The market crash is going to mean a new era of banking, but it is also bringing along with it a few new ideas about how to manage one’s career. This is not the first sector to experience catastrophe, but it might be the wealthiest one. And we can all learn a little about managing our careers from watching what happens with the super-rich.
1. Use the downturn to figure out where you stand.
Wall Street ticks with rainmakers and math geniuses. Usually these guys (almost always guys) are tough to come by. Everyone wants them, everyone knows where they are and where they are going, and they are so powerful that they usually come and go in teams. So you can probably guess that recruiting this talent is extremely difficult.
I have a friend who specializes in headhunting finance talent, and he reports that it is unprecedented that these guys would all be fired, flailing individually, and available to the next taker. So in this downswing, where investment banking layoffs are fast and furious, the management at the places that can still hire finance talent (true banks, and other corporations that have so much money that they could be a bank, like GE or Harvard University) are finally enjoying a buyer’s market.
My friend’s phone is ringing all day with hiring managers scared that they’re missing out on a shopping binge, all of them simmering in a sick feeling that their competitors might be getting a good deal this week.
There’s a saying on the trading floor that up or down doesn’t matter, because as long as there is volatility, you can make money. And it turns out that this is true of recruiting, too.
So, if your sector is tanking, test your star power. There will be a feeding frenzy for top-talent. Learn where you stand by calling a headhunter. If he or she will work with you, you have star power, or at least you’re at the top of your game.
2. If you’re stuck, become a stay-at-home parent.
Let’s be honest. The hedge fund guys who are out of work are not going to be a big drag on our welfare system. (Well, unless you count the whole hedge fund economy as a welfare system.)
These guys have been bringing home million-dollar checks for years, so there’s likely to be food on the table and money in the bank for back-to-school clothes. And guess who’s taking the kids back to school? The dads. Because all those finance guys who just last month were expensing trips to strip clubs with their clients are now taking kids to preschool and then hanging out at Starbucks talking about how great it is to be a stay-at-home dad. While the markets adjust, of course.
When I was a kid, a latchkey kid, consulting was the new unemployment. Today, in the era of good parenting, stay at home parenting is the new consulting. In the Midwest it happens when you get laid off from your job at American Girl and you realize that any job you could get will not cover childcare costs. In New York it happens when you get laid off from Lehman Brothers and you realize that any job you can get will not feed your ego more than telling people you have miraculously become a doting dad.
Of course, there are people who were born to stay home with kids. Not everyone uses it as an escape route. But everyone can, if need be.
3. Free yourself from the delusion that safe paths are possible.
Here is me linking to the ten billion times I’ve written that there is no more corporate ladder and you should stop thinking that someone will take care of you and tell you where to go next and give you a gold watch when finally you retire at 65. Even still, when I tell people that no ladder means instead that you can be lost while you find your own path, the most fearful of self-discovery balk at being lost and instead go to law school.
Everyone used to think law school was safe, but in fact, it’s not. And it’s not unsafe just because more than 50% of lawyers would not recommend that you become a lawyer because they don’t like it. It’s not safe because you will work really hard in your early career and then get de-equitized in your later career which is the law career equivalent of having the ladder pulled out from under you.
So the last bastion of the fast track to safe money and job security used to be finance. And now, that one’s gone, too. There are officially no more safe paths to money. You have to make your own path. This is a stark, big-bang broadcast that the end of the safe career is here. And that’s great. Because the quest for a safe, beaten path that will work for your own life is an empty quest. We are in a new era of work, and you get to make your own path. It’s exciting. Even in a down market.