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

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"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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