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Unemployed bankers share wisdom on trying and failing to get back in

When banking is a closed door (Photo credit: Vincent van der Pas)

We write a lot on this site about the art of getting a job in banking - especially if you're out of the industry and are desperately trying to get back in again. However, we tend to write less about the thousands of people who have lost their banking jobs and find themselves locked out of the market - in some cases irreversibly.

We spoke to four mid-ranking and senior bankers who have spent time out of the market. One has been out for several years and has given up all hope of getting back in again. Another is determined to move into a technology company. Another found a new job in private equity. The last has gone to Frankfurt in search of opportunities there (despite being British by birth). All spoke on condition of anonymity. This is what they said.

Accept that it's over: you're too old 

We spoke to a 52-year-old ex-senior product controller from a U.S. bank. He lost his job more than five years ago and has now given up getting a new job in banking, instead "keeping himself occupied" in other ways - like sports coaching.

"Once you're out, it's almost impossible to get back in," he told us. "To begin with I seemed to be making some progress through personal contacts, but they all came to nothing. There weren't really that many positions and all of the organizations I was applying to wanted to hire younger people. Banks know that they need to build their pipeline for the future. If you don't fit their age profile, you'll get nowhere."

He said ageism in the City of London has got worse since the British government introduced anti-ageism laws in 2008: "The ageism laws mean that recruiters won't even put you forward for roles. They know that if they do, their client will be obliged to treat you equally. In most cases recruiters want to protect the client and will therefore deny you any contact."

Nor is it easy to switch into part time contract work: "I know some people who are contractors and who've made contracting work through immense persistence, but most of the jobs seem to be for people with regulatory experience and they don't want you if you've been out too long."

How long is too long to be out of the market? "Anything more than two years," he said.

Switching industries isn't hard, but prepare for a short period of no income 

We spoke to an ex-structurer from a large U.S. bank who is trying to move into a technology firm after quitting banking voluntarily.

"If you want to change industry my advice would be just to do it," he said. "Too many people talk about it and then decide against leaving because they feel they need a big financial cushion. I'd say that yes - it takes time to move industries and that you need to accept that you'll have four to five months of no income - but it's more than doable for anyone who's willing to sacrifice their lifestyle today as an investment in their future."

Avoid headhunters. And moving into risk is harder than you think 

We spoke to an ex-equity researcher who spent some time travelling and is now in Frankfurt looking for a job with a German bank there. He hasn't been successful so far. "Headhunters are useless," he said. "They are only good at placing you in a job identical to the job you were doing last."

He wants to move out of equity research, which he thinks is in secular decline. It's not proving easy. "I wanted to move into risk - I figured that risk would be a huge area going forward and that German banks would be happy to hire someone from London with experience of analyzing bank stocks. But it turns out that risk managers nowadays need a PhD in maths."

Appreciate that the market has changed - even if you get a new job, it will be tough

We spoke to a private equity professional who found a new job by approaching the task systematically and compiling spreadsheets of contacts and target companies. Don't expect a job to fall into your lap, he said - and if it does, stick with it even if it's hard work. "I've seen people complete MBAs and then land M&A jobs at bulge bracket banks, only to give them up because they're doing three all-nighters a week," he said. "But the industry's changed- it's even tougher than it used to be, you have to accept that - you're out of touch after spending two years in a leafy suburb of Paris or Philadelphia."

If you can't get a job in a bulge bracket firm, he suggested plumbing the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth tiers. "Think of the very small firms - there are a lot of them around and few people look there."

AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Dr
    Dr J
    19 June 2016

    Basically Banking has been a bloated, incompetent, subsidized and failed industry for nearly 40 years. It no longer relies on financial transactions that foster growth of itself and the customer. Instead investors are the key customer and the owners. They seek profit and gain. Technology has also taken over and replaced the MBA with the Programmer and Analyst. Thus finance, business and even accounting degrees are secondary to the technical analyst who can forecast profit for investors tomorrow and making banking as convenient as a ten second text. No need for personal interaction, period. Or even brick and mortar or large safes. Welcome to the 21st Century. Even lawyers aren't needed, computers are more precise and detailed.

