MIT Grad Jobless, Selling Himself the Old-Fashioned Way

Joshua S. Persky ’81, an out-of-work investment banker, has been hunting for a job on Wall Street for more than six months. Recently he got so frustrated he decided to get a little creative.

Last week, Persky, 48, stood on Park Avenue, handing out resumes to passers-by and wearing a sandwich board that said, “Experienced MIT Grad for Hire.” The sign included his name and contact information.

He picked a busy spot, with several hundred people passing him every hour. And he did not look bitter or angry standing in the summer heat. Instead, he was smiling and standing tall, wearing his best suit under the placards.

A few looked and snickered when they passed by him, but most paid no attention. Some gave him sympathetic looks. A few even took a resume.

But these days, jobs on Wall Street are scarce — and getting more so. Worldwide, banks, and securities firms have cut more than 80,000 jobs. Persky worked at Houlihan Lokey for two years, but when that firm began to cut back last December, he said, his contract was not renewed.

Still, a couple of young brokers who passed Persky said they thought his unorthodox methods would pay off. One said Persky had a “first mover’s advantage” and that “all this press coverage will probably get him a job.” His colleague agreed, saying, “Yeah, there is no question that it is going to work.”

It certainly generated some attention. Persky was interviewed by many major news outlets and appeared on Fox and MSNBC. His story went global — “I get e-mails saying I am famous in Korea,” he said. He recently did a radio program that aired in Bogota, Colombia, and even appeared on the cover of a financial magazine in Greece.

“It was an amazing experience” Persky said this week. “I went to the corner of 50th and Park Avenue to hand out some resumes, and overnight I became world-famous.”

“The outpouring of interest and support was overwhelming — but I still need a job,” he said.

Persky has had some luck on that front. He recently had one interview with a boutique investment bank and has another one lined up at a hedge fund. MIT alumni have contacted Persky and have tried to help him in his job search. One alumnus said that if he would move to Denver that he could probably find a place for him.

So things are looking a bit brighter for Persky — but nothing solid yet. Nevertheless, he has received hundreds of e-mail messages and phone calls from well-wishers and companies wanting to find out more about him, which puts him in a better position than where he started.

It hasn’t been all roses, though.

By broadcasting his phone number and contact information around the world he has drawn attention from some nasty people. “I got some late-night phone calls from some young, probably investment banking analysts or associates, probably drunk, screaming obscenities and telling me to give my degree back,” Persky said. “There were probably several dozen of those.”

“The only seriously negative one was a fellow who walked up to me in the street and said, ‘There are people at MIT that don’t like what you are doing — they don’t like the fact that MIT is on your sign.’” It was not clear if the man was a fellow MIT alumnus.

Persky says he has not received any negative e-mail or phone calls from MIT alumni; rather, he says, “it is quite the opposite.” In fact, he just received a phone call from the institute’s entrepreneurs club to speak to the group about his experience.

But time is ticking down for Persky. He said last week that if he did not find a job within a month he would pack up and move to his wife’s hometown of Omaha, Neb., to “start a new life.” His wife, Cynthia, left last week with their two children, leaving Persky in New York to interview, while he stays with a friend.

“If I don’t have anything by early August,” he said, “I guess I will have to book a ticket to Omaha.”