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Junior Job Hunter: can I get back on track?

In the first of his “Junior Job Hunter” series, our new columnist tells us about his plight in the Aussie employment market since he left London last year.

Two years ago I was working in a meagre back-office banking role in a small Australian city. Having been travelling and working in London the year before, I had two choices: return to London to hopefully work for an international bank and try to extend my UK visa; or move to Sydney where I was being considered for a job in financial planning.

I decided to take the risk and returned to London. Despite the onset of the credit-crunch, I secured employment with a top-tier UK bank as a data analyst. I was ecstatic to be back and to be working with a large organisation, albeit only in a temporary position. Sadly the next six months didn’t exactly pan out as anticipated.

The position was not challenging or rewarding and I realised that (despite my relative inexperience) the bank “had issues”. My visa expired and couldn’t be renewed. The easier option would be to return to Australia, but I still wanted to travel. My career was effectively shelved as I chased sun and snow for the rest of 2008.

In early 2009, it became clear that I should return home. I needed to build my career, but knew that the market would be extremely tough. So with a challenging yet rewarding 18 months behind me, I started looking for work in Australia. I applied to the major corporate banks and investment firms’ graduate programs for 2010.

However, there was a constant stumbling block: I wasn’t a fresh graduate. I kept thinking ‘why do major banks invest heavily and extensively train fresh-faced graduates with no real experience, only to see them say farewell in a few years when they move overseas? What happened to valuing stability’?

I’m still young, with strong university results and a background in banking. More importantly, having satisfied my travel bug, I’m now ready to commit to a firm for the long term. Surely I’m a more secure return for their investment?

The result, while not unexpected, still hurt. I didn’t even make it to the interview stage in the months that followed my return home. It seemed my decision to leave for bigger opportunities and more experience had backfired.

Returning to my regional home city after the dizzying experiences of the outside world, is a difficult pill to swallow and I know that I need to consider other options to get my career on track. Retrain? Am I too old? I’m only 26!

Studying accounting, a sector that is resilient in the current economy, was suggested. But is a CA/CPFA really worth it? Ideally, I am seeking an employer who could assist financing further study, but I don’t hold out much hope. Plus by the time I finish will I have foregone so much potential employment income and experience that perhaps I’ll end up further behind in the career race?

From my recent applications, it seems obvious most banks focus initially on results and school reputation. I looked into short accounting courses at TAFE, but felt I need something more reputable. I looked into KAPLAN’s Masters of Applied Finance, but was unexpectedly warned off by students and comments on websites about the course content. Perhaps an MBA? But I’d have to finance it myself and having only just left Kevin Rudd’s army of unemployed, perhaps that’s not such a good idea.

I am considering study in a different path: public-policy analysis. But while the course looks fantastic and is with a highly reputable American college in Australia, it’s not investment banking and will I really want to do full-time study for a whole year?

I still haven’t decided. The decision I made two years ago didn’t work out as expected. But that’s life. So what are my options now? Network like crazy! I have sent my CV to all colleagues in any field I’m remotely interested in. However, the typical response has been “ANZ has cut 250 staff recently”.

I’ve recently applied to recruitment agencies to see if they could find anything entry-level. This has worked in at least letting me earn an income again. It’s nowhere near where I wanted to be when I left Australia, but it’s a start.

Comments (18)

  1. If you couldn’t get a graduate job at a large bank back when you graduated during the boom times, what hope do you have now in the toughest financial services graduate market in decades?

    Banks want the top of the bunch of graduating university students, they need young highly intelligent people in the industry as a whole otherwise in a few years when things pick up there will be nobody to step into the associate/VP level positions resulting in a massive skills shortage.

    global bank grad ’10 Reply
  2. Doesn’t efinancial careers have any positions advertised that you could fill?

  3. Mate, sorry to hear your bad news. A few pointers:

    I’m surprised that firms overlook you due to experience. In fact, I too am studying whilst working in a Front Office role (for which I’m truly grateful in this market) and have found that many of the BB IBs “require” some level of work experience – no matter how sophisticated.

    *Steer clear of Kaplan Applied Finance;
    *Try the CFA – Level 1 exam in December, 2009;
    *Develop your financial modelling skills;
    *Prep-up and ace the psychometric testing;
    *How reputable was your undergrad degree? If not top-tier, enrol in a top Master’s Programme;
    *Put together a fantastic job application and CV

  4. To look at your experiences and education, it is a little late in life to be applying for graduate positions. Graduate positions are only open to those who have graduated within two years of the intake they are applying for. Looking into that beforehand would have saved you some time and heartache. Your applications would not have even been read.

    Further education would definitely not go astray. As for TAFE, it is not going to be of any value to you in chasing your goal of working in investment banking. It will only keep you at home in your regional city. A Masters is always a good option. Particularly in times like these where the banking sector will be looking for people with experience and education to hit the ground running once things pick up again (ie not graduates). Now is probably the best time to be preparing yourself for that. But no one will pay that for you. Not at present.

    Build some stability in your career. There’s nothing wrong with having searched for greener pastures. Particularly whilst you’re young. Good employers will respect that ambition. Now is the time to position yourself for the next wave of opportunities. They will come. Make sure you’re rea

  5. global bank grad – I agree with your sentiments that the banks want all the top grads, but many of them are also looking for people with more life experience who when the good times roll back again don’t leave and want to go and ‘find themselves’ travelling around the world.
    Being a good grad, and having life experience are two seperate things and from my experience in the sector I’ve found that the true talent has a combination of both.

