Status Update – 10/01/18

t’s been six weeks now.  Six weeks of severance left, then on to the unemployment line.

Here’s the current count:

***************

Resumes sent: 225

Networking conversations: 20

Conversations granted: 5

Interviews received: 0

***************

A bit more encouraging results to report. Instead of just shooting out resumes, I’ve spent the better part of the past two weeks networking. My early resistance to heavily push networking quickly proved wrong, as I will go into detail about below. I have a tendency to think contrarian at first … “I’ll prove them wrong” (wife rolls her eyes). Then I come around to figuring out what the consensus is the consensus. Oh well, whatever works.

Of the five conversations received above, four were set up through friends that I had positive direct working relationships before. I’m finding an very important theme boldly coming through = if people have enjoyed working with you and think you have something to offer, they seem excited to make introductions for you. Common sense, ya, but, always followed, no.

That brings me to a very wordy albeit important explanation around the most important things I have learned so far as a fired PM.

    1. GETTING SHIT CANNED HELPS YOU CLEAN OUT YOUR LIFE. It cleans out the clutter, a bi-product of trying to produce fake happiness by purchasing shit you don’t need. What you own begins to own your space and your time.Unemployment makes you assess everything around you and cut down to the core. You are on a constant search to get rid of what doesn’t work. This is healthy. It also makes you feel cleaner about a dirty situation.Clothes that don’t fit well = donate them (perhaps this was an issue, people think your a slob), books you’ll never read = sell them (they are not going to make you into that smart person you always wanted to become), recurring payments for that service you hardly use = cancel, schadenfreude friends = ignore (unless they are handy for networking), distracting hobbies that just take up time = eliminate (three out of 10,000 unproduced screenplays ever make it into feature films but those many hours / weeks that you spent writing a half ass draft, you’ll never get those back).

      Like a company undergoing a turnaround, clear out the excess inventory and cut down the bloated cost structure. Time to permanently clean your shit up and enhance your returns on capital (time).

      Only After

    2. YOU MUST FACE THAT PERSON IN THE MIRROR EACH MORNING ***. Its not very much fun to be in this position.After a couple sitting-at-home Mondays, you begin to miss the daily connections with co-workers, other analysts, etc.You realize many of these relationships may now be gone for good. If they survive, they are permanently altered (I’ll take the long bet that they won’t be referring to you as a “rock star” again).

      As you sink deeper into the sea of unemployment, you fall off peoples’ radars. You begin to notice that people in general are treating you different. Any mention of a past success is dismissed as no longer applicable. Impulsive statements of hope receive eye rolls and an immediate change of subject. You lost credibility. No one wants to hear about your entrepreneurial dream.

      Some people just plain avoid you or, even worse, cut you out. Its hard to accept but yes, they finally concluded that you’re a loser in their mighty eyes. Believe it or not, certain uber-confident type people feel they should only be surrounded by winners (really just sycophants).

      Even those who love you are a bit disappointed.  Just mope around the house for six weeks and see how loving your significant other becomes.  You quickly realize, others don’t want to hear your bullshit excuses. In the end, regardless of what you try to tell them (and yourself), YOU FUCKED UP.

      Face the facts. Organizations usually don’t act irrationally. 99.9% of the time, the employee FUCKED UP and caused the firing.  The employee’s bullshit kept piling up to the point people were drowning in it. The house needed to be cleaned out. You had to go. When you left the building, no one went “OMG! No!”. They were relieved to finally cut out the cancer.

      It took me about a month of unemployment to embrace all of this. I thought I got it day one. I really didn’t. I bitched to my family. I bitched to a few friends. I even bitched on this blog. I felt the victim. What I got back was an icy cold reception. As I should have. This treatment pushed me into the next stage of unemployment where the worse predator of all lingers — the conscious mind.

      When the layers of excuses melt away and there is no one left to speak with, you are eventually forced to face your own demons. I don’t give a shit just how positive a person you paint yourself to be, go get fired and go through this type of unemployment — sooner or later you are going to look at the person in the mirror and you’ll come to hate the person see. As unemployment drags on, I expect this will get even worse. The rejections, the unanswered calls, the insults … they’ll all fuel one mental beating after another.

