Naeem Muhammed

Naeem Muhammed.jpeg

Name: Naeem Muhammed

Title: Associate

Company: Goldman Sachs

Career Tenure: 4 years at Goldman Sachs

Education: B.A. in Economics and Management, DePauw University

What is the greatest lesson you've learned in your career thus far?

“Control the controllable.” It’s my life mantra for both personal and professional endeavors. As it relates to my career, it’s important to remember that the only thing I can control is my performance. I can’t control how people perceive me; I can’t control whether or not I will get a promotion and I can’t control my compensation. However, I can control how hard I work. To that extent, I have learned to always give 110%. I truly believe that I work in an environment that promotes meritocracy. Ideally, if I’m performing at a high level, everything else will follow. Focus on the things that you can control and do those things at the highest level CONSISTENTLY!

What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?

I took the GMAT 3 time and studied for over a 1.5 years before I got my target score and then decided I wasn’t ready for business school. I still want to let my career in Finance run its course a little longer. But studying for the GMAT taught me a lot about myself. It was the first time I ever failed. I have been a straight A student since elementary school, class speaker in high school, and student-athlete in college. I left DePauw University and began a career at one of the best investment firms on wall street and everything seemed like it was glittering gold.

The GMAT humbled me. It broke me down and gave me the opportunity to build myself back up (Yes I am personifying the GMAT. It is a human. A very EVIL human). More important than the struggle was the outcome. During the process, I had the opportunity to re-evaluate why I wanted to pursue an MBA and while I know I will pursue it someday, I learned that now is not the right time. Moreover, this failure taught me a lot about resilience. As cliché as it sounds, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall as long as you get back up. Over the course of your career, you will undoubtedly experience a major setback and/or make some critical mistakes. Be resilient. Learn from your mistakes and commit to personal and professional growth. I know that there are many more challenges ahead of me, but now I have the confidence to overcome any struggles in my path.

What issues have you dealt with being a person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?

It’s no secret that diversity is a big challenge in the financial services industry. That said, I prefer to look at this challenge as an opportunity. A quote that I always keep in my head is, “I’m focused on the outcome, not the obstacles” –Anonymous. Growing up in River Park Towers (BX!), I never saw any investment bankers or big-time investors. My first exposure to Wall Street was  in the movie Wolf of Wall Street. Now I’m in a position to educate people from my community about careers in financial services and I think that’s powerful. Someday I hope to be in a position to heavily influence an increase in diversity in the industry. Practically, I’ve tried to address this challenge by mentoring junior Analysts who join my firm and educating students of color about career opportunities in banking. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching people in my community about financial literacy, personal investing, and overall wealth creation strategies. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so I’m committed to seeing progress over the long haul.

What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?

Introspection and self-reflection are critical. If you can’t motivate yourself to ensure that your career is progressing then there’s a serious problem. No one can make you hungry. Hunger is innate. I’m motivated by knowing that my career is still a work in progress and I have not yet mastered my role. I think it’s important to spend at least one hour a week planning, meditating, and reflecting on your career. It’s funny how day by day nothing feels like it is changing, but when you look back everything's different. That’s the power of time. If you let time escape you, you’ll look back and regret not taking important steps. One of my favorite poems talks about time and it has encouraged me to always be thinking about how to use it most effectively.

I have only just a minute. Only 60 seconds in it.

Didn’t chose it, can’t refuse it but it’s up to me to use it.

Going to pay a price is a lose it. Going to pay a price if I abuse it.

I have only just a minute, but ETERNITY is in it

In addition to self-reflection and planning, I often leverage as many of the technical training and professional development programs my firm offers as possible. I’ve committed myself to continuing to learn whenever I have the opportunity to do so. This focus on professional development and training has allowed me to maximize my learning at the firm and be recognized by my peers as a highly competent and motivated.

Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?

I don’t believe in formal mentorship programs with rules and step-by-step processes, but I think it’s imperative to identify several people you respect and admire and do your best to learn from them and their career experiences. I don’t have just one mentor. I probably have ten and I reach out to each of them for completely different reasons.

My senior year of college, I heard Hill Harper speak at DePauw University and he introduced me to the concept of having a personal “Board of Directors.” That was one of the best lessons I’ve learned. Your mentors don’t necessarily need to be super senior people or people who have completely figured out life . In fact, learning from people who have failed may be more beneficial than learning from people who only know success. I’ve learned a ton from people junior and senior to me, same and different races and all genders. The key to this is having a broad (but manageable) group of people who you trust to guide you. You musn’t be afraid to ask questions. My mom has always said, “Arrogance will surely lead to failure and only those who listen actually learn.” I’ve lived much of my personal and professional life by this mantra.

What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?

1. Get it done! By any means necessary

The first few years of your career are your formative years because this is when you learn the core skills of your function and develop your reputation. It is important that you position yourself as a reliable team member early on. Senior people love having a star Analyst or Associate (or whatever your company calls people with 0–5 years of experience). Even if you don’t want to stay at your firm/industry, the core skills you develop in the beginning of your career will prove to be invaluable in the future. In your first few years, throw away the concept of work-life balance and focus on developing the skills you need to achieve your goals. Knock every task out the park. Your future self will appreciate the sacrifices that your younger self makes today.

2. Solicit feedback

In your first year, you should be getting feedback at least monthly (not formally but informally) to ensure that you are on the right track. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than thinking you’re doing a great job only to find out at the end of the year that what you thought was an A+, was actually a C-. Be proactive about receiving, processing, and implementing feedback. After your first year, you should have a sense of what good, great, and bad looks like. At that point I think it's ok to use judgment to determine how frequently you need to gather feedback going forward.

3. When you think you’re done with a task (assuming it’s not a fire drill) put it away, take a walk, use the bathroom, get some coffee or just do something else for some time and then print your assignment out and go through it with a red pen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found errors in my own work once I print it out. Attention to detail is one of the most important skills you can have in almost any industry, so take time to develop it. One mistake can make someone question your entire body of work.

4. Live, a little

Wait! Didn’t you say forget about work life balance? This is confusing. I know. But in all seriousness, make time to have fun and share experiences with your friends and family. Schedule vacations so that you have something to look forward to. Sometimes a quick vacation is all you need to recover and get back to the grind.

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