REQUIRED READING: Being Prepared In Case Your Job Should Disappear

This past July, Douglas Olson, general manager of Arizona for First Magnus Home Loans, addressed the California Mortgage Bankers Association's Western Secondary Marketing Conference about the high level of job retention within his company.

‘The retention rate on our top 25 loan officers is 100 percent,’ said Olson, beaming before his audience. ‘We don't lose anybody.’

At the time of Olson's speech, First Magnus boasted more than 250 offices and 5,000 employees. One month later, things took a considerable turn for the worse. On August 16, the company announced via its Web site that it was halting all new loans. First Magnus not only lost its top 25 loan officers, but its entire business as well. A report that day on the Associated Press news wire confirmed the company was ceasing operations.

‘In light of the collapse of the secondary mortgage market, First Magnus will not fund any future mortgage loans,’ said the company on its Web site. ‘We explored all options before taking this action but were left with no viable alternatives. First Magnus values the relationships we have formed with all of our broker partners over the years and appreciate the trust you have shown in us. We are saddened that we will no longer have the opportunity to work with you.’

The failure of First Magnus was part of year-long skein of mortgage lenders who either went out of business or considerably downsized as the industry continued in its subprime-induced convulsions. But while a great deal of attention focused on the financial elements of the collapsing businesses, there was another aspect to the story: the human element. According to a Reuters news report, the financial services industry announced 87,962 lost jobs in the first eight months of 2007; it lost 50,327 in all of 2006. Forty-one percent of the lost jobs, or 35,830, were specifically tied to the crisis in the housing market.

How bad are things? In a two-day period (Aug. 21-22), the layoffs announced by SunTrust Banks, Capital One Financial Corp.'s Greenpoint Mortgage, Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co., Delta Financial Corp. and Lehman Brothers' BNC Mortgage resulted in a combined loss of approximately 7,400 jobs. On Sept. 7, Countrywide Financial added to the crisis by announcing it would eliminate as many as 12,000 jobs.

At a time when the industry is facing dramatic employment reductions, two new questions face mortgage bankers: ‘Is my job safe?’ (that's the question for those who are still working) and ‘How will I find a new job?’ (that's the question for the thousands who've been laid off this year).

Human resources experts encourage mortgage bankers to think aggressively about the state of the industry and carefully investigate all possible opportunities.

‘Anyone, regardless of what industry they're in, should have a resume on hand,’ warns Wendy Enelow, executive director of the Career Management Alliance, Coleman Falls, Va. ‘You need to be a savvy manager of your own career.’

Enelow points to the increasingly precarious state of mortgage banking and suggests that a single resume may not be enough for those trying to find work either within the industry or in other sectors of the financial services world.

‘You need to make the determination of whether you want one resume or two,’ she says. ‘If you want to continue in an industry known for its volatility, then prepare one resume targeted to mortgage banking. Conversely, you may want a second version of your resume that is broader in scope and could position you for larger opportunities in the financial services industry.’

On the latter route, Enelow encourages resume text that plays up accomplishments that would be relevant in any financial organization. ‘If you are responsible for credit review and analysis, focus on those transferable skills while downplaying skills that would knit you into a particular subset,’ she says.

For Douglas Vermeeren, Calgary-based author of the book ‘365 Daily Lessons from Amazing Success,’ being cognizant of similar or parallel industries could be critical for any job hunt.

‘You need to be aware of what the marketplace is doing for industries akin to what you're doing,’ he says. ‘The set of skills you worked so hard to develop could be applicable to something nearby.’

However, mortgage bankers seeking work outside of the field need to realize that certain adjustments will be required.

‘You need to be realistic in your expectations,’ advises Doug Rickart, division director with Robert Half International in Minneapolis. ‘You may be looking at an entry level or staff level position where compensation is not as attractive as it is in mortgage banking. If you've been in mortgage banking for the past five, six or seven years, it may be difficult to duplicate your current compensation levels.’

Enelow agrees that person-to-person networking is a more effective channel of locating a new opportunity – especially when compared to posting resumes online.

‘That's not particularly efficient,’ she says of online resume posting. ‘It's so out of control in regard to the volume of resumes online. You need to realize it's tough to be that needle in the haystack.’

Self-marketing 101

One skill subset unique to mortgage bankers can be incorporated into a job search: salesmanship.

‘I would encourage utilizing the skills developed as mortgage bankers in terms of networking,’ says Rickart. ‘Mortgage bankers use networking skills to build their business. Instead of marketing a product, they can be marketing themselves.’

A considerable degree of self-marketing involves presentation – not of the resume, but of the person behind it. For Ellen York, image consultant and president of the Ellen York Image, appearance is crucial when making a call with a potential employer. She recommends the following tips on self-marketing:

  • Attractive hair isn't just for the ladies. ‘Men need to have an updated hairstyle, just like women,’ says York. ‘It may be time to visit a new stylist for a current style and color that will flatter your appearance and create a more professional look.’
  • Men opting for the Ulysses S. Grant look may lose a job by more than a whisker. ‘This look can be distracting if you have a face full of hair,’ she warns. ‘Ask your stylist to trim your beard, mustache and sideburns to allow people to see who they're talking to.’
  • Go easy on the perfume and cologne. ‘Everyone wants to smell good, but no one wants to be so overpowering that they offend everyone else,’ she continues. ‘A daily application of deodorant should suffice, but if you want to wear perfume, a small dab at the wrists and neck will be enough. You never know – a potential client may be allergic to strong scents and be repelled if you wear too much fragrance.’
  • Check your voice – what do you really sound like? ‘Listen to a voicemail message that you've recorded,’ York suggests. ‘If it's nasal or too low or too soft, you may want to seek a professional voice coach or someone who can help address the issue. Many people talk too fast when they're anxious or tense. The next time you are in a stressful situation, such as a meeting with a potential client, listen to your own voice. Practice talking slower and fully enunciating the words.’
  • Smile! ‘Remember to a smile – people love to see a happy person,’ she says.

So we beat on�

Despite the tremors felt within the industry, it is important to realize there is no such thing as a permanent crisis. Riding out the storm requires patience and perseverance – and a reminder that today's unemployment upheaval is not a situation that is unique to mortgage banking.

‘Look at other industries with the same type of experiences,’ says Wendy Enelow. ‘In the 1980s, aerospace and telecommunications went through massive upheaval, but it all shook out for them. It's a question of whether you can live through that shakeout.’

Douglas Vermeeren urges a positive focus in the job hunt. ‘You need to remind yourself of the good times you've had, expect future good times ahead, and have a plan to be productive,’ he says. ‘Be the best at what you do, because the best of the best rarely stay unemployed for very long.’


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