      I know this all sounds awful and probably even a bit awkward to read in our Pollyanna world.  I don’t give a shit. ITS JUST THE COLD HARD TRUTH. Thus the intent of this blog — to give people an accurate view of a situation. I know society has conditioned us to believe that we’re all beautiful unicorns that need to prance around among the rainbows beaming with self-confidence. Unfortunately, just like your war scarred veteran grandfather would tell you – LIFE IS FUCKING TOUGH AND IT TAKES A LOT OF HARD WORK, DISCIPLINE, SMART DECISION MAKING AND A TON OF LUCK TO KEEP MOVING UP THE CHAIN OF SUCCESS. You think he’d be proud of my situation?

      When you fuck up, you need to be self-aware and accept the fact that you have indeed fucked up. You can try to host a big elaborate pity party. No one will show up though. Face it, you lost. Your true fans will ultimately stick with you, but right now — they’re kind of disappointed.

      Ya, your getting depressed. Insomnia is creeping in? Anxiety is making it hard to function? Fuck you. Good. Don’t wimp out and go running to the pharmacy for anti-depressants. Instead, be strong. Go face the person in the mirror take a deep look into those eyes. Hate what you see? You should. This is the real medication of life right here. You gotta rub your nose in your own mess. Otherwise, failure will indeed become habit. You’re fear will cement into reality. You will permanently brand yourself a loser. That’s life, like it or not.

      Ever see resumes of people who had expensive schooling, great grades, a fantastic career going then … wham, a period of unemployment followed by a series of crappy 1 – 2 year gigs. When you meet with them, they complain about their boss, their responsibilities, everything. You begin to hate to be anywhere around them. If you see them headed down the street, you turn around. How did it get this way?

      Well, they never learned to rub their nose in it. They were too easy on themselves. They arrived at their next job with the same dumb grin holding all their shortcomings besides them. The next employer, already sensing something just doesn’t add up, figures it out quick. Sooner or later, your costing them more than they are getting in return. Boom, fired again. Soon, the only thing you are good at is bringing your suitcase of mediocrity to whatever place will take you.  You’re running the rest of your career out on the treadmill of failure.

      Getting fired is, and should always be, a giant foot directly hitting your ass. It should hurt. Its supposed to hurt. Something is really wrong and it needs to be fixed. Now, you have many long, lonely, expensive, agonizing days to work on correcting it.

      Identify your shortcomings. Reach into your past and figure out why others assessed that your cost was more than your return. Define exactly why you were destroying their value and now yours.

      Analyze your career choices. Are you refusing to admit you structurally suck at something and just keep trying to jump back into it hoping for a different outcome? Well, sooner or later insanity will set in, just as Einstein said it would.

      Dissect your habits.  Are you chronically late? Do you look like a slob? Do you have a problem keeping your mouth shut at the wrong times? Well, figure out quickly how to fix that. Get out of bed earlier. And make your fucking bed.

      Learn to make less errors. Is your work fraught with mistakes? Take some classes. Read some books. Improve your skills. Practice. Why do firms want 4.0 GPA candidates from top schools. Because they expect 100% work. When people pay you good money to work for them, they expect 100% work product. 99% is failure. Would you trust a surgeon who does 99 operations perfect but fucks up every hundredth one? How about a pilot that crashes every 100th flight? You want to get on that plane? You wanna buy a $120,000 Rolls Royce and have the steering wheel fall off while your driving? Well, why should any other standard apply to your work? On Wall Street, you’re probably making more than all these people. Shouldn’t the standard be even higher?

      Receive hard feedback.  Instead of a “beers and bitch” festival with your former co-worker buddy, ask them to tell you the hard truth about why you were shit canned. Tell them you really need to know what you were doing right and, more importantly, wrong. Keep your damn mouth shut and swallow the negative shit they eventually say. Get specifics. Let the bad things you hear destroy your current dictum. If done right, the next morning you’ll wake up slightly hungover hating the person in the mirror even more.

      Let these type beatings continue until you hit your trough. Don’t lose hope and certainly don’t let yourself get suicidal or anything dumb like that (after all, there was a 400 trillion to 1 chance, i.e. miracle, that you are here in the first place) but some depression, insomnia, self-loathing, etc. will inevitably creep into the journey towards self-discovery.  No one but you will have an answer to your success. Nor will you happen upon any golden keys laying around. But, you will eventually become a better person. You need some pain to form new muscles.

