Ch-ch-ch-changes: How to Make a Career Transformation

Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011
Ch-ch-ch-changes: How to Make a Career Transformation

Opportunity can spring from dark times. Take the current near-recession: bad news for the economy; even worse news for investment bankers. The entire industry is going through a sea change, with a near epidemic of reorganization and firings-the demise of Bear Stearns being the most dramatic example. But the downturn may in fact create all sorts of job possibilities for downsizing victims willing to think broadly and creatively. And often that means-as radical as the thought may seem-considering areas outside of banking. 

To be sure, career change isn't easy; studies show that few undertakings are scarier or more stressful. After years of moving in one direction, it means changing courses and venturing into unfamiliar territory. It involves a frank appraisal of your passions and life goals. And it demands that you build a new body of information and contacts.

But the rewards can be great. You'll pick up fresh skills, buff others, and learn about areas that were previously unknown to you. Ideally you'll discover a more rewarding- perhaps even more lucrative-calling. Once you leave the tightly structured domain of Wall Street, you may find a berth that will allow you a great hands-on roll in operations and strategy-along with a more manageable work-life balance.

Among the possibilities that await you:

Financial Services
The skills that led you to banking may help you land a job in another part of financial services. Private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds are logical next steps. Like banking, these areas will allow you to work on mergers, acquisitions, and public offerings. Still, the cultures are quite different: more entrepreneurial and self-starting, and perhaps not suited to some who are used to the structured environment of an investment bank. You'll get little formal training; instead, you'll be expected to learn on the job-fast.

Finance Jobs
You might consider a job outside of financial services, as an in-house finance person in another industry. Young, up-and-coming companies in technology or biotech, introducing many of the world's most interesting new products, need people who can manage their balance sheets and structure deals. Some consumer goods, manufacturing and media and entertainment companies also can use expert help. The big upside: You'll be able to use the same skills you were pointing toward investment banking-often in a more reasonable, less stressful environment.

The financial rewards at nonprofit organizations may not be as high as in banking, but the spiritual benefits can be enormous, especially if you feel passionate about the cause itself. The nonprofit area is begging for talented finance professionals. Note: JPMorgan Chase recently found positions at charities for some of its stranded Bear Stearns recruits.

Pipe Dreams
Perhaps, when you first embarked on a banking career, you buried a deep-seated interest that seemed more risky and less immediately remunerative. Well, now is the time to readdress your original dream, be it starting a bed-and-breakfast, teaching schoolchildren, or even venturing into the arts. Career coach Deborah Brown Volkman tells of a former financial services professional who lost her job and revisited her first love: horticulture. Now she's working in a nursery—and loving it.

James Rubin has written about recruiting and employee development issues for a decade. His thought papers for the Economist Intelligence Unit on talent management and related articles have been quoted in major publications worldwide.

About the Author