Thursday, May 14, 2009

Transitions: Gaining an Edge

The marketplace is crowded, and blame the financial crisis; bankers, brokers, analysts, researchers, and traders are worried about their jobs, are out of jobs, or are concerned their number might be next.

What can you do to separate yourself from the pack, differentiate yourself, or gain a special edge?

At the Consortium Finance Network's second event, Charlotte Lee, lead consultant at global consulting firm DBM-New York, had a bundle of ideas, offered a slate of concrete suggestions, and shared stories of what works and what doesn't work when you are interviewing, networking, or simply transitioning from one finance sector to another.

Citigroup and its director of graduate recruiting Fatimah Gilliam hosted the session in New York May 13. The gathering included Consortium alumni, new and current Consortium students and other CFN members.

Because everybody has top-notch skills and good experience, because LIFO (last-in-first-out) is the rule of the day in many financial institutions, because there might be 1,000 resumes for one job, you must have an edge. You must find a way to stand out.

She suggested many pointers. In an interview or in a networking moment, the words (content, meaning) count for only 10%. The tone of voice counts 20%, while body language is 70%. Tone, presence and manner of speech help others remember you.

Lee encouraged the group to do the following while out in the marketplace: Always ask yourself: What motivates you? Money? Work-life balance? Creativity? Relationships?

Don't focus on your skill set. Focus on fit. Do you fit into a firm's culture, environment, work pace? "Can you get along well with others in the sandbox?" she asked. How you fit or whether you fit will determine whether you like a position and, too, do well in it.

If you perceive you don't fit or can't fit, then you probably shouldn't accept a position. If you are in a current position, you may want to move on.

How else can you set yourself apart? Lee's recommendations fell into two categories: personal and professional.

Having a personal edge ties to body language, personal appearance. "Almost like speed dating," she said. "Stay upbeat, smile, show enthusiasm for you can do and what you know."

Manage the icebreaker. Look for "mutual-interest intersection," she suggested. Find that common ground, whether it's school, hobbies, birthplace, shared acquaintances. Common ground breaks the ice, but also establishes a rapport and sets you apart.

In an interview or a networking meeting, "first impressions are last impressions." Manage your side of the meeting: "Have a strong beginning, a strong ending, and an ask (at the end)."

Having a professional edge means being "accomplishment-oriented." In resumes and in dialogue, highlight, summarize and simplify achievements, deals done, projects managed, costs saved, and revenues generated.

On the resume', Lee explained how the top and the bottom are the most read. Make sure they are strong, clear statements.

Stay current, highlight professional designations (CFA, CPA, Series 7, etc.), and make sure to "manage and expand your online presence." Make it easy for others out there to find you, but make sure they see the best of you.

In networking or in networking, Lee suggested, "Have an opinion and a solution (about current topics)....Bring the dead mouse to them (with an answer or game plan)." Others around you should see you as a resource. "Be seen as the go-to girl."

Polish that elevator pitch, she said. Get it down to three bullets about yourself and your career.

Make yourself known, do public speaking, or do volunteer work in the community or even in the industry. And make sure you present your complete self in Linkedin.

The session was spontaneous, interactive, sometimes humorous in the midst of uncertainty in the industry, but Lee was always honest, telling it how it is in these times.

Audience members asked many questions including those related to the difference between fitting in vs. separating yourself from the pack and the difference in cultures at banks vs. government institutions.

Others who attended are encouraged to share feedback here.

Tracy Williams

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