The Secrets to a Successful Job Search

By Randy Schwimmer

A significant benefit to being an ACG New York member is the vast networking our association provides. While deal sourcing is one objective, of equal interest but often more rarely talked about are the job opportunities that can arise from networking.

Throughout the past decade, employment in financial services has been brutal. Countless positions have been eliminated, with competition and regulation leaving few attractive alternatives. As a careerist in the space, I try to be helpful to my job-hunting comrades.

I used to duck that responsibility. Besides having few jobs to offer, my advice felt lame. Finding a job is the most complex task we face, right on par with finding a spouse. Matrimony can be deferred; employment, not so much. But I had no convincing narrative for a successful search.

I finally realized the best defense was a good offense. So I wrote up a one-page list of lessons learned from observing and participating in the job game over a 30-plus year career.

Michael was my first test case. A neighbor of a friend, he had been a high-yield analyst for 20 years. When I met Michael, he was a beaten man. Out of work for 18 months, he was cycling through the same handful of tired references. Research jobs were scarce and getting scarcer.

I glanced at his resume, which included typical banking stuff. Depressed for him, I scanned his hobbies and education, hoping for inspiration. To my surprise, he had graduated from a top law school, and then got a M.A. in public health. His first job was in hospital administration. An idea began to form.

“Ok, Michael,” I said, handing him my one-pager. “This is your road map. Own it. Next, forget your resume. We’re rebranding you as a healthcare guy. There is a lot of demand for that. You’re not looking for a job, you need information first: who’s doing what to whom in the sector. Get five healthcare references from everyone you know. I’ll give you mine. Let’s get going.”

Michael no longer looked beaten. Every Friday, he emailed me (Secret #14) with a progress report. He was motivated and directed. Then one day, Michael called.

“I’ve got great news,” he told me. “I’m a partner in a PE firm specializing in healthcare investing.” I was speechless. “I did everything you said,” he went on. “It was like magic! I can’t thank you enough.” “Wow, Michael,” I said, choking up, “that’s amazing.” Then I laughed, “I can’t believe it worked!”

That was two years ago. Since then I’ve handed out dozens of my “Secrets to a Successful Job Search.” What I’ve learned is finding a job is like losing weight: it’s extremely simple (“Find an employer needing your skills”), and incredibly difficult (“Where are they? What are they looking for?”).

That’s where my road map comes in. Some helpful tips:

  1. Job searching is not a casual process. You’re either all-in or all-out.
  2. It’s not about people you know; it’s who they know.
  3. When you tell your best friend about your new job, will they say “What?” or “Wow!”
  4. Don’t wait to be unemployed. Network every day as if you’ll be jobless tomorrow.
  5. If in doubt, do more of what makes you happy, less of what makes you unhappy.

You may lose your job, but you are never unemployed. Your life’s work is leveraging your network to build a career that that makes full use of your powers along the lines of excellence. Being an ACG New York member should always be part of that journey.

Randy Schwimmer is a director on the board of ACG New York. A former member of senior management and investment committees for two leading middle market debt platforms, Randy is founder and publisher of The Lead Left (theleadleft.com), a weekly newsletter about trends and deals in the capital markets. For a copy of his “Secrets to a Successful Job Search, email him at randy.schwimmer@theleadleft.com.

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