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Just don’t quit: It’s never been harder to find work as an unemployed banker

You’re miserable at your current employer and are desperate for a new job. Do you up and quit or put in more hours while sneaking away for interviews? In nearly every situation, recruiters and career coaches will tell you to do the latter, but it’s more important now than ever before to be employed while looking for a new job in banking.

“Quitting without a new job is like death to your career,” says Lisa Mogilner, executive recruiter at Dynamics Associates.

The main issue at hand is the oversaturation of the market – something that didn’t exist in years past when people who were employed at banks were too terrified to leave. Now, as the market has stabilized a bit, employed candidates are plentiful.

Indeed, roughly 88% of bankers in the U.S. said they are either actively looking for work or at least open to new opportunities, according to the eFinancialCareers Career Satisfaction & Retention Survey. Around 43% of respondents say they are actively looking.

“A lot of qualified people who haven’t been looking since 2006 are now back on the market,” Mogilner says. “It hasn’t been like this in a long, long time. Clients with typically-low turnover rates are coming to us confused,” she said.

Competing with someone who is already employed is a difficult task that is getting even harder. Financial firms that are now more fearful of risk find it safer to hire someone who’s employed.

“Why hire someone who [may be] an underperformer or unlikeable? It's not always the case, but you reduce the risk by hiring people already in a role,” said Chris Apostolou, a former economist who’s now the managing director at London-based Arbitrage Search and Selection.

Apostolou makes the argument that you may actually appear more enticing to an employer if you were laid off rather than if you just quit.

“Pre-crisis the words 'fired' and 'redundant' were interchangeable,” he said. But these days the distinction is clear. When someone quits – or say that they quit – it leaves plenty of grey area. “Someone resigning and sitting at home for six months is still hard to explain and raises eyebrows,” Apostolou says.

Red flags

One of the questions that will be asked: are you tough enough to make it in an industry that’s only getting more competitive? “If you leave without another job, at a minimum it raises a question of commitment and how does the individual deal with adversity,” says Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company, who adds that the only viable exception to the rule is if you are being asked to do something morally or legally wrong.

Mogilner gives an example of a woman she’s working with who voluntarily left Wall Street to spend some time with her kids. An “amazing candidate,” she could land any job that she’d interview for, Mogilner said. But it’s all about getting that interview. That’s been rather difficult.

Bias all around

Recruiters admit their bias as well, if only because of the service they are hired to provide. “When I see a CV where someone is out of work it is definitely downgraded,” Apostolou said. “From a headhunter perspective you are likely to have a candidate who is increasingly desperate to find a role and has sent their CV to everyone in the market, so you can't charge a fee - making fees from unemployed candidates is not what we're paid for.”

As one would assume, the longer you are out of work the worse your chances are to land a new job. In a recent experiment, university researchers submitted 12,000 fake resumes to 3,000 jobs all across the U.S. “Candidates” who were out of work for eight months but who otherwise had similar credentials were contacted with interview requests 45% less often than those who were unemployed for just a month.

What if you already quit?

If you’ve already left and find yourself on the outside looking in, get to work on a well-worded cover letter that explains the circumstances surrounding your departure, says Jane Cranston, a New York-based career coach.

“Don't let them guess. Say why,” she said. “If there is no opportunity for a cover letter, work the reason into the application or resume.”

Related articles:

Six tips for making the most of a job you want to quit, but can't

Proof hiring firms are biased against the unemployed 

Six signs you have to quit your jobs in the next six months

AUTHORBeecher Tuttle US Editor
  • Ca
    26 June 2014

    I agree with the a lot of what TakeAGuess said.
    Recruiters/Head Hunters are out to make a buck, so they'll try to justify their actions by tying their strategy to candidate profile categorizing to make it easy for them. A lot of them are emotionally immature and don't have the time to analyze good candidates who may be unemployed, because they only have time for superficial analysis. Many of them are the sheep and follow convention, and we all know that convention is just another way of controlling people's freedom. I am sure if they wanted to work 24/7 they might be able to niche themselves into finding good unemployed candidates, but they don't have time to waste, so they have to go the easier (and higher % route). They also want free time away from work to enjoy their lives.

    Also, many Head Hunters give the impression of not really understanding profoundly the industry. At first I thought it was just inexperience, but a lot of it is deception on their part. They believe that they know pretty much after they meet you if they think you would be a good fit or not. But they don't always communicate that clearly, because the candidate would lose respect. Again a lot of it is superficiality, because they don't have time to dig into the prospective candidate. So many hiring managers make mistakes because they inadequately assess. Good news is when employers have minority/women obligations, because that really makes the HH's job easier. Many HH's actually try to sell the employer the idea of a minority candidate, because it *does* provide a solid excuse to eliminate thousands of candidates.

    Most hiring managers don't have a clue; they also follow convention. they know deep down inside that if they had enough time, they'd probably find someone, but again they will take the easy way out and don't want to get blamed if it doesn't work out.

    In conclusion, HHs are kind of like a cancer as they contribute to this rank and file conformist attitude, such as CV dos and don'ts and all the other BS that society tries to pull over the individual to make him/her lose individuality (which is also a threat to non-creative people). They say they want out of the box thinking, but they have not the slightest clue what that means.

    Finally, some HHs are just too young or immature to think for themselves. They have not gotten yet to the stage in life where they define their own reality. They simply follow along and repeat what everybody else says to them.

    So, my advice to people would be to ignore all of this horsehockey. If you have $$$$ and can afford to quit your job, then go for it. Travel Europe for 8 months, learn a new language, hike across China, or just stay at home and educate yourself. Open your own business and quit working as an employee. The US needs more independent thinkers, not the sheep that the HHs want. It really all comes down to money. Which unemployed candidate has a better chance of landing another job after 12 months out of work? The guy with 5K in his savings, or the guy with 500K. That's right, so screw the HHs and start defining the new reality. The Boomers that caused all of this will be dead pretty soon anyways, so we'll be able to change a lot in a much shorter time after they no longer have cognitive abilities to manipulate the masses!

  • Sv
    Svetla Topouzova
    26 June 2014

    Completely agree with the statements made in this article! It is unbelievable that in industry as the Banking professional people can move so hard from position to another. This needs to be addressed by Labor Relations Canada. Everyone who is interested from expressing an position on the subject, please e-mail me at: I would like a group of us under the same circumstances to address the Canadian officials.
    With best regards, Svetla Topouzova

  • Fr
    25 June 2014

    Completely agree that you dramatically increase your attractiveness to Wall Street banks by staying employed. If you are unemployed, it is more of a challenge but certainly not impossible. On top of having a strong brand and story to state your case, you need to find advocates on the inside who can promote you internally. Your best bet if you want to stay in banking is to meet people at the smaller shops and boutiques in the city who are growing.

    To be efficient in finding jobs and updating your CV, try - they help bankers network and transition to the buyside or move up or laterally where they are.

  • co
    25 June 2014

    Here's the scoop. Many organizations are not well run. You are at the mercy of a higher up. My recommendation should you find it difficult getting another position is to COME TO WILLISTON NORTH DAKOTA. The streets are almost paved with gold. In three months time I was offered 3 positions. Want to make the bux, work on a rig. $70K to start. Trucking, $80K - $120K. Dispatcher $60K+++. Tell the pencil heads that you want to make some real scratch. Just remember you may have to find housing though some jobs offer housing.

    Stop putzing around with the banking industry. Luck!

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