      I don’t know how long this difficult journey will last, hell I just set out on this myself over the past month or so, but as Churchill said “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. Keep breaking yourself down, eliminating, examining, improving. Eventually, some way some how, you’ll reach the proverbial cliff. If you’ve done the work, you’ll be able to jump. Eventually, the parachute will open and it will take you to where you need to be.

      https://youtu.be/UjfhvEjPPQM

    3. PEOPLE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU MORE THAN EVER.  This continues a bit on the previous point. When you are down and out, its surprising how some people capitalize on it.Unfortunately, there are some sadists who derive pleasure off your pain. In my case, this has been pretty bad given the success I had on Wall Street for the past eleven years — a couple insecure people have actually openly enjoyed that I am in my current situation. At least I know who my enemies in disguise are. (Not worth my time to discuss, acknowledged — let’s move on)

      I have also, unfortunately, found that potential employers take advantage of the situation by dangling a carrot and having you do lots of work for them. I get doing case studies, etc. to make sure you have the skills. But there is a line. In my past role running Associate recruiting, I placed heavy emphasis on technicals. However, I’ve been a bit surprised on how much free work can be asked for.

      Through networking with other people who have been in this position, I found out this is pretty common. One other former colleague that is long-term unemployed refers to these as “scams” and says he has spent many hours of his job search doing free work only to have the recipient just disappear.  He thinks that some funds just get free ideas and work this way, especially small hedge funds (do yourself a favor and stay away from < $150M hedge funds, especially if they are (1) having a hard time raising fresh capital and/or (2) they have an overly optimistic head guy who thinks he’ll pull AUM up to $1B in the next year because he got lucky and he beat the S&P 500 by a few percent last year — in my humbled opinion 90% of hedge funds nowadays are scams). I went through this once already. It’s humiliating. I guess the only way to prevent it is that you need to push back a bit and say “I have several processes going on with other companies and I need to allocate my time accordingly” or something of this nature. Polite but stern. Also makes them feel they are not the only game in town for you — creates competition and a sense of urgency. These “free projects” are good though in that they do give you a sneak preview of working for this person.

      Unrelated, but under the same category of ‘the unemployed getting taken advantage of’, I attended a three-day real estate investing “workshop” this past week. Because it was during working hours, there seemed to be many unemployed people there seemingly looking for a way to “get rich quick”.

      I figured I’d go to the first session and decide whether to return. It turned out to be pretty interesting and I was accomplishing my goal of getting an overview about the different forms of real estate investing. As the sessions progressed, however, the hard up-sell began interfering with the good quality lecture. I largely ignored the “selling” but it was very interesting to watch the masterfully orchestrated manipulative technique. It was equally interesting to see people in the class get pulled in one by one, despite red flag after red flag.

      Perhaps as a short-seller my red flag radar is pretty good, but people seemed to just get more and more excited to sign up for continued classes by the hour. The teacher was a great lecturer — a perfect blend of knowledgeable, entertaining and charismatic. The program made recipients feel insecure about their present situation then strategically motivated them to make a change and that the only was to do this was to “just do it” through real estate investing. They made it seem like they had some kind of magic formula for success. They fortified this by sprinkling in lots of real-life examples of people getting rich quick by using their “methods” and by “using other peoples money, credit and time”.

      The examples used were all rosy, showing crazy great IRR’s. Not once was anything about a downside risk mentioned. Not once. It reminded my of my M&A investment banking days. They even told people the benefits of calling credit card companies to expand credit lines packaging it as a way to lower your debt outstanding to total capacity ratios (really just making room on people’s credit cards to buy the expensive next stage courses). i yi yi.

      As the promotion eventually overtook the quality learning, I slipped through the guards in the back and fled back uptown to safety. By the time I took off, a third of the class had already signed up for a few weekends of real estate classes that begin at $15,000. $15,000!!!! A whole undergrad semester at Harvard costs $23,000., a school with a 5.6% acceptance rate!!! Fascinating. Flipping real estate by rolling credit card balances isn’t the secret to success? Warren Buffett didn’t do this? What!!!

