How to disguise desperation while looking for a new (banking) job
If you've been looking for a new financial services job in 2023 and you haven't found one yet, you can be forgiven for feeling panicked. Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. Then it's Christmas. Then it's bonus season. And then you'll be competing with everyone else trying to find a new seat in 2024 because they didn't like their pay.
Do not lose your cool. Financial services is an industry that values status. While honesty can help in some situations, an admission that you're getting desperate while you're looking for a new job may also act against you.
"There are a lot of desperate people out there," says one markets headhunter who works in both London and on Wall Street. "People that I would politely call stalkers. People who call me all the time asking if I have anything for them yet."
You're special, not cheap
The first rule of finding a new job is to be clear on your value. If you're senior, and you want to get back into the market, you may need to accept a pay cut or a demotion, but don't make this your main selling point. "My clients don't want to hire someone just because they're cheap. They want to hire someone because they can add value," says the headhunter.
The same applies if you're a junior and are competing against the perpetual influx of new graduates: be prepared to compete on pay, but stress your experience and ability.
You're interesting, not over-eager
People hire other people partly because of their skills, but also because they like them. If you want to get over the line, you need to project that you're the kind of person they will want to be around.
If you're already out of the market, you need to stress that you've been using your time in a valuable and exciting way.
"I worked with a senior asset manager said she'd spent the past six months redecorating her château in France," says Dan Whitehead, a careers consultant who was formerly an EMEA head of recruitment at BlackRock. "If you don't have a château, you can say you've been redecorating a holiday house in Suffolk," he suggests.
And if you're out of work and you don't have a holiday house to redecorate? Try project work and volunteering. "Some of the best uses of time I've seen involve working in research projects in your field, whether that means an ESG project in your product area, for example, or volunteering," says Whitehead.
You're in control, not floating
Whitehead says you need to a narrative. You need to be able to say that you've "taken time out to review what you want to do next."
When you apply for jobs and achieve interviews, you need to project intention rather than opportunism. "You need to make it appear that you still have a strategy when it comes to your career," says Whitehead. "Make a case why this is the perfect opportunity for you."
You're grateful, not grasping
You may well get a job through your network, but for this to happen, you will need to understand how to feed your network and not deplete it.
"Networking should never be a take-take activity," says Philip Beddows, a coach at the Silk Road Partnership in London. "It's amazing how few people will go back to their network contact and let them know what happened after a meeting with someone they suggested," he says. "It doesn't take a moment to go back and say, 'I'm very grateful - I met with the person you suggested, and it was very valuable and is being taken forward.'"
In this way, Beddows says you will make members of your network feel appreciated, and will ensure that they remember you if they come across something that might help.
You're persistent, not pestering
The longer you're looking for a job, the greater the danger that you become an irritation when you approach the same people and recruiters over and again.
Beddows says you can avoid this by being creative, open-minded, and iterating upon your existing tactics. "A lot of people will get somewhere by always going up the same street," he says. "But there are other streets that will take you to the same place."
By going off-piste and talking to different people, exploring other avenues and attending events and meeting people you would have ignored while working full time, Beddows says you can trigger serendipity. "Serendipity doesn't just happen. You need to be your own personal disruptor," he reflects.
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