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"I told my spouse I'd definitely be fired during my banking career"

I have spent over two decades working in US investment banks; during that time I have both been fired myself and I have hired people who have been fired. 

When you work in financial services, this is something you must expect. And it's something you must prepare the people around you for. Very early in my career, I had a conversation with my wife and her told that I would be fired one day. It's standard in this industry. 

My wife was prepared, but it doesn't make it any easier when it happens. In banking, you are most likely to be subject to a RiF [reduction in force] when you're very junior or very senior. But as you become more senior, you forget this and start to presume that it won't happen to you. Be warned that it will, especially if you've been at the same place for a long time. 

When you're RiFFed as a junior banker, it can be hard: you don't have the contacts or the experience to differentiate you from all the new graduates entering the industry. This doesn't mean you should give up: finance is filled with people who struggled at the start of their careers; it's a rite of passage. 

If you're RiFFed as a more senior banker, your response can define the course of your career. If you've come from a top tier bank, you will get offers from second and third tier banks that want to hire you. If you can afford to do so, you must ignore them. I've seen a lot of people make that kind of move down the pyramid, thinking they can get back in after a few months. But climbing back up is not easy.

Instead of chasing any job that's out there, it makes sense for senior bankers to either sit out of the market or do something tangential until the right offer comes along. 

In either case, whether you're junior or senior, no one will blame you for being fired. Unless the market is absolutely booming, your performance will not be a consideration; it was simply your turn. 

And if, after being fired, you're through with the finance industry? You have plenty of options. Even traders have plenty of transferable skills - they can assimilate a vast amount of information quickly and made decisions, and they can do that for 12 hours a day. People in banking work at a much faster pace than people in other industries, and their skills are valuable across the economy. 

Fabian Reid is the pseudonym of a managing director at a US bank in London

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AUTHORFabian Reid Insider Comment
  • KS
    23 August 2023

    Have been fired myself through RiF. thank you for writing about performance. feels a bit reassuring as I have been killing myself for it every day for last 2 months. Hunting for a job while morale is down is not easy. Attending interviews with so much stress is not easy. I have frozen in interviews as recently as last couple days because stress is getting the best out of me. Yet to see where this journey takes me.

  • N_
    21 August 2023

    Yes, I think Fabian has this just right.

    Especially, it is very tricky accepting an offer at a firm a tier down from where you were.

    The only things I would add is that as the months tick away, the growing staleness of your contacts and of your hands-on knowledge of what's going on in your business is risky. And that makes your homework task of prepping for interviews that much harder as time goes on (so as to avoid missing an important cue on a topic, as you sit down with hireers).

    Also, you have to weigh whether your sector or product is currently on the ascent or under pressure. If you don't want to, or can't manage to, pivot into being hired for a different role, if your specialty isn't booming, the risk of waiting for a firm in the same tier as your last is considerable. Being in the game with a seat, almost any seat, can be worlds better when your sector is tough, especially if the slump proves to be an extended one.

    I've called these trade offs well, and I've called them badly at different points in my career. The good news is that I got it right the most recent time, with taking a job that was a step up in firm tier and a decent step up in money.

    Most important thing is to do whatever you have to - - whatever - - to keep your morale up while hunting. For example, stick close with the people you really liked (highly placed or low) and who liked you up to this point in your career (don't avoid them out of embarrassment as your search stretches on).

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