This post is a precursor to a series I will start on Thursday about how to be a great analyst.
I worked at an investment bank after college and despite the merits/downsides that someone like Kevin Roose talks about in Young Money, it was a formidable experience laying a great professional groundwork for me. The one major detriment when I came out of it, however, was that I lacked the professional confidence to form an opinion.
Those who know me know that I am never one to shy away from expressing my thoughts. To put it generously, I’m opinionated about pretty much everything. But toward the end of my time on the trading floor, a managing director and desk leader asked for my opinion on something during a meeting in front of a large group. I was speechless: I’d been doing the same thing over and over again for two years and no one had solicited my advice, so I hadn’t even bothered to form subjective thoughts on the matter. That was a big mistake.
The technology world is a slightly more egalitarian system. Age is not a correlation for success or capitalization on ideas (in fact, the converse is more often true). It’s also a world of rapid innovation, and with fast change comes a huge opportunity to jump in headfirst. Forming an opinion is one of the most important ways to rise to a challenge and step up to a leadership position.
Forming an opinion is a gut reaction that keeps you attuned to your surroundings. Know how you feel about that new product or the updated color scheme. It’s as simple as that. Reading commentary can help shape or inform an opinion, but ordinarily it’s entirely your own. By having an opinion, it shows that you are well-researched and insightful enough to digest what you have gleaned in order to make it your own. In interviews, I often ask for people’s opinions on various trends or products just to see how they process information.
In addition, forming an opinion is one of the many ways you can be an excellent analyst or more-junior contributor. If you feel strongly about something, it will motivate you to work toward your passions, and it will demonstrate that you add value by intelligently understanding your surroundings.
But be compromising. Argue your point in a tactful way and back it up with data or concrete examples if possible. And then listen. Your opinion isn’t the only one in the room and it’s as subjective as anything else; there’s no right answer and you should remain open-minded to incorporating others’ philosophies into your own. Don’t make enemies over your opinions.