Today’s article is a request from a reader to diagnose why he is having trouble getting interviews in his desired career segment. His first working experience was tainted by a bad experience in a job that required him to work 14 hours a day. Although he is now working part-time elsewhere, he has been finding it hard to break out of a cycle of depression and resignation. At the same time, he wants to find a position with a foreign investment bank – not the easiest of tasks at any time.
Reader’s letter: My goal in life since I was a kid has always been to work at an investment bank. My undergraduate degree was in business, with a Finance concentration. After trying for several years here in Japan, I eventually landed a job in the finance industry in September 2005, though not at an investment bank. Instead I joined an internationally recognized finance-related company. While I thought this would be a good steppingstone into a regular investment bank, it turned out that the company is in complete disarray, chaos even. I was virtually chained to my desk for 13-15 hours a day and was finding myself getting stressed out. After about 6 months, I realized that it wasn’t me, but rather that the company just had no respect for their staff. So I started looking for another job.
The problem was that because I worked such long hours I couldn’t get to interviews. So in the end, although it was risky, I quit and just focused on making applications. I soon realized, though, that the stress had got to me to such an extent that I couldn’t do a proper interview and I got turned down frequently. In time, since I couldn’t land a job in the investment banking sector as I had hoped, I ended up just taking anything. So I jumped from job to job in 2006 and worked at a total of four companies, usually on contract.
Each time, I simply wasn’t happy or something happened to cut short the contract. Right now, I am working part-time at two companies not related to finance, but continuing to search for one stable job at an investment bank. My resume is a mess, and although I speak pretty good Japanese, due to the job hopping almost every recruiter in Tokyo has told me I am not qualified for anything they have listed. What should I do?
Terrie’s response: I know that some people seem to just "slide" in to jobs at investment
banks, and so you may be wondering why you can't too. Possibly you are either trying too hard, or you are generating an "aura" of depression or resignation that others can sense. This reduced level of self-esteem can be fatal in a job search and although you might not be saying anything negative, your body language, depressed eyes, and general lack of energy tell the story. Instead, you should try to pull yourself out of it, either by going home for a while to recuperate, or by taking a starter position in a small company and accepting that your final goal will take you longer and on a more circuitous route than you first thought.
Foreign investment banks are notoriously picky. If you didn't go to an ivy league college in the USA or Europe, or don't read/write/speak perfect Japanese (although your’s is probably good enough), or you are not already working as a successful employee of a smaller firm that has a reputation for good people, then you need a friend to get you in
through the back door, because there is almost no other way in. Work on your network!
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, if you decide to stick it out here in Japan, your initial strategy of stepping up from a smaller firm into an investment bank is a valid one. Just because you got one bad apple doesn't mean that there aren't better companies out there. There are. It is a fact that most of the foreigners hired in Tokyo by foreign banks are usually already in a smaller company and doing a great job there. As a proven quantity, you represent a low-risk hire for a bank. You should allow yourself about 2-3 years at the next company you join, whether you like it or not, to "recondition" your resume and your own attitude, and make yourself attractive to the recruiting market again.
I just interviewed someone last night who did exactly this. He’d jumped from a Japanese firm to a foreign one, but to a firm that is famous for burning out its staff. Like you, he couldn’t take it and left after less than a year. Moving to the next foreign company he found it hard to readjust and left it after less than a year too. Realizing that he had to get some stability into his resume, he went back to a traditional Japanese firm, at about 25% lower salary, and stuck it out there for 4 years.
Now, like you, he is in his 30’s and his once unusable resume looks great. During the 4 years with the Japanese firm, he put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting excellent results for his employer. He is now able to give real numbers that he’s been responsible for creating, proving that he can do it. These results have restored his self-confidence and although he is more conservative about making a move, he nevertheless is now looking for a new position. My guess is that with his track record and personal “conditioning” he’ll have the pick of a number of offers.