Half of my two-decades-plus career has involved managing people in some capacity, and one of the most grueling and important tasks has been recruiting the best reporters and editorial staff. While jobs in editorial pay a fraction of what people expect to earn in finance, they are equally coveted by those who want to report, write and edit for a living. Sifting through resumes since the financial crisis has been a daunting task, with so many financial journalists fighting for fewer roles.
Since people who cover finance know the jargon and general rules of big money, they’re often savvier than those seeking jobs in general journalism. When news agencies and trade publications began shedding staff in 2008, resumes and CVs from senior people willing to take very junior jobs began flooding in and I found one thing to be universal: an often emotional reaction to having been fired or laid off from the last job listed on a lengthy and impressive list. Some were defensive from the start, offering too much information about why they were let go.
Others were fast talking back into their earlier experience, hoping I’d ignore the loss of their last job. Stumbling sentiment came from several applicants with more management and executive experience than the woman who could be their boss.
Losing your job isn’t necessarily a sign you’ve failed, but it’s nonetheless daunting, even devastating, especially for those in positions of power who suddenly find themselves off the market. Some 40,000 high-level bankers lost their jobs in the financial crisis, sweeping Wall Street’s stoic faces with shame, shock and even tears. Pride aside, you have to stay strong and forward-focused to land back on your feet in the C-suite. Here are some tips on tackling an interview after you’ve been laid off or fired.
Dwelling on the past doesn’t put anyone on the path to success. Praising the virtues of the firm that flopped begs the question of why you didn’t see what went wrong, save for a black swan. And bad-mouthing management, strategy or any other factor that may have contributed to your employer’s demise won’t earn you any respect. And if you’ve been ousted because of your unit’s or your own poor performance, tread carefully and don’t offer any unnecessary details. Chances are the recruiter or the competitor considering you for a new role already know what went wrong, and you are better off only answering direct questions. Instead, explain why you are a unique candidate for the open position and play up your skills, including any you’ve honed since your last job.
Investment banking and other top-tier finance jobs require a certain swagger and savvy, but keep your attitude in check. Don’t let your unemployment status squash your ego, and certainly don’t overcompensate. You’ve lost a job, not your pride. You haven’t been robbed of your education, experience and talent. Stay on topic, answering questions directly and carefully without worrying about whether the next query will prod into your past and why you were let go. Maintain eye contact, respect the interviewer, be articulate, be honest and relax. The same rules apply to any interview, whether you’re being recruited from a rival or you’ve been out of work for any period of time. Stick with the basics.
In an industry where volatile markets and unexpected events can wipe out even the most established players, there is a lot to be learned even from the worst experiences. Maybe you were in the wrong company, the wrong team or the wrong role, but don’t say that. Demonstrate the skills you took away from that period of time and how you can play them forward. You can’t blame corporate culture or poor management. You are accountable for your own actions. Think about what you’ve gleaned and how it has made you a better candidate for a new job. Often the most unwelcome events can be agents for change and progress. Maybe you’ve gained a new perspective on management or strategy that you can bring to a new company or a new role.
If you’ve been fired or laid off for the first time, don’t let the stigma associated with being temporarily unemployed drive you into the first job you’re offered. Consider this a process and take the time to carefully review the companies and people who are recruiting and courting you. After all, they’re scrutinizing your background. Use your expertise in the financial services industries to evaluate prospective employers. Study the company’s track record and potential for future earnings. If you were let go by a big firm, don’t automatically assume a small one will suit you better. Do your homework and reach out to contacts who can offer insight into corporate culture, workplace dynamic and other factors you won’t find on a balance sheet.
Your resume may be embarrassingly outdated, particularly if you’ve been at the same job for years. As you add your date of departure from your last position, consider what to highlight and what to cut. Why not give your resume or CV a spring cleaning, sharpening every bullet point and playing up your most significant roles, accomplishments and accolades. Make sure your summary has a future focus, demonstrating your potential in a new position or project. Add any relevant new skills that are essential or a commodity in a modern workplace. And be sure you update your last job description, especially if you haven’t been job hunting. Most importantly, frame your resume for your next employer and use it as a tool to figure out what you really want to do next.
Natasha Gural is senior North America editor at eFinancialCareers and has previously worked for Financial News and Associated Press.
Follow the author on Twitter @natashagural