  • Bo
    Bond James Bond
    14 August 2013

    This article doesn't share much wisdom sadly. More stories of the unfortunate. I was made redundant earlier this year and even with support of the top buy side client names no offers have been made. Managers have found themselves in their positions by accident, they're weak and paranoid if they hire someone experienced they themselves will end up getting elbowed. I have been interviewed by some real losers that makes you think how? I was lucky enough to have a blue chip client base they meant I was profitable, unlike the twenty something they replaced me with that wouldn't know a stock from a bond. If you cut the characters, the experience and the teachers from the City it will end up very second rate as a financial power centre. Wake up guys, a text book, a degree, a PhD even will never teach you the same as 20 years in the City. I am 40 and still as hungry as when I joined 15 years ago because I enjoy it, but I think the acuity has changed for the worse and probably won't return in my lifetime. I am just grateful I saw it when it was great.

  • Be
    14 August 2013

    There is a world outside of the UK. Learn a language and move out.

  • Ju
    13 August 2013

    I am a single women of a certain age also are put out to grass by the city and I have no money to persue another lifestyle plus I loved my jobs in the city, I have never taken time out to have children as I cannot have them but I am still overlooked for "young men". I agree the city needs to build up the workforce for the future but you need the maturity and experience to keep the future generation on track. I am sick of reading about men moaning about them and their jobs but the city always closes ranks and goes back to the old school network when the conservatives are in power seen it all before. I have now lost my life and everything I worked so hard for all my life all because someone in the governement told the press that you shouldn't be allowed to work in the city past a certain age..........this is against all our human rights, I don't like using that hand but in this case I really believe they should be standing up for people like myself and the people in this article.

  • Be
    13 August 2013

    The headline for this article has one clutching ones heart! Truth be told though there are two kinds of unemployed: the kind that can afford it and the kind that can't. Strangely, the level of panic of unemployed is fairly unrelated to this. My first year of unemployment has been pretty relaxing - I've made as much from investing as I do normally on salary. However, I can feel the wheels rusting up, and it is highly doubtful I will do the same every year.

    It's absolutely vital, I think, to find new things to learn about, especially if your background is in analysis. One's brain is like a mill - it needs grist and without it the two cogs just bump against each other. In addition, you need three career plans: one to get back into work, one to change work if getting back in fails, and the third a survival plan.

    Getting back into work has two main avenues: one is just applying for the same type of job at ever lower firms; the second is starting your own company. Applying for jobs at low-end companies is fine, provided the company itself has a source of revenue. The company is in a strong position to upscale its quality, and may be a decent competitor with a few key hires. Yes there is probably an idiot at the top hoping to get carried, but with a bit of luck, he will have the nous to sit back and enjoy the ride!

    Forming your own company: I can't say my own plan is brilliant, but at least it is low cost. So many people seem to be creating plans with no hope of success even by their own admissions, that will drain them of another 100 grand or so. That's enough money to buy yourself a job as a hotelier for example! Be honest with the chance of success and spend accordingly, and don't spend money on brand because no one cares.

    Changing direction: yes, but how do I get a job in Consulting I hear you say? Well there are our neighbours, consulting and private banking, although I presume you will have knocked at those doors already. I meant a more radical change of direction. Lecturer, accountant, engineer... yes, they all require more than a 6m MBA retraining, but at least they get you somewhere eventually. Maybe not where you feel you deserve, but somewhere, and it is better to travel hopefully than not!

    A survival plan: how much money do you need to make it all the way to the grave? More than you have? Even if you get tips for pruning the neighbours bushes? In that case you simply need to cut how much you need. That involves cutting 'essential' expenditure, and giving up staple comforts. Learn how to drink cheap wine and enjoy it! Getting rid of a mortgage and other debt by downsizing is going to be one of the best investments. Get rid of the expensive friends, expensive hotels, expensive spouse, expensive kids (ok that's a tough one). Still doesn't cut the mustard? I hear Ecuador is nice at this time of year...

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