In the past few weeks, several long-serving, highly-settled bankers who had become part of the fabric at the firms they'd worked for moved on. Take Blythe Masters, who spent 27 years at JPMorgan before quitting four days ago. Take Phil Allison, the UBS veteran, who quit the bank after 18 years for destinations unknown (but thought to be KCG Holdings). Take Ewen Stevenson, who's left Credit Suisse after 25 years to become CFO of Royal Bank of Scotland. Each of them had spent their entire working life to date with one firm. Is this really such a good idea?
No, according to the experts.
"As a rule you need to be moving jobs at least every five years," says Michael Moran at careers consulting service 10Eighty. "Generally, you will learn a lot but contribute nothing for the first 18 months and you will pay back that learning time in the next 18 months. After that, if you're not learning anything new you must move on.
"If you've worked for one company for 15 years, there are two things I can guarantee you of," adds Moran ominously. "Firstly, you will be paid 10-15% less than the market rate. Secondly, you will be less employable than if you've worked for a selection of firms. People will have more respect for you if you've worked for the competition. And if you've worked for three companies your network will be far bigger than if you've only worked for one."
But what of all these senior bankers who joined as interns and only emerged blinking into the sunlight 20+ years later on?
Ignore them, says the head one of one search firm. They're a throwback to a cozier past. "These are just old timers who are packing it in," he says. "Anyone who's started a job in the past decade is switching every two or three years."
The comfort trap
Heather McGregor, an ex-banker and director of search firm Taylor Bennett, says changing jobs too often is a bad thing, as is changing jobs too infrequently. "If you move between several jobs after less than two years in each one, you will lose credibility," she says. "However, if you’ve been in a job for more than seven years you should be regularly challenging yourself. – Are you still learning? Are you still making progress?"
Women have a particular tendency to cling to the same job for years and years, says McGregor: "The longer you work somewhere, the easier it is to do your job – you know where things are and women tend to have more extraneous demands upon their time."
Fundamentally, you should never get too comfortable. The real tragedy is that people in banking spend 20 years working for the same firm and then get ejected in their mid-40s, says Moran. At that point, it can be very hard to find anything new. "If a company's getting rid of you because you don't have the skills it wants, the chances are that the rest of the market won't want you either," Moran adds. "If you've worked for two to three companies, you're far more likely to be up to date."
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