My automation nightmare: 24 interviews in nine months, and no job

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This website recently posted a story about product controllers whose jobs are at risk of being offshored – it suggested they should market themselves in financial roles outside of the banking sector.

As an unemployed product controller, this resonated with me because it’s what I have tried to do myself. But even with a top-tier MBA, I have failed to make the transition. My best options at the moment are back in product control at a bank, or perhaps a compliance role at my old firm.

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I’ve made several mistakes in my job-search saga, I will admit. However, the timing of everything could not have been worse if I had tried.

I was a New York-based product controller in credit markets at a major international bank, with prior work experience in middle-office roles. After the finance crisis I figured that the writing was on the wall for jobs like mine, as they could easily be offshored and/or automated. At the same time I had an urge to get out of New York and try something else.

I ended up quitting that job in 2009 to volunteer in economic development in Africa, and followed that up with an MBA in Europe in 2010. At the time of my acceptance, the eurozone crisis was just a Greek one. Despite the crisis, I managed to get a financial internship in the energy sector. However as the internship began, my European host country banned the conversion of student visas into work visas.

There was no job offer for me after the internship, along with most others who interned that summer. Due to a visa problem I had to stay illegally in the country for a few months as well, which meant that I could not leave the EU’s Schengen Area for interviews.

24 interviews since January

After my MBA graduation in June 2012, I returned home to NYC and hit a series of hiring freezes blamed on the fiscal-cliff uncertainty (because everything in business is usually certain). I checked in with my former employer, only to find that my prediction had come true: whatever could not be automated in the middle office and product control was being shipped to India.

After six months of job fairs and networking, I finally started getting interviews: 24 so far this year, across a wide variety of sectors, job functions, and locations (including Africa). You name it, I’ve probably interviewed for it: financial planning and analysis (FP&A), treasury, and strategy roles – both permanent and temporary – across various industries. I’ve put equal effort into both temp and perm jobs, but nearly all my interviews have been for perm roles. Now I have this huge gap on my CV.

For FP&A roles, the feedback has generally been that I lack budgeting experience. Another hindrance is my lack of knowledge of an enterprise-resource planning (ERP) system – I would gladly learn one, but I can’t get a straight answer on which one to choose as they tend to be mutually exclusive. Moreover, many employers don’t want people who are changing careers, and tend to want MBAs with five years of previous FP&A experience in their particular industries.

When I tried going for below MBA-level jobs, I have been overqualified. One in-house recruiter said my strategy to take a step back career-wise to get needed experience was valid, but I couldn’t make that move in her company. A recruitment firm even insisted that I was overqualified for an MBA rotational program with a six-figure salary. Most recruitment firms have been useless, and a few even told me that they could not help me because I am unemployed!

More brick walls in my job search

I don’t blame my MBA program for this, but could the school be doing a better job to get me a job? Of course. The school isn’t as well known in the US as it is in Europe and the alumni network here is useless, but I knew that going in. I didn’t care (I should have) as I wasn’t planning on coming back. Most European MBA programs are dreadful at recruitment, so that wasn’t much of a surprise either. I did spend significantly less money on the degree vs an American program, which helps quite a bit.

I gave up on blindly applying online a long time ago; only four of my 24 interviews were achieved through that method. I almost exclusively try to network my way into firms through various meetings, career fairs, and hackathons. I may do applications on Ziprecruiter (one-click applications), but if I see any corporate careers page made with Taleo, an talent management system, I don’t even bother.

I wish I could say that there is a happy ending to my story, but there isn’t yet. I’m over 30, living at home, and completely reliant on my dad for all things financial (including student-loan payments).

My advice to job seekers: hustle. Attend as many events as you can, and be upfront and direct about what you are looking for. Always carry business cards on you, and put a mini resume on the backside of your cards. If you are nervous speaking in front of strangers, take an improvisation class. Try learning at least the basics of a programming language or two (VBA, SQL, Python, etc). And when the hopelessness turns into outright despair, ask for help before you lose yourself.

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