Hardly a day goes by without a fresh headline about Wall Street firms adding jobs or wrestling each other for possession of a star banker or trader. Yet you're not only still looking - it's been months since you landed an interview. And most job-seekers you know personally are in the same boat.
What gives? Are the Wall Street CEOs who say they're staffing up, and the reporters who relay such stories, all wet?
In a word, no. Employers aren't misrepresenting their intentions; they're being selective. By and large, they are pursuing only those candidates they view as A players. And your resume, reputation (or lack thereof) or interview performance is saying you aren't one.
Let's assume you've already performed the standard vetting on your resume: you've had it reviewed by an individual resume specialist (not a mill that sells template-based resume critiques) and several successful colleagues, and you meticulously blunder-check each newly tailored version you send out. Let's also assume you have a solid track record in the financial services industry and never waste time applying to openings you're not qualified for or pursuing companies that have no need for your skill set.
What's Stopping Me From Looking Like An A Player?
Here are some common reasons financial employers who are recruiting right and left aren't pursuing you:
1. You lack pedigree: never worked for a top firm in your field, or did many years ago but your recent employers are further down the food chain.
2. Your resume fails to show clear upward career progress over the last five years or so.
3. You can't convincingly quantify your contribution to revenue for your last employer and/or prospective future employer. (Yes, that automatically excludes most back-office professionals from being considered A players... along with HR, marketing and communications, and other non-revenue departments.)
4 The role you're aiming for differs significantly from what you did in your most recent role.
5. There is a gap lasting longer than six months in your employment history anywhere during the past 10 years.
6. You are currently unemployed.
Jobless Candidates Pushed to the Back of the Line
That final entry, banishing everyone currently unemployed from the ranks of potential A players, strikes many (unemployed) people as arbitrary and unfair. It is - just like business in general, and life in general. Bad things happen to good people. If that's you, grit your teeth and concoct a story that puts the best possible face on your ill luck so no one you encounter in your job search will peg you as either unlucky or weak.
What about all those pedigreed, high-energy stars who lost their jobs in the meltdown? Weren't they A-players?
Indeed they were. And all of them whose skill sets remained relevant got snapped up during 2008 and the initial months of 2009. These were the vaunted "opportunistic hires" that bulge-bracket and (especially) boutique banks boasted about last year: top producers who'd abruptly landed on the street because entire firms or lines of business had been swept away.
Now that that contingent has long since returned to work, employers' traditional bias against jobless candidates is back in full force. The bias isn't irrational: it is fueled by any talent-acquisition veteran's knowledge that - just as paranoids can have real enemies too - people who got jettisoned in a mass layoff might have had performance issues too. It's an attitude you must be prepared to address and overcome if you are out of work.