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Why Finance Job Seekers Should Be Optimistic in 2010

Several catalysts at play point to continued hiring in the finance jobs market in 2010.

F. Skiddy von Stade

The past couple of years were among the worst ever for the finance jobs market. With layoffs being announced by the tens of thousands, and firms of all sizes cutting deep into the bone, there has been a lot of uncertainty in the air. Yet, most finance job seekers have stayed optimistic and confident about their career prospects, according to a survey conducted twice over the past year.

If you're wondering how this optimism could possibly exist, you're not alone. During the early summer of 2009, when the results of the first survey showed overwhelming optimism, a Wall Street Journal blog questioned whether finance job seekers were delusional. I suppose this was a fair question to pose given the state of the market at that time. But lo and behold, in July, we suddenly began to see hiring start to pick up - and that trend remains somewhat steady.

I am cautiously optimistic that we're going to see hiring activity continue in 2010. There are several catalysts at play here. From a very broad perspective, the economy continues to improve, putting banks in a much better position financially. The US government is encouraging banks to increase lending activities. The Asian markets have picked up and hedge funds are taking a closer look at those markets. M&A activity has increased in the past couple of months as companies look for strategic areas of growth and seek to capitalize on some of the amazing values out there. And the general public is also coming out of its shell from an investing standpoint, realizing that they have to put their money back to work.

As a result, we can expect to see increased demand in leveraged finance, restructuring, corporate finance, asset management, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, and compliance throughout the year. The majority of this activity will likely come from both big and boutique investment banks, and hedge fund and private equity firms. With respect to the positions available, we're seeing everything from front office to back, entry-level to senior management.

We're also beginning to see good news in terms of higher compensation as salaries return to 2007 levels. For instance, if you're looking for a position at the associate level, you'll be happy to hear that stub bonuses, which last year dropped $15,000 to $25,000, are back in the $40,000 range. We're also seeing more commitments from hiring firms, with one-year guarantees coming back in vogue. This trend should continue and, if the economy picks up, we should see the return of two-year guarantees.

How can finance job seekers take advantage of all this good news? The bottom line is that they need to be persistent and expose themselves to as many opportunities as possible. Whether it is through headhunters, job boards, or networking - job hunters must be focused, disciplined and treat their job search as a full-time occupation. They should also try to schedule at least 10-15 face-to-face meetings per week to help develop their interviewing skills and further build a network of leads. Another option is to expand a job search beyond Wall Street and consider the excellent opportunities in corporate America where there is always a need for top-notch finance professionals.

Finance professionals are smart, competitive and well-educated. They're going to do well no matter what. I always tell people who are on the job hunt to stay positive -- they've been successful in the past and will be successful again in the future. It's a new year and a new decade. And there's plenty to be optimistic about. Keep your nose to the grindstone and the opportunities will come. Chairmain F. Skiddy von Stade is a 20+ year veteran of the finance recruiting space and has placed more than 1,000 professionals throughout his career.