this mean for banking strategy? Two words: cost containment.

So you're on a grad programme and just because you're a) cheap (relatively speaking), and b) new, don't think you're safe. In the really bad times, it is not unheard of for grad programmes to cut the entire class after initial training. This happened in 2001. While things are not that bad just yet, the pressure is on in 2008 to justify your existence.

What can you do?

It starts with the cliché, "Go the extra mile." When it comes down to who stays and who goes, the senior guys base their decision on who offers the most value to them. There are three components to demonstrating your value beyond the essentials of doing quality work.

The first component is to get on the right projects. These are often the big transactions, or deals, or the work that no one else wants to do because it's a lifestyle killer and really demanding - but they should all have one thing in common, and that is someone important who is the effective sponsor and who will get to feel that you are making their lives better. Show your stuff on these projects. Smile throughout, show that you love life, even if you hate it, and you will stand out.

The second component is related to the first, and that is that you have to show your stuff to the right people. Decision makers will find it harder to make the firing decision if they themselves know the junior, the junior's work and overall contribution. Do not take this as a licence to brown-nose, but do be savvy about making your work visible. Also do not ignore everyone in between you and the decision makers. Actually, do not ignore anyone; any positive remark said about you will only reinforce your position.

The third component I have mentioned, and will continue to mention time and time again. Find your mentors. The more clout they have the better, but the most important thing is that they are the kind of people who will fight your corner. You have to earn that support of course, and that means making yourself absolutely invaluable to your mentor. I know of so many instances when the table-banging senior guy got their junior through the cutting rounds or the promotion cycle, while other juniors may have been just as good, or even better, but lacked support at the time when it mattered most.

It's going to be a tough year and you'll need to scrap your way through it, but the City is cyclical and good years always follow the bad - you just need to survive long enough for the good times to come around again.

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