Is the financial job market really warming up? Based on an unscientific sampling of what I'm hearing from my professional friends and acquaintances, my answer is a tentative "Yes."
In the past two weeks, three of my contacts started new jobs or accepted job offers. A fourth scored his first in-person interview since January.
A fifth e-mailed last week to say his phone had started ringing again and recruiters suddenly were approaching him through various career Web sites. "Nothing too solid but traffic is picking up - I had expected it to be after Labor Day," he wrote.
These individuals have little in common with the big-swinging traders and dealmakers named in a flurry of recent news stories about resurgent talent wars and seven-figure bonus guarantees. Although many of my associates have research backgrounds and thus are nominally front office, few qualify as producers.
Signs of a Thaw
One contact is a fund marketing manager with a writing and journalism background. Laid off in April, he landed just three months later at a consulting shop serving the asset management industry. Another had been job-hunting for most of the two years since graduating from a university in Canada. After multiple visits to New York to network and interview, he'll start work this month in the finance department of a global financial services company. A third, whose own distressed/special situations fund closed its doors in January, just accepted a job as a distressed investments analyst at another fund.
Career coach Bettina Seidman is hearing similar reports. "Many of my clients have obtained interviews and two have received and accepted offers during the past few weeks," she says in an e-mail. Seidman suggests that employers who had frozen hiring are starting to open up in response to signs the economy is thawing out.
"What really surprises me is the M&A is coming back," says a neighbor who works for a large investor relations firm.
Some Remain Frozen Out
To be sure, conditions remain so schizoid that a major financial publication can write about a feeding frenzy among some securities firms, then just three days later document a former Lehman banker's agonized decision to uproot his family and accept significantly lower compensation in order to get back to work after 17 months of searching.
The latter scenario resonates with more than a few people I know, who have endured or are on the brink of a full year of unemployment. "I have not been able to generate any action," a former bulge-bracket managing director e-mailed me last week. "The hiring I have seen has been focused on restructuring / distressed experts, selected others with a Rolodex of clients that can immediately move, and a handful of people with defined P&L history."
As I was writing this, a reader posted the following comment below a recent eFinancialCareers News story called, "Reviving Animal Spirits": "Seems only the trading areas are hiring and they are shuffling from one place to another and some selective management hires. There hasn't been really any significant numbers overall hired."
A headhunter I spoke with this week confirms employers show far more interest in raiding talent from rivals than picking up laid-off bankers.
Putting It All Together
If recovery is in the air, it's no surprise to see institutions reaching out to current revenue generators like traders and dealmakers who have transferable books of business, before they'll open their doors to anyone standing outside looking in. But a drought of job postings for investment marketing writers didn't stop the fellow I mentioned near the beginning of this article from quickly becoming re-employed. The moral: Like any market, today's employment market is likely to reward go-getters, regardless of professional specialty.
So if you are currently in transition, whatever your specialty, stay active and be creative in defining and pursuing potential opportunities. Job postings can be useful, but if you make the mistake of making them your alpha and omega, they can easily turn into a crutch. Use every possible resource at your command. Take on project work, make contact with both new and long-time acquaintances, attend industry events, and stay tuned to what's going on in your niche and in the world at large. Those are vital signposts on the road to putting your skills back to work.