    Innovation Officer Reply
  6. Innovation Officer,

    I spent several years travelling the world before returning to graduate near the top of my class at a leading university. I have no doubt that this is a major part of why I was hired. My point is that you can have all the ‘life experience’ in the world but if you don’t have a very good GPA from a group of 8 university, you have little to no chance.


    global bank grad ’10 Reply
  7. I went to a G8 University. HRM for grad programmes – does this really matter?

  8. I am not sure why people dislike Kaplan masters?? The content is meant for you to do additional research. Last year, I completed the grad dip app fin through finsia (now Kaplan) and learnt a lot. I am now doing the Kaplan masters. The qual is still highly regarded by the industry. Last year my friend finished the grad cert in app fin and got recruited in portfolio management with a major fund manager and hasn’t looked back.

  9. Global bank grad, he never said he couldn’t get in when he first graduated in the boom times, im pretty sure he’s saying he chose to travel rather than follow the grad path after first leaving uni.

  10. Global Bank Grad
    You have an inflated opinion of your own worth to your employer. rest assured, despite the rhetoric you may have been fed by HR, most of your colleagues are frustrated by the fact that you have no experience in what you are doing, but seem to think that you are something special. They see a new crop of grads every year and most of them are as cocky as you. University grades mean zero in the real world. Why have you got so much time to post on this site? Doesnt someone in your team need a coffee?

    Market professional Reply
  11. market professional,

    If you were to read a little more carefully, you would see that my name is ‘global bank grad ’10’ meaning that I am starting next year. Hence I have time to post on this website because I am still a university student.

    I have been told that I will be expected to generate significant revenue within the first 12 months, otherwise goodbye. So I am under no illusions about my value to the trading desk until I have proven myself.

    To quote the article, ‘Two years ago I was working in a meagre back-office banking role in a small Australian city. Having been travelling and working in London the year before… or move to Sydney where I was being considered for a job in financial planning’ after the writer came back from travelling in the UK he would have been eligible for grad programs but was ‘being considered for a job in financial planning’. This can only lead me to believe that he did not make the cut for investment banking back office grad programs.

    During my internship on the desk, I was never once asked to get coffee. That is not how my trading desk operated. They said, ‘you are here to learn and show us what you have got, not fetch coffee’

    global bank grad ’10 Reply
  12. My name is Neil Shilbury I am the Chief Executive Officer of Kaplan Professional. We deliver the Master of Applied Finance qualification which you have been warned not to consider.

    I would like to challenge the comments made and offer you the opportunity to contact me directly to discuss the quality of our of market leading Masters qualification and more importantly how we can tailor this to match your career aspirations.

    You can contact me on 02 9908 0216, I look forward to hearing from you.

  13. Junior Job Hunter

    I can offer some words of encouragement, which also contradicts some of the words of wisdom offered here.

    Don’t give up!

    My girlfriend was admitted to the National Bank Graduate Programme as a 26 year old (M Stockton – which is more than 2 years after she graduated – lol)

    She also graduated from Nothern Rivers College in Lismore (now Southern Cross Uni), so pay no attention to “global bank grad” who suggests that you are wasting your time unless you went to one of the big 8 Uni’s. Her GPA was also not that great (global bank grad – are you reading this)

    The important thing is to be open to new ideas, modify your appraoch if you think its not working, and have faith and confidence in yourself. Often it is not the best sportsman at school who becomes a professional League, Union or cricket player, but those who perservere. Also, many of the Senior Managers and Executives I have meet were self admitted poor students at Uni, but due to a combination of ability, perservereance, and a bit of luck, sourced good roles.

    Xanthus and Balius Reply
  14. Junior Job Hunter


    For job seeking, most jobs (around 70-90%) are not advertised, and go to internal candidates or word of mouth. Try to access this part of the job market via old work contacts, friends, and cold calling (easier said than done tho).

    26 is not old. Many 20 year olds are studying part time, and will take 6 to 8 years to graduate because they are working in junior full-time jobs already, and studying at night, so you already have an advantage (age wise) over those candidates. My brother in law studied Engineering out of school, and when he was 32 decided to become a Doctor of Medicine. He is now late 30’s, and working as a Doctor at RPA – hardly a failure because he started late.

    Winston Churchill had some good advice when he said:

    “Never, Never, Never give up”

    Good luck

    Xanthus and Balius Reply
  15. Xanthus and Balius,

    I was talking about Institutional Banking, which you cant even get a graduate interview for unless your average grade is >70% and even then you will struggle unless you have been active in extra-curricular activities. Every Institutional Banking Graduates at global banks that I have meet has an average grade of over 80%, I’m sure there are some exceptions but they would more than likely have to have contacts within said institution.

    global bank grad ’10 Reply
  16. Age has no weight these days. Things are different which is fantastic (as I, too, am older than my contemporaries). I spoke to HR at a BB Firm and they advise they admitted a Analyst who was 29 yo. Xanthus, you’re certainly correct in saying that perservence is what matters.

  17. Xanthus and Balius,

    I find that extremely surprising your girlfriend gained a graduate position more than two years after graduating. Age has nothing to do with it. I never said it did.

    As a rule, with all the resumes that come through each of the big banks, for graduate jobs – if it has been more than two years since they graduate we throw them out. Anyone who graduated in 2007 would not be considered for 2010 Graduate Program. Perhaps NAB is an exception.

    Regardless of your girlfriend’s situation, this is the general rule and do not be surprised if you are not considered.

  18. I too find myself in a similar situation coming from a portfolio management position which ended in july 2009 due to the market downturn. Now i am currently unemployed and considering taking a loan from NAB to further my education and being a *gasp* bartender, due to the lack of finance roles and the need for income immediately.

    I had also enrolled in Finsia(now Kaplan) but the astronomical cost and working hours I had to work dashed my hopes of graduating in under 3 years.

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