Just don’t quit: It’s never been harder to find work as an unemployed banker

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You’re miserable at your current employer and are desperate for a new job. Do you up and quit or put in more hours while sneaking away for interviews? In nearly every situation, recruiters and career coaches will tell you to do the latter, but it’s more important now than ever before to be employed while looking for a new job in banking.

“Quitting without a new job is like death to your career,” says Lisa Mogilner, executive recruiter at Dynamics Associates.

The main issue at hand is the oversaturation of the market – something that didn’t exist in years past when people who were employed at banks were too terrified to leave. Now, as the market has stabilized a bit, employed candidates are plentiful.

Indeed, roughly 88% of bankers in the U.S. said they are either actively looking for work or at least open to new opportunities, according to the eFinancialCareers Career Satisfaction & Retention Survey. Around 43% of respondents say they are actively looking.

“A lot of qualified people who haven’t been looking since 2006 are now back on the market,” Mogilner says. “It hasn’t been like this in a long, long time. Clients with typically-low turnover rates are coming to us confused,” she said.

Competing with someone who is already employed is a difficult task that is getting even harder. Financial firms that are now more fearful of risk find it safer to hire someone who’s employed.

“Why hire someone who [may be] an underperformer or unlikeable? It's not always the case, but you reduce the risk by hiring people already in a role,” said Chris Apostolou, a former economist who’s now the managing director at London-based Arbitrage Search and Selection.

Apostolou makes the argument that you may actually appear more enticing to an employer if you were laid off rather than if you just quit.

“Pre-crisis the words 'fired' and 'redundant' were interchangeable,” he said. But these days the distinction is clear. When someone quits – or say that they quit – it leaves plenty of grey area. “Someone resigning and sitting at home for six months is still hard to explain and raises eyebrows,” Apostolou says.

Red flags

One of the questions that will be asked: are you tough enough to make it in an industry that’s only getting more competitive? “If you leave without another job, at a minimum it raises a question of commitment and how does the individual deal with adversity,” says Anne Crowley, managing director at Jay Gaines and Company, who adds that the only viable exception to the rule is if you are being asked to do something morally or legally wrong.

Mogilner gives an example of a woman she’s working with who voluntarily left Wall Street to spend some time with her kids. An “amazing candidate,” she could land any job that she’d interview for, Mogilner said. But it’s all about getting that interview. That’s been rather difficult.

Bias all around

Recruiters admit their bias as well, if only because of the service they are hired to provide. “When I see a CV where someone is out of work it is definitely downgraded,” Apostolou said. “From a headhunter perspective you are likely to have a candidate who is increasingly desperate to find a role and has sent their CV to everyone in the market, so you can't charge a fee - making fees from unemployed candidates is not what we're paid for.”

As one would assume, the longer you are out of work the worse your chances are to land a new job. In a recent experiment, university researchers submitted 12,000 fake resumes to 3,000 jobs all across the U.S. “Candidates” who were out of work for eight months but who otherwise had similar credentials were contacted with interview requests 45% less often than those who were unemployed for just a month.

What if you already quit?

If you’ve already left and find yourself on the outside looking in, get to work on a well-worded cover letter that explains the circumstances surrounding your departure, says Jane Cranston, a New York-based career coach.

“Don't let them guess. Say why,” she said. “If there is no opportunity for a cover letter, work the reason into the application or resume.”

Related articles:

Six tips for making the most of a job you want to quit, but can't

Proof hiring firms are biased against the unemployed 

Six signs you have to quit your jobs in the next six months

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