Finding investment banking jobs for mid-career job seekers can be a challenge, especially in tough markets. We recently spoke with Pam Lassiter, the author of The New Job Security, to seek her advice on this topic. A veteran career adviser, Pam has provided career advice for three decades and has seen many up and down job markets. In this interview excerpt, she offers some practical advice for someone looking for investment banking jobs.
Job Search Digest: For that mid-career job seeker, somebody who’s got 5, 10, maybe even 15 years of experience, how do they best position – how do they best market themselves, especially in the environment that we’re in right now?
Pam Lassiter: Good question. A lot of the people I work with, and I think your members too, will often come to you saying, “I haven’t looked for a job before in my whole career.”
Job Search Digest: Absolutely. We get a lot of that. We get folks who have said, “Look, right out of school I was recruited and since then it’s just been upwards trajectory.” You know, unless somebody was mid-career in the early ’80s they really haven’t seen something like this. I mean we obviously had the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, but that wasn’t this — this is something different.
Pam Lassiter: No. That was very sector-dependent and this is universal, across all sectors. It’s as I was talking to you earlier about, this is actually an opportunity.
So, this is the first time you have either been blindsided or needed to make a change in your career. The one word I can pass on to you is congratulations.
What I see happening with a lot of people is what I call the “pinball career.” I write about this in my book, and how to control it too. Pinballing is reacting to what hits you. You may be getting promotions inside of your firm, which is great.
There’s nothing wrong with pinball careers; it’s that you’re never thinking strategically, ‘Is this the right move for me right now, given my interests and how I want to develop my career?’ Because a recruiter calls and it’s convenient. “Your boss says we want you to take over x.” And sure, why not? You’re reacting to external forces.
If you’re in mid-career and looking for a job for the first time, congratulations, you’re going to get to shape what happens to you next, and it’s not by chasing jobs all the time. Job listings are an invaluable source of information and they’re a great way to find out where there’s smoke in a company. So you can certainly respond, but I suggest that you also develop that “Jack-of-all-trades, master of two.”
What’s your area of expertise that you can talk to companies about, even if they don’t have “job openings”? If you talk to people about compliance and about regulatory knowledge, about what’s coming through Congress, if you can save a company or firm money or make them money, they will create work for you to do.
Now, notice I said “work,” I didn’t say “job”.
It may start with a project. It may start with a consulting assignment. But then you can back in and you’ve got the camel’s nose in the tent. If you can get yourself in and get to know the people and get to know where the pain is, you can often create jobs as well. So you can start by analyzing what target markets do I belong in and what are their needs, and then a third step, how do I package myself to respond to these needs. Conversations to be had all over.
Job Search Digest: Your example of taking on some project work and to be test-driven in this process is a good one because the hiring decision is so different after you’ve completed a successful project that was targeted at a very specific pain. It’s your opportunity to really showcase what you can do.
And if you can get your foot in the door and you can get that short-term project, and in some extreme cases you may even do it on spec, right? You might say, “Look, let me do this project. You tell me the value that I added.”
But at the end of that process, if you’ve done a great job, the firm has already discussed on the inside that they want to bring you on board, because assuming there’s more work like that or more problems to be solved, you’re the obvious choice at that point.
Pam Lassiter: Oh, you’re onto a big secret there too. So that’s a great idea to bring up. I don’t use volunteering casually. There may be a place – if you’re between jobs now there may be a place for you to think of one firm – you can only do one of these at a time, because you have a real campaign to be running outside of this, but to volunteer to do something with a company.
Let’s say they have antiquated modeling software and that you happen to have a better, faster, cheaper, more streamlined way. Not only can you back into that company; they should be paying you with it, but you’re not leading with that conversation. You’re leading with improved results and decision-making in your conversation.
And if you actually help them install some improved software, you’d probably get to talk to every partner there is in that firm. You’re interviewing them about how they use it and what their needs are; you’re talking to their admins. And talk about the most powerful group in any firm is the administrators, because they have access to the people that you want to talk to. So you have to interview a lot of people.
So it’s finding a problem.
And if you need to back in through one volunteer project, fine. Better yet, get paid for it. But you worry about that at the end. Get them hooked on the need and the problem to be solved and you’d be happy to give them a hand and help them think it through so they don’t have to spend too much time on it.
Job Search Digest: That’s great advice.
Pam Lassiter: Well, notice how I also packaged it with what was in it for them, “You don’t have to spend time thinking about this. Let me talk to you about your needs and then we’ll make it happen.”
About Pam Lassiter
In addition to authoring The New Job Security, Pam Lassiter is the founder of Lassiter Consulting, a firm that offers career management services such as employee retention, career coaching, outplacement and more to companies and individuals worldwide.
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