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In Financial Markets You Have to Have a Job to Get a Job

It’s the job seeker’s proverbial “Catch-22.” Many financial firms say they’ll only hire you if you are currently employed. That means if you’re unemployed, don’t even apply. At least that’s what employers are telling the recruiters working for them.

Send me employed people to interview for an open position, preferably someone poached from a direct competitor. Says one unnamed New York City-based financial recruiter, “They want me to find someone who has a current Rolodex-someone who can bring immediate value to the client.”

For the unemployed, but well qualified finance exec, the news certainly isn’t good. But don’t expect the recruiter to share the information. It’s not uncommon for search firms to avoid telling applicants that the employer heavily favors those who are already employed.

So, what’s the best way to make yourself more attractive to an employer who is only looking for a poached candidate? It pays to find out if the job listing through the recruiter is also listed on the internal company Web site. It behooves you to apply through the internal channels, says the recruiter. The company is less likely to want to take a chance and pay a recruiter for a marginal candidate. But they might give you more of a second look when you come to them directly. And remember to work any of your connections you might have with the company.

When you do use a recruiter, remember to ask them just how many people have interviewed for the spot. Our recruiter notes that there have been times when a search firm might present the employer with a ton of applicants for one role-giving the employer a grouping of weaker candidates to make the strongest one stand out. You don’t want to be the weakest link.

Most recruiters aren’t quite so conniving, given they are looking to place as many people as possible. But the job candidate also needs to be wise and not spin their wheels and go out for jobs they aren’t qualified to take, even if a recruiter might suggest it. Look for the recruiter to be direct, but polite, about your chances to get the spot. Says our recruiter, “There has to be transparency.”

If a candidate’s credentials put them on the fence, so to speak, a recruiter should be less likely to push the applicant to the company. The only time when this works is when the recruiter has a special “in” or relationship with the company. Unfortunately, you, as the job applicant, have no way of knowing that.

For the short-term, don’t expect the trend to stop, says our recruiter. The top-tier bulge bracket firms are notorious for snagging seasoned vets, often a full team, firmly and happily ensconced at their direct competitor. They bid them up, and they can’t resist the offer. The reasoning: it helps to weaken the enemy. In tough times, the trend only increases.

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