      Walking home, feeling slightly grossed out, I couldn’t help to think about how this company existing by taking advantage of people in a desperate circumstance (yes, there is an on-going class action, scam alerts, and message boards filled with “suckered” dissatisfied customers). More importantly, I thought about how how easy it is to sucker otherwise rational people when they become desperate for change.

      I had to ask myself… are the people in this class really any different from me five years ago when, after two years of kissing frogs, I just wanted ANY hedge fund job? Well, careful what you wish for because you might just get it.  I thought about how important it is to not let my emotions get in the way of making the right long-term career decision for myself.

      In unemployment, you just want the torture to end. You begin to feel like just taking any job. After weeks of no responses, you keep bringing down your price to find the market. You constantly widen out your search and begin applying for things you probably shouldn’t. Its easy for outsiders to look in and say “oh, don’t sell yourself short”. But, you can easily loose perspective of what “selling yourself short” even means. Others say “just apply to everything and see what hits”.

      This is also dangerous. When desperate enough, a bad date can easily turn into a girl friend. Months or years later, you’re stuck in a dead-end relationship with someone you hate. The tricky part with the search is that you probably have to dip down to “find the market” — the market that is right for your skills, interests, etc. If you just hold your price high and think you can sit and wait for the perfect job to come calling, your house will sit on the market for a long long time, if not forever.

      As if to test out my resilience, the next morning after the class, I got a blind vague email from a portfolio manager looking to add to his team. I sent my resume and I got an immediate interview by phone. After a few minutes, the P.M. said the fund was a hedge fund housed within a $10B private real estate investing company. It was a long/short trading fund. I’ll be honest, it was not easy to Nancy Regan it by “just saying no”. I actually spent 20 minutes on the phone talking about my background, my trading style, my picks, etc. Listening to myself in my head, I began to feel disgusted. How could I be giving in so easily to the temptation? How could I be flirting with the idea of going back to THE EXACT SAME THING I JUST GOT FIRED FROM? The lack of job security. The cognitive dissonance. Finally, my inner voice won.

      As the cocky P.M. blabbed away about his lofty goals for the fund, I cut him off by asking “how many times do you turnover your portfolio?” Annoyed to be cut off, he snared, “5 – 6x”. I asked if he played earnings. He said “of course, how can’t I?” Right there, I told him I can’t do this. I won’t do this. I hung up. Let the healthy pain continue for I won’t be suckered into “signing up”. Its too expensive.  It felt good. I’m learning. Prometheus gave me a wink on this one.

    4. NETWORKING – I know in my earlier posts I de-emphasized this approach a bit. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I was plain wrong. I now realize that this will probably be the only way I can get another job.However, I was right in terms of just seeing who works for X company and cold emailing them asking for help. I still believe this to be a bit of a reach. Unless the person knows you and can VOUCH FOR YOU because they worked with you on something in the past, its hard to feel that they will go out of their way beyond forwarding your CV to HR (BTW, don’t be that person who is constantly emailing people who went to school with you or whatever at your “dream job” expecting they will go out of their way for you. Its amazing how the same person has hit me over and over through the years because they seem to feel entitled to a position at the fund I worked for – super annoying).

      In terms of networking, it helps to hit the people you did have a good working relationship with. Many times, these people push to help you. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much follow-through a few people have given on my behalf. These are true friends. This is also the point in life where you call in old favors. Its selfish but its time to be a bit selfish.

      Additionally, it is good to contact people who have been in this position before. I brought this up in a past post but it’s proven very beneficial. They usually know what to do and what not to do. They’re network is heated up and they are usually willing to let you use it a bit. They know what you are going through. It also helps mentally to hear that they went through their own version of personal hell as well. Not that you’d wish it on anybody, but it does help you not to feel alone.

      These people make better beer mates, if you just need to go out and tie a couple on. I’d stay away from doing this with your highly successful friends for the time being. I’ve actually seen a close friendship recently end this way. People traveling at 100 miles an hour don’t want your negativity in their way. Its just the way life is. All I can hope for is to be back up to 100 miles an hour myself soon.

