Recruitment in financial services may
have bounced back after the economic downturn, but competition for graduate
positions remains tougher than ever, as Steve Coomber investigates...
The financial services industry in Europe was hit hard by the banking crisis and economic slump that followed. Firms focused on cost reduction. Graduate hiring slowed to a virtual standstill. Fortunately, though, for undergraduates planning a career in financial services, there are signs the sector is picking up again.
The recession had a huge impact on hiring across the continent. "Graduate recruitment was hard hit in the UK, for example,' says Martyn Drage, career development manager at Henley Business School's ICMA (International Capital Markets Association) Centre. "Surveys show as many as 50 per cent fewer graduates were recruited by the investment banks in 2009, for example, compared with the peaks of two or three years before. And professional services (including accounting firms) reduced numbers by nearly one third.'
The market has bounced back strongly in 2010, though, says Drage, if not to pre-crash levels. But while jobs are available, the competition for places is tough. Now, whether you are in Frankfurt, Paris or London, finance recruiters expect more. "With more candidates flooding the market, some with years of experience, it's trickier for graduates to stand out,' says Dan Hawes, co-founder of the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. "Previously, a 2.1 in a numerate subject might have got you an interview. But now, a strong academic background pre-degree; evidence of extracurricular activity and achievement; sporting prowess and an all-important internship, are all bases graduates need to cover to get noticed.'
The professional services firms remain big hirers of graduates. Take PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example. "PwC recently opened its recruitment process for 2011 and over 1,200 graduate and student roles are on offer,' says Richard Irwin, head of student recruitment at the big four firm. "This year's 1,200 full time graduate vacancies include: almost 700 roles in assurance; around 300 roles in advisory - nearly 200 in consulting and 30 in actuarial; and over 150 tax vacancies.' The firm also runs EPIC, an international programme for graduates at PwC seeking opportunities to work overseas. With offices in 150 countries, the choice of location is wide.
But it is not just professional services firms that are hiring. "Most investment banks are recruiting in large numbers again,' says Charlie Statham, a relationship manager for finance careers at Cass Business School in London, which has a suite of specialist finance related degrees and close ties to London's financial hub. "But they are putting a lot more emphasis on hiring off of the back of their summer internship programmes.'
Don't forget the smaller, less prominent firms, adds Drage. There are several thousand smaller banks, brokers, insurance companies and asset managers throughout Europe. Many continue to recruit small numbers of new graduates, although they don't tend to operate formal graduate recruitment schemes. "Financial institutions are concentrating on understanding and controlling the risks inherent in their business,' says Drage. "This creates additional demand for specialist risk managers, compliance staff and product control experts. Also, a greater emphasis on tight control of overheads is producing opportunities for people wishing to train in audit and financial reporting and control.'
Finally, it is worth noting that there are usually some more obscure graduate jobs that need searching out. "For example, some hidden jobs come from international banks which are expanding in Europe,' says Hawes. "Relatively unknown to European graduates, these firms originate in Africa or Japan and are seeking to expand their operations or in some cases take graduates back to their foreign headquarters.'