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Business Etiquette - Six things every corporate climber should know

I have been in the Finance business for more years than I will ever admit. OK, let’s just say over twenty years and leave it at that. I went from working as a receptionist to the current managerial position I hold. I am the Manager for the “KYC - Quality Control” team for one of the top investment firms in New York City. We review and investigate the onboarding information of potential new clients to the firm. In other words, we’re that annoying group that pesters the sales teams for more intrusive information on their clients.

Unfortunately, many young people have never been taught the basics of business etiquette. In my years of experience I have learned many lessons that helped me navigate my way through the corporate world. I want to share a few lessons I learned along the way in the hopes it will help you along your career path.

But before I begin, I want to tell you a little more about my professional background. I started in the Finance business as a receptionist for an investment firm in the suburbs of Westchester County. As an English Lit major I knew little about the world of Finance. And as a young divorced mother, of two toddlers, I was just looking for a job. Once there, I became fascinated as I observed the hustle and bustle of the stock market. “Sell high…buy low!” Growing increasingly interested, I took the time to learn as much as I could from the Financial Advisors, Client Associates and Managers that I saw everyday. And in only two short months, I was promoted to a Client Associate (or a CA as they’re now called). I worked for several Financial Advisors, in addition to being an assistant to the Compliance Officer.

As time went on, I found myself more and more interested in the compliance side of the business. I began to volunteer for special projects. I helped the Compliance Officer with paperwork for upcoming audits; and combed through various reports. Together we basically did all we could to keep the sales force from losing their licenses, their jobs and in some cases from going to jail (but that’s another story). As I continued to volunteer for special projects, I was given additional responsibilities. The Compliance Officer recommended me to get my first of three Securities Licenses I would have one day. I quickly became proficient in various Compliance matters & became the point person for our office. I know it sounds crazy but I ended up falling in love with all things compliance (please, don’t judge me).

Then some time later, I took what I learned and was able to get a position in the Compliance Department of another firm. Again, I volunteered for special projects and ended up getting promoted as an Assistant Compliance Officer where I was able to conduct audits throughout the tri-state area.

Eventually, I grew tired of the traveling and took a position that kept me closer to home. I continued to soak in as much information as I could. And again, I volunteered for additional work. I received a promotion within my first year.

Sometime later I received a phone call from someone I knew at my current firm. He told me about an open position that I later got and I was eventually given my own team to run.

I learned several lessons along the way that helped me go beyond my position as a receptionist to my current managerial position. I believe these lessons may be able to help you as well:

1. Volunteer to do more than what your current job description entails: Let your Manager know that you are willing and able to go the extra mile. That you are a team player. Are there any special projects in the pipeline? Is there an item you can take off your Manager’s plate? Is there something you can do that would be an asset to your team? Doing work that is outside your day-to-day can help you learn about other avenues of the business. In addition, it can help get your name in front of people whose path you may not have crossed otherwise. Although special projects are great, be sure that the extra work does not get in the way of the job for which you were hired.

2. Learn as much as you can from people in other positions: Of course you must know your own position well, but you should also learn as much as you can about different aspects of the business. Is your department situated close to another? As you make every day conversation find out exactly what that department does. Do you tend to see the same people in the lunchroom? Make conversation. Find out what you can but be sincere. People can see a “Social Climber” a mile away. Remember, the more you know, the more valuable you become to the people around you. And the better chance you have in positioning yourself into a promotion or another role all together.

3. Always be professional in all areas of communication with others (i.e., email, phone or in person): Whether you are communicating via email, chat or speaking face to face, remember you are corresponding with a colleague, not one of your friends. This is not the place to use slang; an emoji, or chew gum. Do not vent about the firm, a co-worker and especially your boss. Do not use sarcasm over the email or chat. It does not always translate well. It can be misinterpreted and used against you. Please use spellcheck and proof read your emails before hitting “send”. Sometimes the only way a person will know you is through your emails. So you always want to put your best foot forward. Remember never put anything in the email that you do not want the whole firm to read. People can and will forward your email. You never know whose computer it will end up on.

4. Take notes: This is a pet peeve of mine. If you’re in a meeting or learning something new, write it down in a notebook, on your tablet or phone, or wherever you feel comfortable. This will enable you to refer to the information later. You may think you will remember but there are times when you’re in the middle of working on something and you can’t remember what comes next or even how to begin. Whether in a notebook or your computer be sure it’s in a place where you can refer to it quickly. If your boss has you on a deadline you do not want to spend the time wondering where you put your notes.

5. Ask questions: If you don’t know something, ask. Personally, I’d rather you ask me how to do something than for you to do it wrong and we have to fix it later. Don’t guess. Don’t procrastinate. When you’re asked something that you don’t know, tell the person that you are not sure, and you will get back to them with the answer as soon as you can. Find the answer and then contact your colleague or boss as soon as possible. They will respect you more for admitting you don’t know opposed to if you gave them the wrong answer. Or spoke in circles without actually answering the question. This also goes back to writing it down. Most people do not mind helping you but they do not like answering the same question from the same person over and over again. If you have that reputation you will find that people will avoid you like the plague.

Last but certainly not least….

6. Have a good attitude: Believe me, the corporate arena is a small world. Your reputation definitely precedes you. If you have a reputation of being combative, not being professional, or only doing the minimum to get by, the word will get around. And this can reflect negatively on you. Even if you are hoping to join another firm, chances are much higher if you continue in the same line of business that someone you previously worked with or around, may later be asked to vouch for you. And if the person only knows negative things about you there goes your chances of getting the job. So be professional and be kind. You never know. The person you told off today may be interviewing you for your dream job tomorrow.

So as you continue to climb the corporate ladder please remember these 6 suggestions: volunteer when you can; learn as much as you can from other people; always be professional in your communication; take notes; ask questions, and have a good attitude.

Good luck and feel free to share with others.

Love & happiness,


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