As a rule of thumb, you have six months. It's excusable to be out of the market for 120 working days. Beyond that, things will start getting awkward for you.
However, this assumes that there will be jobs available for you to move into. It assumes that you're not competing against hundreds of other people who are trying to get back into the market. And it overlooks the fact that if banks are sitting on their hands and not hiring until the Eurozone crisis plays out, getting re-employed within six months may prove as fantastic as winning the men's 100m final in a pair of flip-flops.
So, what are you supposed to do in this situation - short of accepting a 35-40% pay cut and taking whichever job you're offered?
1. Stay in contact with your clients
Just because you're not being paid to talk to them any more, you should not neglect your clients when you're out of work. This is especially pertinent if you're out of work and were in sales.
"You really need to be friends with your clients," says one recruiter. "You really need to stay in touch with your core accounts and let them know where you are."
"If you're a salesperson, make sure you stay close to your clients," reiterates another recruiter. "If you’re away from them for a long time, it’s very hard to get back in."
Bear in mind, too, that all former clients are a potential source of re-employment. "One of the easiest ways of changing career in the city is from being a desk trader to selling technology to a desk trader," says Michael Moran, CEO and founder of talent consultancy 10 Eighty.
2. Keep on trading your own money
This applies if you're a trader or a researcher. Make the most of any free post-employment access rights to Reuters or Bloomberg. "You need to keep trading your own account," explains one rates headhunter. "Don't become complacent. Stay sharp."
3. Drop all hope of getting a guaranteed bonus in your new position
Perversely, and despite the blatantly poor state of the hiring market, recruiters say redundant bankers persist in asking for guaranteed bonuses. "Every single person seems to ask for one," says one headhunter. "I've had three [unemployed] people demanding guarantees recently. I've had to tell them to get real - even people still in employment aren't moving for real guarantees any more."
4. Drop all hope of getting an increase in your basic salary in your new position
See point 3. A guarantee and an increase in basic salary are apparently every unemployed banker's delusional dream.
5. Don't necessarily think about trying to get back into the kind of jobs you left - think about getting into the kind of jobs banks will be hiring for
"When asked the secret of his success, the famous Canadian ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky said he went to where the puck was going to next," says Moran. "That's the secret of employability. You need to have a view of where the marketplace is going in the net 15-18 months and to put yourself in a position where you'll be sought-after in future."
6. Establish a network of core supporters who'll testify to your amazingness
"You need a core group of people who can testify to your learning agility and who know you're perfectly capable of moving sectors," says Moran. "You need to enlist those people to help you and to testify for you. Ideally, they'll need to be clients of the organisations you're applying to. You need to get them - as clients - to call up and say, "X will be sending in his CV for a job you're advertising, I've worked with him before and he'd be a really great hire."
7. Freelance for your former clients
Senior bankers sometimes continue working for former clients on a contract/free agent basis while they look for something else. This has the advantage of satisfying point 1 whilst earning money. Stéphane Rambosson says this kind of arrangement is actually very common: "It's the reason why the number of self-employed in the UK has gone through the roof," he tells us.