Monday, March 8, 2010

Finance Hiring in 2010: What Do the Stats Say?

There's no disagreement among banks, recruiters, business schools and career advisers that last year was dismal for recruiting among MBA's or for those who wanted to transition into finance. The statistics show the declines, and students and young alumni can tell long tormentuous stories about difficulties in finding the right job, opportunity or position.

In 2010, all agree there are general signs of a recovery. Recruiters have been out and about. Banks, corporations, and firms have flocked to campus to state their cases and generate excitement about their institutions. And there have been scattered cases where those who sought positions in financial institution received offers or where those who were laid off at one firm found an even better position elsewhere.

But the actual statistics that are supposed to prove things are much better in 2010 than 2009 are fleeting, too elusive to pinpoint. In fact, some business publications or observers can't quite agree there is an obvious, discernible improvement in hiring or if 2010 mirrors much of the inaction or inertia of 2009.

Take articles or news features in the past several days in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Sacramento Bee, and CNBC-TV. They all present statistics, yet they present numbers that show times are better and times are worst. You have to interpret the numbers with care and at your discretion.

For the most part, people in banking and finance circles will say times are still challenging, but there is a consensus that top financial institutions now are interested in increasing hiring among those at top-tier business schools (including Consortium schools). If they have not yet boosted hiring numbers signficantly, they are at least preparing for an upturn.

In an article on bank hiring at b-schools, the New York Times (March 8) presented a favorable trend at top schools and backed that up with numbers, although they apply to specific cases at designated schools.

It reported that at Consortium school UVA-Darden, the number of banks interviewing on campus increased by 20% this year; the number of job offers (internships and full-time offers) from top banks increased by 33%. At Consortium school UNC, the number of investment bankers who appeared on campus (for recruiting events and interviewing) increased 67%. This may not yet reflect a substantial increase in the number of MBA students receiving finance offers, but it denotes a positive trend.

The article also noted that at non-Consortium Duke-Fuqua, the number of students submitting resumes' to banks increased 37% and the number of students who visited Wall Street last fall in its week in New York increased from 60-90. That doesn't reflect actual offers, but suggests students are more confident that financial institutions have resumed their brisk pace of recruiting.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (February 23) reported that 79% of b-schools sampled say they saw a decline in recruiting last fall and recruiting visits from corporations fell 20%. The Sacramento Bee (March 8) reported that 50% of MBA employers across the country have scaled back recruiting this season.

So whom can you believe?

The numbers reported by the Journal and the Bee cover all industry groups and all kinds and classes of b-school programs. So they don't necessarily summarize better the upbeat activity among top financial institutions (Goldman Sachs, BoA-Merrill, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, etc.) and recruiting at top-tier schools.

That's what a segment on CNBC-TV suggested (March 8), where representatives from the MBA Career Services Council ( and MIT-Sloan b-school reminded the audience that top-tier banks are recruiting aggressively at top-tier b-schools, since they are no longer fighting for their financial lives and are focused on growth prospects again. Hence, they have returned to top schools to chase after top talent, while smaller financial institutions might still be scrambling to recover from the crisis.

The Journal suggested another phenomenon in recruiting these days: Some institutions are ready and willing to hire MBA's, but no longer want to incur the costs of traveling to remote campuses or bringing students back to headquarters for second rounds. The Journal mentioned what Consortium school Washington Univ.-Olin is doing these days: introducing video technology to permit students to interview from campus, hosting and picking up some of the costs for employers, or arranging for its students to travel for second and final rounds of interviews. Olin, in some ways, doesn't want to give employers an excuse to not hire its students.

Consortium students are still in motion and still actively planning their summers and full-time positions for 2010. Although early signs suggest the outlook and the numbers are much better than last year's drought, it's still too soon to tell across all schools. Some students already have offers in hand from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank of America-Merrill, Barclays Capital, the Federal Reserve Bank, Credit Suisse and UBS in many segments. Yet there is still time left on the clock for 2010.

Tracy Williams

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