Once Out, it's Hard to Get Back In

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A. Sometimes knowing what you don't want can be a powerful motivator. You haven't said why you want to return to the fold-perhaps going it on your own proved less lucrative than you hoped, or perhaps you've realized just how nerve-racking trading your own portfolio can be. Whatever the reason, now that you know the self-employed life is not for you, you'll be able to focus better on getting the job you want.

Hold on to your determination because you will need every bit of moxie you can muster to battle others' preconceived notions. 'There is a certain stigma and a sort of common association made to people who've been trading their own account,' explains recruiter Peter Gonye, co-head of Spencer Stuart's private equity and investment banking practice. 'They're either so well-to-do in their profession that they can afford to do it on a sort of whimsical and spontaneous basis' or, the stereotype goes, they just couldn't cut it in a well-regarded firm.

Unfortunately, your job history doesn't exactly bolster your case. 'Two firms in two-and-a-half years also presents its own form of stigma,' says Gonye. 'That is too rapid a series of changes over too short a period of time for audiences not to be somewhat skeptical and probing about your accomplishments.'

But don't give up yet-you have something going for you that will counteract at least part of your image problem: those CFA credentials. 'The CFA is widely and appropriate regarded as a top qualification in the financial services industry,' says executive coach and former portfolio manager Maggie Craddock. 'They're not written for rookies. It keeps a person from looking like a fly-by-night.' If you've got a level I and II, she advises, you may as well finish level III.

Since your background is on the thin side, however, be prepared to prove yourself all over again in order to re-establish yourself professionally at a firm. Given your work history, the most natural transition back into the mainstream is as an analyst in the non-investment-grade sector.

Tap into your contacts at your old firms to divine job openings there or elsewhere. 'If your work performance met or exceeded expectations, then there shouldn't be any reason why these folks won't look to assist, particularly if they may able to leverage that assistance in the future,' says outplacement consultant Rod Williams of Lee Hecht Harrison.

Consider manufacturing your own secret weapon to combat any skepticism you encounter. 'To prove your worth, author an extensive report on a sector or on a given security,' Gonye advises, and bring it to your interviews.

Expect remuneration on the sober side-but don't go overboard. 'Never work for free,' says Craddock. 'You will find some start-up investment groups that may be willing to give you a 'trial' if you offer your services pro bono for a period of time. Once people are used to accessing your expertise for free, they are very reluctant to ever begin to pay for it.'

Finally, try to take the long view. Don't let the biases of others be contagious. Instead of fretting about opportunities squandered or time wasted, focus on the broader perspective your detour has no doubt given you-and remember that only you truly know your capabilities.

Next week's question:

How are recruitment agencies/headhunters remunerated? I sometimes hear that they get 20% of the base salary, other times I hear that they get a bonus if they keep the salaries below a certain level, so I am wondering whether they are on 'my side' or that of the potential employers. Also, do prospective employers have the right to ask what your current salary is? In my opinion, by not disclosing this information my negotiation point is stronger, which would fall away if I told them. Surely, they should offer me what they think I'm worth (& according to the job role), and not what they can get away with?

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. If you would like to submit a question to our panel of experts, ASK THE EXPERT.