The Conference Room: How You Get Fired In Finance

26 Comments | Investment Banking - How to Quit Your Job

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Subject: Hey, do you have a minute?Either come to my office or we can meet in a conference room.

Uh oh.

Unless that email is coming from the co-worker you’ve been secretly dating or (one of) the secretaries you’re having an affair with, you’re probably going to be fired in the next 5-10 minutes if you see this subject line in your inbox.

I usually write about how to get into investment banking, private equity and finance in general on this site. But layoffs are a part of life if you work in finance.

Early Warning Signs Of The Layoff

The first stage of the layoff is a rumor about a certain number of people being fired. Sometimes it’s in the thousands; sometimes it’s in the hundreds if it’s just in one department.

Unfortunately, rumors are usually true in the finance industry. Or at the very least have some basis in truth.

So when you start hearing rumblings that people are getting fired, it’s safe to assume that they are.

Other early warning signs of impending layoffs include:

  • Emails from very high-up execs in the firm reminding everyone to be frugal.
  • Closing dinners for deals getting canceled or scaled back due to “market conditions” or “cost-saving measures.”
  • Maximum dinner expenses dropping from $30 or $35 to $25… or $20… or even (gasp) $15.

Who Will Be Affected

This one depends on the state of the economy, and which groups have been in a “bubble” over the past few years.

In general, ECM, M&A, and Leveraged Finance tend to be harder-hit by recessions than other groups because companies stop issuing equity/debt and doing deals when the market tanks.

Debt Capital Markets (DCM), by contrast, tends to remain more stable because companies always need debt for day-to-day funding.

But it’s very dependent on the market: in the late 80s and early 90s after the junk bond market imploded, everyone there was laid off; in the aftermath of the mid-2000s bubble, lots of people in mortgages / CDOs / Fixed Income were laid off.

No group is “safe” from layoffs, but Restructuring can be counter-cyclical – however, there are few Restructuring groups on Wall Street, so don’t count on being rescued by going there.

Preparing For The Battle

If you know layoffs are coming and you’re not sure whether or not you’re on “the list,” there are a few things you can do to prepare beforehand.

  1. Remove everything important from your cubicle, but be subtle about it.
  2. Start contacting headhunters and other friends at other firms so you can explore “strategic alternatives.”
  3. Form a close-knit group of co-workers you can trust and discuss everything everyone hears each day.

You might think the first point is stupid, but you’d be surprised at the sheer quantity of stuff people have in their cubicles. I’ve seen tax returns, expensive cameras and digital equipment, even wedding rings stowed away in the hidden depths of peoples’ cubicles before.

If you get fired you’ll probably have to leave the building immediately, without much time to gather all your belongings. So make sure you get everything beforehand.

The only catch here is that you have be subtle about removing all your stuff. Don’t completely empty out your cube; just make sure the important stuff is safe and keep decoy items on your desk to avoid attracting attention.

Points 2 and 3 are self-explanatory; it’s critical to have that support network in place at all times anyway, but it’s especially the case when layoffs start.

The Moment Of Impact

You’ll either get an email like the one above:

Subject: Hey, do you have a minute?Either come to my office or we can meet in a conference room.

Or you’ll be summoned to this mysterious conference room via a phone call or someone directly approaching you.

In investment banking people love to waste time on making font sizes consistent and formatting PowerPoint, but they hate to waste time on firing people. So it will be quick, and you’ll be informed of the decision upfront.

At this point, you need to keep your calm and pay attention to the only number that matters: your severance (if you get any…).

After that, you’ll either be escorted out of the building immediately or you might get a few minutes or few hours to remove some of your personal belongings.

Occasionally when people leave voluntarily, they might be allowed to stick around for a few days to a week so they can “transition” projects. But I’ve never seen people stick around that long when it’s involuntary.

One exception to this: sometimes laid-off senior bankers stick around longer because they do indeed need time to transition clients and projects to other senior bankers.

The Aftermath

So, what happens when you’re laid off and shown the door?

Well, to start with, you suddenly have an additional 80-100 hours of free time each week (if you’re an Analyst).

But all you can do is decide what to do next – whether that’s moving to another firm, switching industries, or just taking a break.

Regardless of what you decide, I would strongly recommend taking a week off and removing yourself from the grind for awhile. Go to Thailand; go to Hawaii; go wherever you want and unwind for awhile.

