Straight out of college, we’re forced with the toughest of decisions. Do we grab that first job offer we receive, or do we hold out to do what we love? Down the road, when we’ve realized we’re not going down an optimal career path, how do we jump into a new job without starting all over again?
These are the questions that remain rubiks-cubesque riddles to the millenial generation. Coincidentally, TANR landed an interview with Wall Street veteran, and first-time author Ben Carpenter, who is releasing his book, The Bigs (meaning, the big leagues), which promises to answer the “…secrets nobody tells students and young professionals about how to find a great job, do a great job, be a leader, start a business, stay out of trouble, and live a happy life.” Bold claims, but Ben has lived a bold life, and I had the opportunity to ask him those very questions (selfishly, I must add).
So I’d like to start this interview with a scenario that most newly minted college grads face as they attempt to enter “The Bigs.”
TANR: I’m faced with a choice: I’ve finally received my first job offer so far out of college after months of work (resume building, e-mails, interviewing,etc.). It pays enough for me to afford a box (some people call them apartments) in the city of my choice, plus just enough money to party on the weekends and purchase the essentials. The downside: this offer has nothing to do with what I really want to do in life, or at least what I expected I’d be doing with what I focused on in college. Holding out for something better could mean missing out on my only initial entrance in to the bigs for the foreseeable future. How would evaluate what to do, and what advice would you give to this person?
Ben: In general, I’m fan of jumping in and learning to swim. Meaning, the real world, or (as I call it in my book), the big leagues, is so different from your life as child and student, that I believe the sooner you go to work the better. And, your first job is likely not your last, so why wait for what you think will be a perfect job – because it probably isn’t.
With that said, it is also a matter of your options. If you already live in the general area you are looking for a job, and you have reasonably good contacts in your “dream” industry, it might make sense to hold out a little longer for something closer to your dream job.
TANR: Once I’ve made that choice and I’ve gotten my first job, what are a couple of things I can do to ensure I’m building a sound reputation and foundation for future upward mobility in those crucial initial weeks/months in my role?
Ben: Your first month on the job could be the most important four weeks of your career. People will form opinions of you personally and professionally that will be difficult to change (at least if those opinions are negative – positive opinions can turn quicker).
From the first day at work you need to dress appropriately, get to work early, ask questions, look for ways to be helpful, be considerate of your co-workers, and be the last one out the door at the end of the day. If you do those things, you will quickly be identified as a leader because you will be conducting yourself the way your boss wants all his employees to behave. Being identified as a leader is the ticket to upward mobility at most companies.
TANR: Personally, I’m a big believer in perpetual self-improvement (learning outside of work, staying healthy and active, rather than continuing the party from college . . .), especially during our 20-something years. What are your thoughts on the balance between working hard and playing hard. How much social sacrifice do you see the highest performers making early on in their career?
Ben: I haven’t see much of a trade-off between working hard and playing hard in the real world. This is because many of the most successful people seem to have a motor that allows them to do both. Specifically, people who are active, maybe even aggressive, socially are often that way at work – and because business is so competitive, aggressiveness at work is generally highly regarded and rewarded.
However, it is true that in the real world it is important to pick you spots to go crazy. Falling down drunk, or even walking unsteadily, is a big negative at a corporate event, but entertaining a crowd and not being the first to leave is a positive.
Finally, being out and about socially can be helpful in finding a partner to share you life with (which, with the right partner, is a HUGE positive), and can help you make personal friendship that can later prove invaluable professionally.
TANR: Another scenario: I’m 25ish years old. I’ve spent the first 4 or so years of my post-college career in a track that I absolutely detest, but I’m terrified of starting over. Do I trudge on and continue to make upward movements in my current career or do I make that jump elsewhere? If so, what’s the first step I should take to change my track?
Ben: Step one is to commit yourself to getting out of your current job as soon as possible! You do that by first deciding what it is you want to do, and where you want to do it. Step two, choosing the right job or career, is a mixture of deciding which careers offer the possibility of an income that can support your desired lifestyle, and which of those careers you think you will be best suited for.
The way to accomplish step two is to have many informational interviews with people, both junior and senior, in the industries you are most interested in. After you choose a career you are excited about, read Chapter #7 of The Bigs to find out how to get a great job in that industry.
TANR: Now, to you: What are some of the books that you read in your early 20’s that helped to shape your personal and professional mentality?
Ben: I can’t name one. I feel that my whole career was a series of trial and error. What I can say, with complete sincerity, is if I could have read The Bigs when I was in my early 20’s it would have been a life changing event for me.
TANR: What is one piece of advice of that you received when you were first started out in The Bigs that most impacted your career.
Ben: When I first got to the big leagues (post-college) I found myself owning a wild bar in Manhattan – while working at a major Wall Street firm, Bankers Trust, as an institutional bond salesman. For almost a year, I was at the bar until 3am, and up at 6am to go to work. This insane schedule was the ultimate “burning the candle at both ends” and finally my sales manager at BT came by my desk late one afternoon. He asked me why I seemed so exhausted and I began to answer by saying “Well you know I own the bar . . .” And before I could continue he interrupted asked me loudly, “Is your bar more important to you than this job?” I said no, and then he really began yelling at me saying “WELL THEN GET SOME GODDAMN SLEEP!”
I realized that was some pretty good advice, from a pretty important person in my life and, while I kept the bar, I did cut down my hours there significantly.
TANR: Outside of a job in The Bigs, what are some things 20-somethings can be doing in their lives to ensure that we’re setting ourselves up for a sound financial and professional future?
Ben: A great job that your good at, and a partner you love, is the soundest foundation you can have. But after that, controlling your expenses is a necessary precondition to being happy because it is nearly impossible to be happy if you are under severe financial pressure. And a shocking number of people with great jobs, that pay well, find themselves under severe financial pressure because they don’t appropriately control their expenses.
TANR: One of your stories in your book The Bigs, about Rick Patino and the choice of happiness really resonated with me. I’ve always thought that having a positive attitude can be a magnet for connection with others, and helping us to maintain a steady attitude in situations of high pressure. How important has it been for you personally to maintain a balanced attitude in a business and life, despite the highs and lows of your career?
Ben: It has been very important. In The Bigs, I tell the story about how I, in the middle of my career, left bond sales to become a trader. I thought I would be a great trader, but I was the opposite. This was perhaps the greatest test of my entire career. After hanging my head in shame and embarrassment for a short while, I “got it together” and made a conscious decision to keep a positive attitude and be a good teammate to those around me. Unfortunately, this didn’t make me a successful trader, but it did convince my bosses that I should stay on the fast track to the top of the firm despite my failure.
TANR.: One final question: If you had to distill the message of your book to the world of confused college kids and early-career people, what would that message be?
The above is just one example of the value of keeping a positive attitude. If fact, if there is one single, most important, message in The Bigs, it’s this: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT ALL. If you don’t settle, you are determined, you are resilient, and you choose to be happy – you are guaranteed nothing. Except, the satisfaction of knowing you fought the good fight and, until your body finally gives way to the inevitable, you were never knocked down and unable get back up.
TANR: Thanks to Ben for taking the time out of his super busy schedule to answer these questions!!
(Now, be sure to pre-order The Bigs here! and check out The Bigs Website)
Ben Carpenter, author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life, began his career as a Commercial Lending Officer at the Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital which, during his 22 year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, Co-Chief Operating Officer, and Co-CEO.
Currently Ben is the Vice Chairman of CRT Capital Group, a 300 person institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, CT. He resides with his wife, Leigh, and three daughters in Greenwich, CT.
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