We write a lot on this site about the art of getting a job in banking – especially if you’re out of the industry and are desperately trying to get back in again. However, we tend to write less about the thousands of people who have lost their banking jobs and find themselves locked out of the market – in some cases irreversibly.
We spoke to four mid-ranking and senior bankers who have spent time out of the market. One has been out for several years and has given up all hope of getting back in again. Another is determined to move into a technology company. Another found a new job in private equity. The last has gone to Frankfurt in search of opportunities there (despite being British by birth). All spoke on condition of anonymity. This is what they said.
Accept that it’s over: you’re too old
We spoke to a 52-year-old ex-senior product controller from a U.S. bank. He lost his job more than five years ago and has now given up getting a new job in banking, instead “keeping himself occupied” in other ways – like sports coaching.
“Once you’re out, it’s almost impossible to get back in,” he told us. “To begin with I seemed to be making some progress through personal contacts, but they all came to nothing. There weren’t really that many positions and all of the organizations I was applying to wanted to hire younger people. Banks know that they need to build their pipeline for the future. If you don’t fit their age profile, you’ll get nowhere.”
He said ageism in the City of London has got worse since the British government introduced anti-ageism laws in 2008: “The ageism laws mean that recruiters won’t even put you forward for roles. They know that if they do, their client will be obliged to treat you equally. In most cases recruiters want to protect the client and will therefore deny you any contact.”
Nor is it easy to switch into part time contract work: “I know some people who are contractors and who’ve made contracting work through immense persistence, but most of the jobs seem to be for people with regulatory experience and they don’t want you if you’ve been out too long.”
How long is too long to be out of the market? “Anything more than two years,” he said.
Switching industries isn’t hard, but prepare for a short period of no income
We spoke to an ex-structurer from a large U.S. bank who is trying to move into a technology firm after quitting banking voluntarily.
“If you want to change industry my advice would be just to do it,” he said. “Too many people talk about it and then decide against leaving because they feel they need a big financial cushion. I’d say that yes – it takes time to move industries and that you need to accept that you’ll have four to five months of no income – but it’s more than doable for anyone who’s willing to sacrifice their lifestyle today as an investment in their future.”
Avoid headhunters. And moving into risk is harder than you think
We spoke to an ex-equity researcher who spent some time travelling and is now in Frankfurt looking for a job with a German bank there. He hasn’t been successful so far. “Headhunters are useless,” he said. “They are only good at placing you in a job identical to the job you were doing last.”
He wants to move out of equity research, which he thinks is in secular decline. It’s not proving easy. “I wanted to move into risk – I figured that risk would be a huge area going forward and that German banks would be happy to hire someone from London with experience of analyzing bank stocks. But it turns out that risk managers nowadays need a PhD in maths.”
Appreciate that the market has changed – even if you get a new job, it will be tough
We spoke to a private equity professional who found a new job by approaching the task systematically and compiling spreadsheets of contacts and target companies. Don’t expect a job to fall into your lap, he said – and if it does, stick with it even if it’s hard work. “I’ve seen people complete MBAs and then land M&A jobs at bulge bracket banks, only to give them up because they’re doing three all-nighters a week,” he said. “But the industry’s changed- it’s even tougher than it used to be, you have to accept that – you’re out of touch after spending two years in a leafy suburb of Paris or Philadelphia.”
If you can’t get a job in a bulge bracket firm, he suggested plumbing the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth tiers. “Think of the very small firms – there are a lot of them around and few people look there.”