It’s always better to start looking for a new job while you still have one. But if you're happy in your role and happy with your employer and happy with life in general, then it makes little sense to bust a gut looking for alternatives – unless, of course, you're about to be dumped and just haven't realized it.
So, what are the signs? How will you know that a layoff is imminent? The sad truth is, you probably won't. Layoffs can come out of the blue.
“It’s tough, because right now the street consensus is nobody’s job is safe, specifically on the sell side,” said Dylan Pany, principal consultant and the head of the trading team at Selby Jennings. “Even if you’re performing well at a prestigious institution, you never know.”
That said, here are 11 telltale signs that you may be on the chopping block and had better start polishing up your resume right away:
Issues are the firm level are easier to spot – news about lower profits, redemptions, senior departures or firm leadership spending unusual amounts of time behind closed doors.
However, there’s still often a surprise when people hear that they themselves are being let go, said Anthony Keizner, partner at Odyssey Search Partners.
Some things to consider at the individual level, according to Keizner, include: Was your most recent performance review lukewarm?
For the front-office, have you been responsible for loss-making trades, or is your sector no longer in vogue?
For the back-office, is your function still highly valued?
“If you’re the fifth compliance person to join, but trading volumes have shrunk, then that’s a concern,” Keizner said. “If you’re in recruiting and the firm is no longer hiring, then either you reinvent your role, or you make the decision easier for management to let you go before others.”
Look at the revenue figures on your profit-and-loss (P&L) statement. If you’re not producing, then your manager is going to be thinking, "Should I let this person go?"
“Sales and trading is a production environment,” Pany said. “If you’re down and everyone else is down, look out because they could cut the entire team – you should not comfortable in your seat, because if a business isn’t performing, it may cut the whole desk even if you’re performing well.
“On Wall Street, with the current environment and a saturated candidate pool, be very wary,” he said. “If you’re not making money on Wall Street, they will find someone who can get the job done.”
Julia Harris Wexler, career coach and the managing partner of Julia Harris Wexler Consulting. said to ask yourself: Have people changed their behavior to you such that it “feels” like you are no longer part of the team?
Have people stopped initiating conversations with you, or do they tend to cut you short? Are peers or superiors avoiding eye contact with you?
“Discomfort on both sides usually accompanies layoffs, so you can trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel quite right,” Wexler said. “It usually isn’t.
“Preparing ahead of time is wise,” she said. “Learn from feedback, so that you can emerge as a stronger professional.”
You look around the office and see a lot of fresh faces.
“The trend on the street is hiring young, replacing senior guys with high compensation and bringing in younger less expensive people who can maybe do 75% of the job,” Pany said. “If your desk starts hiring several junior people, that’s a cause for concern for the senior people – it’s a sign they might be looking to replace you.”
Suddenly, there's a greenhorn – or a group of just-hired juniors – that your boss has asked you to train.
“A lot of traders have their own books of business, and when they hire someone junior, the new trader will take on a portion of a book or maybe half the book,” Pany said. “You’re basically building your own coffin if you’re training that person, who could easily push you out the door in a year’s time.”
If a senior-level executive, especially someone in a niche vertical, departs and there isn’t an immediate plug-and-play replacement who the firm can push into that seat, the rest of the team may be let go, said Brianne Toole, principal consultant on the investment banking team, Americas, at Selby Jennings.
“Say MDs clash, and the one sticking around wants to close those deals but doesn’t want to stick with that line of business, juniors will be let go,” he added. “If your mentor who’s been acting as a champion for you moves on, you’re in a tough spot, because you’ve aligned closely with someone and relied on them to push you up through the ranks.
“Looking at the guy next to you, if his mentor is still there, he’ll be in a better spot,” she said. “If no one senior is fighting for you, then you might be put on the chopping block.”
While restructuring should be an obvious red flag, a lot of people don’t think of it that way and assume that senior management made those assurances of job safety in good faith.
For example, the trading desk for Morgan Stanley’s retail business combined with the institutional trading desk last year.
“The retail guys are excited to move to the institutional side, which is the better of the two, but guys will get cut,” Pany said. “When there is room to cut costs, senior management says things like, ‘We’re taking a collaboration perspective’ and ‘The two teams will work well together,’ and that may be true, but it’s common after a restructuring to find redundancies and let people go.
“If your desk is going to be merged, look at other opportunities just in case,” he said.
Pay close attention to project allocations.
“If you’ve been working on a project year after year, and they give it to someone else, that’s a red flag,” Pany said.
You should be on alert if there are rumblings that your employer is negotiating a strategic alliance, merger or acquisition.
“If a department from outside your institution merges with yours, or if you’re bought out or buy someone out, look out – be sharp,” Pany said.
The old saw of "last in, first out" does have some truth to it.
“I’ve seen some banks over-hire, and they follow the old ‘last in, first out’ policy,” Toole said. “Just because you got the job doesn’t mean that you’re safe in that seat.”
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