In Downturns, Fear Generates Hiring

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It's no wonder the markets are wobbly: North Korea is sending us messages via missiles. Iran is butting heads over its nuclear program. The Federal Reserve is considering yet another interest rate hike, and gas stations have breached the sacred $3/gallon mark. But take note: For many Wall Street professionals - especially those in the back and middle offices - all this chaos could prove lucrative.

"There are a lot of motivations to hire and one of them is fear," says John Mazzei, managing director at Rand Thompson, a New York City-based placement firm. Mazzei says many people get hired when markets are unstable.

Counter-intuitive? We asked for more.

Mazzei acknowledges the most obvious problem with hiring now: It's the second half of the year, and bonuses are figured on a full year's performance. The logical question, he says, is, "Who's going to give you seven months' worth of bonus for a job you did for somebody else?" The answer: many Wall Street firms.

When the markets are strong and returns are high, Mazzei points out, firms tend not to second-guess themselves. But during a market downturn, or "when something goes wrong," questions are asked about due diligence, decision-vetting and analysis. "If there's a downturn in the market, or the investments ... picked don't work out, someone is going to be tapping on your shoulder, asking who did this? Did you exercise due diligence?" he says. In such an atmosphere, having the right professionals in compliance or corporate governance can be invaluable. "When the markets are on the up-tick, the king is the salesperson," Mazzei observes. "But when they start to turn south, it's the person with control over expenses."

So, where are these fear-driven jobs? Across the board in compliance, accounting and auditing, Mazzei says. The work may be in the middle or front office, but it also might be outsourced to an accounting or law firm, so Mazzei suggests investigating job openings with such supporting organizations, as well.

While job titles may vary, responsibility is key, especially in the alternative investment space, says Mazzei. For example, the title "Risk Manager" may be held at one firm by someone with an undergraduate degree in math but in another firm by someone with a Ph.D. in quantum physics. Smaller investment firms catering to high net-worth individuals might get by with a math undergrad to explain a fund's behavior, but more sophisticated institutional investors may want someone who can explain the firm's quantitative modeling.

The smaller companies may offer a better quality of life and a chance to grow with the firm, notes Mazzei. But hedge funds or fund of funds may only hire one or two people a year, making these jobs hard to find. Networking and head hunters can help here. Whatever you do, says Mazzei, make sure you do due diligence for yourself. Check out the firm before you sign on.

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