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What to do if you’re in the totally wrong job

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Feeling handcuffed to your desk or imprisoned by your job?

If you’re miserable in your current job, don’t assume you’re stuck. The robots may be coming for you, or your business area may be in structural decline. There is hope – follow these steps.

1. Get a feel for the market

Rather obviously, you shouldn’t blindly quit your job if there are no opportunities available. Kim Ann Curtin, the founder and CEO of The Wall Street Coach, advises disillusioned financial services professionals to take inspiration from those around them.

Curtin has seen burnt-out Wall Street professionals find something completely out of the industry, becoming everything from advertising executives, actors and yoga instructors to consultants and entrepreneurs. Others start their own hedge funds or find another niche within financial services.

“Talk to more than a handful of people to make sure it’s what you want to do,” Curtin says. “Especially if you’re no spring chicken, there’s not a lot of time to waste, so talk to people about the downside as well as the upside.

“If you’re miserable, you think any change will be an improvement, but sometimes the devil you know is better the devil you don’t know,” she says. “Offer to take people out to lunch, coffee or drinks and ask about the hours they work, the money you’re hoping to make and the negative aspects of the role.”

2. Look internally

Your best bet for a career switch is making a change within the organisation you currently work for. Michele LoBianco, a career coach and the founder of Michele LoBianco Consulting who previously worked at J.P. Morgan, encourages her clients to explore other opportunities across different areas within their current company if at all possible.

“If you feel comfortable, have a career conversation with your manager and ask for support and advocacy,” LoBianco says.

“Ideally companies will support employees who want to make internal moves,” she says. “It benefits the company in many ways, because if they don’t, they’ll lose these employees.”

LoBianco worked with a portfolio manager at an asset management firm who thought he wanted to leave his organization, but it turned out that he really wanted to go for his executive MBA and then work in alternative investments.

“He communicated his desires, and that’s exactly what he got – the firm paid for his MBA and he was able to manage more alternative asset classes,” she says. “Organizations that develop a framework for how to do that can retain top talent rather than losing them.”

3. Tap into your networks

If you’re in financial services already chances are that you have classmates and former colleagues who are at other banks, hedge funds or private equity firms.  Seek out your contacts to see if they have employee referral programs where they might endorse you for a job in a new area, says Janet Raiffa, the former head of U.S. campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and a career adviser working with MBAs and lateral Wall Street job seekers.

“The fact that you have connections within the firm who are willing to endorse you can help mitigate HR and line concerns about a change in job sector or focus,” she says. “Applicants who come through employee-referral programs are more likely to receive first-round interviews and may already be seen as a culture fit because they have internal support.”

Get involved in an association related to your job target, one which includes people who can hire you, suggests Robert Hellmann, the founder of Hellmann Career Consulting who previously worked at J.P. Morgan and American Express. That way, people in the association will not see you just as bulletpoints on a resume but as that great person who was so helpful in the association’s last meeting.

“Many Chartered Financial Analysts who gave gotten involved in their respective CFA societies or the CFA Institute have had an easier time making significant transitions because of the relationships they’ve built there, Hellmann says. “And when I say ‘get involved,’ really get involved – for example, run, or help run, an association committee, such as events, marketing or budgeting.”

4. Work out if your skills and achievements apply to other sectors 

Think about ways to customize your resume for a new job, but continue to focus on your achievements in your old job, Raiffa says.  If you have an overview or key competencies section, review the new job description and think about your overlapping skills.

“Highlight your skillset and match in these areas, including using important keywords for both ATS and recruiter review,” Raiffa says. “While you may be able to customize a bullet or two, the bulk of your resume should still highlight achievement, quantifiable success and accolades in your prior jobs.

5. Show results

Changing careers, even if you’re staying in the financial services industry, is about proving to employers that you can get results in the area you’re targeting. Employers hire for results, not potential, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career expert at SixFigureStart who previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Citi. A career-changer is a risk because they’re untested, and therefore, your job as the candidate is to mitigate their risk.

“Previous employment in the area – what non-career-changers bring – is valuable because it is track record of results in that area,” Ceniza-Levine says.

“The bottom line is that you have to appear not to be changing careers in order to successfully change careers.”

6. Bypass HR 

Don’t just apply and then wait for the search firm, HR executive or hiring manager to call, Hellmann says. The reason: you need to be “perfect” to get noticed through these channels, as this is the front door that everyone goes through.

“And if your background doesn’t line up perfectly, that might be an issue,” he says. “Also remember that the initial screen is often a computer or a junior HR person – someone who doesn’t really know the job and is just looking for keywords on your resume that line up on the description.”

So what to do? Get introductions to get in front of people, or even contact ‘strangers’ directly via email, phone or social media. Try to make these meeting requests mutually beneficial, and include something in there both about them and what makes you interesting, Hellmann says.

“It’s not even about interviews at this stage – just ‘meetings’ with people in a position to hire you,” he says. “Then, if you’re pitching yourself the right way, and you keep in touch with these people, and you’re having enough of these meetings, the interviews will come.”

Photo credit: AndreyPopov/GettyImages

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