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The Wall Street Job Search: Winning in Any Market

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Most people are operating with passed-down wisdom, outdated advice, and popular magazine formulas for job search and career advancement that for the most part result in failure. Roy Cohen introduces the secrets and rules of the road that will really make a difference.

When new clients and prospective clients ask me how the process of job search unfolds, most of them want to find a job as quickly as possible, and they would like to know what steps I'll take to help them get there: when, where, and how? I've written this book because I've learned in coaching hundreds of clients that the vast majority of professionals are operating with passed-down wisdom, outdated advice, and popular magazine formulas for job search and career advancement that for the most part result in failure, particularly in a cyclical industry such as Wall Street. This book will not present formulas and 1-2-3 menus for succeeding at job search. However, there are secrets and rules of the road that are well known among leaders in my profession. They work.

Although each client and situation is unique, I've learned in working with thousands of clients for 20 years the quiet, powerful rules for taking control, secret shortcuts and time savers for getting your job target in focus, and money-wise techniques that cut through the bull and get you into the interview you need. In this book, I'll guide you through what I've learned over a lifetime of successful job search and career management in the financial services and banking industries. But first, here are the five attitudes you need to bring to this search and this book:

  1. You must envision and believe you will succeed. This means more than being hopeful and optimistic; you have to believe that you deserve to win and will win.
  2. You must accept that the process of job search is more complicated than it appears. Yes, you will respond to postings, contact recruiters, and sweat over your resume. But navigating your career is a process filled with contradictions, and is remarkably complicated in its execution. That's a second reason why I've written this book. If you learn the inside game of search, and follow the rules in this book, within a reasonable time frame and with reasonable expectations, you'll get a job...even in a horrible market. When the competition gets discouraged, you'll be there to clean up as they withdraw.
  3. You must think long-term and short-term. The job you accept next may not rock your world, but it may get you closer to where you want to be. Don't eliminate options because they're not perfect or may even seem like a detour. In a tough market, virtually any option can be justified and used to position you attractively—and in good markets, the short-term position may be the perfect pivot to the great job you want.
  4. You must persevere. Unlike most projects with a beginning, a middle step, and an end, there is no middle here. You start and you continue. It's over when you get an offer that you're willing to accept.
  5. You must have a thick skin. Rejection in job search is inevitable. If you give in to your discouragement, you'll lose VALUABLE time and energy.

Before the search, take some time to understand the rules and secrets of job search—you're doing that by reading this book. Stage One is to define your target. Stage Two is to create a game plan or strategy that serves as a roadmap for your search. This includes all of the following and often much more:

  • Your resume
  • The pitch to position yourself and what you want
  • The correspondence you write both to introduce yourself and to follow up
  • Interview preparation and practice
  • The companies you'd like to work for
  • The various resources you'll use to get there, such as recruiters, job boards, social networking sites, and so on

The third and last stage is what I refer to as the "wagon"—but what I really mean is "falling off the wagon." It's very easy for smart people to get discouraged in job search. Face it; no one likes to get rejected, and that's what search is all about. You can't take it personally. When you fall off the wagon, you lose valuable time and you also make room for someone else to take the place that belongs to you. Don't let that happen.

Stage One of the Search: The List

The first stage of a job search is to define your occupational target or targets, writing them down in The List. The more targets you have on The List, the better. At this stage, you should rank the kinds of jobs you want in priority order, based on their desirability to you. These aren't companies, but positions. In this way, you won't feel like you're trying to be everywhere at once, crossing from one option to another, and you won't risk appearing unfocused to others. It is also more satisfying to be pursuing what you like best first without the distraction of options that have less attractive elements and the potential to produce feelings of disappointment. You'll be a lot more energized and committed to your search knowing that it's what you really want to do. If at some point, your first choice proves to be unattainable, then you know that you gave it your best shot.

We will give significant attention to the assessment process later on. Knowing we'll return to that, let's use an example to understand in detail how to create and work The List. Let's meet a former client, Eric, who was part of a downsizing at a large investment bank. He was a second-year VP in the technology investment banking group. Let's assume that Eric successfully completed a comprehensive assessment and generated the following targets:

  • Investment Banks: The same position in an equivalent firm, a second-tier firm, or a boutique
  • Corporate Positions:
    • Corporate Development (Internal M&A)
    • Strategy
    • Treasury
    • CFO, Director of Finance
    • Chief of Staff/Right hand to CEO/President
  • Private Equity/Hedge Funds/Venture Capital
  • Management Consulting
  • Entrepreneurial: Buy or start a business, independent consulting, purchase a franchise
  • Portfolio Management
  • Sell-Side Research
  • Ratings House
  • Special Situations: Bankruptcy, turnaround management, restructuring

Eric considered each of these options and settled on finding a position in corporate development. As a backup, he would also pursue investment banking. The corporate development position would be his first choice, and he wouldn't turn to investment banking until he had exhausted the corporate path. At the time, opportunities in investment banking were readily available. There was no need to rush the process unless he was under pressure to land quickly. He wasn't. For Eric, quality of life assumed a prominent place as he prioritized his options. He had worked around the clock as a banker, and he was unwilling to make the same commitment going forward. He was also recently married and planning to start a family. Corporate development made great sense as an option. He could continue in a role that he enjoyed, and he could also exercise some control over his life and work schedule. He realized this wasn't a perfect solution, but the trade-offs were entirely reasonable: money for time.

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