With Financial Services Recruitment Getting Worse, This is What You Need to Do to Get a Job

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In retrospect, the past few years were good years for finding a new job in financial services. In 2010, for example, UBS hired 1,000 people, BarCap hired 1,800 and RBC Capital Markets hired 530 people. Although cuts were already manifesting in 2011, things were pretty good last year too: UBS hired another 1,000 people in the first three quarters, Jefferies hired 800 people and Credit Suisse hired 200.

This year, however, is a different story. In the first half, J.P. Morgan was the only net hirer, adding 534 people to its investment bank. Meanwhile, Goldman cut 1,000 people, as did UBS; Credit Suisse cut 300, Deutsche cut 732. Even Jefferies deciphered the scrawls on the wall and cut 89 people.

However, it took Michael Page’s second quarter results, out this week, to underscore just how bad things have become. In the first half of 2012, Michael Page, which places people in financial, accounting and legal jobs in 35 countries, said revenue in its UK operation, which accounts for 22 percent of the group's operating profit, fell more than 10 percent. Within the UK operation, the recruiter's banking business plunged 50 percent.

“It may well prove to be a year of two halves,” wrote recruitment firm Sheffield Haworth, “with relatively subdued recruiting activity for the first four to five months of the year, but then paradoxically becoming increasingly busy as the year progresses and firms suffer from a lack of capacity relative to business inflow.”

This now looks like wishful thinking. “Things don’t seem to be getting any better,” reflected Michael Page chief executive Steve Ingram, adding that the next six months at least are likely to remain difficult. Not only do banks not want to hire, said Ingram: bankers don’t want to change jobs.

Where does this leave you?

1. If you’re willing to put your resume out there, and you’re still employed, you may be at an advantage. The number of new candidates coming onto the market was at an all time summer low in July 2012, according to recruiters Morgan McKinley: only 4,750 people put their resumes forward, vs. 8,770 in July 2011 and 10,170 in July 2010. If you do apply for a job now, you will find the competition diminished.

2. You may be better off applying for jobs direct. Banks are still hiring. The first half disaster at Michael Page suggests that they may be funneling less work through recruitment firms and relying on more candidates coming directly to them.

3. You may want to emigrate. Michael Page said it’s been focusing its efforts on growth markets like South Africa and Brazil. As we noted last week, Morgan Stanley’s head of emerging market equities thinks Turkey, Poland and South Korea will be hot in the future. Both UBS and Credit Suisse are creating a lot of jobs in their Polish service centers.

4. You should move internally. Finally, for the moment, you may be better off with the devil you know and should look for a new role internally. Internal staff reallocation is the new zeitgeist. Following an internal move, you won’t get a guaranteed bonus and you may irritate your existing boss, but that will hold true if you move externally anyway.

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