Banks began making large-scale layoffs at the start of the global financial crisis, with the latest round of retrenchments kicking off several months ago. Meanwhile, the pool of unemployed bankers keeps expanding, with fresh redundancy victims from the likes of Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Barclays. If you’re one of the long-term unemployed, or are heading in that direction, here’s how to approach your job search.
Looking for a job is tiring, especially if you’ve been at it for a while, so split your day into two-hour slots and do different tasks in each one to avoid boredom and mistakes creeping in. If you've just been updating your CV, for example, concentrate next on something less computer-bound, be that practicing interview techniques or phoning recruiters. “If you sit in front of your laptop for six hours straight scanning online jobs, you’ll burn yourself out quickly and won’t be in the right frame of mind to succeed,” says Craig Brewer, a director at recruitment firm Hudson in Singapore.
Set yourself personal goals, advises Tim Carroll, director and co-founder of search firm 325 Consulting in Sydney. “Do things that you didn’t have time to do when you were working – anything from home improvement to IT, social-media or industry courses.” Kathy Rodwell, a career coach at Wildest Dream Consulting in Melbourne, says volunteering in your community can also pay dividends. “It allows you to speak proudly at job interviews about using your downtime to make a useful contribution through unpaid work.”
If you don't make an effort, networks can get rusty when you’re out of work. “You need to reconnect with former colleagues, professional associates and alumni,” says Jane Pingo, director of Melbourne career consultancy Jane Pingo and Associates. Attend as many financial-sector conferences and social events as you can, and remember that most people will also be there to network – approaching this captive audience should be easy. To avoid sounding too desperate, chat first about the industry before mentioning your own career, and concentrate on your job search, not your redundancy. “When you tell them about your capabilities and what role you are looking for, you are also tapping into everyone else they know, exponentially increasing the people who might provide your next position.”
Call or email the people you met at and arrange to see them again one-on-one. “Create your own business card and follow up with a thank-you,” says Scott Spaulding, principal consultant at Bravo Consulting Group, an Australian career-coaching firm. “As time drags on, finding work via job advertisements becomes the most difficult job-hunting channel, so perfect your pitch and make networking a full-time job.”
Knowing how often to catch up with your recruitment consultant is tricky: Daily calls will annoy them, but don’t let yourself drift to the bottom of their list. Monthly contact is about right, says Kate Harper, director of banking and financial services at recruitment firm Connected Group in Hong Kong. “And help them to help you by sharing market intelligence and describing how your skills could be marketed in accordance with that intelligence.”
“Speak to your ex-clients and get a buy-in from them during your job search,” says Rahul Sen, a director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Singapore. “And if and when you reach final-stage interviews, get your prospective employer to have a chat with few top clients so that they are satisfied as well. Prepare a business plan wherein you explain the gap in your employment and then maintain that you have kept close contact with ex-clients and still have their support.”
Don’t explain your layoff on your resume, warns Giorgio Migliaccio, director and founder of Coaching Services Australia, which has offices in Sydney and Melbourne. Simply state when you finished your previous job, which should be your contractual end-date, not your last day in the office, especially if you've been told to stay away from work during your notice period, while remaining on the payroll (a practice known as "garden leave" is some countries). “You can then add a brief sentence in your cover letter stating that you were made redundant ‘following a restructure of the business’ or a similar clear explanation,” says Migliaccio. “If others lost their jobs at the same time, include that in the letter.”
Read job descriptions carefully and think about how your experience relates to the requirements, ensuring these skills are in your resume, says Brewer from Hudson. “For example, if you are applying for a client-service role, emphasise the amount of time you spent liaising with clients by citing examples. This will ensure that your experience isn’t overshadowed by irrelevant information.”
You are unlikely to be hired into a permanent role that is below your experience level, says Harper from Connected Group. “This isn’t a cost issue or a concern that you can’t do the job. But taking on a more senior person can cause challenges to succession planning and employees’ perceptions of their promotion prospects.” Employers will also worry about you quitting if a more senior role opens up elsewhere, says Migliaccio. “But while step-downs generally detract from a CV, a lateral move is by no means a career killer,” he adds.
“Employers now accept redundancy as commonplace,” says Rodwell from Wildest Dream Consulting in Melbourne. “At interviews, a few facts about the reasons for the redundancy, followed by something positive about how you are moving forward, will suffice. There is never any advantage in showing bitterness or anger about the past.” Don’t be afraid to tell the truth, adds Brewer from Hudson. “If you say an elaborate lie about how you resigned in the toughest banking market we have seen in a decade, you will be found out. Redundancies are typically a luck and timing issue. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Being unemployed in a bad job market means your approach at interviews should be less aggressive than in the boom years when you were being headhunted. “Don’t play hard to get. Be friendly, approachable and most importantly, flexible,” says Brewer. “If the interviewer believes that you are out of touch with the market and have unrealistic expectations, they will quickly move on.”