Do you feel stuck working for a commercial bank in Nigeria? Would you like to switch careers but the prospects are looking bleak? I wrote this with you in mind.

I started working for a first generation top-tier bank in Nigeria during my NYSC and ended up writing the entry-level test the following year. I was so excited to become a potential “bank big boy” but was also nervous that I might not pass the aptitude test because, in the past, some of my smart(er) friends had tried the test and failed.

Fortunately, I passed the test, interviews and completed the 4-month required banking training school which, by the way, has been one of the most useful foundational learning experiences in my career till date.

Commercial banking is a highly regulated industry all over the world with many standardised processes. I believe this is one of the reasons for the monotony that characterises the industry.

The employees in the Nigerian banking industry are even more susceptible to lower job satisfaction and career fatigue due to relatively higher profit appetite of the banks which show up in the form of poor work content design and a non-independent HR with opaque incentive and punishment processes.  These banking industry flaws do not exist in isolation as they are aligned with the cultural “big man” syndrome in a winner-takes-all system for the party with higher economic advantage in a relationship even employee-employer relationships.

Whether it is because of the routine nature of work, unrealistic deposit targets, the highly condescending tone of managers or even the uncertainty of a career path because the promotion and incentive system is inconsistent.

The good news is that, like me, you can leave. Here are five things I recommend:

1. Strategic and aggressive networking

If you are in sales (sometimes called "marketing"), cultivate a healthy and robust relationship with every customer or client you interact with.

Remember, every interaction is an interview. Show deep understanding of your industry and ability to add value in every conversation.

However, never attempt to promote your career ambitions at the expense of your employer’s work. It’s not only dishonest but may portray you to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

If you are not in a customer facing role, go out on Saturdays to conferences, professional events and meetings related to the industry you are trying to enter. Project yourself positively and network, network, network!

The more people who know about your work ethic and professional disposition, the better for you.

2. Build transferable skills  

During my time in banking, I appeared that many employees had the same skill set from their second to their fifteenth year working at the bank. This "stagnation" in skill set is due in part to the repetitive nature of banking work.

However, no employer wants to hire a manager with the skill set of an associate.

My advice is to move around internally in your bank, find positions that will challenge you intellectually.

Learn industry standards and best practices around the world relating to your job function (even if you can’t use it at your current job).

Understand how the whole banking system works, don't just focus on the functions of your department, know how it all fits.

So for instance, if you work as a loan approval officer in the bank, go further and get a certification in credit risk. Learn about systemic risk, learn about how a faulty loan approval and collection risk can affect the liquidity position of the bank or a company in any other industry. By knowing this, you have suddenly become a great candidate as a Financial risk analyst in another sector with better remuneration and possibly improved quality of life.

In my experience, employees in specialised units like HR, financial control, credit risk, and electronic payments usually find it easier to achieve a transition out of traditional banking jobs.

3. Get another degree/certification in your field  

In corroboration with the previous point, you should get a certification in your area to continuously validate yourself as a professional in your field beyond just the role-specific knowledge that comes with experience.
For example, if you work in banking operations get a lean/six sigma certificate or if you work in retail marketing (sales) get an advanced degree in consumer behaviour or channel marketing. This certification will not only position you as a forward-thinking professional but will place you on top of the pack for opportunities in other industry verticals where your skills are useful.

4. Volunteer for bank-wide special projects  

Once in a while, big companies bring together a cross-section of employees for special projects. It might be a think tank for a new organisational strategy, focus group for a new product launch or an internal team to work with external consultants.

When it comes to projects like these, employees can be grouped into three classes. Some employees show up---after lobbying to be a part of these engagements---others runaway---because weekend must be had---and there are those that don’t even care enough to hear about it. If you are looking for a career change soon, you want to be part of the first group who will show up.

The advantages are numerous, not only can you be positioned for upward movement in the organisation but this engagement should also go into your resume as additional skills and volunteer projects.

Lastly, it would expose you to people outside your organisation, one of which could be your next employer-who knows?

5. Have an up-to-date resume  

You would think this is obvious, right? But I know a lot of people actively trying to change jobs but do not have an attractive and up-to-date resume. If you haven’t resolved to craft an attractive resume, there’s not much I can do to be of help. If you, however, have the resolve but don’t know where to start, the internet is a great place and here are some pointers:

  • Visit a few job sites like Jobberman, Glassdoor and LinkedIn jobs to identify the kind(s) of roles you desire and are most qualified for.
  • Note down the high-level requirements regarding education and skills that the employer requires for these roles.
  • Tailor your resume to magnify the skills and training you have that would position you for these roles (please do not lie on your resume).
  • To compare your resume with industry standards, you can go on employer recruitment websites like careerbuilder.com and search for resumes like you are an employer. You will see what a typical resume and qualifications for various roles should look like, so you know what you’re up against and can refine your expectations.

I hope you have found this piece useful.

PS. I am by no means a Human Resource professional, so this does not qualify legally as career advice-I'm just an advocate for professional development and reaching the full potential of one's abilities. Do share your success stories with me at [email protected][dot]com.


Author: Oluwaseun "Olu" Oyinsan

Olu is an ex-commercial banker with an MBA in finance and Strategy from Hult International Business School. He has also worked in technology consulting and venture debt in the United States before returning to Nigeria.

He is currently a venture investor at Ingressive Capital, an early stage venture capital fund that invests in promising technology startups in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa.

For funding and investment enquiries, please visit ingressivecapital.com/founders-apply/.