You know that feeling when you change jobs or careers. Your senses are alert. It all feels new and fresh. You are excited about everything and everybody.
The learning curve is steep. You absorb new information like never before. And at times, you are a bit lost, but slowly you start putting the pieces together.
That is exactly how I have felt over the past two months. After some 20 years in academia, civil service, and international and national politics, I have become a banker. I can’t say if I have gone from bad to worse, but at least it doesn’t feel like it.
Working as Vice President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) has been an exciting change. My training and background is more in political science and international relations rather than economics and finance. Yet the glue that keeps it all together is the European Union (EU). The EIB is the EU’s bank and has been since 1958.
It is perhaps the best kept secret of the EU. I am an EU nerd at best of times, but little did I know that the EIB is the biggest multilateral bank in the world. Bigger than the World Bank (WB) and 10 times bigger than the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Over the years I have had the honour to serve in various public capacities. Whenever I have been faced with a new task, it has taken me approximately four months to get acquainted with the job and half a year to feel comfortable. There are no shortcuts. You simply have to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.
I’ve had time to reflect and came up with these three things that I try to keep in mind when I start something new.
First, do not be afraid to ask stupid questions. It is better to try to understand than to pretend that you understand. Don’t nod like a Swede when a Dane is speaking “Scandinavian.” No, we do not understand Danish!
Second, work hard on the basics. If you do not get the foundation, it will be very difficult to build a clear picture of your new tasks ahead. Read, listen, discuss, write, observe. Try to soak in as much as possible. One piece at a time.
Third, be humble. It does not matter what your background is, you are the newcomer. What you have done in the past is useful, but it is in the past. Your new colleagues will have been there for longer and you have to respect that. You could be the best number-cruncher in the world (I am not!), but you have to realise that at the office it is all about human relations and empathy.
A curious mind loves to learn new things. Being the new kid on the block is fun. Even if they involve derivatives, swaps, and complicated acronyms. I want this feeling of excitement to last for as long as possible. And it will.