Ask the Expert: How Do I Jump M&A Ships?

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A. To put it politely, it'll be an expletive-free day on Wall Street before your unsolicited resume unlocks any doors-at least if you go about it as proposed here. According to a survey conducted by outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison, only one in a thousand 'cold' resumes triggers a response, let alone a job offer. Worse, putting your resume on the open market could actually damage your career if word filters back to your firm.

The bad news is that it is absolutely critical to establish some type of human connection. The good news is that there are multiple ways to accomplish this.

'As a headhunter, you probably expect me to say, 'Go straight to your headhunter!' says our recruitment expert, Patricia Wieser. 'But unless your headhunter has a relationship with this bank or with the M&A division, it may not be fruitful. Often, if you start to network a bit, you will find someone who knows people there who can introduce you.'

Indeed, according to our outplacement expert, Rod Williams, 65% -70% of job seekers find new employment through networking. Flesh out your network until you get the name of a person you can either be introduced to or call on your own. If you've read or heard something about a particular individual there, you should be trying to contact them and getting to know them via polite stalking: Google them, see if you can somehow meet at a convention where they may be speaking, write or email persistently, try to arrange a meeting over coffee. 'If you make the extra effort, you're modeling the proactive value you're going to add as an employee,' says our executive coach, Maggie Craddock. 'You don't even know if you want to work for them until you get to know them.'

Another way to establish a link is through your clients. Pick one or two that you can confide in and ask if they will make an introduction to the bank. 'A recommendation from a client goes a very long way in getting the bankers to sit up and take notice,' says Wieser. 'You will then get a realistic read as to whether there is opportunity at that bank.'

As for your cover letter, it is the bridge between your resume and your intentions. Include a deal list-this speaks volumes to any M&A banker-but don't dwell on your employment history or skills, which are already laid out in the resume. Rather, explain why you are sending your resume. Start by naming the person who referred you or told you about a possible opportunity. Craft a brief summary of who you are (15 years in M&A banking concentrating on media companies, for example) and why you want to work there. Make it as much about them as about you. And edit your cover letter down to one page: Like the best kind of commercial, says Williams, your letter should whet the appetite for more by way of your resume.

Before you connect the dots and go for it, though, take some time for reflection. What is it about this bank that makes you so interested in joining it? Is it something about the size of this particular firm, does it have a good reputation in the industry or did you read or hear about an individual in this organization that you particularly respect? 'Obviously, you don't want to leave the banking industry, you simply want to switch organizations,' observes Craddock. 'It is rare that any specific firm is going to offer a dramatically different experience. Be careful that you are not fantasizing that the grass is greener somewhere else.' Instead, you may be better off considering what you can do at your current organization that would give you the type of career opportunity you believe will be possible at the firm across the street.

Either way, remember that smart career management has little to do with playing the lottery. Instead of hoping good fortune will find you, go out and grab it before someone else does.

Next week's question: I am an attorney, and I'm very intersted in exploring non-legal careers in the finance industry, especially securities compliance. So far, I haven't had any luck finding trade associations with local branches in my city for the securities industry (or similar groups). Can you help?

What would you advise? Send your answer to: expertadmin@efinancialcareers.com. Look out for the Experts' answer to this dilemma and readers' comments on Ask the Expert next week.

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