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View from the Bottom: My foot's in the door of the Big Four, but life's a bore

"Mother Theresa doesn't work on Wall Street." I recently read this quote.

Since moving to a larger city at the start of the year, 2010 has been a mixed bag, both personally and professionally. I got offered my supposed "dream job" supporting the front office at one of the Big Four banks, only to have it cruelly taken away by a ruthless business-unit manager and an inept recruitment agency.

I spent the first four months of the year unemployed, close to financial ruin and having to return home to my parents. I was forced onto the dole, and to make things worse, I decided to torture myself with the pleasure of studying to undertake the CFA level 1 exam.

I had more than 30 interviews, met six recruitment agencies, read a book on job hunting and resume creation and came almost to the end of my tether before I cracked a (very much entry-level) position in back-office institutional banking with a different Big Four firm.

This role couldn't have come soon enough. I was happy to at least have got a "foot in the door". After two years of travel, countless different job paths and several moves to different cities, I felt I had finally become serious about my career and knew enough about my new employer to feel that further opportunities would present themselves if I worked hard.

Was it worth it?

So what have I learnt on the job so far that really isn't just a whinge about my situation? Not that much to be honest. My career-advancement strategy is really going nowhere, and I sometimes wonder why we banking types enter the industry in the first place. We aren't saving the world and we're not helping people either (or at least not doing the job with the direct intention of helping people).

But yet we'll put ourselves through several years of work in jobs we hate in the vain hope that we'll hit the front, hit the big time, move up the corporate ladder, gain some clients, manage a significant portfolio and become a "master of the universe" (or at least find a job we do actually enjoy).

While in the longer term I believe taking this very junior role will work for me, in the short term it's more of a "business as usual" position. But as I can't be the first person to have considered the "foot in the door" strategy, what are the unwritten conventions to open up a more senior, more challenging opportunity?

Help me get to the top

Most seem to say a year is the absolute minimum you need to serve. Let me know your thoughts. A year seems like a long time to be in a job I don't enjoy, but it also makes sense: employers certainly do value consistency in CVs, as I have found out the hard way.

People also suggest strongly if you are not challenged to start reading. Read books on topics that interest you; whether that's corporate finance, money laundering, asset management strategies, options trading theory, personal finance tips, the Financial Review...whatever.

Keep your mind stimulated. I have considered teaching myself a few computer programs to gain relevant systems experience aside from the core retail platforms which the Big Four use. But what systems do banks value most? VBA has been touted by a few people.

Probably the most critical factor is getting your line manager on your side. Herein lies the difficulty because most managers have the same career-ladder strategy as you. They are waiting for their own big break. So how long before you show your hand and make it known that you want to move?

Sometimes, however, I think you just have to bite the bullet, do the absolute most you can, and pretend you're enjoying it. Most others are. That's why Mother Theresa doesn't work on Wall Street.

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AUTHORAnonymous Insider Comment
  • Re
    7 October 2010

    Gen X Manager, clearly your attitudes and beliefs have been shaped from hanging around your whole life in this incestous two-bit economy called Australia. Have you got any big market experience? its quite a different world out there buddy.

    We are all commodities and we will be priced according to the market. Loyalty, don't talk to me about loyalty pal..Loyalty is DEAD!!! its new world order...and its all about the buck, the rest is just conversation. Heck, we work in finance, its always been about the buck. Don't tell me that you actually think you are doing 'Gods work' Mr gen X manager advice to the young markets men out there is to get as much as you can as quick as you can otherwise you're gonna end up doing overtime to send Mr Gen X Manager's 3rd child to Kings College.

  • Ge
    GenX Manager
    6 October 2010

    Yep, go job hopping and traveling all you want, just be prepared to pay the price for your complete lack of dedication to anything. I agree with the prior GenX opinion, your types will eventually burn yourself. I wouldn't hire anyone who had a history of job hopping, nor would I hire someone who has spent a few years drifting between jobs and travelling, who suddenly "wants a career".

    Clearly, your generation and your attitudes have been shaped from a record expansion in the economy. You may actually have to grow up a bit and stop being a child.

    Your attitude is mostly in the toilet, by the way. I did a Master's in Applied Finance, while working full time, with 3 children...And you were complaining about studying for the CFA, at home, with no job and no job???? Basically, you need a major attitude adjustment and need to stop being a thankless punk.

    GenX Manager.

  • Xe
    Xer GM
    4 October 2010

    Ok be careful. As an Xer GM I want to invest in quality talent and I will but it is a two way agreement. If I see a candidate that has more than 2 jobs with <2yrs I stay away (gota be a great reason for me to consider even an interview) as I can't aford to have a team member who we invest time and $ training, growing personally and professionally, to leave within 2yrs as it is a waste for both parties. Don't think it won't catch you, it will. It may be 5 yrs down the track when you're chasing that $200k role, the GM won't take the risk at that level. Mind you I'm hiring $150k originators at the moment and have discounted over 100 applicants due to job hoping (3 jobs in 3 yrs). Anyway if the short term $ is the master then go for it, in 5 yrs when you want to earn more than $120k permanent it will make a difference.(I note the $210k contract role above as an exception as there is little risk employing a "hopper" when it's a contract) . Am I old, maybe but I am the one making the calls.

  • vb
    1 October 2010

    There's pros and cons really to both staying and going but here's my two cents. If you're unhappy, bored and feeling like life's passing you by in a job....there is no way that you will work well enough to get yourself noticed to move up. Its very easy to say an upbeat attitude solves everything but from personal experience if you spend 8-12 hours a day in a place where you don't want to be, its going to reflect in your performance. So if your situation is dire enough, cut your losses and hop. You are better equipped now than you were before purely because your current job is your backstop (i.e. its not the same as being on the dole).

    Good luck though and update us on how you do.

  • SP
    1 October 2010

    I agree with TC. After running my own business and putting up with a year long contract during the heart of the GFC I have hopped from 80k to 210k in the last 3 months via a temporary contract with one company then being proactive and finding out about a big IT project at the same place.

    And 'Author' I don't agree it is risky. You need to take a calculated risk but it is important to understand the lie of the land and then go for it. If you are in a lower role its amazing how much people say in front of you. It's amazing how people react when you hit them up for a better role if you are exceling in the one you are in. It doesn't matter what it is. Do it well and you will be noticed or if you are not, make sure they do notice you. Good Luck you have the foot in the door.

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