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by SixFigureStart | March 16, 2009


“It’s not you.”

I’ve been told that—let me see—at least 15 times in the past. There was Molly, Jen, Claire, and Aisha (no wait, that was me). You get the picture. I was never the reason the girls broke up with me. You would think that, having been dumped on a fairly consistent basis since 1984, I would have been steeled for today’s bad news from one of my most promising job prospects.

“Of course it’s not me!” I wanted to shout into the phone. “It never has been me.”

I am especially bummed because it was the second rejection in two days. But in this case I really believe that it wasn’t me. Only a week ago the hedge fund that I was interviewing with wanted to bring me back to meet with the firm’s partners. Everything seemed to be on track and we just needed to firm up a date. But somehow, between my last conversation and this one, the firm had decided that they did not want to add resources to emerging markets. Nothing I can do about that.

The first rejection this week, well—like Aisha, that was me, I wasn’t good enough. Then again, I wasn’t all that surprised. I was interviewing for the head of strategy for the investment business of a wealthy Latin American family. Things had not gotten off to a particularly good start. I was met at the firm’s New York office by my friend Tim, who had arranged the meeting. In the interest of full disclosure, he told me that they were interviewing as many people as they could. “It’s a buyer’s market, after all.” And not only was he surprised by the sheer number of people looking for work, but he was shocked by how deep the talent pool is. In fact, just a few hours before me, they had interviewed the right-hand man from one of 2006’s star hedge fund start-ups. How’s that for a pre-interview confidence boost? Thanks, pal.

The person Tim’s firm ended up hiring is someone that I know and used to work with. To make matters worse, he’s actually a good guy. Talented. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the bastard. And I mean that with the best of intentions.

TJ summed the decision up succinctly: “Let’s see, he’s got a Harvard Ph.D., worked on the single largest transaction in emerging markets history, and took a sabbatical to work for the Gates foundation to work on infectious diseases in emerging markets. You took a vacation to Mexico. Face it, Joe: he’s better than you. So move on to the next trade.”

It would be so much easier if I could assume that Tim’s firm had made a bad decision or I could demonize the guy who’s taking food off my table. But TJ’s right; I need to forget about this job and get focused on the next opportunity.

As Tim said, it’s a buyer’s market out there with a deep and unfortunately growing talent pool. The financial industry is shrinking rapidly and my specific area of expertise, investing, is systematically being culled. The banks are deciding, or are being told, not to take any more risk. At the same time, the whole hedge fund model is under assault. Even with many funds barring investor withdrawals, assets under management are down around 30%. Where’s that money going to go when the restrictions are lifted? Not sure yet, but it’s not going to stay with the hedge funds that impounded investors money. For the most part the game is up unless you are exceptionally talented or exceptionally plugged in. I remind myself that since the financial crisis has destroyed trust in the market; that once (and if) any hiring takes place it’s unlikely to be done through a stack of resumes. People are going to hire people that have met and know.

But it’s getting harder and harder to be that dispassionate. Since early December, I have had nine formal interviews, eight informal coffees, seven conversations, six drink meetings, five He-Man Unemployment Club meetings, three lunches, one breakfast meeting and countless phone calls. In sum, during the 55 business days I have been in town, I have arranged 39 face-to-face meetings—an over 70% hit ratio! I was pleased with my ability to score interviews. When I went out for drinks with ex-colleagues it was easy to be smug about the possibility of landing something in the near future because I was getting access, and those suckers had to go back to the same old job. But now…now I can’t help wondering where all of this networking has gotten me. The best, really the only—active job prospect I have left is the one that started with a phone call two hours after I, no wait, my position, was eliminated. It’s still live and seems to be moving forward, albeit at a glacial pace. But if it doesn’t pan out I’m not sure if I have built up enough bark around to protect myself even with a quarter century of being told, “It’s not you.”

Joe the Trader spent 11 years as a proprietary trader at a major U.S. bank. He has three children and currently lives in Brooklyn.

--Posted by Joe the Trader,

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