Ask the Expert: The Jump to Compliance from Law

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A. Sarbanes-Oxley. Say it in a room full of securities professionals and witness the veil of gloom that descends. The monstrous Enron-inspired compliance act is not the only bogey in the room, as aggressive enforcement of securities laws has firms large and small scrambling to reduce or remove conflicts of interest and generally trying harder to operate (or appear to operate) on the up-and-up.

With legal and compliance issues of the utmost concern to everyone in the securities industry today, good legal minds are desperately needed-and your career move is well-timed. You should be able to make this transition effectively once you find the right way in.

Fortunately, financial services employees tend to be very active when it comes to belonging to professional networking groups-financial or otherwise. 'Seek out literally any of these groups and chances are very good that you'll meet some financial services professionals there,' says outplacement consultant Rod Williams. Check out everything from your local Chamber of Commerce to your local chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management or groups like SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) to score an entrée into your desired field.

Within the securities industry context, try to attend a local meeting of the National Association of Securities Analysts. Though you're not a member, you might be able to use the Internet to find an acquaintance who is and can bring you along to a meeting. Use the Internet to research prominent individuals involved in your local securities industry and devise a way to network with them at non-financial related events you may also be attending.

Be creative in your networking. For example, accountants who deal with wealthy individuals may also make valuable resources, because they may also do the books of hedge funds and investment groups in your area.

It's gratifying to see that you want to meet people who can 'share their insight' rather than simply glom on to someone who might be able to offer you a job. This type of approach will pay off well as you expand your circle of contacts. Remember to ask each person for two or three names of other people to contact. In this way, your circle will expand exponentially and possibly in unexpected directions.

As you lay the groundwork for your career switch, don't beat yourself up over occasional moments of awkwardness, doubt, and discomfort. Remind yourself that times of transition, though uncomfortable and even grueling, often turn out to be the most rewarding. Good luck on your detective work and on landing the job that's right for you.

Next week's question: I'm a former entrepreneur (I started a business when I was 18 and sold it at age 28) looking to fulfill a lifelong dream of working as an investment banker, venture capitalist, or in private equity within a small entrepreneurial boutique firm. I have not yet completed my bachelor's degree and would like to finish my bachelor's and then a combined JD/MBA program. I will not be having a family, so although I am older than the traditional candidate, I won't have other issues that will keep me from performing in this career. What can I do to be a more competitive candidate? Would it help to gain international experience?

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

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