Back to Square Two

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Is there life after investment banking? Yes, but with a few caveats, according to Rob , a former I-banker who asks that his full name not be used.

He was downsized in January from his position as a mergers and acquisition associate with a privately-held Washington, D.C., investment bank. In February, he landed a new position as a consultant with defense contractor CACI International. While Rob found it an "easy switch" out of financial services into defense due to his previous military experience and security clearance, he feels the door back to investment banking may be locked behind him.

"To break in (to investment banking) was difficult to begin with," he says. Previously, he'd worked for two firms in the defense industry, providing research and analysis used in counterintelligence and in military special operations. He transitioned out of defense into M&A and investment banking in 2007.

"I've been told that leaving now almost assures I won't get back into financial services," Rob says. "I've talked to recruiters who told me I was lucky to get in initially, but that my leaving will be viewed as 'the going got tough and you left.'"

Plenty of Warning

Yet he found it nearly impossible to stay in the industry after being downsized. "I was almost forced into leaving. The market was smaller and I was competing with people who had more experience as well as MBAs from top schools. On the corporate finance side versus other sectors, there's a real track employers look for, including certain internships, experiences, and schools."

Rob's previous employer first began showing signs of distress in 2008. The real warning volleys came when the firm missed payroll. Already looking for another job by then, he says he "saw the writing on the wall and began aggressively looking." He intensified his efforts when the company laid off its staff and then offered to hire them back on a commission basis. "I wasn't in a position where I could afford to work for commission only," he explains. "Besides, there wasn't enough business coming in to make it possible anyway."

After being laid off, Rob and his wife decided to move to Miami for family reasons and he concentrated on finding work there. However, he said if he'd been able to stay in finance, he would have relocated as needed. His job search took about five months - most of it before his banking job evaporated.

Banking Skills Might Help Down the Line

Rob relied on networking contacts to find his new position. Although he gained transferable skills while working in financial services, he felt that advantage was "minimal compared to the networking contacts I made working in the military and defense contracting."

"Defense work is a niche skill - it's based on security clearance issues. The transition to defense was easy from my military path. It wasn't difficult in terms of finding a position."

He admits he misses his old job in investment banking, particularly handling mergers and acquisitions on the corporate side. "I enjoyed the corporate strategy side of it. We put a lot of effort to pairing companies that were a good cultural fit."

Looking ahead, Rob hopes to combine his past and present career paths. "I have M&A experience of about two years. I hope to get a position in my firm where I can use my experience to get involved in M&A in the defense industry."

Jenny L. Herring, APR, is a financial writer and public relations professional with experience in both institutional and retail asset management.