When Michael Benjamin found himself out of work in October 2008, he used the slump to make new contacts.
By Patty Orsini
Michael Benjamin realized he was going to have a tough time re-entering the job force after being laid off last October from his financial-services job.
“I wasn’t too junior, I wasn’t too senior, I was the mid-level guy,” he said. “And that’s who was getting laid off. Those jobs were the ones no one was hiring for. I had to think of a way to branch out, to find a fit.”
Benjamin worked as an institutional sales associate at Turner Investment Partners, a financial-services company headquartered outside Philadelphia. October 2008 was a tough time in the financial-services industry and at his small company: Twenty-two people were laid off, including Benjamin.
Looking for work with all the other financial-services people who had also lost their jobs when the market came to a screeching halt last fall meant he was going to have to differentiate himself.
Informational meetings lead to interviews
But at first, he wasn’t sure how to do that. “I started my job search by calling everyone I knew,” the SalesLadder member said. “Most everyone said they had nothing at their companies, but they would give me names of other people to call, and I would call those people. I made phone calls, sent e-mails and had lunch meetings,” he said. The benefit of being laid off during the financial downturn, said Benjamin, is that people who were still employed found themselves with some downtime. “Nothing was happening in October and November,” he said. “I got a lot of meetings, because people weren’t very busy at work. They had time to talk to me.”
He said things started to break around January, when some of those meetings turned into conversations about actual jobs. And while he was hoping to stay within the area of institutional sales, he also started to branch out. Thinking that he could make a lateral move, he applied for analyst and research roles as well as sales. “I was honest with the people I spoke to,” he said. “I told them, ‘I have internal and external sales experience, and I’m ready to make the next jump.’ But I was hearing I wasn’t qualified.”
It was a little disheartening, but Benjamin kept moving forward. His former employer provided a job counselor who guided him through some of the ins and outs of looking for a job. It was the job counselor that told him about TheLadders. He had been looking on other job boards but decided to try TheLadders' site.
It was there that he found a position that sounded challenging and fit a lot of his search qualifications. The position, for a senior institutional sales position at an investment management firm in Philadelphia, was also a bit more senior than his previous job. But he thought it was worth a try. The recruiter who received his resume was glad he had, as well, but for different reasons.
“The recruiter thought I would be a great fit for a technology and software company that offers analytical tools for financial services companies,” he said. “She told me about the job, and it sounded interesting.” Even though the job was in northern New Jersey, as opposed to Philadelphia, he was open to the idea, and told the recruiter he’d like to pursue the opportunity.
A few days after that first conversation with the recruiter, he did a phone interview with the hiring manager. A week later, he traveled to New Jersey for his second and final interview. In just three weeks, nearly seven months of unemployment came to an end with a job offer. He began his new job, as VP of sales for Markov Processes International, in early July.
It’s a little ironic, he said, that for this position, which “I never would have thought of on my own,” he was hired so quickly, while other jobs which were in his field were not so quick to hire. “I still have outstanding positions that I interviewed for four months ago that I haven’t heard back from. They still haven’t filled those jobs.”
Leveraging finance knowhow for technology sector
In the meantime, his new employer was also waiting for the right candidate. “They told me they had been looking to fill this position for the past six to nine months, and that I was the right fit,” he said.
The new company looked at his asset-management experience as a calling card. “I know how asset management works,” he said. “I know how to get in the door, I know how these firms are structured, and I can figure out who to ask for. The hard part is learning their software; but the sales part is the important part, and that’s what they hired me for. All these firms need analytical tools to go over their portfolios. There’s a lot of competition in this arena, but every firm needs this technology.”
This new job also gives Benjamin the opportunity to live in New York. His company is commuting distance from New York, so he’ll take the train to New Jersey and enjoy life in a new city. The new job, he said, is worth the move. “It’s a sales position and a great opportunity. It’s a smaller company, which appeals to me. I like the entrepreneurial culture, the flat structure; there’s less bureaucracy.”
He said that it was worthwhile to stretch a bit in terms of looking for a job. While, in the end, he wasn’t qualified for the original position he applied for on TheLadders, his resume got in front of someone who was willing to take the time to read through it and determine where he might be a good fit. “There’s nothing wrong with aiming a little higher,” he said. “Just don’t aim too high. Apply for a job where this is a realm of possibility. Know what skills you can offer.”
Looking for a job requires constant vigilance, he said. “I must have spoken to 80 to 100 people in this whole process,” Benjamin said. “I could have kept it going. Maybe I didn’t do enough. Maybe I could have gotten a job sooner. But it’s pretty nasty out there.”
Patty Orsini is a general assignment reporter for TheLadders.