Just think: as long as you didn’t spend too much on models and bottles, you could do this for months.

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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26 Comments to “The Conference Room: How You Get Fired In Finance”

Comments

  1. Justin says

    yuck…depressing post. how many percent of analysts (all other things being equal) usually receive a promotion to the associate position?

    • says

      Usually very few, because when the economy is good everyone jumps to PEs/HFs and when things are bad, everyone gets fired.

      Kind of a depressing way to look at it, but when the market is better and hiring is picking up, pretty much anyone who’s good and wants to stay will get promoted to Associate… so keep that in mind too.

  2. cuban says

    My firm just raised their Maximum dinner expense from $35 to $50, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.

  3. pineapple says

    More than half of the people I worked with last summer got fired already. I’m joining in the fall. Will I be next and what to do?

    • says

      Network and start thinking about alternatives… in this environment, anything could happen and the more people you know the better off you are. There’s no such thing as a “safe” job anymore.

  4. Wow says

    Wow!!!!

    The process you described happened EXACTLY where I work too. I mean the whole email, being called to the room, escorted out by security etc.

    Funny thing is I don’t work in finance. It’s a F500 but I imagine the process is the same for all companies.

  5. Cray says

    Dont they let you send a farewell mail!! :)

    And what about your employment documents and stuff, do they just mail you or hand you on the spot

  6. Kurt says

    I was just finishing up my first year at a middle-market in NYC and was fired last week because I wasn’t ‘performing’ (probably more of a personal issue as I was getting good comments). I am already in the middle of several lateral interview processes, which started before that happened. Please help me figure out what I need to do now. Thanks.

  7. Leo says

    I like it. This article did bring me down to earth and remind me that if I land a job in IB, I’ll have to keep putting the amount of effort in the firm that I put trying to get in.

    However there is one part I’d like more insight on:

    “Start contacting headhunters and other friends at other firms so you can explore “strategic alternatives.” ”

    Something like see if they’ll vouch for you in the recruiting process?
    Also would this be done after the ‘weeks break’?

    Lastly: say you change industry. With the experience you’d possibly have, would it be possible to come back in the IB industry? Or is it dependent on what position you were before e.g. Analyst, Associate, VP?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      No, to broaden your network.

      It can be done anytime.

      Yes, but harder depending on how relevant your industry is. Yes, it depends on your role before you left the industry too

      • Leo says

        Thanks, Nicole.

        But I was wondering if you could expand on these a little further?

        “Yes, but harder depending on how relevant your industry is.

        Yes, it depends on your role before you left the industry too”

        What do you mean by relevance and the role?

        • says

          Relevant = if it was corporate development, say, or something else with transactions then that is “relevant” to IB. If it is something like tax work or auditing, that is not as relevant.

          Role = it’s easier to switch back in at the junior levels (analyst, 1st/2nd year associate) than at more senior levels.

  8. Matt says

    Couple other points:

    Firings usually happen on Friday afternoons, no matter what the business. (This is also when companies tend to tell interviewees they’re not getting the job, if they’re polite enough to tell them at all.) Exceptions apply if it’s gross negligence on your part or the entire company is going down the tubes a la Arthur Andersen or Lehman.

    This is different from requests from HR to meet regarding behavior complaints, which tend to occur a day or two after the complaint, and usually in the morning.

    If you’re suspicious about a “you’re fired” meeting, it’s not a bad idea to take your bag/backpack/purse filled with your remaining possessions with you. You may be getting escorted straight out the door.

  9. Dom says

    Brian,

    Insightful article. Had a question about U5 and being laid off.

    Is it in anyway beneficial to a Jr. banker to agree he/she voluntarily left vs was terminated during a round of lay-offs? A person I know was recently laid off and their former employer called them and said they should agree they voluntarily left, instead of were terminated, on their U5.

    The former employer claims that this will NOT affect their unemployment benefits because only other investment banks see the U5. Furthermore, it will help them get a new banking job since the potential employer will see they left voluntarily vs were laid off/terminated.

    Is this true or is the former employer just trying to cover their rear end? Note its been 30 days since the lay-off occurred and the former employer wants an answer today. They told this person all this over the phone also.

    Thanks

    • M&I - Nicole says

      This is a tricky situation and I don’t know enough details to say. Your friend may want to speak with a lawyer locally re. this

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