If you’re a banker looking for a new job, it’s always comforting to know that your recruiter understands your needs because they’ve worked in banking themselves.
But if you’re tiring of banking, how about considering a more radical career change? How about becoming a recruiter or headhunter yourself? Recruitment could, for example, be a more viable route than banking for those looking to relocate to Asia.
We spoke with former finance professionals who’ve shifted to Singapore and Hong Kong and set up as recruiters. Here are the main reasons why they made the move.
Want to chat with bankers every day but not (quite) work the same grueling hours? Headhunting may be for you. “After two decades in front-office banking, it was time to find something where I could balance quality of life and still stay in touch with financial-market participants,” said Jens Soderlund, a former Chase Manhattan banker who is now managing partner at Hong Kong search firm Sirius Partners. “You’re more able to set your own time and tempo, and relax and enjoy life, spending more time on your personal hobbies before it is too late.”
Is your banking job being outsourced, offshored, taken over by technology or similarly cut back? Matthew Hoyle, who now runs an eponymous search firm in Hong Kong, faced this dilemma back in 2003. “I was an open-outcry equity-options market maker on the floor in Amsterdam when the exchange shifted to fully electronic trading,” he said. After getting involved with a friend's start-up search firm and working in the industry for a few months, Hoyle decided to take up headhunting full time. “But if you’d told me I’d become a headhunter when I was still a trader I would never have believed you.”
Stick of toeing the same corporate line year after year in a big bank? “As a recruiter, it’s a lot more interesting to understand and work with several banks rather than just representing one bank,” said former HSBC and Barclays banker Farida Charania, chief executive officer, banking and finance, at search firm Nastrac Group in Singapore. “But after being cocooned as an employee of large banking brands, the first two years recruiting can be tough.”
Most ex-bankers work for niche recruiters or set up their own shops, but even the largest agencies are paragons of flat-management compared with the big banks. “I’m entrepreneurial by nature and headhunting is like running your own business where you need to be self-motivated all the time,” said Rahul Sen, a former private banker from HSBC, Deutsche Bank and DSP Merrill Lynch in India, who’s now a director at search firm Sheffield Haworth in Singapore.
Line managers are routinely pestered by recruiters and they generally prefer speaking with those who have also managed teams in financial firms. “You’re better positioned to make contact directly with line managers because you can talk the talk with them. They can then fast track you through HR,” said Simon Tulloch, managing director of financial services at search firm Ingenium Group in Hong Kong and a former manager at dealer-broker ICAP in Tokyo. “As an ex-financial professional, you’re also more likely to get retained work and give better strategic advice on team-builds,” he added.
Recruitment isn’t just about getting cash from clients, the best bankers-turned-recruiters actually enjoy helping candidates build their careers. Rafael Brana, a consultant at search firm Bo Le Leaders in Hong Kong, began his own career as an analyst at J.P. Morgan in New York before joining Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, a US consultancy that sources graduate talent for investment banks. “I found that helping young people break into banking was very rewarding,” he said. “And now I’m helping candidates make good career moves – this human element carries a special appreciation that you don’t quite get in banking.”
When you reach out to help job seekers, they will be more inclined to work with you because you’re a former banker. “My product skills and market knowledge from my banking career help me understand candidates’ needs and the politics of working for a large bank. And they know that I have been on the same side of the fence as them and trust me to guide them through the process,” Sen from Sheffield Haworth said.
Rather than envy the success of your friends who are still bankers, use it to your advantage. “I was fortunate to join the trading industry when I was quite young, so when I left trading I realised that if I stayed in headhunting, my network would mature with time," said Hoyle from Matthew Hoyle International. “You’ll find that every year more of your old friends and contacts get promoted and are therefore more likely to be in a position to hire people."
“Generally executive search is much more suited to someone who is doing something in sales within banking,” said Hoyle. “And while the search and recruitment sector as a whole is likely to expand in the coming years, I believe that sales within banking will continue to contract.”
If you’re worried that becoming a recruiter will ruin your reputation, relax: there’s no long-term advantage in being tricky or underhanded. “Over the last decade I have seen too many recruiters aggressively marketing themselves, not knowing their market, and then having their hands caught in the cookie jar – working for a client while also soliciting candidates from them,” Soderlund from Sirius Partners said. “You don’t need to be a used car salesperson; it’s possible to work with sincerity.”
Former bankers often thrive in recruitment because they are used to working in uncertain markets, but in their new professional it’s the job market providing the thrill. “In many ways recruitment is like working in M&A; you are dealing with human beings and the decision-making process is never fully under your control,” Brana from Bo Le said. “It has a high degree of unpredictability – candidates and clients change their minds.”
As an ex-banker, your sector knowledge is your main advantage – you can spot trends in the job market before others can. “Obviously focusing on the area you covered within banking is a very good idea, although it amazes me how many people don’t do this – they go straight into front-office search and subsequently fail,” Hoyle said. “So stick to what you know and establish yourself in that field, then think about branching out into other areas."