    5. Demand and Supply.   In investing I learned a valuable lesson > ALWAYS BEGIN WITH AN ANALYSIS OF SUPPLY VS. DEMAND. Same goes for job hunting. Follow the demand and be conscious of the supply of candidates.A few months back, I began to put a cup of seeds into a bird feeder on my back porch. At first, a couple pigeons discovered this and figured out a clumsy way to knock seeds down to the ground. Through the weeks, the pigeon population going after these seeds has multiplied.

      Fast forward to today, at 7am there were dozens of pigeons waiting around for the seeds. They even developed a creative system for getting the seeds out of the feeder.  The thing is, I still only give a cup of seeds to these pigeons — the same as when there were only two. These pigeons remind me of hedge funds.

      Back in the day, there were a few really good ones. Druckenmiller, Soros, Tepper, Tudor Jones, etc. crushed the S&P and they got paid well for doing so. This is how 2% fees + 20% profits was invented. They ate all the seeds. Fast forward to today, and you have armies of Druckenmiller wanna swarming into the industry.

      Remarkably despite the swarms of P.M.’s and years of mediocre performance, fees have held up ok. There’s still some general misconception that these guys are smarter than the rest and should be paid egregiously. There are way too many pigeons looking for the same cup of seeds in the hedge fund world. They have all kinds of fancy tools and techniques to justify great returns [to come] and high fees, yet the AUM is pretty static. Therefore, supply (number of P.M.’s) continues to keep going up while demand (AUM) is staying flat. Not a good formula.

      Its even worse on the long-only side. Given passive strategies and underperformance, AUM is going down for most the major long-onlies. Candidates keep approaching though.

      Every time I see a buy-side positing, I think of all those pigeons scrambling for a few seeds. Not a good set up for getting a job quick. This also tells me that when there are way too many white napkins, its the one’s with the stains that get easily thrown out first. Already low odds turn to lottery tickets. So, after wasting a few weeks looking for long-only jobs (one response through networking), I have focused a bit more on where demand and supply are more balanced.

      Given that there has not been a recession in almost 10 years to clean things out, everything seems pretty crowded right now. I am getting more bites though in, of all places, the startup / high growth world. There seems to be so much growth here that they need finance people. So, I’m allocating my resources a bit more to this world. Go to where the demand is. Get to where there are only a few pigeons and a scoop of seeds.

    6. Be Careful to Burn Bridges, Even Indirectly. If you are like me, your Rolodex is in crisis mode right now. People are avoiding you, certain relationships are gone (you may not realize it yet), people are talking about you…. and they are not recounting how great of an employee you were unless its a positive reference call. So, damage control mode is necessary.In general, people who know you but don’t REALLY know you are wondering whether or not you are good at all. They may have heard positive things in the past but now they are wondering why you are sidelined and not just bouncing right back.

      A few weeks ago, one such person put me in touch with a friend of his “as a favor”. I got cc’d on an email introducing me to another unemployed friend. I right away got on the phone “to get the conversation out of the way”, not thinking much of it. When I got on the phone with the friend, he was a long-term hedge fund guy that spent many years at a top shop then joined another senior hedge fund guy to open their own fund. This new fund lost a key backer shortly after forming and he recently threw in the towel. He was exploring non-hedge fund careers like me.

      While speaking to him, I could tell that I was not on top of my game. I gave some poorly thought through answers and sounded wishy-washy overall. I could tell by the end of the discussion he was not impressed. Sure enough, he never followed through on a later email introduction. Also, the contact that originally put us in touch has become distant — no responses. Burning bridges happens that fast, especially when people questioning you. Moral of the story = always be prepared for every conversation.

    7. Keep Learning.  The one thing I miss most about working is learning new things constantly. Running a job search is super process oriented, repetitive and as pedantic an exercise possible. The ROIC is slightly above 0%.Therefore, I’ve learned that it is necessary to constantly fill the background with whatever learning you can. You must spend time everyday studying something despite feeling like its just distracting you from the search. As discussed before, I had cognitive dissonance as a trader. However, this is much worse. If you do anything besides the search, stress grows … you feel you’ll never be employed again. However, you have to prioritize some learning into your schedule.

      Also, filling in any space you can with podcasts and youtube interview in the background helps. I have learned quite a bit this way. Its no substitute for the real thing, but its something. Your a prisoner to this process and those are the books you are given. Gotta make do. Oh, and you can still try finding investments — something I really need to step up my efforts in doing.

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