Investment banking is an industry in which nothing is certain. It also one in which people are usually refreshingly upfront about the fact that they’re in it for the money rather than to change the world. Even so, investment banking recruiters do like to see consistency and commitment. If a job candidate has moved around too much; it might signify a lack of loyalty, or problems working with people. Or it might be something worse; the regulators are always concerned with the problem of “rolling bad apples”, the employees who, rather than being fired or reported for compliance breaches, are allowed to quietly resign and go to another job, avoiding any public scandal.
So, if you have so many past jobs that you need to ask for an extra sheet of paper to fill in the five year employment record, it tends to come up in interviews. I know this because between 1998 and 2007, I had no fewer than six different jobs in equity analysis, some of them at brokerages that no longer exist (Robert Fleming, Cazenove, ABN Amro, Lazard Panmure Gordon, Exane BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse, if anyone’s counting).
By the end of the period, this jittery track record was the main subject of my interviews, so I got pretty good at coming up with explanations. The following explanations are those that seemed to work. To save historical blushes, I won’t say which ones applied, to which houses.
“The brokerage closed down or got taken over”
Everyone regards this as fair enough. If you’re at a sufficiently junior level that the failure can’t be realistically attributed to anything you did, it shouldn’t be too much of a blot on the resume. A big restructuring always shakes people loose. In a couple of cases, I had actually been offered a job in the merged firm, but since I had started my job-hunting process as soon as the deal was announced, I ended up leaving anyway. Employers tend to understand this.
“It was just too good an opportunity to turn down”
That’s the polite way of putting it. I once had a successful interview in which the entire exchange consisted of the head of equities asking “Why have you moved around so much” and me replying “People kept offering me more money”. If your job moves are mainly made up of cases where you either took a promotion, or moved from a smaller firm to a good brand name, just say so. This tends to be seen not as evidence of disloyalty, but that you had ambition and that other companies in the past have regarded you as under-placed.
“It was impossible to go on there”
This is significantly more tricky. In general, it’s a bad idea to criticise former employers; it makes you look bitter and as if you are blaming other people for your problems. But this isn’t a completely airtight rule. There are a few places in the industry which are widely known to be toxic environments and which have a reputation for high staff turnover. If you are absolutely sure that this was the problem, and you genuinely believe that other people would agree with your assessment of the house that you left, you can sometimes get away with this. It helps to do a bit of research on the person interviewing you, because if they have ever worked in the same hell-hole, this can even be a bit of a bonding factor between you.
After this period, I ended up staying with the same team for eight years, which I hope shows that Credit Suisse were right to accept my rationalisations. It was getting a bit ridiculous toward the end, and I don’t necessarily recommend a move every eighteen months as the best way to build a career. But my experience was that it was nothing like as much of an obstacle as I was told it would be by HR people who had an obvious conflict of interest. It certainly shouldn’t be the reason for a young person to turn down a great opportunity.
Dan Davies eventually retired from equity analysis, after having worked for nine firms in fifteen years.
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