Recruitment reality check: how bad is it?

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Banks may be falling out of bed, but is financial services recruitment still comfortably under the covers? That depends who you talk to.

The optimist

Katherine Howe at KHG Partners, a boutique which places investment bankers and private equity professionals, says business levels are consistent with last year: "Although some of the larger banks have stopped hiring, a lot of our boutique clients see this kind of market as an opportunity to attract good candidates, so overall our business levels are similar to last year."

Howe's optimism is borne out by figures from the US, which show that there at least, securities firms added 6,500 staff in the second half of 2007. Similarly, a recent study by recruitment firm Morgan McKinley suggested 72% of financial services employers expected employment levels either to stay the same or increase in 2008.

The pragmatist

Adrian Kinnersley, head of financial services recruitment at Astbury Marsden, also says things aren't as bad as they seem: "Based on the number of jobs that have been released and the feedback we're getting from clients, it doesn't appear that it will be as dire as the press are reporting."

Kinnersley does, however, predict that business will be slower than it's been over the past two years, with banks more precise about who they plan to hire: "They will hire in specific areas, rather than generically like last year."

The only cloud on the horizon is reduced recruitment at the consultancy firms that deliver services to investment banks, a trend that historically portends lower recruitment at banks themselves, says Kinnersley: "If the banks stop buying consultancy services, the next step is to reduce investment in their own workforce, but this hasn't happened yet."

The pessimists

Of the four financial services recruiters we spoke to, two were pessimists, and (as both work for listed companies) neither wanted to put their gloom on the record.

"Recruitment is certainly a lot less than last year at this stage," says the head of financial services at one major player. "If people say it isn't horrible they're putting their heads in the sand - I'd say it's down 30%."

Recruitment in London and Wall Street is up the creek, confirms the head of another international firm: "Things are bad out there, particularly for recruitment firms built around a candidate driven model - there are just too many candidates and not enough jobs. The only place that is really ok is Asia."

Pessimism may also be well founded from a job seeker's perspective: hidden towards the end of Morgan McKinley's press release are two ominous stats: new jobs fell 19% in December 2007 (vs Dec. 2006); new candidates rose 34% over the same period.

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