Jenga and your job

Why job hunting is the new era of finance is just a game.

Banking has become a game of Jenga. The sight of venerable financial institutions teetering under the combined pressure of waning investor confidence and a bleak global economic outlook bears a close resemblance to the classic game of mental and physical skilfulness. Amidst the mass hysteria we've seen in recent weeks, governments around the world are trying to keep their cool and somehow pull out the 'bad bricks' of the financial system while simultaneously keep its structure upright and intact.

Investors, financial commentators, business-owners, and bankers are watching the government's every move carefully. What if government action fails and all the building blocks of the world economy come tumbling down? That's the $700bn dollar question. The Gateway doesn't pay enough for me to even begin to try answering that.

I can, however, offer thoughts on the question you really want to know the answer to, namely: where does all this leave your post-university job options?

Undoubtedly, the credit crunch is getting ever more severe and the weakening state of domestic economies hardly helps. But the good news is that there are still jobs in investment banking. Graduate recruiters (coming to a campus near year you...yes, it's that time of year again) and friends of mine in the financial services industry assure me of this.

That said, it would be extremely naïve to think that the markedly bleaker financial landscape hasn't changed a thing. It has. As if competition for banking jobs wasn't fierce enough already, guess what? Things are set to get a whole lot tougher. According to Bloomberg, 42,000 jobs in finance are expected to be cut in the next 12 months. That's on top of the cuts that have already been made at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the rest. You don't need a PhD in exotic derivatives to work out that this constitutes a significant change in the dynamics of the industry.

Still, if you're still intent nailing that job, here's what you should do to maximise your chances.

First, use your time at university to really 'tool up' for the job hunt. Recruiters are likely to place an even greater premium than before on the skills and qualities needed for banking so make sure you have them. In practical terms, this means taking time to become a Microsoft excel expert, trying to learn a language, taking a course, or even a postgraduate degree, in corporate finance.

Second, broaden your horizons. One way is to apply to companies you'd never even heard of a year ago. Less well known specialist boutiques, for example, are a great way to start. They will provide a good setting in which you will be able to learn the core technical banking skills that will stand you in good stead wherever you decide to work later.

Another way is to consider working in locations further afield. For instance, places like Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Hong Kong offer job opportunities and a lifestyle to rival London (or, for that matter, New York). That's not to say the streets in these locations are paved with gold. However, these options are worth considering. These opportunities are even more within reach for those who are fluent in the right languages.

To be sure, all this will mean your expectations will have to change too. That's fine. As a Managing Director I once worked for told me, investment banking is a marathon not a sprint. Playing the long-term game could leave you better positioned to cross the finish line in first place.

Finally, look for areas that might be booming in this time of financial turbulence. They may leave you outside of banking in the near term, but they could position you well to enter banking in the mid to long term. The credit crunch has placed huge strains on businesses, big and small, the result of which is that demand for accountants and lawyers is likely to increase over the coming months. Ditto management consultants. Equally, with financial news and analysis featuring in the mainstream media in a way most of us are not used to, perhaps financial journalism will now provide a good career path.

Of course, none of these things on their own will guarantee you a job in finance. Nothing can. The truth is, no one knows what the future of financial services recruitment will hold. But what have you got to lose? Despite the ongoing nightmare on Wall Street which is sending shockwaves around the world you can still live 'the dream'. All it will take is a little patience and strategic thinking. Banking, after all, really is a game of Jenga.