In theory, jobs in the financial services industry are so super-abundant that you should be able to stroll into a new one whenever you feel so inclined . Recruitment firm Robert Walters estimates that there were 10,560 finance jobs available in London in February, up 12% on the previous year. Every bank who's any bank is hiring compliance staff, and experienced junior M&A staff are rarer than unicorns with fuchsia horns.
The reality may be somewhat different. For all the exuberance of some recruitment firms' job estimates, the New York State Comptroller recently said that only 2,000 new finance jobs were created in New York City last year - and that this was the first time they'd increased since 2011. Kumaran Surenthirathas, associate director of front office search at recruitment firm Eximius, says banks now have so little opportunity to add revenue-generating staff, that when headcount is signed-off they can be super-demanding: "When you only add one or two new people to headcount every year or so, you want to get it right."
In the circumstances, banks and recruiters may be overlooking your résumé for a good reason. There are only a few categories of person they want to hire now and you may not resemble any of them. We've listed these categories below. If you don't obviously fit into the groups here, now's the time to rethink your 'personal brand'.
1. Banks are hiring people who can save them money
When is a cost centre not a cost centre? When it exists to cut costs elsewhere. Banks are quite happy to add new staff who will help them operate more efficiently. Hence J.P. Morgan is hiring for a new unit that will help achieve the 'business simplification' it discussed during its recent investor day.
With banks paying out $300bn+ in fines during 2014, compliance has suddenly become a cost saving function too. Hence the rush to staff-up with compliance and control staff, Despite suggestions that compliance recruitment is over, Commerzbank last week committed to hiring hundreds of new compliance staff in the US. Suddenly, top compliance staff can command front-office style pay packages - because theyr'e worth it. Cyber-crime staff also fall into this category.
2. Banks are hiring juniors who can grow with the bank
In a pyramidal structure, it's inevitable that most hires will be juniors. However, a quick look at the UK Financial Conduct Authority Register for January and February reveals that up to 80% of the people registered by big US banks so far this year have been analysts or associates, which seems disproportionately high.
Headhunters say they're not surprised. "In equity research banks just aren't hiring MDs any more," says one. "They're more interested in hiring junior people they can train-up."
In EMEA, J.P. Morgan is currently advertising 56 jobs across sales, trading and research. 38 of these are for associates.
3. Banks are hiring people who can interpret and implement new regulations
Whether it's MiFID II, Dodd Frank, EMIR, FATCA or ring-fencing, banks are need of people who understand new regulations and can make sure they're in accordance with them. 15% of the jobs currently advertised at Barclays' investment bank are related to regulation, for example. Among other things, the UK bank is in search of someone who can help it implement the requirements of section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which concerns complex capital requirements for European banks operating in the US. Such hires are typical of the current terrain.
4. Banks are hiring people who can implement technology projects that will allow them to save money in future
Technology staff are in a curious place. On one hand, they're being squeezed - J.P. Morgan is rumoured to be preparing a new round of technology cuts and most banks are talking excitedly about delayering and simplifying technology functions. On the other, technology hiring is still where it's at. J.P. Morgan is currently advertising 212 technology jobs across EMEA, compared to just 56 in investment banking, sales, trading and research. Similarly, Barclays is advertising 210 jobs in technology in the investment bank globally, but just 12 in IBD. Near-shored or not, technologists are the future - particularly if they're developers working on electronic rates trading systems...
5. Banks are hiring people who can bring in a revenue stream
With so few mid-senior front office hires happening in the current market, those that are made need to be attached to a solid revenue stream. "Hiring managers aren't willing to gamble," says Surenthirathas. "There's such little headcount that they can't risk hiring someone who won't make a difference."
UBS is chasing revenues in North America. Witness last week's addition of an oil and gas team from Bank of Montreal.
6. Banks are hiring people who know their worth
The game has changed - especially if you work in the markets division of an investment bank. As both Bank of America and Citigroup pointed out in February, the future is all about keeping costs low to accommodate the new higher compliance and technology costs related to sales and trading activities. If you're a salesperson or trader, you therefore need to bear this in mind. Good people can still get paid very well, says Surenthirathas - but they need to be good and to be realistic about their worth. "There aren't that many really talented people out there and banks are all fighting for them," he says. If you're mediocre, however, you'll need to accept that while salaries are rising, the long term trajectory of total compensation is still down. Don't try to fight it.