Chicago-area asset management firms are cautiously hiring experienced professionals in service and high-level back office jobs.
Industry insiders say there is still demand for client service, investor relations, compliance and legal positions as firms work to keep existing clients from jumping ship during rocky economic times.
"The service side is still surprisingly active," says one senior executive with a top tier Chicago recruiting firm. In this volatile environment, he says, firms know they can't add new assets, so they're "over-delivering" on the service side. "Competitors are literally at the door, waiting to snap up the clients," says the recruiter. "You better have the right people in place to make the calls when you're down 30 percent."
Service demand exists across asset management, from long-only institutional shops to hedge fund operations. Stuart Rosenthal, senior recruiter with Legend Global Search, sees healthy activity in legal and compliance, in addition to client service.
"We're seeing openings at some of the bulge bracket firms, as well as in the middle market," Rosenthal says. While firms are being "careful with budgets," they're adding attorneys, risk management, and service providers, he says. He also sees demand in the mid-salary range, and describes the market as competitive.
Even in the wake of Bear Stearns' meltdown, Chicago remains somewhat insulated from the market downturn compared to its coastal counterparts. Recruiters say asset management in Chicago is more diversified than in New York or on the West coast. While activity is slow, Windy City firms are not seeing a "deep dive" in asset management, as the head of one bank's institutional asset management sales force puts it.
"Chicago has been somewhat immune to layoffs," says Jim Geiger, vice president at Analytic Recruiting, which has a strong Chicago presence. "There's been a slowdown in hiring among MBAs and PhDs, but there is still hiring."
With so many layoffs, competition for jobs is at an all-time high, Rosenthal observes. Most firms are looking for people with strong backgrounds and experience. Even at the mid-salary levels, employers want someone who can hit the ground running.
"We're always looking at people with a track record," Rosenthal says. Geiger echoes that. "This is not a market where our clients are going to take a chance on someone who is new to the field," he says. "They want a track record or a specific niche."