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Job club is a focus of hope

The group meets once a week to discuss strategies for finding a new job, keep up morale and commiserate with disappointments. Two are IT experts, while the others are an equity capital markets director, an equities analyst and an equities derivatives analyst. Most have been out of work since late last year. One is about to start a new job, but the others have yet to find work.

Gabriella, the equity analyst, tells the meeting at the outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison that she spent 20 hours looking for a job the previous week, including attending four interviews. “Everyone is only interested in hiring people already in jobs,” she says.

Jean, an equities derivatives analyst, spent 30 hours looking for work and went to two interviews. He says people are more interested in hiring junior staff, who cost less than him. “It’s hard to stay focused,” he sighs.

There seems to be more hope for Mark, an equity capital markets expert. He met a former boss, who has a possible brief to build a new team. Nothing is certain, but the boss wants to keep talking over the next two months.

Simon, a technology specialist, seems to have had the least luck. He spent 19 hours looking for a job (Lee Hecht Harrison encourages them to keep a record), but failed to secure an interview. He says the hardest part is finding out whom to talk to. People whose names are in the public domain are all too senior.

The group gives recruitment firms mixed reviews. Mark believes appropriate jobs in equity capital markets are rarely advertised. Jean says many recruiters are in a worse position than the people they are trying to place: “A lot of them are just desperate for work.”

There are complaints about agents’ ineptitude. This spans everything from failing to send CVs to recruiters, to failing to inform candidates about precisely which job they are being interviewed for. Jean says: “Agents can be terrible. You have to constantly push them and prod them to do their job. A lot are of a very low standard.”

Gabriella, who is looking for a research job with a fund manager, says most vacancies in her area are advertised. Amanda, an e-commerce specialist, agrees, but is irritated at having to deal with many different recruitment firms. She says: “All jobs are advertised through agencies, and all banks use different agents, so you have to join lots of them.” She has been on the books of 35, but has pruned this down to nine.

There are horror stories about job advertisers who have been inundated with responses. Gabriella was interviewed for a researcher role at a buyside firm for which 400 people had applied. Jean says another vacancy advertised directly by a bank attracted 2,000 CVs, forcing the human resources department to delegate screening to an agency.

Everyone in the group agrees on one thing: after being made redundant, it is a good idea to go on holiday before looking for a new job. Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations. Amanda says: “You don’t often get the chance to take time off, and when you get another job you’ll regret it if you don’t.”

Relatively low pay may stifle future travel plans, with many bankers forced to take jobs for less money than their previous one. Amanda, for example, has just accepted an IT job in a retail bank for a third of what she made at the investment bank. She says at least there will be more job security and better training opportunities.

Gabriella says younger staff are now resigned to earning less. Senior staff appear less accepting. She says one experienced equities analyst advised her to get out of the industry because the days of earning 300,000 (€423,000) to 400,000 are over. Most of the group want to stay in banking, though one is interested in trying journalism. He says one employer found it hard to believe that he could tolerate such a large pay cut. Jane Holmes, a consultant at Lee Hecht Harrison, says women and older staff tend to be more willing than others to quit banking.

Although everyone in the group is from overseas, no one wants to leave London. They think it still offers the best opportunities. Mark says: “This downturn is just a feature of the market. In another three or four years there will be an upswing.” Jean is even more confident.

“Things are looking up. The atmosphere has changed. People are suddenly returning calls and saying they have authority to increase headcount. They are to keen to use it quickly, in case it gets taken away again.”