Recruiter Paul Webster has tips for finance job seekers

The unemployment rate remains stubbornly above 9 percent, but certain sectors hit hard by the recession are making a surprise come back. Finance is one, according to Paul Webster, a director of the front office banking area for top recruiting firm Michael Page International. Wall Street, especially the big banks, is once again opening its checkbook for talent. Webster, a recruiter with 10 years of experience in the U.K. and the U.S., shares some tips on where the jobs are and how to get them.

Where are the finance jobs today?


It was a myth that there was no hiring between the summer of 2007 and 2009. Areas that were hiring were counter-cyclical in nature, such as restructuring finance, financing for distressed companies, and areas where banks could mitigate their losses.

The market has steadily picked up from July 2009 to December 2009. And from January of this year, it has rapidly improved. I've seen aggressive hiring in mergers and acquisitions, leverage financing, and sales and trading. So, where before it was in counter-cyclical areas that were not revenue generating but cost mitigating, today, banks are hiring for capital market positions.
With sales and trading, M&A and capital markets coming back, that has had an effect on areas like product control, operations and compliance. I also see project finance returning as a sector, including power, utilities and renewable energy.

Another area having a comeback is the corporate lending area of banking. These are people who go out and meet with other banks and corporations with a view of extending new lines of credit or providing capital market capabilities. As banks open new lines of credit and are lending to new industries, there is a need for new credit analysts to review those loans.

What has not come back: municipal finance and other areas of securitization. The other big area that has not come back is real estate.

Who is hiring?

During the downturn, it was foreign banks and U.S. regional banks that were mainly hiring. Large U.S. banks were playing defense through most of last year. In part, this depended on the levels of sub-prime, structured credit and securitization exposure they had. Now, I am finding a lot more activity with the large U.S. banks.

What are employers looking for?


Last year, banks were hiring out of work candidates. As a recruiter, I was primarily placing people who were laid off. At one regional U.S bank, I placed candidates laid off from UBS, Bear Stearns, Goldman, and Merrill Lynch. These were candidates who would never have considered such an institution. But they were happy to return to employment.

This year, I found that the pool of good people who were laid off through no fault of their own, these people had found jobs by the first of this year. I am seeing people who were laid off on the downturn who moved into lower-tired institutions are now moving back up. These institutions are also rehiring people they laid off. One from UBS and another from JP Morgan were just rehired by their old bosses.

So the level of qualification is back on the agenda with banks. They are looking again at GPAs of 3.5 and above. They are looking for top business schools. I would encourage candidates to do MBA, CFA and CPA programs.

How can a job seeker get a second look?

Be flexible and appreciate where your skill sets can be parlayed. If you've been working in the middle to back office positions, like back office credit or workout, you now need to be more in the front area, the revenue generating areas.

Get back on the networking trail. A candidate who has been out there looking for work for the past couple of years may have an attitude that this contact isn't hiring. But the market has changed. People who were not hiring two years ago are hiring. So get back in with the associations, old employees from previous firms, and industry conferences.

Candidates who have played a lesser role at lesser institutions for the past couple of years need to get back into a big bank if they don't want to hurt their resumes. I was meeting with a head of an American financial institution for one of the large global banks. He said to me that he could understand a candidate from a Merrill or a Wachovia or a J.P. Morgan taking a role with a smaller institution. These mergers created a lot redundancy and hence layoffs. But now, he will only look at people who have been out for a couple of years. The perception is that the good people are now able to move back into big firms.

What kind of effect will the Wall Street reform bill have on finance jobs?


It may lead a move to candidates focusing back on smaller or more emerging market focused banks, and a desire to avoid the most punitive implications of the legislation. Also, the increasing trend of banks paying higher base salaries, to reflect restrictions on paying discretionary bonuses, and movement of bonuses to being deferred and being paid partly in stock.

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