Houston’s Financial Job Market is Starting to Bloom

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The job market for financial professionals in the Houston area isn’t quite as hot as the region’s scorching summers, but it is certainly showing signs of life.

Hiring activity in Texas’ largest city is picking up, thanks in part to the boon in the region’s energy business. The region’s economy was the fastest growing in North America in 2011, according to the Brookings Institution. Not surprisingly, the area’s unemployment rate is 6.5 percent, well below the national average of 8.2 percent. A forecast from the Greater Houston Partnership calls for the 10-county Houston region to add 84,600 jobs this year.

J.P. Morgan, Chase and Barclays all list Houston investment banking openings on their Web sites. Last year, the Houston Business Journal noted that several new hedge funds had been formed in the area. And don’t forget about private equity—firms in the Houston area manage about $15 billion in assets, according to the Houston Private Equity Association.

Knowledge of energy sector

Banks occasionally recruit teams of people with specialized knowledge in sectors such as energy when they are available. Having specialized expertise can help. Demand is especially strong for candidates with a background in oil equipment, services, exploration and production.

Many Wall Street firms and international banks also have a strong presence in Houston, and they are in a hiring mode as well. Demand is also strong for private bankers, credit analysts and underwriters, according to recruiter Jim Warren of Jim Warren Executive Search.

“There is a real demand for credit analysts and underwriters,” he said in an interview, adding that private bankers and commercial loan officers with a strong book of business continue to be in demand.

Not immune to broader economy

Like other job markets, Houston isn’t immune from concerns about the broader economy. The city of Houston and Verizon were among the area employers that have recently been forced to lay off workers. Other employers, even those that are profitable, appear to be in no rush to hire.

“They have a lot of jobs posted, but they are not quick to pull the trigger … unless they absolutely have to,” recruiter Bernie Kane, the head of Kane & Associates, who has recruited in the Houston area for more than 25 years, tells eFinancialCareers. “If you are in engineering [especially oil and gas], you can get a job tomorrow. If you are in sales and accounting, you have to wait.”

Employers in the Houston area are reluctant to hire because of worries about Obamacare, among other reasons, according to Kane. He added that he is seeing more demand for temporary workers, and employers are willing to bring them board at times when things work out.

Set realistic expectations

Since the oil industry remains in a hiring mode, the financial employees that service the sector continue to be needed. Candidates, however, need to set realistic expectations. Since Houston employers can afford to be selective, candidates without experience in the energy industry, particularly if they don’t live in the region, are not being pursued. Many companies will remain cautious about hiring ahead of a presidential election. Those candidates that are willing to tough it out is finding that their patience is being rewarded.

“It has been strong for the past 18 months,” said David Preng, the head of Houston-based executive search consultant Preng & Associates, whose current searches include one for chief financial officer and two for chief accounting officers. “Good, accounting financial people are being well compensated.”

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