Banker Dreams Part Two – Which Direction?

Banker Dreams Part Two – Which Direction?

Last week we ran a letter from a reader who was having trouble getting interviews in his desired career segment – he wants to be an investment banker. His first working experience was tainted by a bad experience in a job that knocked his confidence and he now finds it difficult to interview confidently, locking himself into a negative spiral of disappointment and depression. We responded with last week’s column and he wrote us back.

Reader: Thanks for your response. I must say, without even knowing me you hit several points on the nose. My friends have been referring to my resume as a “Greek tragedy” and how I have to do something about it. I have indeed been looking at smaller companies as a step up. What do you think constitutes a fair “low-end” salary? Also, despite all the negative things going on, I have had one positive response for a Capital Markets position at a prestigious bank. Although my Japanese is a bit low for the position, the person in charge liked me and asked me to be available if a position opens up. That was about 10 months ago and I’ve been working this relationship since. How long do you think is long enough to work some of these more tenuous opportunities?

Terrie: Well, since your resume does show lots of short-term positions, I’d agree with your friends that your resume is indeed a Greek tragedy, and it is no wonder that you are now being labeled as a job hopper by recruiters. These candidate-filtering agents are giving you a very clear message: either fix your resume, or find a non-standard method of getting a job, which doesn’t involve them.

Not using a recruiter means you will need to be creative. Conceivably this could mean cottoning on to the CEO or hiring manager of your target company by going to the same gym, working a friend’s personal network to get you into a party, or joining a professional organization that your target manager is committed to. This type of job prospecting could be compared to psychological warfare, but if you want to get into the investment banking community bad enough, others have tried all of these methods here in Tokyo, successfully.

If you do decide to bite the bullet though, and step-up via a small company first, then a low-end salary is one that is about 1/3 of the base (excluding bonuses) of a fully experienced professional in the same field. Thus for you this would be around JPY300K per month.

In choosing what type of small company to join, you need to ask yourself why you want to work in an investment bank. For most people it's the money. However, I can tell you that there are other paths in life that yield good financial results, and often without the personal stress and long hours. Talk to anyone in an investment bank and they will tell you that, yes, the pay is good, but most people find it difficult to keep up the pace, and that by the age of 35, if you are not in a management position, you're probably going to be burned out.

Having decided that banking is for you, the next question is what type of position do you want to have? Apart from trading, almost every other position requires experience and specific knowledge and skills. Therefore it goes without saying that it makes good sense to join a small firm in the same space first, proving yourself and your reputation. This is particularly true in the IT, research and analyst, and financial controller roles and I see people stepping up through this channel all the time. For front office, the qualifiers are language, sales background in financial products, and appropriate education.

As an example of what is possible through the small company route, one person I know worked for a local IT company in the early 1990’s. He had a rough position, being the site sales account manager for a particularly tough IT manager of a leading American investment banking company. Although he was underpaid and overstressed, he got to know his client pretty well, and within a year had more knowledge of the bank’s systems and configurations than the continually rotating internal staff had.

We all knew what was coming next, and sure enough one day he contacted his friends to let us know he’d been hired. Back then he was 32 or 33. Now, 13 years later, he has been promoted up from a junior project manager to a network engineer then an infrastructure team manager, then to an overseas senior technology position at the company’s New York headquarters. Today he advises the bank’s internal investment fund on IT investments.

Lastly, I’ll answer the question of waiting around for a potential position. My understanding is that the position wasn’t given to you, but that the manager likes you and has suggested that waiting for a while so as to allow him to give you another position “without having to pay a recruiting fee”. While I realize that recruiting fees are expensive and that you were close but not exactly what he needs, I’d be a bit worried about a job promise built on circumventing a recruiter payment. Sounds to me like the position is so speculative that you are not worth the money spent on a recruiter.

In my mind this constitutes a very weak offer, and I think you should think twice, even if the offer comes through. Being hired on a weak basis usually means being first to be fired if the economy turns down or if the company has a tough quarter. In my books nothing comes for free, and if you want the best in life you have to work for it.