I have a friend who was a junior equities trader. He joined the bank straight out of college, worked there for a few years and was laid off. Four months later, we spoke and he mentioned to me that he’d submitted more than 300 job applications. I didn’t totally believe this and asked him to prove it to me. He opened up his personal e-mail account and showed me hundreds of messages sent to internal recruiters, external recruiters, human resources personnel, hiring managers, investment banks and even a few depression therapists – I was astounded. We got to work and exchanged messages via e-mail, phone and pony express for a week, spending about three to four hours every day retooling his resume, revamping his cover letter, improving his phone interview skills and even buying a new interview tie to help lift his spirits.
After an exhaustive week, we went out on Friday night to drown our drudgery in a few glasses of wine and bottles of beer. I asked him, “I know you’ve been an equity trader since you started working, but is that what you want to continue to do?”
He said: “I’m a week late on my rent and I’ve maxed out one credit card already. At this point, I’ll do anything!”
As soon as he said that, I realized I needed to do something else to help him: I needed to read some of his e-mails to recruiters to see what type of picture of himself he was presenting. And it wasn’t pretty.
He’d sent e-mail after e-mail to a host of people across the industry for jobs that ranged from Senior Institutional Equity Trader to Operations Associate. With each e-mail I read, it seemed his confidence and desire for the job waned and his desperation to be employed increased and poured through into his messages.
Here’s an example of the sort of stuff he was sending out
“Please allow me to introduce myself: My name is X and I was an equities trader for three years at Y bank. I’ve been out of the market for more than four months, but I am still actively trading my own portfolio. My schedule is highly flexible and I would like to speak with you about opportunities in London or elsewhere in the EU. I’ve provided my mobile number, home number, e-mail and LinkedIn profile for you to view. Thank you.”
So, what’s wrong?
If you’re going to send an e-mail to a recruiter, you need be brief, but very informative. The following are staples of e-mail correspondence to recruiters: name, a brief account of your working background, what career opportunities you’re interested in and how those opportunities correlate to your background.
This is what recruiters saw when they read the e-mail above:
“My name is X. I was a trader for three years. I’m unemployed. I’ve got a tremendous amount of time on my hands because I’m unemployed. I want/need work in London or anywhere in the European Union. Here is every piece of contact information I have so that you can contact me and help me. Help.”
Are you going to do something, or just stand there and bleed?
Back in the golden age of finance jobs, employers were more lenient in evaluating job applicants.
It was fairly common to see people with non-traditional degrees and even non-traditional work experience walk into finance roles simply because they could market themselves well, demonstrate great aptitude or display remarkable drive.
A financial crisis and three years later, all of that hit the fan, the economy collapsed and the job market became a labyrinth of strange proportions.
Recruiters seem to ignore potential candidates with greater frequency, financial institutions are noticeably more stringent with job requirements and online job posting sites are similar to black holes, with perhaps a bit less gravitational pull than usual.
Compounding all of that are the attitudes of people like my friend.
Here’s exactly what he did wrong
- He failed to convey his work experience and how it was relevant for the opportunities he was applying to.
- He had no “elevator pitch” and therefore no way to win recruiters’ attention in 30 seconds.
- The tone of his follow-up e-mails implied anxiety and distraction.
- He placed all his faith in the internet and assumed that was the only way to find jobs.
- You can’t keep performing the same actions over and over and expect different results – that’s the definition of insanity.
Here’s what I’d recommend doing if, like my friend, you’re flailing about with no clear direction:
1. Figure out specifically what you want to do
The absolute worst attitude to have: “At this point, I’ll do anything!”
You might think that you limit yourself if you focus on applying for one or two specific roles, but the opposite is actually true: by focusing and making your profile match those roles as closely as possible, you improve your chances of landing offers.
X had been an equities trader for three years and he should have been applying for equities trading roles. If he had experience in trading other assets, then he could have also applied for those opportunities.
Because his desperation was a distraction, it impaired his ability to stay committed to the jobs that he was best suited for when applying.
I helped him to focus all of his efforts on trading opportunities and connected his equities trading background to other trading roles he was interested in that were not equities-centered.
2. Spin your experience into sounding relevant
Before you even begin contacting recruiters and pitching yourself, figure out how you can make your experience sound relevant.
So if you’ve worked in equity research but want to move into private equity or do something else that’s deal-related, don’t just sit there and talk about the stocks you’ve followed: pick a merger, acquisition or other deal that one of your coverage companies was involved with and talk about your experience analyzing that transaction.
For roles that my friend was interested in but not relevant to his background, this was a matter of familiarizing himself with the asset that he was interested in trading, and then relating the research process in his equities trading strategy to a similar research process for that asset class.
3. Develop your elevator pitch
This is important because you’re going to re-use this time and time again on the phone, in person and via e-mail when you introduce yourself to recruiters.
Your pitch should be no more than a few sentences and it should explain what you’ve done, what you want to do next and how your experience will get you there.
Here’s a condensed version of my friend’s revised pitch:
“Good afternoon, my name is X and I’m a mid/large cap equities trader. My most recent role required me to focus on a host of sectors including but not limited to financials, technology and health care. I have over three years of corporate trading experience, and I’m actively looking for a new career opportunity. Attached you will find my resume and a cover letter that will highlight my qualifications in greater detail. My contact information has been provided below. Thank you for your time.”
4. Sit down and craft recruiting e-mails and practice your pitch on the phone
The best way to avoid the desperate tone X used is simple: prepare beforehand. If you don’t have to write every e-mail from scratch and you re-use most of your pitch each time, the chances of screwing up decrease substantially.
You will also sound far more confident if you do what I suggested above and focus on the roles you could actually see yourself doing, rather than sending dozens of e-mails per day about positions that you don’t care about at all.
If you prepare beforehand, it also helps to keep a clear and confident mind as you work to see results.
Although the recruiter email replies and phone calls didn’t suddenly come non-stop for my friend, the immediate replies he did receive had a noticeable effect on his demeanor and his overall presentation.
5. Go beyond the Internet
Occasionally when I ask people how they would go about finding a job if there were no Internet, many say that they would focus on recruiters.
My response is usually, “So if there were no Internet, you would leave the fate of your career to recruiters?”
Recruiters can be helpful, but they shouldn’t be your only source for new opportunities – they tend to focus on high-probability candidates and that means that you’re rarely at the top of their lists if you’re currently unemployed or not in a relevant position.
The Internet is great for finding contacts, but you should take the relationship offline via the phone and in-person meetings as quickly as possible.
I told my friend that he should always want to talk or meet with the person that was in the position to hire him or refer him to someone who could hire him.
Whether it is via telephone or in person, conversations rarely have the ability to end by not replying or closing the door of opportunity completely.
Editor's note: A version of this article first appeared on our UK site and on Mergers and Inquisitions, a Web site dedicated to helping people break into investment banking.