Unfashionable sectors - can you escape?

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If you work in a fashionable sector in the City of London, the financial rewards have never been better. Ask an equity derivatives trader or a telecoms analyst.

But what if you find yourself in an unfashionable sector? What can you do to improve your prospects?

Spare a thought, for example, for Russian equity analysts and salesmen, and especially Russian bond traders. Less than three years ago they were attracting big sign-ons, guaranteed bonuses and any number of calls from headhunters. Now the picture is different. The only bonus some are likely to receive this year is the bonus of having a job at all.

Other casualties include the investment bankers who in the early to mid-nineties jostled each other out of the way at the luggage carousel in Bombay airport. The deal pipeline was strong, liquidity was up and many a salesman became rich by selling shares in Indian companies.

These days it is called Mumbai airport and investment bankers are thin on the ground.

Mining is another sector that's out of favour. The gold price has been in the doldrums for ages and is likely to stay there.

Of course these sectors haven't disappeared completely. But activity is a fraction of what it was and that affects salaries, job opportunities and career progression. With so little going on, job satisfaction can disappear too.

There are several steps you can take if you are working in an unloved area.

First, assess the likelihood of the sector reviving. High-yield bond departments are suddenly back in vogue as a downturn bites in the United States. The market for Japanese equity salesmen and analysts is also much better now than five years ago.

If the odds look good and the time scale not too daunting, stick with it. You'll be the first to benefit when there's a skill shortage. Make the most of your expertise and experience. If your bank isn't at the forefront of what little action there is, try to put it there.

Discover which headhunters specialise in your area (they will be hurting too) and stay in touch with them. Staying in touch, by the way, doesn't mean a weekly telephone call asking if there are any jobs around. Apart from being a waste of time, that will annoy the headhunter.

Rather, it means emailing them useful information about people moves, deals done and up-and-coming colleagues. Remaining a useful source is a surefire way to stay in the forefront of the headhunter's mind.

If the prospect of recovery is bleak, work out how to move into a different role or sector.

Determine what your key skills are (selling? originating? supporting?) and think laterally about how else they might be applied. What clients do you deal with on a regular basis? What else do they buy?

If you are a mining analyst, you could offer your skills to banks who lend money to these companies, rather than underwriting.

If you sell Indian equities to European institutions, why not start reading another market's or sector's research daily and attending all the company presentations you can in this area? Your chances of escape will be much greater.

Did you once sell Russian bonds? Who bought them? What are they buying now? Could you sell whatever it is?

Finally, if you have had enough of the City but want to use your knowledge of it, consider an altogether different move. If you understand figures, can write and are articulate, what about financial PR? Or investor relations? Or even financial journalism? The FT may not be crying out for your services, but there are lots of opportunities, especially now the web has exploded.

Whatever you do, don't drift. Take charge of your career.

A good example of someone who did so is William de Winton, now at Morgan Stanley.

After joining Morgan Grenfell as a graduate trainee from Manchester University, de Winton found himself without a job when the firm got out of equities altogether in the late 1980s.

He joined Hoare Govett and became a successful food manufacturing and tobacco analyst. Rightly guessing that neither sector promised a glittering future, he seized his opportunity when the food retailing team sitting beside him left for BZW in 1992 and put his hand up for a sector move.

He became the number one rated analyst in the food retail sector.

But even at number one, he knew that a sector that comprised less than 3% of the FTSE All Share index had its limitations. So he turned his hand to yet another sector, this time one that had far more potential - financial services.

Becoming number one here too, he moved to Morgan Stanley and reaped the rewards of his hard work and positive career management.