Knowing the Right Time to Leave Your Investment Banking Job
These days I’ve been running into more people in finance than usual who absolutely hate almost every aspect of their jobs.
Whether it’s sheer boredom from the work (Newsflash: some jobs in finance are about as intellectually stimulating as walking a straight line), disappointment in their career progression to date, their paycheck versus their hours worked or a maniacal boss or co-workers, everyone appears to have a well-deserved gripe.
But I usually hear nothing about the proper exit strategy from unfulfilling jobs. When I ask a person in finance who’s unhappy with their work just how long they intend to stay in their current role, I’m reminded of a Shakespearean quote: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” because they have no exit strategy.
You don't want any gaps in your resume
If you’ve left your decision to leave to chance, you’re making a grave mistake. This is not the early 2000s where jobs, outsized salaries and Sony PlayStation 1′s were plentiful.
Post-Lehman (my way of thinking about the world of finance after 2008), there’s a new reality slowly edging its way into the realm of finance: employers want better academic credentials, more experienced hires and resumes that can rival the Seven Wonders of the World – absent of any employment gaps.
Employment gaps are almost deal-breakers in the present job market, and there are too many experienced and qualified applicants out there to make frequent exceptions. Long story short, do not leave your current job unless you have a viable, actionable plan.
When to leave and when not to leave
These are some of the most common reasons why young professionals with less than 10 years of experience prematurely leave their jobs in finance.
1. A poor performance review
When NOT to Leave: If it’s your first bad review, don’t go. Sometimes poor performance reviews are legitimate and deserved, but it’s up to you to determine if the comments on your performance are warranted.
If the commentary on your review is adverse but truthful, then it’s time to buckle down and work on your shortcomings. If the commentary is incorrect, then you should determine if there’s a misunderstanding regarding your role and performance expectations, or if you’re actually being sabotaged.
In either scenario, you need to pay closer attention to your work, firmly re-establish the expectations with your management team, document your performance, gain a stronger relationship with your manager(s) and try to rebound.
When to Leave: There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” If it’s your second poor review, it’s time to get out of dodge. Poor consecutive performance reviews genuinely only mean two things: either there is a real mismatch between the expectations of the job and your current abilities, or your manager is the Anti-Christ and wants to deliver you to the hell hounds.
2. A tiny bonus
When NOT to Leave: If bonuses are down across the entire firm, stay (for the time being). If bonuses are down across your department, stay (back away from the stapler). If bonuses are down across the entire street, stay.
The theme to look for is whether or not your disappointing bonus is synonymous with what’s happening at your firm, in your department or on Wall Street, and to avoid sudden reactions. Simply take a deep breath, and determine the cause of the lower bonuses.
When to Leave: If you’ve been labeled the underperformer while everyone else has been paid OK, then you should give some thought to changing shops or departments. Bonus trends usually don’t reverse themselves, so it’s likely that your bonus will be similar or worse the next year.
3. Draining and boring work
Studies confirm that working in an environment that is personally unrewarding can have disastrous effects on your home life, your physical well-being and your mental health.
Having gone through a similar experience a few years ago, I can confirm this to be true.
When NOT to Leave: Sometimes you can speak with management to gain new responsibilities or exposure to a new area if they’re willing to help out – or you can ask about an internal move that can provide a more satisfying environment (keep in mind this is still finance, so don’t expect a relocation to paradise when and if you transfer internally).
When to Leave: If you find yourself unable to move to a new department or change your current role, then it may be time to look elsewhere.
4. A better job on the buyside
When NOT to leave: Ideally, you shouldn’t leave just before bonuses are paid. In reality, good buyside roles are highly competitive and highly-sought after, so you should probably leave whenever you can get one.
When to Leave: Almost always. If there’s a buyside opportunity that’s going to give you more exposure, better pay and a more favorable career outlook, it’s virtually a no-brainer.
5. A business school offer
When NOT to leave: Ideally, not before your bonus is paid
When to Leave: I would suggest leaving about three to four months before the start of business school. Allocate this time as follows: one month to visit family, two months for travel (central-western Italy, Martinique and any place in southeast Brazil are personal favorites) and one month to recover and get into a business school state of mind.
Exeter Jones is a philosopher trapped inside the body of a writer, trapped inside the body of an alternative investment analyst. He’s worked in investment banking and alternative investments and his favorite breakfast food is ESPN. A version of this article first appeared on Mergers and Inquisitions, a Web site dedicated to helping people break into investment banking and maintaining their sanity while doing so.