What to Do If You Lose Your Job

By Derek On January 25, 2012 Under Post

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” - Kipling

It is a cold January here manning the fort on the eastern front of global finance. All is quiet on the high plains in Hong Kong as the Chinese New Year holiday comes to a hazy end. With the beginning of the Year of the Dragon, activity in our markets is sure to pick up. A lot of that activity, however, will be cost cutting rather than money making. Last year, the global financial industry may have lost 200,000 jobs, depending on the source. Let’s look at the recent announcements of some of the big banks:

Citi: Plans to cut another 1,200 jobs in the IB. Share price down 38%, 2011

JPM: Cut workforce 4%, plans to cut another 1,000 jobs. Shares down 11%

MS: Plans to cut 1,600 jobs. Shares down 33% 2011

GS: Cut 2,400 jobs last year, possibly looking at more. Shares down 35%

Etc, etc. The common theme here is current cost structures can’t be supported by current business flow. In the absence of rising revenues management has to prove to shareholders they will at least see falling costs. That means more layoffs ahead on top of the estimates above. The only thing that will avert this is a roaring bull market sweeping down majestically across the plains. Wait, let me stand up in my stirrups and look at the horizon. Nope. Don’t see one.

How to Keep Your Job

Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, according to Reuters is, “…scouring the global banking and markets unit for expenses to cut after a 58 percent stock plunge last year.”  Your manager, wherever you work, will be under pressure to do the same. We are all fighting global forces largely beyond our control but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

1)     Head down. Don’t raise your head above the parapet and become an instant target for the snipers prowling around you.

2)     Don’t make any mistakes. Similar to number one; basically, don’t give them a reason to can your ass.

3)     Bring in new business. If you can attach yourself to a new revenue stream, whether you are a trader, a sales person or an analyst you may buy yourself some time.

So, You Got Your Walking Papers

Well, you tried all the ideas above and you still got the axe. Welcome to life in a cyclical business. There are two good things, if you can call them that, about losing your job now:

1)     Nobody will blame you

2)     The hiring season is ahead

Let me explain the first one. With hundreds of thousands of people getting the pink slip, your resume won’t look bad in the future because of this dismissal. A future job interview will probably go like this:

Interviewer: I see you lost your job in 2012.

You: Yes, it was a bad time for many.

(Note: Try and be magnanimous here. Don’t say things like, “Those assholes fired me to protect their own jobs.” It makes you look immature. Everyone will know and remember all the layoffs in 2011-2012. There is no stigma here).

The other “good” thing about your recent dismissal is the time of year. It sounds counterintuitive that banks are hiring while they are laying off thousands but they are. Management likes to use terms I hate, such as “talent upgrade.” Even if they let go half of their sales desk they will likely hire one or two more “new faces” that have relationships they still need. It is the same with research and trading.

What to Do Now

If you are serious about your career, the best thing to do after a layoff is to try and get right back in the game. The longer you stay “unemployed,” the harder it will be for people to remember you and take you seriously. Like soldiers in a war we are all expendable. This is particularly true if you are relatively junior. So here are a few ideas if you get the boot:

1)     Don’t cry. Be a man – even if you are a woman

2)     Thank everyone you worked with including the prick who fires you

3)     Update your CV

4)     Stay visible

Now you need to network. But don’t be somebody that everyone feels sorry for. Keep a positive attitude and people will respond accordingly. When you meet friends or people you know in the business after you lost your job you don’t want them to feel sorry for you. Don’t tell people you are sitting at home, finger up your nose, watching a phone that never rings. Tell them you are “having discussions” or are “in contact with” several shops but are happy to wait for the right offer. This gives you “social proof.” If you aren’t talking to any firms, or nobody is showing interest in you, it gives the impression to the market that you are toxic waste. But don’t overdo it. Honesty is always the best policy and we are kind of entering a gray area here.

Headhunters – Good or bad?

Most quality executive search firms find people for jobs – not the other way around. They are not an employment service. They work on a (hefty) commission to go out and get the right person for the job mandate they have been contracted to fill. If you find a headhunter who is interested in you, remember they will be taking a big cut of your first year’s compensation at your new job. The bank will be paying you less in order to cover this cost. Beware of recruiters. They work at the mass end of executive search and basically collect resumes that they use to flood banks, hoping one sticks. They aren’t much use to you and your CV is just tossed in a box along with everyone else. At the end of the day, the bank takes the box and throws the box away. Don’t ever pay a fee for this type of “service.” Some shysters out there work on such a boiler room model and you won’t get anything after you hand over your cash.

My Two Favorite Words: Time Off

If you are banging your head against the wall for months and months with no results then it is time to re-evaluate. Either the business isn’t coming back or you are perceived by the market as not suited to the business. You might want to try another field. Or you might want to go back to school, or go dig toilets in South America. Do something that you want that will make you stand out when you jump back in the job market again. You can have fun doing this and it will make you a better person too.

Good luck.

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