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Lessons From a Fruitless Quest

Even as the finance industry writhes amid recession and restructuring, some jobless professionals are having trouble adjusting their expectations to the new reality.

A column in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer details the saga of one Byron Wilson, a former investment advisor, insurance company vice president and Big Four CPA. In 2007, Wilson left a steady job to build his own investment advisory business at Smith Barney, leaving little time to build a clientele before financial markets went into the tank. He was let go last August with no severance pay or company-paid outplacement help.

His efforts to find new work have been diligent but strikingly ineffective. Inquirer writer Monica Yant Kinney details the number of chief executives and recruiters Wilson has written to, the number of networking e-mails he has sent, and his job-search-related expenditures. But the only important statistic is his interview count after almost a year of full-time job-hunting: zero.

After all that work down the drain, you'd think someone would start getting the message that it's time for a different strategy. Here are some observations:

Unfortunate Realities

Wilson relates that two insurance companies called asking if he wanted to be an underwriter. His response, according to Kinney: He was "alarmed by the notion of returning to the bottom after being at the top." We'd observe that, in an industry turned upside down, that kind of thinking is misplaced. As eFC News wrote in a column about avoiding the "overqualified trap": "If you make history your baseline, you'll come off as feeling entitled - perhaps the most toxic label in today's job market."

Elevation of Quantity Over Quality

Wilson has written to more than 1,200 recruiters, 1,600 CEOs and 1,600 alumni of his undergrad alma mater (Notre Dame) and his MBA program (Columbia).

On the one hand, many experts advise casting your net as wide as possible, because "you never know who will happen to know of a job opening that's right for you." On the other hand, writing to every single recruiter and business leader profiled in Who's Who seems a bit much. We

suggest Wilson devote as much effort to researching his targets and winnowing his list as he's apparently devoted to finding and following up with the thousands of decision-makers he did contact. We suspect he'd have landed at least a few interviews by now.


When asked if he has "a drop-dead date before changing strategy or standards," Kinney says Wilson "tensed up." Then he said his wife suggested applying for a stopgap job (managing a local fast-food restaurant), which he rejected out of hand. (We can't blame him for that.)

Failing to Get Professional Advice

Kinney's recounting of Wilson's spending includes no mention of a career coach. That omission seems a mistake, in view of his meager results to date. He did join the Financial Executives Networking Group, or The FENG, a nationwide job-referral organization.

"Most of the people attending (FENG) chapter meetings are unemployed," Wilson told Kinney. "It's better to be talking to people who have jobs than those who don't."

Not necessarily. While job seekers have to be careful in managing their time, one never knows who's going to have a contact or idea that could be useful. While FENG might not be the right group, networking serves the useful purposes of (a) getting you out of the house and (b) providing a network of people in the same boat, who can offer a degree of moral support. Professional groups and alumni groups are always worth looking into.

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Va
    8 June 2009

    Call a reputable temp agency and take any assignment, which gets you exposed to management and showcases your skill set and can-do attitude. It helped me pay the bills, expand my technical skills and led to permanent full-time employment, which pays well, but not like the investment management business.

    Good luck!

  • lo
    8 June 2009

    Times are tough but spamming your info to 1,600 CEOs is not the way to go. He probably should be "at the bottom."

  • rr
    8 June 2009

    It's sad but some jobs are not coming back anymore...

  • Sa
    Sara K. Collins
    5 June 2009

    True, experts do advise "casting your net as wide as possible", but they are referring to networking, where you get "warm" introductions to decision makers from people in your immediate network, or one of their contacts (or one of *their* contacts).

    Mr. Wilson, instead, is simply blanketing the world with his resume. This is a huge waste of time and trees. His complete lack of interviews should clue him in that it's time for a change.

    I actually just blogged about resume submission vs networking two days ago:

  • Ta
    5 June 2009

    I agree with Jon that companies want the best. I have had 10 onsite interviews since I lost my job in January. Several of these I was "overqualified" for, but still lost out to someone who was overqualified, but with a little more experience in the industry or the specific subfield. Employers are hiring at a very slow rate and they know that if they make a mistake they can't afford to just hire someone else to compensate for it.

    I am having much better luck now going after jobs that would represent promotions over jobs that represent what I have years of competency in. I keep hearing, "We want someone who is bright. We want someone who will drive the business. We only have x positions to fill this year and we need each one to count."

    Adaptability is key, but few employers will believe that you are going to stay is you take a job for much less than you are worth. They have the budget for the position and will be happy if you shave 10-15% off the price, but if you cut down too much, they will start to wonder whether you are really as good as you say you are. Take something related and don't be arrogant, but show the employer that you have real value to add-and then add

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