Karma is a bitch – Career edition

I tweeted this yesterday.

May be despised was the wrong word. The correct phrase would should have been “looked down upon”. When started my first job, I was brimming with youthful enthusiasm. I am still brimming but its not youthful anymore. I had ambitions of making it big in the “corporate world” or “banking world” as I was working in a bank at the time. Since it was a family owned bank, they told  me I can’t be the CEO unless I belonged to their family (and no, marrying into the owner’s family wasn’t an option due to various reasons) I had toned down my answer to the job interview stupid question “Where do you see myself in ten years” from being a CEO to being a COO.

Working at the entry level analyst job I could see that there were people who were in their 40s and 50s and were two rungs ahead of me in corporate ladder. Country was in a recessionary phase and many foreign banks had closed down as well as local banks had gone through downsizing. Some of the people made redundant accepted such offers and small banks like ours were too glad to hire them as they brought with them experience and skills at the cheap.

Then the economy started picking up. With hard work and some luck, within three years I jumped those rungs and still in my mid 20s was at the same level of responsibility and pay-scale as people twice my age. This was the time for young people. These oldies tried to bring their A-game to the table but they seemed out of place amongst the youthful crowd on both sides of the table. Then there were those who had resigned themselves to saving their jobs by keeping a low-profile dead-end desk-job avoiding slightly risky jobs of business development etc. They would retire from the same positions.

I came across many such people in the ten years of my career. We used to downplay their experience of 20-30 years saying it was one year of experience multiplied by 20 or 30 as they have been doing the same job for last many years without any increase in skills.

Then shit hits the fan. Lehman Brother collapses. At the time, I was working as an investment analyst at a Middle Eastern private equity firm which had invested in real estate, banking, transport sectors in developed economies as well as emerging markets. Nothing was safe anymore (except may be US treasuries but then we had all our funds tied in now dead investments). People around me started losing jobs or getting their salaries reduced.

To keep my job, even I acquiesced to reduction in my perks. However, I started looking around for a new job and the people I knew strongly advised me against it saying at least I know the inside situation of my company and I wouldn’t know what is the true financial strength of the company I would be entering. Since the whole financial sector growth owed a lot to creative accounting practices of last decades, one could not trust the financials of the prospective company. It turned out to be a good advice. Some of the financial companies did hire a few people I know at good salaries but then they fired them later or the company shut down.

One of the few people whose job was secure for the time being, I received so many CVs from friends, counterparts in different firms, even people I barely knew but using some reference to find them a job in my company. Though I couldn’t get them a job as we weren’t hiring but I tried my best to find them a job or referred them to a friend who was in a better position to find them work. It made me glad to be lucky enough to have a job or not having a sword hanging over my head.

I had joined the present company to do investments, engage in transactions, develop new assets but since the crisis had struck and all our investable cash was already invested in assets that were in serious need of restructuring, for next many years I focused on restructuring these assets, trying to monetize them, increase their cashflows if possible, reduce their expenses and sell them at minimal losses to bring in much needed cash to pay our salaries.

I used to joke that it will be hard for me to find a job when the economy booms as all my experience is of bust cycle. When the boom comes around, companies will be looking for people who have made new investments, closed deals, etc whereas all my experience is of managing existing investments or to restructuring them. I know one can try to sell oneself to prospective employer by saying that what I will bring to the job will be knowledge of what NOT to do as I have seen how investments can go sour in unexpected ways due to wrongly structured transactions, agreements that did not take all circumstances into account etc. but we all know its a hard sell when the employer is looking for a particular skill.

People often tell me to lie on my CV or make it comply with the job description. I do reasonably embellish my CV or put key words of job description as mentioned in the job ad but it goes against my principles to twist the facts or to put experience on the CV that even I don’t recognize myself.

Its not that I haven’t tried a bit of risk-taking. I even tried for positions that were one or two rungs below my current position to quote a phrase that was taught to my friend by JPMorgan banker when my friend was applying for an undergrad job despite having a graduate degree. The banker told my friend that whenever anyone asks him why is he applying for low level job, he should say that I consider this sacrifice as investment in my career as I will be building up my profile for working with JP Morgan. Needless to mention that my friend didn’t get the JPM job nor I was successful in my attempts to “invest in my career”.

Last night, a headhunter after going through my LinkedIn profile asked me if I am interested in a Senior Vice President position in Investment Banking/Private Equity in a leading investment firm. My reply was affirmative and I sent him my CV which clearly lays out that I have done asset management and restructuring. Now he comes back to me asking if I could send him a

comprehensive deal sheet that includes all of the deals you have worked on throughout your investment experience from CIB till date, including transaction, size of the deal, type of the deal, your role in the execution etc

It was so frustrating. Finally someone asks me for a CV for a position that I always wanted to work for and unfortunately I don’t have the relevant experience. Not exactly, but with no new investments happening in last 5 years nor new assets added to the portfolio and no promotion, I could describe my experience as one year of restructuring experience multiplied by 5 years. It is with this frustration that I rather write this blogpost than to prepare a comprehensive deal sheet to forward to that headhunter.

Nothing seems quite so bleak as the digital job seeker’s all-but-obligatory LinkedIn account – Ann Friedman, All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go

2 thoughts on “Karma is a bitch – Career edition

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