Increased Demand in Chicago Operations

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Chicago has opened up as a market for operations professionals as the city's small and mid-sized financial firms manage to grow despite the markets' recent turbulence. Erin Polczynski, division director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting there, says "the majority" of the searches she's seen over the last two months have been for operations positions.

While roles exist in traditional firms, operations specialists are particularly needed at trading and hedge fund companies in Chicago, Polczynski says. In trading, she's seen positions "across the board" for individuals in foreign exchange, reconciliations, settlements, corporate actions, and middle office "trade ops" roles. In hedge fund shops, common searches are for general back office roles. She notes hedge funds tend to seek candidates with experience across different areas, including international and domestic equity and fixed income. "The responsibilities are more day to day" in hedge funds, notes Polcynzski. "They want someone well-rounded."

Growth in the Market

In Polcynznski's view, demand for operations professionals is driven not by turnover, but growth in the marketplace in general. Considering the volatility in the markets so far this year, and the huge layoffs at large firms, she calls the growth "surprising." And while she notes trading and hedge fund firms have been somewhat insulated from layoffs resulting from credit issues, she sees as much activity within larger firms as in small and middle market companies.

A few months ago, most of the operations positions Polcynzki saw were for director level jobs. Now, though, more entry and mid-level roles have opened up as recently hired directors seek to fill out their teams. "Many of the director positions were newly created roles," she notes. The reason: Numerous hedge funds have reached a size where they need a dedicated person or team to handle operations.

Candidate Requirements

For entry level positions, firms tend to look for candidates with a bachelor's degree and GPA over 3.25. In general, companies look more favorably on candidates with two to three or three to five years of experience in an environment similar to theirs. Good written and verbal communications skills are a must, says Polcynzki, as is familiarity with Microsoft Office and Excel. Driven people who can work well in a team environment without direct supervision is have an added advantage. "There are lots of ops jobs," she notes, "but the requirement is that someone needs to be 'multi-functional.'"

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