Nov 11, 2007

Hopping As a Survival Strategy (And I Don't Just Mean Frogs)

For the past five years or so, headhunters have been calling me quite regularly.

Typically, they begin by introducing themselves and their search firm. They then ask if this is a convenient time to talk (they know that you might be in your office area with your boss or colleagues nearby).

If convenient, they say that they have an interesting job opportunity and could they please have a minute to tell you about it.

Next comes a quick rundown on the JD ("job description") - the role, the responsibilities, the required experience, the reporting line and so on.

At this stage, they won't reveal their client's name, but they will give a general description - for example, "one of the biggest UK banks" - which, coupled with the JD, is often enough for you to make a good guess.

If you say you're not interested, they'll ask you why. If your reason is not particularly compelling, they'll persuade you to reconsider.

If your reason is compelling, and furthermore conveyed in a firm, no-nonsense tone, they will say,''Okay, fine then. But do you happen to know anyone else who might be suitable for the role?".

Here you have a choice. Either you can curtly say, 'No, I do not' and hang up, or you can try to be helpful. I always opt to be helpful. If I know of people whom I think could be suitable and interested, I pass their names on to the headhunter.

It is a good idea to be nice to headhunters, because you never know when you might want or need their help in finding a new job.

Just last Friday I had lunch with a headhunter. We have lunch every few months or so.

We have known each other from uni days, so we are also old friends. However, I shall be frank - if I were not currently in the banking sector, and he were not currently a banking headhunter, we would not have bothered to keep in touch with each other.

As usual, our lunchtime conversation was mostly me telling him what I know about who works where now doing what kind of work, and him telling me which kind of banks are interested in hiring what kind of people in the foreseeable future.

It is important for me to get regular updates on such market conditions. If there are really significantly superior opportunities elsewhere, it would be foolish not to try for them.

By "superior opportunities", I don't mean just money (although that is definitely very important) but the total package of all relevant factors.
For example, these factors would include the opportunity to learn new skills, join a top brand name, move up the management ladder, join a place with better working culture, and so on.

Contrary to what Minister Lim Swee Say recently said, job-hopping is neither necessarily greedy nor necessarily short-sighted. In fact, it is the far-sighted people who would regularly review their career plans, options and strategies.

Many parts of the banking industry have done very well in the past few years. However, some parts of the banking industry have been doing very badly in the past few months. That's all thanks to the US subprime crisis, and the spillover effects.

As a result, a significant number of very high-flying banking professionals overseas have suddenly lost their jobs. They include no less than Chuck Prince and Stan O'Neal, the now ex-Chief Executives of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch respectively.

And of course, many others lower down the food chain.

So the question is how long the subprime crisis will last; how bad the spillover effects will be; and how severely Asia will be affected.

And whether, say, sometime in 2008, banking professionals in Singapore specialising in certain types of banking work (CDOs; structured finance; credit derivatives; debt capital markets; perhaps even IPO work) will also start losing their jobs or suffering drastic pay cuts.

Of course I hope the answer is no, but at this point in time, well, who can say for sure. So I'm looking ahead, getting news from my headhunter friend, finding out the trends in the banks' hiring plans for 2008.

If I suddenly have to move, at least I have a few backup ideas and I have got some sense of which areas still have demand and where I can quickly try to move to.
In other words, I won't be caught off-guard and wrong-footed.


Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, there's one thing I don't understand and hope you can clarify. If we do not have those leads, how else can we position ourselves and prepare our backup plan.And if we decide to hop to something entirely different,it's a slim chance without relevant qualifications n experience.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you are so lucky that headhunter calls you every now and then. There was once a headhunter called me many years back. At that time, I was still quite junior in my job and hence I just ended the call abruptly. After that I felt regretted. I should have taken down his number. Nowadays, no more headhunter call me anymore <*sob*>.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and appreciate your insight. Pls continue to post your views that people like me who are always in the dark will see alternative light

Mr Wang Says So said...

I wouldn't be able to give you a single definitive answer, because everybody's specific situation is unique. But I believe that once the person becomes aware that he needs to try to look and plan ahead, then he will start discovering where to look to find out what he needs to find out, and what steps he should then take, or consider taking.

Suppose you are working for Fujifilm Corporation. It really shouldn't take a lot of brains to figure out that if you stay in the part of the company that makes traditional camera film, you're in danger of being extinct - you don't need any leads for that.

You could try an internal transfer to another part of the company, eg the part that makes digital cameras, or electronic data storage media.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang,tks for reply, but apart from 'internal transfer'-if the guy who works in Fuji having been aware that he don't want to carry on in the film business wants to transit to another field, it'd be difficult isn't it? Eg: he wants to move on to be a nurse (assuming since this is an eg that he wants to pursue this as a meaningful job rather than churn out films). BUT entry barriers is high. Yes, he could have to be prepared to go nursing sch and apply to be an enrolled nurse, but that's hardly constitute a backup plan. He can't quit and *presto* landed another field like that. What makes a good backup plan? From what I understand, the backup plan applies in cases where the skills are applied in another industry eg: an accountant in company A-comnay A is a sunset industry and the backup plan is to join Company B-a sunrise industry. But the accountant will not have too much trouble implementing this backup plan because the job function is essentially the same-Annon@5.43

Mr Wang Says So said...

Well, yes, very abrupt jumps would be difficult, but some people may be overestimating the difficulties and also overlooking the possibilities, because they didn't realise that they already possess certain kinds of skills or experience which are helpful for the jump.

