Guest comment: hot career steps for cooler times

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On first impressions the current employment market may not seem the easiest environment in which to advance your financial services career. However, with a strategic approach and a degree of flexibility your career can still flourish.

Given the proliferation of doom and gloom news, candidates could be forgiven for thinking that any hope of career advancement is lost. Certainly there has been a shift in the jobs market, and candidates at the $65k to $100k level are probably the most acutely aware of this change because they are competing the hardest for the top jobs.

Yet while the market may have cooled, opportunities are still available. What you now need to advance your career is a more strategic approach. We suggest the following:

Look towards the long-term

Job security has inevitably come to the fore of candidates' minds and this focus on the long-term is a good development. While we've always advised candidates to pursue opportunities that offer long-term career growth and tenure over short-term monetary gains, now more than ever you should look towards lasting career stability rather than a short-term fix.

Add value

Now is the time to build your skills to add value. For example, with a shift in focus away from debt-related business, banks are looking to increase their client base. Thus candidates with strong business development skills, as well as relevant banking experience, are in higher demand. A strong sales focus and the ability to develop a healthy portfolio are desirable.

Well-rounded skills

"All-rounders" are finding themselves with more options in today's market, so take every opportunity to expand your skill base. For example, a relationship manager within corporate/commercial who also has strong credit experience is likely to find more opportunities available in credit and risk-related roles than in mainstream relationship management. Similarly, a candidate with both mortgage and business lending skills is likely to find more opportunities available in the latter in today's market.

Flexibility

With hiring freezes evident in some financial services organisations, employers are increasingly asking their employees to take on extra responsibilities in the short term. Be open minded about embracing different duties. Think of the potential benefit to your career of this skills diversification and how these extra responsibilities help justify your position. You may also surprise yourself and find that you enjoy duties outside your core function.

It's not just about the money

Flexibility in terms of salary is also important. Higher candidate availability has levelled salaries and candidates should adopt more realistic expectations, rather than approaching salary discussions with a hard-line mindset. While candidates with the best skills may still secure higher rates of pay, overall there are often other benefitsm, such as flexible working hours or career advancement, that are offered in place of salary increases.

Consider contracting

Temporary recruitment has expanded to fill in the gaps left by headcount restrictions, and recruitment in this space is expected to increase further. For candidates, the advantages of contracting include a broader depth of opportunities, experience and skills development.

Be patient

The hiring process has lengthened, with employers enjoying the luxury of increased candidate choice. Consequently expect a longer hiring timeframe and, importantly, be patient.

Determination

Given that employers have more choice, they have become more specific in their ideal candidate. So while it may take a little longer to receive a job offer, it will come from a company for which you are the absolute best-fit, which is good news for both employer and employee. To get to that point though, determination and persistence in relation to your job search will pay off.

Maintain confidence

Above all, candidates should maintain their confidence. Those that put their job searches on hold to see what comes could miss out on career growth. The top candidates today are those who are sure of their ability to make a difference and approach an interview with a positive and confident attitude.

Jane McNeill, is a senior regional director of specialist recruiter Hays Banking

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