I returned from holiday over the weekend to find the landscape of the investment banking business ravaged. Household names in the industry have disappeared overnight; others have thrown themselves together to try and stay alive. It appears that the credit crunch has mutated into financial Armageddon.
For the first time since I lost my job in April, I a felt a cold clammy panic sweep across me. The industry that, for the last 10 years has provided me with the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed, looks to be heading for collapse. The sense of calm that sitting around a swimming pool for two weeks generates evaporated immediately upon seeing the headlines about Lehman flash across the internet.
The entire connectivity of the system, and the knock-on effects that these collapsing banks will have on people in my position, left me feeling cold.
Even before Lehman, the job market was already proving a tough place to be. The disappearance of three of the top five investment banks in the US in 2008 means that things are likely to get a lot harder before they get better. The flood of Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers' staff onto an already saturated market, combined with a rapidly collapsing investment banking universe, makes bleak news indeed.
Prior to my departure on holiday, I had felt that some semblance of sanity was returning to the market: job interviews seemed to be becoming a more frequent occurrence and the number of prospective roles seemed to be increasing at a healthy pace. It is too early to assess thoroughly the impact the weekend's news will have, but I am sure that it has snuffed out many of the emergent green shoots of improvement.
Having been out of work for such a long time, I feel a great deal of empathy with those who are new to the game. The initial shock is still fresh in my mind. I have a number of friends at the affected institutions for whom the future is highly uncertain, particularly as their severance packages look likely to be zero.
This fresh dose of reality means that I am now keen to start trying to close out some of the opportunities that are still open. They have been dragging on for a while, so my new priority is to get my name on a contract and myself back into the world of work. Three months ago, I was happy to play the field and mull over opportunities that came my way. That luxury is now gone.
The only silver lining in a week shrouded in clouds is the fundamental belief that financial markets have had tough times before and have come back stronger; the current mayhem plants the seeds for future growth. In these dark times for the industry, it is worth remembering that fact.