Eg recently Mrs Wang was seriously approached for a certain job opportunity even though she didn't really have the right technical experience.

It turned out that apart from technical experience, they badly needed someone who was fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese (they do lots of HK and China-related work) and Mrs Wang happens to be fluent in both, such that the language skill element outweighted her lack of relevant technical experience.

Currently the general job market is very hot. When a job ad says that the candidate must have, say, 5 particular attributes, this very often turns out to be just an idle wishlist. There just aren't any completely suitable candidates. In the end, the company is going to have to settle for someone who only meets 2, 3 or 4 of those attributes.

Of course there are other things you can do, to prepare yourself for a jump. This chemical engineering friend of mine foresaw that his job would eventually be outsourced to China, hence he invested in studying for an MBA. He'll graduate soon and the intention is to leave the technical side of engineering completely behind. Of course there was opportunity cost and all that.

As for me personally, I constantly evaluate back-up plans against the backdrop of my career developments as well as the general industry/economy outlook. See, here are examples of back-up plans I've considered before - 1, 2, 3 and 4. In brief - Masters in Law; moving to HK; financial qualifications; brushing up on my Mandarin skills etc.

Anonymous said...

The trading side of banking for sure will decline. The China and
Indian aspects of the banking business has great scope for expansion. Hedge Fund will decline in the longer term as governments move in to curtail the harvoc they have unleashed on the world financial system. Rish management and control will be elevated. Energy, material and food will be hot sectors.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your comments, Mr Wang. ok, true mkt hot according to papers,but it's not easy to find a job just like that *snap fingers* for my case as 1) I do not want to *anyhow jump* for sake of jumping and 2) admittedly not very sure what exactly I want-which is frustrating-and having said that I know no use wringing my hands over it and I tried to narrow down fields that I qualify and have some level of interest which brings to 3) difficulty in getting in. Or if I do manage to get into a new field-it'd mean a paycut and likely fresh grad pay (after working 6 yrs).
Am surprised to hear of Mrs Wang eg. and that you mentioned if the job ask for 5 attibutes, go ahead and apply even if you don't meet all? Did I understand rightly? I thought you are supposed to apply only if you fit the bill. I mean eg: ads that say "preferably a degree in business etc"-so if I have a degree in something else eg: Arts-can apply?Does a backup plan always (or usually)involves learning some new skills or knowledge?like acquiring some additional planks to aid you to cross the river? Anon @5.43.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, just wondering what are your views on the prospects of private banking vs fund management in this environment?

klimmer said...

Head hunters in Singapore have not improved much since I was last there 7 years ago. Same spiel, same pitch. You can see them coming a mile away.

Anonymous said...

love your post. Of course it is alright to job hop - ask all the ministers. They took a pay hike, a drastic pay hike to join our wonderful PAP government. - Our PM and MM said so themselves :)

au said...

I heartily agree with what Mr Wang says.

I recommend readers to read What color is my parachute? esp the first 3 chapters or so.. Most insightful.

Anyway, I try to practise the philosophy of what Mr Wang is trying to preach here. Only you are responsible for your life, hence your career. No one else is.

As a recent graduate with very average results, I constantly evaluated my employment situation.

Because my first job was in IT line paying not very good salary, I had to think of how to improve my situation ie make myself more attractive to employers.

I even went to the extent of asking Mr Wang to forward my email to his friend Christopher, for advice since I found out on Mr Wang's blog that Christopher is an IT professional. I am very grateful to both of them for their help and advice.

I am glad to say that I have moved up significantly since the time I graduated which was a year ago.

But I am not complacent. I know that circumstances change all the time. So I am also on the lookout for new opportunities all the time and I constantly re-evaluate my situation.

The most important thing is you have to ask questions. Ask specific questions to yourself, ask specific questions to others as well.(do not just simply say, "What should i do for my life?" ask something like "if I have to choose between A and B what would i choose? is there a 3rd alternative? What are the gains? what are the bad points?")

and just as importantly, formulate an action plan based on the answers you get and ACT on it!!

No use second-guessing, no use whining, no use wishing upon a star.

If you refuse to make changes in your life based on the action plan and answers because you hate change, recognise that! Dont blame other things in your life.

Sorry for this long comment.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Anon 9:25:

I don't think that it is so easy to regulate hedge funds; if one jurisdiction tries to do this, hedge funds will only relocate elsewhere. Anyway hedge funds were not the cause of the US subprime crisis. Agree that risk management will be upped, but risk management people are not fee earners. Agree about commodities.

Anon 5:43:

Yes, when the job market is hot, you can jolly well apply for jobs where you don't meet all the specified criteria.

Anon 12:49:

On the prospects of private banking, I think it will be relevant and interesting to watch the Singapore govt's negotiations with the EU concerning banking secrecy and the savings direcive.


Aha, I see you are exploring the fine art of goal setting.

Anonymous said...

'Yes, when the job market is hot, you can jolly well apply for jobs where you don't meet all the specified criteria. '
Hi Mr Wang, I have actually tried, but it's been hitting walls. Reading the job descrip, I thought I can do 70-80%, but I was told that if the first criteria is not met, then resume goes into dump. Like if the ad asks for a science degree or equivalent but you don't have then -out.It's not that I'm not trying to better improve myself.Annon@5.43

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang, would like to ask 1 more thing-if I do not wish to do things that I've done previously (i.e will be in resume)-then how? I can try to highlight the transferable parts-but it'd be still deem 'lack experience'. would appreciate some advice here! Annon@5.43