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Thursday, 13 November 2008

Singaporean and laid off on Wall Street

Anonymous

A very wise manager of mine once said to me, “There will always be those who should not have been let go, but were, and those who should be let go, but weren’t.” I didn’t realise then that one day I would have to draw strength from his words.


In 2004, I came to the USA from Singapore for college, and like many others from Asia, I was extremely excited at the prospect of being in the epicentre of global finance. Being female, the only child of doting parents from a traditional middle-class Chinese family, I wanted to prove to my mum and dad that I could stick it out on my own.


I am extremely grateful to my parents for being supportive and for standing up to my extended family for the choice I made to spend a handsome sum to study abroad. My parents believed in my potential and it strengthened my resolve to provide a blissful retirement for them. To save on tuition fees, I crammed in more classes and graduated in three years.


After snagging an internship and then a job offer at a Wall Street investment bank, hopes were high that my career was set and that I had achieved my goal. I would work 15-hour days, was frequently the last to leave, and was usually in the office at weekends: all part of my rite of passage as the only analyst in my team.


However long the hours might have been, the silver lining was always that I was young, starting my career in New York, and was basically being paid to learn among experienced bankers. I was living comfortably and was able to send a good portion of my pay back to my parents.


Unfortunately, when the markets turned sour earlier this year, and US banks went bust or merged, my whole team was basically let go.


News of my layoff was unexpected – I even got lost on my way to human resources to collect my documents. I felt a whirl of problems overwhelming me. Rent? Visa? Parents? My mental maths told me that my savings could last until my lease expired next July, but my visa would only last till January.


In the past, my dad had mentioned retiring next year, but recently he had told me he would like to work for another few years. Maybe he saw this coming. It absolutely wrenched me that there might be the slightest possibility that he had changed his mind because he was concerned about finances, about me.


As much as my American colleagues tried to console me that the whole banking industry is in trouble, I hesitated to share my deeper concerns, due to cultural and socio-economic differences. I wasn’t even sure if I could confide in my Asian peers, many of whom came from much cushier backgrounds.

It has been about two weeks since I began my job search, and I have had two interviews. While I am open to international relocation, I am still focusing my search on the States, for a few reasons: 1) my lease expires in July 2009 and it will be hard to find a replacement tenant; 2) moving back to Singapore would likely be a one-way ticket if I do not pursue an MBA; 3) jobs in the finance industry in Asia are also in decline and banks there have been cutting staff; 4) I am still hopeful to be able to work on a variety of transactions, involving sophisticated investors, which are often harder to come by in Asia. However, in this economic climate, my job search is on a global basis and I will relocate in accordance to need.

However, in the grand scheme of life, my problems are still nothing compared to those of people with children and mortgages. Despite my anguish, there is still a lot to be thankful for. A silver lining, that’s what we could all hope for.

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