Stuck in the Middle: my weeks of dead-end streets

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You've already read about the plight of the junior job seeker (if you haven't click here), but it seems the situation isn't much better a bit higher up the banking food chain.

Below, our new mid-level candidate columnist tells us what it's really like being 30 and unemployed in Australia. Look out for more of his Stuck in the Middle articles in the future.

Returned from London in March 2009, I expected to find a country experiencing challenging economic circumstances, but one that was nevertheless "avoiding recession", as the politicians and media would have us believe.

But even in London during the depth of the recession, firms were still on the lookout for good quality people. Before my departure I actually hired several.

Therefore, as a 30-year-old professional with 10 years' experience in the finance/property industry, I never thought for one moment that I would find myself unemployed, working day-in, day-out to find a new job, but with virtually every avenue proving to be a dead-end street.

Indeed, over a three-month block between 1 April and 30 June, despite continued "relatively positive" economic news, I can honestly say there were only about five positions advertised in my sector across all of Australia, with no doubt hundreds of applications for each vacancy.

I have also spoken to the major Australian banks and numerous second tier ones about potential employment. The latter usually responded that I should now apply for any roles through the parent bank. Yes, apparently the Big Four now control everything, so if they choose not to hire, then none of their subsidiaries will either.

The responses from the various financial employers in Australia have varied, however the typical feedback is simply: "we are not looking to hire at this time" (that's if you get a response at all).

I have also had several interviews with US-owned banks, only to be told at the last hurdle that "post conversations with our US colleagues, the company has now been told we do not have a mandate to hire in Australia".

Truth? God only knows. Irritating? Most definitely! How can an executive in the US have any idea whether I would or wouldn't be a worthwhile addition to the firm? It seems simply short sighted.

However, the most galling response of all actually came from one of the Big Four.

To present the story, let me give you a bit of background to the markets. I understand that Aussie banks are "overweight" in property. They are sitting on a glut of debt, with little chance of securitising any future loans, and are facing massive asset valuation writedowns. Going foward, the prospect of additional substantial negative asset movements within the Australian market is high.

My international experience wasn't wanted

Having worked at UBS and HBOS in the UK, I understand exactly what the A-Banks must do to ensure they do not end up like their UK counterparts. The market is still some six to nine months behind the UK and at least a year behind the US.

I may be wrong, but I would have thought that working through the most severe and swift financial downturn the UK has ever seen, combined with having first-hand knowledge of the key factors influencing numerous global markets, would be considered beneficial? Apparently not.

Upon interviewing for several roles, I was twice advised that "a lack of recent Australian experience" ruled me out of the running (despite having spent six years working in Australia before spending four years in the UK). In one case I was actually told that I "did not have enough gray hair" and was too young for the position, regardless of my experience internationally.

Whilst this in itself was extremely frustrating, the kick in the guts came several weeks later when the same bank was actually reported in the Australian Financial Review as saying that commercial property markets in Australia were in the process of severe falls. It also said the market had a complete lack on transparency, and it was unsure when it would bottom out.

This more or less suggested that the firm basically had no idea what the end position would be and how exposed it was. I wanted to scream "hello, there are people here who can help you!". But I suspect even if I had done so at the top of my lungs in bank's HQ reception, it would have fallen on deaf ears.

If I may be so bold, I would suggest that the Big Four bring on board returning expats (and I'm sure they are returning by the boat load) who have invaluable working knowledge of various asset markets worldwide (it is a GLOBAL ECONOMY after all).

You can't buy international experience - you actually have to go outside Australia to get it. In the event they choose not to, then we can only hope someone within these organisations has a clue what goes on outside Australian shores.

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