The mood around banking jobs in 2017 may be decidedly less bleak than 2016, but cuts are already happening. If you fear the axe is hovering above you, here are some strategies to prepare for your next move, or at least position yourself to land on your feet if you are made redundant.
1. Get ready for your next move early on
While a lot of investment banks are indeed planning a round of layoffs, others are hiring. It’s better to take the initiative and make a move on your own terms, especially if the writing is on the wall, rather than sit back, wait for pink slips to be handed out and hope that you don’t get one.
“If there are layoffs coming, you should be mentally prepared for that – get your resume ready,” says Jessica Glazer, president, CEO and recruitment director of MindHR Placement Agency. “People think, ‘If I do all these things, then I’m going to be safe,’ but maybe no one is safe – maybe the company will close up shop tomorrow.”
2. Don’t join in water-cooler gossip or speculation with colleagues
When rumours about job insecurity start to spread, sometimes the gossip mill starts to churn and employees may turn on each other. Some people may bad-mouth colleagues, which is a big no-no, especially in the office, but also at conferences and other work-related events.
“Don’t participate in gossip or ask colleagues speculative questions about potential layoffs,” says Glazer. “Don’t talk about it – stay away from the gossip, or at least don’t participate in it. Be part of the solution. If you’re working productively, then there’s no reason for them to lay you off.”
3. Keep your skills sharp
Seek out whatever professional development, training, certification, credential or education courses that your firm will pay for and that you can fit into your schedule. If your company does not offer anything of the sort, then consider paying for a key course or two out of your own pocket. This is particularly relevant if, after looking at what jobs are out there, you realise there’s a gap in your skillset.
“Take advantage of training courses so that you are able to do your job better, work in a more efficient manner and bring some more skills to the team that other coworkers don’t have,” says Anya Hurtado, executive senior partner in the contract services practice at recruiters Lucas Group.
4. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot
Engaging in red-flag behavior like insubordination, misconduct and violating company policy will make it easy on firm decision-makers looking to trim the fat.
There are also lesser offenses such as sending an off-color tweet or surfing non-work-related websites on your work computer that can be a mark against you. Wait until you’re out of the office to check Facebook, watch funny cat videos and play Candy Crush.
“We see a ton of companies that monitor the internet, and some employees are online and looking at Facebook and other outside sites, which doesn’t send the message that they’re optimizing productivity,” Hurtado says.
5. Demonstrate the right attitude
The spectre of layoffs can create a doom-and-gloom atmosphere around the office. Be above it all. Rather than looking over your shoulder for potential backstabbers, engaging in negativity or letting the stress get to you, go about your business with your usual level of professionalism.
“Be engaged to show your employer that you want to be there – be positive about your week and demonstrate that you’re happy to be there,” Hurtado says. “You want to show your supervisor that you’re interested in your role and invested in your company, taking an active role in the company culture.”
Hurtado believes that being receptive to constructive criticism and making changes can make a difference when companies are having to make tough decisions about who they want to keep and who they lay off.
6. Be a proactive problem-solver so that your manager takes notice
The most important piece of advice is to continue doing great work.
Companies that have to layoff employees look to keep top performers and employees who are making a difference consistently.
“Look at your work every day and make a realistic assessment, ‘Am I really engaged in my job and my work all day every day?’” Hurtado says.
“We unfortunately will come across companies that come to us and say, ‘We have this person in the role, and they come to work every day, but they’re really not efficient and not doing their job well … they seem resigned to work here rather than taking an active interest,’” she says.
“First and foremost, the name of the game is standing out, going the extra mile on deals or whatever it might be, and in some cases cozying up to your manager,” added Cesar DeLara, senior consultant in the investment banking practice at Selby Jennings. “It has been quite a hard environment, and how to avoid layoffs is a difficult question.”
7. Even if you’ve had it up to here, avoid quitting prematurely or getting fired for cause
Even if you’re fed up with your boss or the job in general, it’s not a good idea to complain too vociferously, quit without another job lined up or, worse, go out in a blaze of unprofessional glory like in the movies or a country song, burning bridges in the process.
“It all depends on why the firm is making headcount reductions,” said Mike Karp, the CEO of recruitment firm Options Group. “Sometimes you get cut for exogenous factors or quit of your own volition.
“Before your employer makes reductions is a good time to search for better opportunities, but when you do get cut, it depends on why, whether it’s politics, the firm’s overall performance or your own individual performance,” he said. “For those who are fired for cause, it’s very tough to place them [in a job at another firm].”
8. Make networking a priority
It’s important for people who want to layoff-proof themselves to expand their skill set, both on-the-job and career-development skills. Finance has traditionally been one of the most high-touch industries, and those who understand technology or who can really add value to clients tend to avoid the chop, according to A.J. D’Antonio, financial services sector leader at Futurestep, a Korn Ferry company.
“But don’t just do good work and expect people to notice – always be connecting is a good rule-of-thumb for managing your career,” he said. “Network with leaders in other areas of your company as well as clients to make yourself indispensable.
“Flex and pivot as the industry changes to keep your skills relevant.”
Anyone who works for a publicly traded company needs to know that they are merely a line item on a balance sheet. If layoffs are the only way to make numbers, then your job is going away. The concept of “stable permanent employment” with one company is dead.
“Workers need to embrace the concept of dynamic stability – just like a bicycle is only stable when moving, we need to must embrace a very different mentality to keep a stable career,” said Peter Laughter, the CEO of Wall Street Services. “So, don’t wait until you get a pink slip to nurture your network.
“Remember to pay attention to your contacts before you need them – offering connections and introduction so that when you are in need the same people will reciprocate,” he said. “Also no one lays off top performers, so pay attention to where you rank and where your department ranks in comparison to the whole.”
9. If you’re offered a severance package, don’t think twice: Take it
Sometimes banks offer senior members of a particular team severance packages in order to allocate resources to other sides of the business that are making more money. Don’t hesitate to accept such an offer.
“People who have been with the firm for a while are sometimes given attractive severance packages to get laid off and make way for other parts of the business that are growing,” DeLara said. “The employee has the option to take it or not to take it, basically to leave now with money or leave later with nothing.”