Spooked By Bear News? Don't Hit the Panic Button

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If you work at Bear Stearns, don't rush to leave your job at what could be the bottom. That's the message headhunters are putting out to panicked Bear employees.

Media coverage of JPMorgan's prospective takeover of Bear Stearns emphasizes the prospect of layoffs for between one-third and one-half of the troubled investment bank's 14,000 employees. But recruiters say the reality is a bit more nuanced.

"People tend under these circumstances to have knee-jerk reactions, and I don't think there's any place in one's career planning for a knee-jerk reaction," says Tom Kellerhals, senior partner at Westminster Group, a recruiting firm that specializes in buy-side roles in marketing and client service, including hedge funds. "I would stress slowing down, and 'looking before you leap,'"

Headhunters contacted by eFinancialCareers News say they've seen an influx of Bear Stearns resumes in recent days. Bear employees working in equities, research, investment banking, leveraged finance, and middle-office and back-office support roles have the most cause for concern, says Simon Lewis, head of banking and financial services recruiting at Michael Page International.

Outcome is in Flux

But while keeping your resume up-to-date and maintaining contact with recruiters is always wise, it shouldn't be the only arrow in your quiver - not even if your firm is set to change hands in a fire-sale made possible by a federal bailout. Lewis' advice to worried Bear employees: "Stay put and wait and see what the ultimate outcome is. The situation might be changing a little bit with the value of the stock going up."

Indeed, trading in BSC shares provides a conspicuous reminder of how much matters remain in flux. The shares were quoted at $6.82 as of mid-afternoon Tuesday - hardly what one would expect if the markets expected the firm to be acquired under the terms announced just two days earlier, for $2 per share.

"The opportunity at their current employer may pan out to be more interesting than working for some other shop," says Kellerhals. "Sometimes in these acquisitions or mergers, you may be working for a department that is stronger" at the acquired firm than the corresponding department within the purchaser. In such cases, individuals in the stronger department have a good shot at keeping their jobs post-merger. Before rushing into the now crowded job market, Kellerhals says any Bear employee should make an effort to figure out how the specific unit they work in stacks up against its counterpart at JPMorgan in terms of skills and market penetration.

Employers Put Searches on Hold

Not only candidates, but employers too apparently are spooked by the Bear Stearns blowup. Recruiters tell eFC News that many Wall Street employers beyond Bear and JPMorgan have put searches "on hold" this week, either reacting to systemic risk concerns or anticipating that the pool of available candidates will soon grow much larger and stronger than it was before last week's chain of events.

"It's very much a buyer's market," cautions Lewis. "Clients are being very picky about who they'll take. A year ago candidates could expect 10 offers with a guarantee. Now they'd be lucky to get an interview."

While some smaller brokers and European banks are looking to take advantage of the situation and upgrade staff, Lewis says, "It's very hard to get a (bonus) guarantee, and there's obviously a lot more competition for jobs." Still, he believes, "Good people still will get picked up by firms."

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